15th May

The White Hind

We drove down the road, saddened by my father’s decline. In just a few weeks he had slipped further from the world, yet was still in it. Everything was crumbling or closing down: speech, hearing, mobility, thought, the basic functions of eating, drinking and digestion on which we build what we dare to call dignity, but which, from another view, is little more than infantile helplessness kept at bay. We crossed firths and rivers; we saw fields full of russet cows and white sheep, with their young not yet inured to the roar of traffic; we bypassed towns and villages, kept pace with the train for a mile or two, noted the fresh snow that despite the late season had appeared on the mountains since three days before, saw dead things at the roadside – a badger, a stag, a fox – and thought how those corpses indicated, ironically, the abundance of life. And all the way, whether we talked or were silent, my father was with us, in his isolation and resignation and frustration, objecting to being fussed over, at every turn revealing the weaknesses that led to the fussing. ‘You’re as bad as your mother,’ he told me – as fussy as a woman, in other words. ‘You don’t know what it’s like.’ And he was right, I didn’t. If he was a swearer he’d have been shouting the bloody house down, but his silences were just as bitter. ‘I wish someone would shoot me,’ he said.

We turned off the main road and cut eastward, the last twenty miles to home. Through the passenger window I glimpsed a white shape moving among the trees. It was a glimpse of something rare and special, as yet unidentified. We turned back, and there she was, the white hind, in a group of five. The other four deer had been camouflaged against the bark and brown undergrowth, but not her. She stood out, single, yet not alone. In days gone by she’d have been a prize, a hunter’s quest. But to us, at least, she did not exist as a target, something waiting to be killed. To us she meant something else, but what? We did not know.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Piano: Kit Downes
Subscribe here for more stories & music