I am on the pull out bed with my sisters, nestled between the
front room and the kitchen, protected by the dogs, which sleep quietly
at our feet. I wake to the kitchen light in my eyes, and my grandfather,
Poppy, making coffee. The odor drifts over me - sharp and strong.
I slip out of bed immediately, straining not to wake my sisters
who I don't want to tag along. I want to be the only kid who knows
what goes on.
We put on warm clothes. My uncle, my mother's brother, moves with
the same motions as Poppy - quiet and sure, gathering their gear.
The kitchen was reinvented these mornings. Usually it was Grandma's
room with bright lights and appliances, and Pepsi in the fridge
and cookies, and smoke from her cigarettes as she chatted on the
phone. This morning it is dim. Poppy owns it differently. It is
utility. He fills a lunch box with an ancient thermos - a country
Their outdoor clothes are strange. They wear enormous costumes like
those of scruffy firefighters with big gloves and snowsuits that
cover their bodies.
My dad wakes like me, excited by the slow-gathering day. We're
inexperienced but dad is pretending like he knows.
We get into the truck. Country music is nearly despicable in the
city, but in the truck on the way to the Horne place it's heaven.
The women with their tough and low drawl talking about hard life
wafts through the silent air with the men sipping, preparing. This
is a different life. The nearest store is a half-hour drive and
the smell of manure attaches itself to the air. Night and day come
on slow and heavy here. And the weather is important.
The animals are quiet and calm during the day with the sun persistent,
but at night they're in hiding, colluding. The night is complete
darkness where we humans nestle in our comfort with the glow of
the television connecting all the worlds that exist outside of here.
But when the day comes we're out again with our equipment, brave.
Morning pushes itself over the water as we drive through the field
to the shore, to the shelter. The four of us kneel behind a tiny
half-shack build of wooden planks, and I peek through a knothole
to see ducks sitting just twenty feet from where the water laps
the rocks on the shore. Uncle Danny and Poppy load their guns.
Long heavy metal sidles up against the makeshift shack. To me it
seems like low technology. Benign. I look at the bold devices briefly,
uninterested. I know what we are here to do but I'm not really interested
in whether it happens. It feels like it won't.
We sit tight, watching. We watch and watch until my feet freeze
inside my rubber boots because I forgot, in the drowsy syrup of
morning, to put on socks. I try hard to keep my eyes on the ducks
but the growing assuredness that my feet will freeze off distracts
me. The ducks must be frozen too because they sit so still they
barely look alive. I am sure I feel my feet separate from my legs.
The tingling begins, working its way into my legs as I try to watch
the ducks. They don't move. This is their game, perhaps. They are
waiting it out with the hunters, daring each other to ruffle a feather
and bring the fire. But the guns aren't even poised yet and I think
that maybe the men like to watch, but need protection. This is bird-watching
disguised as a man's venture.
I can't think any more due to numbness and pain.
I notify my father, quietly, in my least whiny voice. He nudges
me away from the poised father and son and takes me on a walk down
the beach, as gracefully as our urban background would allow. The
sun inches higher into the sky as we stroll. Slowly my circulation
comes back and as we distance ourselves from the Island men. My
father and I are from the city, the mainland. I admit my frustration
with the intense patience required of a duck-hunter. The ducks,
presumably the target, were only a few feet away, and yet the men
sat silent, unmoving. Waiting I supposed.
"I wanted them to get it over with," I whisper. My father
turns, still sleepy, carefully making his way over the rocks in
his borrowed rubber boots.
"They're decoys," he says, gently, understanding, informing
me that the objects of my anxiety during the passing minutes were
fakes intended to entice the authentic. I humbly accept his explanation
and we walk back to the shelter in silence.
I don't remember the shooting of the ducks. I do remember the dog,
Casey, swimming out too far to find the prize, Poppy, irreverent
and true paddling his little boat out to fetch Casey, and then me
being coaxed towards the truck again by my father when Poppy returned
to beat the disobedient dog on the shore. The ducks smelled like
blood, their heads hanging to the side, as we brought them into
the house for Grandma.
lives in the big city now, with millions. still too far away.