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Afternoon of a Fawn
Roy Blount
September 16, 1991
If it weren't for Jessie Betts's skating dress, the author wouldn't have had this close encounter of the deer kind
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September 16, 1991

Afternoon Of A Fawn

If it weren't for Jessie Betts's skating dress, the author wouldn't have had this close encounter of the deer kind

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I have a good first serve when I get it in, but otherwise my tennis game is not, I like to believe, a reflection of my character. Jon is a decade or so older than I am and has a bad leg and a worse racket, but his play is clever, steady and amicably intent; whereas my ground strokes fluctuate back and forth from overhit to tentative, my concentration is feverish one moment and miles away the next, I am often preoccupied with trying to think of some way to dissociate myself from my last shot (if not from my character) as I hit the next, and I lack (on those rare occasions when it might become an issue) a killer instinct.

In my day I have pressed strong opponents, however, and over the years I have mellowed to the point that I no longer scream and throw my racket. And this was the first set I had played since the previous summer, so when I lost to Jon 6-0 without having got loose yet, and noticed that it was time to head toward the city, I was philosophical. After all, I was about to spend the rest of my afternoon coming to the aid of a promising young American figure skater.

Knowing the importance of my mission, Jon volunteered to sweep the court. I hustled up the path and emerged from the woods into the Bettses' backyard.

Where a deer stood.

Just stood there. About halfway between me and the Bettses' driveway, where my car was parked.

Deer abound in western Massachusetts. Once, after a heavy rain, I looked out the window of my own house and saw a big deer rushing downstream in the river. I thought maybe it was being swept away by the swollen current, but when I ran out and hollered, "Hey!" the deer hooked a quick U-turn, swam back up-stream a few yards and then jumped out of the water and ran through the middle of the village into the trees behind the general store.

The deer of my story, as I say, was just standing there. In the Bettses' backyard. I glanced at my watch, saw that I had a little leeway timewise, and thought to myself, "I believe I'll see how close I can get to this deer."

I crept toward him. He didn't move. I crept closer. He didn't move. He almost looked like he was looking right at me, but I couldn't tell for sure. I crept closer, then I relaxed, stood up straight, walked right toward him. He didn't move.

At this point in the story people suspect a trick: "Stuffed, right?" My agent, Esther Newberg, to whom I told this story the day after it happened—at that point I was still so stirred by the story that I thought her first reaction was going to be an eagerness to sell the movie rights. But no, what she said was, "Right, right, the Woody Allen moose, right? Wakes up on the bumper of the car."

And my own sister, Susan, said: "Is this going to be like the time in New Mexico we took that old dried-up deer carcass that the dogs drug up and we put it in your bed to see what you'd say when you pulled the covers back?"

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