PHOTO, & STORY
by R. Jewell
Snowflakes cut against our windshield. The setting sun long ago
had left a smudge of wine against the black sky. Gabe, the kids and I
were driving north from the city on Christmas Eve to stay with my
husband's mother. She lived on her farm alone.
"Marian, are the kids okay back
there?" asked Gabe as he drove.
In the moonlight he looked like a soft golden bear. He was a teacher of
insurance personnel for a large agency in the city, gone many Saturdays
"They're okay now," I said. I
turned around and checked them
again. Their faces were pale, and frowns darkened their brows. Earlier
they had been so ready for Grandma's that they had kept trying to burst
out of their seats. "Buckle your belts," I had told them, over and over.
I watched Jessie blow her nose. She was
five, feverish, and
impatient with the sharp tickle in her throat that wouldn't go away. I
had taken her to the doctor several days earlier to check for strep
"Just a persistent flu," he'd said.
"Give her a few more days to
get better, Marian."
Right during Christmas, I thought. Jessie
angel lights, fudge melting on her warm tongue, even just the smells of
Christmas, the pungent evergreens clearing her nose and making her eyes
water, cinammon candles, wood smoke. She'd talk about them endlessly,
pulling us here and there to smell and feel, her fingertips almost glowing
as she touched things and held them out to us. Her sickness wasn't fair.
I'd stayed home from my shop with Jessie as
much as I could. I
sold floral arrangements in baskets and wall hangings from my small shop
downtown in our suburb each day, loved creating new patterns of leaf,
blossom and wicker, loved talking with so many people. But I loved my
In the car, I looked at Jamie sitting straight
up in his travel
seat. He was three, just awakening this year like Rip Van Winkle in
reverse to the full wonder and glory of the season. The most exciting
event to him was Santa Claus--he had put two and two together and, so far,
was only getting three. Gabe and I were not about to disillusion him, not
yet. Jessie still believed, and she was already five.
Jamie's mouth was almost a constant O as we
increasingly snowy fields and forests.
"Is this Santa's land?" he kept
"Sort of," said Gabe, "only
Santa lives where it's even more
"That snowy," said Gabe, holding his
palm high over his head like
a fisherman with a fish story, "and the trees are always green."
Jamie sat back again in his car seat, his mouth
working once more
into an O.
Jessie sniffled and looked hard out the window
at the shifting
snow in the moonlight. I looked, too: the road was a narrow aisle of
shadowed carpet, with evergreens and pale birches--the elf trees of the
North--pressing close to the ditches on either side.
Suddenly a large shape ran just beside and
ahead of us in the
glare of our headlights.
"Gabe!" I exclaimed.
"Sssh. It's a deer." He
"Where?" asked Jessie. She and
Jamie leaned forward, their necks
arched like the deer's.
Suddenly Gabe braked hard.
"No!" he exclaimed.
I grabbed the dash. The deer was in front
of us, a tawny ballet
dancer with antlers, leaping across our beams of light, its breath
steaming from its nostrils. I was sure it had made it, I was sure. But a
firm jolt made the car shudder once, and suddenly the arching leap of the
deer turned cock-eyed. Its rear end kept flying higher through the air,
and it curved up and over into the far ditch, landing on its shoulder in a
great explosion of snow.
"No," said Gabe, pulling over to the
side, jamming on the
emergency brake and lights.
"Is it okay?" asked Jessie.
"I don't know, dear. Gabe?"
"I'll go look."
We sat and waited until finally Gabe came back
and climbed in.
The emergency blinkers flashed under his face,
giving his skin
sharp, cold shadows. He shook his head.
"Is it hurt?" asked Jessie.
"Its neck is broken, Jess. It's
"You mean it's killed?"
Gabe nodded. "I'm sorry, dear."
"Did you kill it?" asked
"I couldn't help it," said
"It just ran across the road."
"Jessie, Jamie, be quiet a moment," I
said. "What should we do,
"Leave it," he said. He flicked
on the heater switch for the
front panel, and he held his hands out to the warm flow as if it was a
wood fire. "When we get to Mom's, I'll call the sheriff. He'll know what
"How's the car?" I craned my
neck to see the front of the car or
even the deer, but neither were visible from my seat.
The front left fender is dented," he said.
"We were very lucky.
But I shouldn't have slowed down, Marian." He gave me that quick look of
a light dimmed. "If I hadn't slowed down, it never would have come up in
front of us."
"Don't feel guilty. You just didn't
know," I said, and I touched
We finally arrived at Grandma's at seven p.m.,
and the farmhouse
seemed an oasis of warmth among rolling hills of whispering snow and
evergreens. Grandma had rented the farmland to nearby farmers after
Grandpa had died. But she stayed in her home, loved it, travelled every
day from it to town where she belonged to Women's League, Food Shelf, and
everything else. "A woman can't stop moving," she once told me.
gray-haired and mean as an old cow like me, they can't stop moving, less
they want to die."
We burst through her front door like quail,
calling to her and
scattering. Christmas presents filled our arms as we ran into her
"Well land's sakes!" she cried,
throwing up her arms.
We hugged her mightily and smelled her sugar
"Kick off your boots," she told us.
"Go dig your toes into that
new carpet of mine."
While Gabe called the sheriff, the rest of us
presents under her fat Christmas tree. It was a Spruce, blue-green, with
needles that tickled rather than hurt. We drank eggnog and hot chocolate
beside the tree, and we laughed.
