It was a perfect day to shoot. She didn’t need anyone to tell her that, especially not her grandfather, scowling at her as soon as she saw him coming her way. Maybe it was just an old person’s way to signal the obvious, that it was goddamned cold out there in the barn. The quality of the air insulting you every step you took. Or maybe something had scurried across his boot and he hadn’t had a hammer or a shovel or anything handy to get at it with. A creature that gets into the feed and has a feast for weeks, unseen. That kind of event could put a scowl on someone’s face, a missed opportunity like that.
Perfect day to shoot he’d said to her, without even stopping, just in passing as he walked by, on his way to the shed to grab a rifle, most likely. Clomping out his 42, sometimes 43, steps from the barn to the shed. The words had friendly bearings, but he’d sent them through the scowl, a veil of frustration the phrase had to pass through. Was it because she had a dress on, her long-johns pulled up underneath? She liked all the pockets of the skirt for putting things in. And the extra layer, making a nice total of 4, including her underwear and sweater. And she liked the feel of the fabric lightly lifting and lowering against her when she was outside. A tally for those movements, each lift and lower, until the count got to a number she felt right leaving off from. Well, it was a perfect day to shoot, so forget about him, forget about his mood or the cold that made him move like a broken machine or the way he’d barely looked at her. It was a perfect day to shoot, and shoot the shit out of it she planned to do. In the shed he was picking up various firearms and considering them, not this one, definitely not that one. His reasons for rejection were as inscrutable as his foul mood. He handed her one without giving her any chance to decline. Not that she’d dream of it. It’d finish her chance to go out and hunt, and she knew there’d be no flaw in the reasoning of his choice. She liked the old .22 anyhow, had had lots of luck with that one. Let’s shoot something, she thought, as a way to settle herself, but she didn’t say it out loud. That would be a crazy thing to say, like Let’s breathe, let’s live.
She hit something small in the brush that had the salty, metallic smell of fear still rising from it when she went to retrieve it. 18 steps. A rabbit, lean like all sprinters, the mix of softness and sinews when it was in her hands. Not huge game, to be sure, but it was full-grown. And she’d made a clean shot. That was a pure mark of her own ability, right there, the hole between the eye and the ear, as clear as a gold trophy or an A+ on a report card.
They’d been out all day without seeing much until then—gently stepping, looking, waiting. No talking beyond tracking, which was fine by her. The sun was lowering already. Her mind mapped the cleaving of the hide from the rabbit’s framework. 361 bones. Then the careful scooping out of unnecessary bits. She watched her grandfather head back towards the shed, his hunched shoulders holding strength just beneath the arc of flannel plaid. But there was something else too—like a giving-in. To their places the rifles were headed, back where they belonged, muzzles still warmer than the air around them. She took the parcel of fur, a little bloody, not too bad, and wrapped it in an old piece of t-shirt until it was to her liking, a package readied to travel. In one of the roomy front pockets of her dress, the shape curled like a baby kangaroo, cooling, against her hip. Up the hill toward the house, she’s climbing fast, thinking about the nice parts she’ll save from the clearing off. Rabbit has most of the same cuts as a deer, just smaller. It’s good practice, the breaking down of a complicated system, on a small scale. Cooked right, the meat will keep the wild, woodsy taste of roaming, the flavor of all the grasses and berries the busy creature found before it came to her.
Story by Hillery Hugg
Photo by Levi Mandel
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