In the early morning, the spotted pig made its slow descent down from the mountaintop. My mother watched the hills through a pair of naval binoculars, the rusty iron stand dug firmly into the dirt at the edge of our last butterbean patch.
She said something was coming down, something small, something round.
We were to keep the pigs out, hogs, wild boars, whatever thing that would transmit the blue ear to any of our neighborhood’s many herds. A 7mm stood against the shed where my father had kept his hunter-friends months before, where they had sat beneath the bug light dangling by an unfurled wire hanger. They had passed around a guitar, an ice chest full of beer, talked about Troy Jefferson’s ex-wife and that young girl of theirs, and of course she would grow up to be a trophy one day, too. Three dozen empty bottles of Busch Light sat or had rolled off the cement floor into the gravel, and now the thick, dry anthills claimed those.
My mother eyed the hills again, watched as the pig grew closer. I quickly pulled at a handful of butterbeans, tried to avoid seeing what she could see. There had been a light rain, earlier in the morning, when there was nothing but dark and the sound of a distant dog barking, hoping to be let in away from the flickering punch of thunder. The butterbean shells were soft and moist on my fingertips. The speckled leaves jerked back, rattled and splattered miniscule beads of water onto my face.
The center of the patch beneath my bare feet was thick. Black mud nearly covered my ankles. I threw the shells into the empty red plastic bucket sitting next to the binocular stand.
Go and get the gun, she said. I popped out into the cold, wet grass stretching towards the gravel and shed. My feet are still tender because as a child I never went out to play. But when times are hard, my father once said, outside is the only comfort we can afford.
When I was a boy, I remember asking why he didn’t get paid to hunt deer. Everyone took turns skinning and eating his deer off the rack behind the shed in the pines.
He told me people don’t get paid to do what they love. They get paid to do what they don’t want to do. Before he left, he knocked off the rack, cut down the pines and chopped firewood. The stack is still seasoning beneath a dry rotted tarp next to the house. Troy Jefferson says we’ll need it, come winter. Troy is good to mom, brings bags of purple hulls to shell between our knees and boil and put away for next year. He knew my father, maybe, more than I ever would.
Mold covered the rifle’s barrel. It had sat in the gun-safe for a few years before my father took it apart and cleaned it. Told me to do the outside, which I never got around to. I still don’t know what he did, why he left, why he’s never been back. My mother and the pigs are the only things left. We don’t use the shed. I tell her we could close it up and make a smokehouse but she says the shed wouldn’t be right for a smokehouse.
I clamped the magazine shut and cycled the bullet into the chamber. The bolt caught at first but I jarred it free with the heel of my palm.
She stood behind the naval binoculars, sentinel—I joke with her, sometimes, say we’ll build her a tower, but she says she’d rather have a Cadillac.
She pulled a satsuma out of her overall pockets and clawed at it with her yellow fingernails.
Want some orange? she asked with half a mouthful. A satsuma is an orange, she had said before, if it tastes like an orange.
I flipped the safety with my thumb, glassed the hills. The spotted pig broke through the bushes, a church bell rang. Everyone in the neighborhood shot, bullets tack-tack-tacking out into the open space, the pig scattering around confused. I shot two or three bullets, but when it finally went down I couldn’t tell if it had been me or someone else that had killed it.
My mother had kept her satsuma-juiced fingers in her ears. She has never liked the loudness of guns. And: Why we bother, she says. Probably meaning we waste too many bullets when there are so many neighbors firing at the same animal, each to a similar end.
I went to the shed and gathered all the empty bottles I could find. Brought them out into the open ground and sat them up, like soldiers in a line. When my mother had gone, binoculars and stand and bucket with her, I got down in the mud in the bean patch like a sniper, cycled the bolt and shot. My ears rang, and numbed. The brown bottles exploded like fireworks. Shells dot the rugged earth wherever I lay.
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