Death at my elbow yesterday, then. In the morning, a driver infuriated with a single-track road decided to squeeze past, clipping my handlebars and bumping my legs as he did so. If anyone sees a green, heavy-looking hatchback in the Cotswolds, being driven by a tit, feel free to fais ce que voudras. I’d have given him a piece of my voudras, or at any rate taken his registration number, but I preferred to aim loud, sarcastic comments at him as he headed off up the hill. In retrospect that was the wrong choice, but it felt awfully good at the time.
On the way home I saw a muntjac faun ahead of me being narrowly missed by a car, acting utterly unperturbed as the speeding vehicle swerved to avoid it on a tight, forewarned blind corner. The creature observed my cycling, half-human form (I’ve been called worse) with much less sangfroid, and started to edge away from the road. I slowed down to encourage it to get across the broad verge and into a field, and suddenly it bolted towards a mesh fence topped with barbed wire. It struggled up the fence, trying to avoid the wire and the branches above it, and all the time it was letting out these pitiful, helpless mewing noises. I’ve never heard a deer cry out before, and I’ve certainly never heard that sound come out of any other animal.
Although I was slowing down in shock, I ended up cycling too far to be able to keep my eyes on it, but I could hear it rattling away at the fence; by the time I had turned round and wheeled my bicycle back, it had managed to wriggle free and vanish. I was relieved it had extricated itself and disappeared into the relative safety of the field, but I won’t forget those noises for a long time: those pathetic, panicked calls that the faun itself would never have let me, a predator-shape, answer. I heard them in my head all evening.
Then, as I’m still waking up this morning, I hear that Kurt Vonnegut has died in the night. Anyone who has read his historical and political works is probably as utterly devastated at the news as I am. Novels such as the anti-polemic Slaughterhouse-Five (or, The Children’s Crusade), or the ironic satires Cat’s Cradle and Mother Night, act on the reader like alchemy. He was on the side of the innocent, and the benevolent, and those who temper their innate foolishness with love and compassion. A little piece of our collective conscience has gone, or at any rate the struts that support it: he’s left us his books but now we have to do the hard work.
If you’re haunted by cries in the night, then read Vonnegut. He won’t make them leave you alone, but he might show you what they’re trying to say.