The children hung their stockings on the mantel
fireplace--in a real fireplace, you put them on the ends where they won't
roast all night, rather than right in the middle like all the picture
For some reason, Jamie refused to hang his.
When it was his turn
he shook his head.
"Want me to hang it for you?" Grandma
"I'll do it," said Jessie, leaping
toward the stocking.
Grandma then held the kids on her lap while
Gabe read "The Night
Before Christmas," and all of us headed for the kitchen to put out some
milk and cookies for Santa.
In the kitchen, Jamie suddenly tugged on the
sleeve of Grandma's
"We don't need to leave cookies," he
said. "Santa isn't coming."
"Why of course he is!" said Grandma.
"No." Jamie shook his head.
"We ran over his deer. He won't
All of us paused. Grandma and I exchanged
"That's stupid," Jessie suddenly
said, blinking quickly. "He'll
come anyway. Won't he, Mom?"
"No he won't," said Gabe.
"If you ran over Grandma, she wouldn't
"You're the one that should get run
over!" Jessie said.
"Kids!" I exclaimed.
Gabe was standing beside Jessie, and he put his
hand gently on her
"Just a minute," said Grandma.
She looked at both kids. "If I'm
going to get run over, I want to say something about it first." The
corners of her eyes crinkled.
The kids, their jaws hard, turned their eyes up
"First off," said Grandma, "if
you ran over me, I'd forgive you.
It would be an accident. Isn't that right?"
Both of the kids nodded.
"Second," said Grandma, "I've
got a little information for you."
She kneeled to the kids' level.
"That deer you hit," she said,
"wasn't even one of Santa's."
"It wasn't?" asked Jamie.
"Was it flying?" asked Grandma.
Jamie shook his head vigorously. Jessie
thought about it, then
"And besides." Grandma waved
her hand. "Why, Santa uses a
different kind of deer. He uses reindeer."
"Rain deer?" asked Jamie.
"And you know what?" asked Grandma,
looking at us all, almost
winking at Gabe and me.
We all bent forward.
"Reindeer never die."
"You mean even if they get hit?"
"Wow," said Jessie, her eyebrows
I let out my breath--another piece of magic, I
web of fairy dust to weave into the story of Santa. And why not, for it
was Christmas, a time for myths. This whole night had the feel of some
fairy tale which might happen to others, not one's own family or oneself.
"Now you two," said Grandma, taking
the kids' hands, "I want you
to come in the living room here. I've got a book with pictures of
reindeer in it, especially Santa's reindeer. I'll show you what they look
like, and I just don't know how your mom and dad forgot to mention
reindeer to you."
She looked back at us, and she did wink.
"I guess anybody can
forget," she told the kids, "just anybody."
The rest of our Christmas
week at Grandma's was fine. But when we
got ready to drive home on the last day of the year, it was dusk, and a
blizzard was on its way. We loaded the car with toys, boxes of new
clothes, and left over candies and goose stuffing.
"You two drive careful," Grandma told
us, giving Gabe and me big
hugs. Then she bent down to Jamie and Jessie. "I'm going to miss you
two," she said, a catch in her voice. "Come give Grandma a big kiss."
Both kids ran into her arms.
Then we were in the car, and we fell into the
tightrope dance of
driving in snow at night.
The children quickly dropped into a deep sleep
while big gobs of
snow continued to fall, floating and swirling around us. I curled against
Gabe's side as he drank his coffee to stay alert.
I wanted some coffee, too, for my drowsiness.
I imagined pulling
over to the side to sleep; then I looked up at Gabe and noticed his eyes
were watering. Suddenly, very much, I felt like the snow was closing in
"Slow down," I said to Gabe, thinking
of Grandma. I grabbed
Gabe's arm and repeated, "Slow down."
Nodding wearily and slowing, he asked,
"More," I said,
He lifted his foot off the gas until we seemed
to be moving on
snowshoes, and we kept driving.
It was then that we heard sirens behind us,
whirling and moaning
in the night, making Gabe pulled over. An ambulance and a police car
hurried past us, their angry red beacons flashing. As we started driving
again, the flashing lights paused and hovered somewhere ahead.
We had to stop again when we got to the
accident--and accident it
was. People in white and others in khaki and blue were running between
Our headlights shone brightly on a white
station wagon which
straddled our side of the road, a station wagon with its front door wide
open, and a young woman with eyes closed sat in the driver's seat. She
had a spider of blood on her forehead. Her breath steamed from her
nostrils as the steering wheel pressed tightly against her chest.
I don't know, suddenly I was in the back seat,
I was just there,
taking off Jessie's seat belt, pulling my children to me, hugging
them, turning their faces into my coat as they slept. I was gasping,
them back inside me where it was safe.
When we arrived home a short while later, Gabe
and I carried the
kids upstairs. While he unpacked the car, I gave them a drink of milk and
took them to Jessie's room. She had a spare bed, and I put both kids in
her room for this first night home in a week. I tucked them in, and their
breath was warm on my hand.
Then I sat on the end of Jamie's bed in the dark, and I stayed as
minutes crept on.
Gabe finally came looking for me and
poked his head in.
"Are you all right?" he
Wiping my eyes, I said, "No."
"What is it?" he asked
walking quietly to me.
I looked up.
"Oh Gabe," I said. My breath
caught in my throat. "The kids. I
wish they could be reindeer."
He paused, then sat on
the bed. He touched my hair, my face. His
hands were full of light. I tucked my head into the crook of his
- The End -