The pheasant spooked out of the dry corn and he remembered the feel of pulling on a bird, wood stock in gloved hands, long metal stretching out before him. It had been years since he’d shot anything—lost his taste for it, he told people if they ever asked—but the air this time of year still smelled odd without the tang of gun oil overlaying the autumn scents of decaying leaves and cold fronts moving in.
The bird flapped hard for the tree line. He found he was leading it in his mind, remembering the feel of the over-under bucking in his grip when he found his spot and fired. He shook himself free of the thought. He never much cared for what came next, anyway.
The hunt can be clean, he thought, but the kill is always dirty.
He wasn’t sure if he’d heard that or made it up. Age wasn’t stealing his memories, just the ability to attribute them properly.
To the point: he had clear memories of the corn field he trudged through. Remembered it as a boy, when he’d lived in the farmhouse on the hill overlooking it. The field was sown with tobacco then and covered in gauzy netting that mirrored the gypsy moths tenting the surrounding trees. Later it was beets, then lettuce, and finally corn, and whenever it was freshly plowed he and his brothers would charge out into the deep brown of it. They threw clods of dirt at each other and made grenade noises when their projectiles hit home. Pointed fingers at each other and rat-a-tatted if they missed.
He was the last of the brothers left. He didn’t like to think of how they died, two of them bed-ridden and cancerous, one drunk and sorrowful.
Think about a man’s death too long and you won’t remember his life.
He stumbled and pretended that it was the uneven ground of the cornfield. Not the memories. Not the day.
The day a man dies should be the least important day of his life, he thought. Not worth talking about.
When he was younger, the hunt was the flush of the bird, the kick of the gun, the bark of the dog set loose to retrieve. But now, watching the pheasant soar low into the forest, its flapping done, all he could see was the inevitable end: the bird, suddenly bereft—of thrust, of life—become now only a broken thing falling from the sky. He saw it over and over, the broken thing falling, a hundred broken things, a thousand, falling, always falling, and he saw their carcasses in the dead and dying corn, their bodies matching the dull brown tapestry of the dirt and cornstalks beneath them, the feathers of their heads incongruously iridescent and bright.
The pheasant disappeared into the dark of the forest.
After a time, he followed.
He thought he might find a tree to sit beneath for a while. See if the day got any colder.
Adam Stemple is an author, poet, and musician who lives in Minneapolis and spends too much time online. He can be found at adamstemple.com, twitter.com/adamstemple4, or facebook.com/adamstemple.
Photo on Visualhunt
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