We were racing over to our youngest daughter’s place to talk her into going to rehab instead of jail after she violated her probation when we hit the doe. Came right out of nowhere as we turned off the Johnson City exit on Highway 17, and there was no sense killing ourselves to avoid it. So blam, we nailed it and then we felt the front tires of our old Jeep Cherokee roll over the body. We weren’t going too fast, not like sometimes when we’ve been on our way to find Danielle. Thank the lord we weren’t in the Buick. But we didn’t feel a second bump of the back tires going over the deer, only an awful dragging feeling and sound. When we came to a stop, we looked at each other and thought the same thing: the damn animal was stuck under the Cherokee.
We got out of the Jeep and there it was, head sticking out beyond the driver’s side, right beneath the back passenger door, its legs a tangled mess. We must have hit it square in the left shoulder and bowled it over because we could see that side of its body and it wasn’t pretty. Caved in and bloody, the bruise beneath the fur like the color we’d seen on Danielle’s face when she was with that Jimmy character a few years back.
“We don’t have time for this.”
“What are we supposed to do? It’s still alive.”
We could see that clearly, the doe’s eyes wide with terror. Poor thing must have been in terrible pain. Why did it have to still be alive? We had enough to worry about with Danielle.
“You don’t have your gun do you?”
“Nope. No knife either.”
“Should we call the police?”
“What are they going to do? Shoot it when they get here in an hour?”
We looked at each other and then down at the deer again, its neck moving, its unbroken back legs and hooves scrapping at the road, trying to get itself out its predicament. Except its front legs and shoulders stayed mostly still. Everything must have been broken beneath the skin there. We looked away from the deer, imagining what it was like to be trapped like that, with something huge looming over us and no way to escape.
“Danielle’s waiting for us.” But we knew that already.
We knew that there were other people gathering at her crappy trailer in the park overlooking Route 7 in Chenango Bridge, the one she was paying for with welfare money. Some friends who still cared were supposed to be coming by, along with Theresa, her favorite aunt, the one who taught her how to smoke cigarettes and drink back when Danielle was a teen. But Danielle was the one who figured out all the rest on her own. Like where to buy prescription painkillers on the street and heroin from her low-class neighbors. We didn’t ever like to think about how she paid for that junk when she lost jobs as fast as Theresa went through boyfriends. We knew she’d been using again because our friend who’s a cop had seen her coming out of a drug house the Johnson City police had their eyes on. She’d robbed her sister again of every bit of jewelry left from the last time Danielle stole from her. Now, the only thing that could save her was if we could talk her into going to rehab, again, before her sister pressed charges and Danielle ended up in a jail cell. Sometimes we wondered if that would be better.
We looked at each other, and then at the highway as cars buzzed past. The sound of the doe scrabbling to get away cracked our hearts. We’d been hunters once, back when we were younger and could stand the cold for hours at a time waiting for a buck to come within our sights. But this was different. This wasn’t going to be fast and far away. This would be like touching someone you love. We glanced at the entrance to the Johnson City exit; it was empty of traffic. And we stepped forward onto the doe’s neck.