I'm driving. The night is thick and swirling snow puts us in the midst of what feels like Star Wars hyper drive. The younger two are lost in mouths-wide-open-necks-cranked-terribly sleep and the eldest sits in the middle pretending he isn't interested in our grown-up conversation but we both know he's eating it up with late-night-bugged-eyed attention.
We've been on the road for over an hour already and haven't yet seen a plow but we are only ten minutes from home and we're confident we'll get there safely.
I've had to pee since Duntroon. Not an every day discomfort gotta-pee. A full-on, painful, bouncing leg, humming under my breath, if anybody mentions water I'm going to scream gotta pee.
We're coming over a hill from which, on a clear night, we'd be able to see the lights of hometown glory. Which means we're almost there. Which means I'm going to make it.
He appears on the opposite side of the car, all regal and tall - magnificent with a long, lean neck and antlers that burst proudly from his head. The ground is slick but he is haughty and he starts his run with a confident shake of his striking crown.
"We're going to hit," Scott says.
I see him as a golden brown blur that shoots across my vision and I work the brakes and control the spin and skid us to a shaking stop halfway down the hill.
I don't remember the impact. It can't recall the sound or feel of it. I know it's happened but it's as if I was away from my body in the moment it occurred.
The young ones are roused from sleep, big eyes and questions while my heart is beating in my throat and my palms sweat against the steering wheel.
I ease us to the shoulder, put the station wagon into park and turn on the hazard lights.
The children stay buckled while the grownups inspect the damage. It's all in the front end - crumpled and broken. There's a tuft of golden fur clinging to the shattered headlight.
Scott calls 911 and I remember that I've never had to pee so badly in my existence and pat myself on the back for not letting it all loose upon impact. I march to the rear of the car, step into the tall, snowy grass at the edge of the shoulder, unbutton my jeans and squat like it's normal. Except it's not normal. It's freezing. But I don't care. Until the first car we've seen in twenty minutes crawls by on the slippery highway. Hi there!
I button up my pants and take the phone because I was the driver and I tell our story and yes we're all okay and yes, we'll wait for the officer to come.
"What were you doing out there?" one of the children ask as I climb back behind the wheel and turn up the heat.
"Peeing," I say.
"You were not!" Liam argues, because he thinks girls can't pee outside.
The officer comes and says we are a blessing because he's had some bad calls tonight and the roads are awful everywhere. He's kind. He completes an accident report and sends us on our way.
The car drives fine. We haven't damaged any important bits that we can tell. It all seems to be cosmetic.
Sleepy heads get put to bed and I wonder if they'll really remember in the morning because it's so late and their brains must be weary.
We fall into dreamless sleep.
As morning comes and we slowly crawl from our various blanket cocoons, Noa calls sweetly from the couch, "Mommy, remember that time we hit a llama?"