The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories
It was early Sunday morning, we were going hunting again. Father and I were cruising down a road in his 1959 Buick Super, the one with the white-wall tires and black leather interior, which always looked too shiny, too slippery, and too fast. The car was gigantic. Riding in it felt like being in our living room with the radio blaring out speeches of some politician who father liked because, he said, the car we were riding (his pride and joy) had been bought with ‘McGovern’s egg money.’
I never liked hunting. I was a very good shot with the rifle, but I couldn’t kill anything. In fact, father always urged me to compete to win ribbons because I always scored a bull’s eye at the firing range, and at the carnival, during the yearly Fair in July. But that was just for fun. I was showing off. Whenever I saw a girl watching me, I’d take my time aiming, fuzzing a little with the rifle, so as to get the girl’s attention, then I’d hit the target over and over; aiming to get the biggest prize, usually, a stuffed animal that I would then gift to the girl, just to feel that rush inside me that, at my age, I could do nothing about.
That was all good, yet, when it came to hunting, I could never bring myself to kill an animal. I’d developed a thick patch of skin on the back of my head on the spot where father slapped me, hard but without sting, like swatting a fly off my neck, each time he caught me in the blind reading a comic instead of minding my rifle.
Father was a man of few words. From a very early age, he’d relied on the eloquence of his fists, and the fierceness of blood, to communicate his displeasure, and he always drove the ‘Super’ like he were taming a bucking bronco. He’d keep the pressure on the accelerator with his heavy boot, even when driving past the well known spot around Mitchell’s bend, where the Sheriff parked his cruiser to catch out-of-town speeders. He, the Sheriff, however, never stopped father. Ever!
That Sunday morning, when we reached the bend, father slammed on the brake pedal with both his heavy boots. The braking wheels let out a loud sound, like the whinnying of a dying mule being euthanized by a bullet. The Super fishtailed and skidded down the pavement for several feet before coming to a stop. A thick blue-black cloud of smoke trailed behind us. The pungent stench of burning rubber went up my nostrils and nearly caused me to gag. The jerking stop made our bodies lurch forward with fury, our heads were saved from crashing into the windshield by the sturdiness of the car’s seat belts; the latest and most neglected safety feature built into all cars at the time, which father swore by, and made wear habitually.
After the smoke cleared the cabin, father pushed the gearshift lever into park with a quick motion of his right arm, like a boxer throwing a blow to an opponent’s jaw; he unbuckled his seat belt; unlatched the driver side door of the Buick, and pushed it open with his left knee. Using both his hands, he propelled himself out of the car, and crouching, he waddled like a duck fleeing a predator toward car’s rear end. I saw him reflected in the passenger side mirror, ducking, using the bulk of the car for cover, while fanning the lingering smoke away from his face with quick motions of his hands, like swatting invisible gnats floating about him. I sat in the car frozen, like an apparition, watching the scene unfold before my eyes with my jaw hanging open below my nose, mystified by father’s actions.
I heard the jingling of keys, then saw the trunk of the Buick lift suddenly, obstructing my view of father. When the lid came back down, slowly, purposefully, without making a sound, I saw father cradling his 30.06 rifle; its leather strap coiled about his left forearm, like a blind snake twisting on a log. I saw father bend down, then move, commando like, sliding his back against the side of the Buick, until he reached the passenger side of the vehicle where I sat. His ruddy, chaffed scalp, visible through his balding spot, moved towards me. When it stopped, the passenger door arched open in slow motion, revealing father’s body pushing the door open with his left shoulder while keeping his eyes on the nearby woods; holding the rifle with both hands, as if it were carrying the regiment’s colors during battle. I undid my seat belt and let my body slide heavily out of the cabin, until my feet touched the hard surface of the road with a thick, dull thud.
SHHHHHH! Father said, without looking at me. SHHHHH! he repeated.
