Our Summer Cottage

            Driving down Long Lake Highway. Excited and chatting about the little red cottage we just toured. The kids love it. I sense nothing but good vibes. But Jen, my wife, doesn’t like that the neighbors are so close, that the water is only two feet deep at the end of the dock, and that there are rocks, big jagged ones, just under the surface. To me, for the price and the condition of the property, I’m sold. You don’t find waterfront cottages in Northeastern Lower Michigan for a song. And this place is singing.

            “I think it’s great,” I say. “Just enough space, a low-maintenance yard, and a new roof.”

            “But those neighbors are right on top of us,” Jen says, “And I know you. You’ll be fighting with them in no time.”

            “Daddy doesn’t fight,” Mazzy says. She’s my daughter. Seven-years-old going on eighty. Our free spirit that loves nature, bugs and hugs, and doing good for the world.

            “He fights,” James says. “I’ve seen it. Remember the basketball game? When he beat up Jared’s Dad?”

            James is my eleven-year-old boy. Charismatic, athletic, and far too serious for his age.

            “That was different,” Jen says. “And that’s not the type of fighting I’m talking about.”

            “He deserved it,” Mazzy says. “We all saw Jared’s Dad. He was smacking Jared. Daddy saved him.”

            “Tell that to the cops,” James says.

            I say nothing because there’s nothing to say. We were all there. We all know what happened. And even though the basketball game was ugly—I was arrested and eventually sued—we’re all better for it. Especially Jared, who is living with his Mom in New Hampshire. Miles and miles away from his abusive father. A man that’s in a correctional facility downstate. Locked up for at least twenty. Probably thinking of me every time he looks in the mirror and sees the three-inch long scar above his right eye.

            “I’m sorry, honey,” Jen says. “That’s not the type of fighting I meant. It’s just that with the neighbors on top of us like that it’s a recipe for years of awkward encounters and odd situations. You aren’t really a people person.”

She takes my right hand and kisses it.

“And Mazzy’s right, by the way,” Jen says, as she looks over her shoulder at the kids. “Daddy did the right thing. He saved Jared.”

            “It’s on his record forever,” James says.

            “There’s no such thing as forever,” Mazzy snips.

            “Okay, let’s just all zip it and focus on the cottage,” I say. “Maybe not this cottage, though I do believe it’s a good fit for a family on a budget that’s just been sued—” I pause for a chuckle, a laugh, anything, but there’s only silence. “So, let’s think of the others we looked at today, what we liked and didn’t like, and we’ll talk about it later over dinner. Who’s up for Sushi?”

            “ME!” They all shout.

As we continue toward home, I’m deep into daydream.  Caught up in visions of watching my kids catch minnows and crayfish by the dock. Imagining all of us cruising the lake in a brand-new pontoon boat, smiling, warm, and happy. Me and Jen being awful parents, sipping cocktails, as Mazzy and James take turns steering the mighty vessel around the lake until we’re all filled up on fresh air and sunshine. When we return to the cottage, Jen and I sit side-by-side in clam back chairs under the starry sky listening to waves moving back-and-forth against the shoreline. The kids laugh as they run barefoot through the cool grass, chasing lightning bugs.  

“David!” Jen screams.

And here is the deer. Not a fawn exactly. More like an adolescent with spots.

I can’t swerve left because there’s a white car coming from the opposite direction. I can’t swerve right because the shoulder is soft and narrow and the ditch is deep enough to send us flipping. All I can do is hit the brakes and brace for what’s to come. A terrible thud and crunch. Bits of plastic flying. Jen shrieking, James crying, and Mazzy too short to see, but shouting, “What happened, Daddy? What happened?”

The Highlander grinds to a halt.

“Is everyone okay?”

“No!” James says. “Everyone’s not okay! You killed a deer!”

“Awww,” Mazzy says.

I watch the white car in the rearview mirror. It slows as it approaches the little deer sprawled out in the road but does not stop. Instead, it moves on, carrying its passengers away from the scene of an accident. Maybe they’re busy, I think. Heading to look at a cottage on the lake.   

Jen has her hand clamped over her mouth. James has his head in his lap and is covering his ears. Mazzy smiles as she fights back tears.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” I say, but when I get to the deer it’s clear that it’s going to take much longer. There’s a broken neck, busted ribs, and bleeding out the mouth and nose. But the spinal cord must be intact, because it’s moving its eyes and twitching its legs. I kneel and stroke its side and tell it I’m sorry. I look back at the Highlander, but I’m blinded by bright sunlight beaming off the window and hood. There is nobody else here for this. Just me and the deer.  So, I pick it up and carry it to the woods. Its head swings back-and-forth, dangling like a rock in the end of a tube sock, and the little body tremors as I navigate through brush and branches. I find a clearing near the base of a large cedar tree and lay the deer on the ground. There is gurgling, more blood, and the deer struggles to breathe. It could last like this for hours, maybe the night, or even a day. So, I break boughs from the tree, place them over the deer’s face, and shove my knee and all my weight into the deer’s throat. I push and push as hard as I can knowing that what I’ve started cannot be stopped. Not even as a twig snaps and I turn to find myself locked in the glassy-eyed gaze of the big doe that’s waiting for her baby.

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