Read an Excerpt
The Worst Noel
Donner is Dead
A deer hit us. We were driving along, minding our own business when a deer jumped out of the woods, or maybe it jumped out of another car, who knows, and ran smack into us. We were driving north on Route 7, about five minutes out of Bennington, on our way to celebrate A Jew's Christmas in Vermont.
Christmas is jolly in Vermont. All the lights and the wreaths and the snow-tipped steeples. You can light candles every night for a year and shake groggers until Haman rises from the dead, but Hanukkah isn't fooling anyone. It's a diversionary tactic, kind of a "hey, over here" that Jewish parents employ to keep their children from feeling like those toys that get shipped out to the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Everyone claims that Hanukkah isn't meant to compete with the Christmas holiday. "It's a festival, it's a festival!" No one even knows when the hell it is. It changes every year. I'm not sure the Farmers' Almanac could predict it correctly.
Anyway, we didn't see it coming. All of a sudden, there was a very loud thunk, and then what seemed like a two-hundred-pound snowball exploded up and over the front windshield. My husband yelled, "What the fuck?" and I yelled, "Fuck!"
We pulled over to the shoulder and sat for a moment in silence, trying to make sense of what had just happened. It was a clear, bright night and very, very cold, maybe ten degrees; you could see for half a mile. There'd been nothing in the road. "I hope that was a deer," David said. "Whatelse could it have been?" I asked. "I don't know," he said. "A person?"
David called the Bennington Police and then, with some difficulty because the door seemed able to open only about ten inches, he got out of the car and walked around the front. Through the windshield, which, thankfully, was still there, I saw him mouth "Holy shit." He squeezed back into the car and said that the driver's-side headlight was gone and the whole front left of the car was smashed in. The snowball effect we had experienced must have been the glass from the headlight shooting up like sparks in the dark. The driver's-side mirror was gone. David thought he saw some deer fur stuck to the ragged metal. Thank God.
There were police lights up ahead. A patrol car passed us by about two hundred yards, crossed the median, and came to a halt. The police were going to check on the deer first.
Here's what I don't understand: Why didn't Darwinism work for deer? Cars have been around for what, over one hundred years, right? Why haven't the stupidest deer died out? Why isn't the gene that tells a deer to cross a four-lane highway obsolete? Why aren't the smart deer at home in their beds making more smart deer?
What's wrong with deer, I ask you? Zebras have stripes, for God's sake, giraffes have long necks. The leopards that survive in snowy climes are white. Was this an accident? No! The white leopards outlived the orangey ones because they were harder to see. And they made more white leopards and now, now we have something called, yes, the snow leopard.
Where is the evolved deer? Haven't we waited long enough? They've certainly turned tick-carrying into a cottage industry. That didn't take long. Where is the deer that has a natural aversion to headlights? The deer who doesn't like the clickety-clacking noise his hoofs make on asphalt? Where is the deer that doesn't like the way it feels to lie dying in the middle of the road, wondering what the fuck just happened? Where is he? You know where? In the middle of the road wondering what the fuck just happened, that's where. And while we're asking, what's on the other side that's so important to see at eleven o'clock at night? Better woods?
While we waited for the police, we discussed the fate of the deer. Was it dead? Was it mortally injured? Was there a driver's-side mirror protruding from its head, like an extra set of antlers? The police took so long with the deer that we imagined they must have found it alive and were either setting its legs in plaster of Paris or delivering the final death blow. No shots were fired, so perhaps they were wringing its neck.
Our five-year-old son woke up. Thankfully, his little sister slept on. She would not have been pleased to be sitting on the side of the road at eleven o'clock at night still strapped into her infernal five-point harness. John wanted to know why we'd stopped. Were we in Vermont? he asked. He has finally begun to grasp that Vermont is not just a 1960s faux Swiss chalet with orange shag carpeting and a sectional couch, but a whole land mass, with other houses and trees and people. We told him about the deer, making the distinction that the deer had hit us, not we it. If John had been a few years older and had had a bit of U.S. history under his belt, he might have said something impudent about how the deer were there first, like the Native Americans. In his youthful ignorance, however, he forgave the deer, proclaiming that it hadn't meant to hit us and "crack" our car, that it had been an "accident," and that the deer was probably sorry. Yes, I said. The deer was sorry. Very sorry.
When the police got to us, there were four of them, all without coats. They examined the car and made recommendations about how to proceed with our insurance company. In the fall and winter months, this must be their main activity -- cleaning deer viscera off the highway and advising motorists on their reimbursement options. Of course, there was a hearty round of thanks . . .The Worst Noel. Copyright � by Stephanie Collected Authors of the Worst Noel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.