Winter in Tennessee: A Very Short Story

Today's New York Times weekend magazine has a great short story by Kevin Wilson. The story captures the essence of living a slightly different life and meeting a new challenge.

Most of us go through life with little change. Our days turn into weeks, months and years and what change we experience is so slow we hardly notice until one day we realize we are much older, not as spry and there are fewer days to the end than there were. This story is a window into two lives taking a different route than they had been living and the change with its challenge is peaceful. Living on the land, I can appreciate every word of the story and their concerns that needed to be addressed. I like the ending.

Winter in Tennessee
Published: February 20, 2009
The New York Times
After years of renting rooms in other people’s houses and tiny apartments that we didn’t even bother to decorate, my wife and I finally purchased our first house: a cabin on a few acres in the woods of southern Tennessee. The structure itself was nondescript from the outside and spare on the interior, but the view of the pond out back was pretty, a peaceful expanse of calm water.
It was winter, and the house needed a lot of work before we moved in. As I proceeded to rip the skin from my fingertips trying to pry old linoleum from the floors, I began to feel less confident about our decision. The place seemed smaller than I remembered. At night, the woods were dark and deep and not at all lovely, and stray dogs howled for hours on end. The cabin, a post-and-beam construction lacking nails, ticked in the cold and sounded as if it were slowly falling apart. While I was trying to replace the busted fixtures on the bathroom sink, I thought longingly about how, when we were renting, this was all someone else’s problem.
On our second day in the house, I took a walk across the property along the edge of the pond. The January air was near freezing, and every living thing was gray and silent. About 20 yards out, I noticed something floating in the water, a small hump of an island, bobbing in the wind. It took several minutes of staring to realize I was looking at the body of a deer.
I hurried back to the house where my wife was unpacking dishes and explained the situation in the broadest of terms.
A dead deer. Floating. In our pond. “What do you want to do?” she asked.
“Maybe it will just sink,” I said, without much confidence.
“Should we call someone?” she said. “Is there a service for this kind of thing?” It was a Saturday, and we lived in the woods. No one was coming to help us. It was getting colder outside, and the edges of the pond were already frozen. The deer would soon be held in place by the encroaching ice; we would look out at it every morning through the long winter. “Well, what do you want to do?” my wife repeated.
“I want to get it out of there,” I told her, and she nodded her approval.
Back outside, I realized that the deer simply was too far away from us to retrieve with a long stick or a rope. So I took off my boots and socks and began to roll up the cuffs of my jeans, before realizing that nothing was going to prevent my jeans from getting soaked. “Should you just go in naked?” my wife asked. No, I decided, a man needed clothes on when he pulled a dead deer from the water, or else things got weird.
I took a cautious step into the pond and felt the thin layer of ice at the edges give way. What was beneath it was indescribably cold, the earth slick and unsteady under my feet. I focused on the dull curve of the deer’s body, step by step, until I was only a few feet from the animal, my hands raised above my head as if I were being held at gunpoint. It was impossible to quell the nervous feeling that the deer was not really dead, was merely sleeping or had created some elaborate trap for me and that I was walking into a situation more complicated than I anticipated.
My fingers totally numb, I cautiously gripped two of the deer’s legs, surprisingly solid in my hands, and pulled the body back to dry land. After several strong, solid tugs, its body came to rest on the grass, water spilling from its mouth, its eyes wide open.
The deer was beautiful. Because of the cold, there was no sign of decay; its fur, though freezing to the touch, was slick and soft. The white flag of its tail was pristine. And then we finally noticed a small entry wound, a gunshot, on the deer’s right flank. Otherwise the animal was perfect. My wife pointed to my feet, which were turning a bluish pale. “Aren’t you freezing?” she asked, and I resisted the urge to say something rude and ruin the solemnity of the event.
The ground was too hard to dig a grave, so we covered the deer with fallen tree branches and leaves. We would have to dispose of the body eventually, but not until the weather warmed up. I was shivering. “We need to get inside,” my wife said, and she put her hand on my back, nudging me toward the house. The grass and leaves crunched under our feet, and we made our way to our new home, the lights on, waiting for us. Inside, my wife wrapped me in a blanket, found our teapot in a box and put it on the stove to warm. The posts and beams clicked and whined with the effort, not of falling apart but of keeping itself together.
Kevin Wilson is the author of a story collection, “Tunneling to the Center of the Earth,” to be published later this year.