Submitted into Contest #110 in response to: Write about a couple who fall out on the road.... view prompt


American Creative Nonfiction Sad

I asked him why we couldn't shoot doe and he told me it's because they were mothers. Without them the fawns would starve or be easily plucked off their teetering legs by coyotes or bears or wander into roads to be smashed by cars. They don’t got antlers but they know how to hide, he said. My brother elbowed me a stiff one as if to tell me to not bother the old man with my stupid questions. As if I should have learned this from morning cartoons or from our uncle with the spongy nose. 

Out there there’s no one to look after you if it ain't your family, he said, picking at his front teeth with a toothpick, darting his eyes back and forth from the headlight-illuminated-road to the rearview mirror until he dislodged the seed, or whatever it was, and flung it from the window into the dark along with the toothpick like a spent cigarette. He rinsed with a gulp of black coffee and wiped the residue from his moustache.  

It was my first hunting trip. The first time our father thought me mature enough, or strong enough, or tight-lipped enough to join him and my older brother in the woods. The three of us packed into the smokey truck cabin, our rifles rattling in the gun hooks behind us, our father’s sitting on the passenger seat floor - my brother holding the barrel to keep it from swaying around as we drove down the rutted dirt road.   

My rifle was smaller than theirs as I was only ten. Mine - a .22 bolt action Winchester with a scope that made my brother envious. When he complained to my father on my birthday that it wasn’t fair that my rifle had a scope and his didn't, my father reminded him that although it had a scope it couldn’t down a deer. The bullets were too small to push through their muscle. The only thing I’d be looking at in the crosshairs would be squirrels and raccoons. My brother’s - a .30-30 lever action Winchester with open sights. Our father taught him how to keep the barrel steady. When to inhale and how to hold it, how slowly to exhale. I learned what I could watching the session in the backyard but that was years before, when I was 8. Our father’s rifle - a 30 ought 6 that his father gave him. 

My brother and I were both wearing the camouflage that our mother had laid out for us on the kitchen table before we woke up along with two thermoses of hot coffee, black, that I had only ever tasted once and spit into the sink. It’s what men drink, my brother told me as we walked to the truck. Our father wore jeans and an unbuttoned red flannel over a gray V-neck. The only camouflage he wore was his hat but he always wore that. Even in the house. Even at Grandpa’s funeral. Our mother told him the priest would tell him and his brothers to remove their hats but he never did. 

Why aren’t you wearing camo? I  asked him. 

Deer can’t see color, our father said. You only need camo for hunting birds. 

Why can’t they see color? I asked. 

Well, maybe they can. Just not much. Not like us. 

Are there colors we can’t see? My brother jabbed me in the side again with an elbow. 

We can see most of them. Birds can see more. But they can’t smell like a deer can. 

He continued picking at his teeth with his tongue, adjusting the rear view mirror to get a better angle of his mouth. I wondered what colors we couldn’t see. If trees and rocks and the sky had different colors that only birds could enjoy or that maybe some people could see them and others couldn’t and all of our mutual understanding was actually a mutual misunderstanding and that the camouflage I was wearing was actually a blend of pink and orange or perhaps it was all one color and not a blend at all, or that maybe our father’s red flannel was actually camouflage to someone else and his V-neck matched his skin or couldn’t be seen by people at all. 

The truck rumbled onto a smaller dirt road, just wide enough to fit one truck. Our father lit a cigarette. My brother leaned from the passenger window and sucked up the morning air. The sun was beginning to peek through the red, orange, and yellow leaves. Leaves that must have made the forest dull to some, blinding to others. 

We’re late, he said. He didn’t slow for an opossum slowly slinking across the road, his glowing eyes disappearing into the brush beside us. We came upon a pull-off that overlooked a small brook. Stay in the truck, he said. I want to finish my smoke. 

We sat three across the bench seat, staring at the trees wavering in the truck headlights, our thighs touching. I wanted to speak up and ask what we were waiting for but feared another elbow to the ribs. Headlights appeared on the road coming toward us. 

Our father took a final drag of his cigarette and tossed it from the window. 

Stay inside the truck, my brother said, grabbing me by the elbow, as our father exited to greet the woman in the station wagon. They chatted for a moment. It was difficult to see the woman’s face through her headlights but I could hear the soft lilt of her voice and her shushing the coos and whines of a baby sitting in the back seat.  After a moment of chatter he returned to the truck and told us to get out. 

You remember the trail, Gary? My brother nodded. 

We filed out of the truck and our father passed us our rifles. 

I’ll be back at nightfall. We’ll meet here. 

The car pulled away followed by our father’s truck, its tail lights illuminating the road behind it. Or maybe it was the rising sun poking through the branches of red leaves. 

September 11, 2021 00:52

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