Look! He whispered. Look there, he whispered again, this time motioning with his half-cocked chin in the direction of the woods’ edge. See it? He asked, still not looking at me. I nodded my head sideways in response. See it? He repeated, his eyes fixed on a distant spot in the woods. I looked at his ruddy face in profile, his eyes were bulging out of their sockets like the eyes of a fish on the butcher’s table. Yes, I see it! I replied. SHHHHH! He said, while motioning the open palm of his right hand downward, towards the ground, like petting an invisible puppy; a motion I recognized from our many unsuccessful hunting outings, telling me to crouch down next to him and be quiet. I bent my right knee and moved closer to his body. The smell of father’s sweat, mixed with the flat, piercing stench of stale tobacco, hit my nostrils, while the metallic smell of oil lubricant father used to clean the rifle, overpowered and subjugated the natural scents of dry leaves and moist earth, which drifted aimlessly on a soft wind, as it blew gently, heeding father’s command to be quiet.
Father rested the rifle’s butt on his right shoulder, peeped through the gun-sight with his right eye, while his left twitched tightly shut. My eyes followed the rifle’s sight to where it was pointing and saw the target which had caused my father to turn, suddenly and instinctively, into a natural predator: a colossal 28-pointer white-tail buck, staring back at the Buick, with confused ignorance, from the black of the woods. At that moment, when I spotted the animal, something possessed me. Before father could squeeze off a single shot from his rifle, I did not feel my body stand up, and I did not hear my mouth let out an extremely loud and incredibly strong: AAAAHHHHHH!
When I opened my eyes, I saw clouds. They floated like broken ice on a thawing river. At first glance, they seem to not move, as if they were glued against the deep, Royal blue sky. I felt the vivid sensation that I was drifting along with the clumps towards the horizon. A single vanishing cloud took the shape of a leaping stag rearing high on its hind legs; balancing a rack of antlers, until the force of the wind’s invisible wings fanned it into oblivion and it drifted like delicate snow .
I must have passed out for several minutes. I still lay on the same spot where my body had fallen. I felt no pain. I felt no discomfort as I lay on the pavement, until I tried lifting my head. It felt heavy and hot. I was dazed, then I recalled the image of father’s fist crashing, with full force, against the bones on my face. My left eye still felt his knuckles landing on it without restraint, solidly, and audibly, with full grownup force and plenty of heat. Then, silence. Not a sound. Not a word; followed by mechanical movements of father, putting away his rifle and driving the 1959 Buick Super at top speed. His eyes staring solidly at the black ribbon winding and unwinding before us. His furious nostrils rushed air in-and-out of his head, like the thunderous currents beneath the ice when the river froze-over in the winter of ‘58.
Next Sunday morning, I heard the strain of the floor boards above my head from the weight of father’s body, followed by the sharp squeaking noises of the rubber soles of his work-boots dragging across the linoleum floor in the kitchen. I knew it was time to get up to go hunting, again. I got up and entered the kitchen. I stood motionless in my checkered pajamas and watched father flick a cigarette into his mouth and hold it there, suspended between his dry lips, waiting to be lit. When he saw me standing in there, he stared at me with a cold meaningful look. He got up from the chair he’d been straddling, and without taking his eyes off me, he walked towards the stove. He flicked the gas on with a twist of the knob. The rapid click-click-click-click noise from the stove was followed by the distinct odor of gas, culminating in a burst of blue flame which materialize with an explosive thud that generated enough heat to reach my face across the kitchen where I stood framed by the doorway.
Father stood motionless, staring at me with his uneven eyes. His head jerked and twitched from side to side, as if daring me to say something. He turned to the stove, lower his head, and brought his face dangerously close to the blue flame and lit the cigarette dangling from his lips. He lifted his face to the ceiling, with the cigarette still in his mouth, and took a long, deep drag, which he kept in his lungs for a long while. After that awkward pause, he let out a double stream of white smoke from his nostrils. A deeply felt sigh came from his gut. He lingered there for a moment with eyes closed. He took a second drag. Exhaled and took the cigarette from his mouth, held it between his thumb and index finger, inward, so that the cigarette was cupped inside his hand with its butt facing towards me. He turned his head to look at me, defiantly, as if asking with the stare of his rigid eyes: “What the hell are you doing there?”
