24th January

Without Incident

Off the motorway and onto the short cut, over the hill: almost as soon as he’d made that decision he was doubting its wisdom. The motorway, gritted and salted, had been black, but on this narrow road there was a fresh white dusting even before it began to climb from the carse.* Perhaps he should play safe, drive the extra ten miles to the city and out through its suburbs to reach home. But there was no easy place to turn the car. Anyway the snow wasn’t that deep. Fifteen uneventful minutes was all he needed.

At the first bend he felt the tyres spin, grip, spin again. He braked, not heavily, and the car lurched sideways. He steered into the skid, and brought the car to a halt. He let go a deep breath. Okay. Still no room to turn, so he set off again, slipping into second gear but no higher, balancing his efforts to turn the wheel as little as possible against the need for enough speed to cope with the incline. He took corners in the middle of the road. At least at night there was some warning from headlights if someone was coming the other way.

There was no moon, but his own lights illuminated the snow lying every- where, giving the landscape an eerie brightness. He was suddenly aware of the loudness of the orchestral music he’d been playing. It filled the car, but he hadn’t heard any of it these last intense minutes. He hit the off button, turned the heating down. He wanted to be alone, to be just himself on the road, to concentrate on the drive, to get home without incident.

Round the last tricky bend, he crested the summit. All downhill from here. As he thought this, a flickering movement to his right distracted him. On the bank above the road, level with his window, a roe deer was running, its eye full of fear, its lean, brown body shining in the weird light. Such near grace, such wild, white-bummed beauty, and he the only witness. And the deer, outpacing the car, skipped down onto the white road, crossed into the trees, and was away.

* stretch of low-lying alluvial land beside a river (Scots)

Reader: Kirstin McLean
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Piano: Kit Downes
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