It was another Sunday morning. The sun was nearly atop the roof of our house casting shadows on the meticulously trimmed lawn, the azaleas, and the black-top leading to the garage where father stood behind the 1959 Buick Super. He stood there, defiantly, his angular head thrusting forward, causing his shiny, pocked skin, to stretch thin over his angular skull. Sweat meandered down from his crew cut in snaking little rivers then slid down his temples, and flowed down his glistening red neck, until it disappeared down into his dingy white shirt.
Father summoned me with a cold, flat, dry, single-syllable word: “Boy!”
His voice was harsh, but with no heat, no threat. Just hard and flat. BOY! Loud enough to fear, but not so loud to threaten. The tone of his voice pinched my guts and stiffened my spine. “Boy! Come ‘ere!” He demanded, as he stood motionless behind the wide open trunk of the Buick. I cajoled my feet into moving forward, despite the reluctance of my mind to obey father’s command. Timidly, I reached the spot where father stood. I looked up at him. He looked down at me. I looked down at my shoes, then looked back up at him with an inquisitive look in my eyes.
He didn’t answer my questioning look. He said nothing. Staring at my face, he lifted his right hand, where he was cupping a lit cigarette, and stuck it between his lips. He motioned his head towards the trunk of the car without taking his eyes off mine. He pointed to the trunk, purposely, with his chin, keeping his cold, piercing eyes on mine. He jerked his neck twice, sideways, urging me to turn my gaze to the trunk of his Buick.
I dragged my gaze from his fierce stare to the gaping trunk. The shock of recognition hit me like father’s fist, hard, blunt, cold, and unmitigated. I nearly fell backwards. Father gripped my arm with his strong fingers, digging deep into my flesh, restricting my movements. He squeezed my face hard, and held it fast, to prevent me from looking away. I rolled my eyes in their sockets to look at him, as a lamb in the slaughter house begging for pity. Father eyeballed me pitilessly. I tried to look away. He shook me. I rolled my eyes again and looked into his. They wore no expression. They just bulged out of his dull head as it moved up and down, with its facial muscles twitching. Father’s uneven eyes squinted from the smoke of the cigarette he held in his lips. He Knew. I knew. He let go. With tears welling, I looked in the trunk and saw my reflection staring back from a large, glistening eye on the severed head of the 28-pointer, white-tail buck.
He didn’t talk. I didn’t talk.
That Sunday night, I went to bed without supper. I got into bed wearing my street clothes. I waited patiently on my bed, staring at the ceiling. When the thick thud of the other shoe hit the floor boards, I leaped out of bed ( my heart was not even pounding hard. I felt no shame. I felt no remorse. I felt no fear. ) I groped my way to the garage. In the dark, I got the keys to the gun case. With my eyes closed (to get a better mental picture) I turned the key, opened the gun case, and lifted the 30.06 from its cradle. I held the barrel of the gun with both hands. I could smell the lubricating oil and felt its slickness on my fingertips. When I turned to leave, I felt the gun’s butt scraping the side of the Buick with a screeching metallic noise. I let it rest against the bruised car.
Without thinking, feeling, or hesitating, I put the gun inside a gunny sack and carried it out of the garage. The full moon was the only witness to my transgression. It was MY witness. I rode my bike and with the gunny sack over my shoulder to the nearby river. My legs felt no pain as I peddled. I felt no heat in my lungs. I felt no exhaustion. When I reached my destination, I dropped my two-wheeler aside and ran to the river’s edge. I did not feel the weight of the weapon on my shoulders, nor did I feel the angular hardness of the rifle bruising my back. I did not feel any pain.
I stood at the water’s edge staring at the quick silver reflection of the moon shimmering on the water. I put the gunny sack on the ground, pealed the 30.06 from the sack; planted its butt on the ground, and for a moment, stared straight down the gun's dark muzzle. Then, with all my might, I lifted it by the barrel and flung the offending weapon into the darkness. Its silhouetted shape froze momentarily in the air, suspended in time, as if trying to redefine the ambiguous meaning of its existence. I watched it fly silently until it came down with a muffled but liberating splash and shattered into splinters the shivering shape of the moon on the surface of the water.
© Oswaldo Jimenez December 2013
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