Novels

Finding Billy Rudd (part 7)

July 26, 2016

Trauma and Trout

 

It took me a couple days to settle into any routine. I managed to sleep for the first two days, catching up on what I had lost along the way, a mixed blessing. It may have relieved the fatigue but did not stop the dreams and the morphine withdrawals still tearing at my guts. My dreams were a collection of faces, all the faces I knew in the war, that did not survive. I saw the faces and heard their voices, the laughter and the general good nature of some. I also saw the horror on Jimmy Rutter’s face when he saw his insides pour out during a skirmish. He held on to what he could, refusing to believe it had happened saying, ‘No, no! This is all wrong. It’s a mistake. God, no!’ Jimmy began to go into shock, shaking and jerking, still trying to hold onto the entrails, knowing it was over for him. There weren’t many doubts if you weren’t going to make it; we all knew that before any medic got to us.

We always stood together, Jimmy and me. Corporal Talister would shout out our names, as if they were attached in some way, Siamese twins, you might say. ‘Rudd and Rutter! Fall out over here. You Bobsie twins can ride drag today.’

That was his way of telling us to follow the squad, protecting their rear. Talister was from Texas and had a fondness for using cowboy terms to indicate duties, though the man had never seen a steer in his life. ‘Keep them Coyotes off of us, boys. Don’t want to lose none of my herd.” It was corny comment and we all rolled our eyes. Those faces in my dreams would go away when I woke up.

There was only one thing that made me forget it all for a short time. Fishing had a way of settling the mind and refocusing it on battle between you and a scale covered fish. When finally got out of bed, I fished every morning with questionable success. The crazy Indian said the fish were running good but I was having no luck. Ray had given me a large assortment of hand-tied flies before the war; I used a lot of them then and knocked the fish out with them. I still had a lot of them when I got back. Most of them he had tied himself, flawless and neat, a gifted surgeon, who could have made a few dollars tying flies if he chose. I was sure a doctor’s pay exceeded the small change to be had with such a pastime.

I thought I was a good fisherman; I had been in Michigan. This wild river proved me wrong; two or three hours of fishing provided nothing more than a mouthful of small trout. Had I not seen the Indian scoop those big ones out, I would believe there was nothing of any size in this river. I was catching small Cutthroat, a beautiful fish. I found a nice pool slightly upstream from the cabin that had some action, though small yield. I was in deep trouble if I had to rely on the fish I caught.

Mandy’s Boston Baked Beans, fancy style made up a good percentage of my meals. I had had enough Spam in the army, leaving the tins of Spam until I really got desperate. Disappointment with my fishing skills made me investigate other culinary possibilities. I remembered the book on wild edible plants. It told of men surviving on just the wild things that grew in such remote places. One spot near the cabin had a plethora of Miner’s Lettuce. I greedily plucked the harvest and made a sizable salad with wild onions and a few edible roots. It was still too early in the year for ripe berries. I had a vague recollection about Miner’s Lettuce. As a boy scout we had been warned about eating too much at one sitting; I made that mistake.

Mandy’s beans combined with the Miner’s Lettuce acted like the laxative from hell. My stomach cramped and I spent much of the next day groaning and eliminating. I was not about to make that mistake again. To be sure, I read “Edible Plants” from front to back. The only major warning was about picking mushrooms. It stated with conviction, ‘Only a trained expert should collect mushrooms since several species are poisonous and difficult to distinguish from the benign.’

I had been close to death at one point in my life. I did not want to repeat the experience. Mushrooms were out.

When the sun was high in the sky, I took off my shirt letting the sun bake my skin, trying to feel a sensation different from way I actually felt. My sensitive skin areas were exposed to where I had been wounded, the scars feeling the heat of the sun sooner than the rest of my skin. The scar on my shoulder rarely bothered me, the bullet passed through, clean. The old wound in my side was another matter. It had nicked part of my bowel and a few other internal organs, raising hell during extreme hot and cold temperatures. It had also chipped the bone of my hip making it ache whenever the weather changed. The scar on my face wasn’t a problem except for cosmetic considerations, which doesn’t seem important right now. Ray told me there were new surgical methods being developed to fix things like that, not sure I wanted to be part of anyone’s experiments.

Thinking back, I considered how lucky I had been. The wound on my face had come from a ricochet off a stone building. A fragment had sliced across my face from the corner of my mouth to the bottom of my ear. I bled like a stuck pig, the pain, less distressing than the quantity of blood lost. A medic slapped a dressing on it proclaiming it a “skeeter bite,” a term used for superficial injuries, not serious enough to take me out of the war. The field hospital stitched me up as fast as they could, more pressing patients stacking up like cordwood. The seriously wounded came soon enough.

Two weeks later I was back with my company and given the nickname, zipper face. The kidding was all in good fun. Every man knew it could be him, just as easy. The red stitches and scar looked very angry, though they would fade over time. I didn’t write Liz about it, hoping to spare her the worry. I wonder if it would have made any difference if I had told her about the terrors of war. Probably not.

I floated through the entire war without another serious encounter in the field. The towns were the worst, Germans hidden in window, behind every wall and stick of wood. Three days after Germany’s surrender, I almost bought the farm. Our job was to make a sweep through several of the small villages, relieving the Germans of their weapons and processing them as prisoners. It became routine with little or no conflict, the Germans tired of fighting, often very hungry. Most were glad to give up, some smiling at their capture. Most were pretty glum, the defeat and frustration an end to a senseless war. One or two of our prisoners spoke some English, trying to tell us they never wanted to fight. But wasn’t that true of all soldiers?

One small village had been occupied by a small SS squad, dug in like ticks, willing to resist surrender. We knew they were there and assumed they knew the war was over. Everyone else seemed to know. These elite troops weren’t about to put down their arms so easily, the news of surrender viewed as a lie.

I was next to a truck, one hand leaning on the fender, waiting to see these soldiers wave their white flag and give up their position. An interpreter called out for the men to surrender the weapons; the war was over. The demand was followed by several shots. A bullet ripped through my shoulder, while another hit me in the side near my abdomen. I didn’t remember a thing except for a burning sensation before I blacked out.

Later at the aid station, I was told the small house where these men were firing at us had been blown up by a tank, killing all the remaining in the building. Repeated appeals from our interpreter were summarily ignored, the SS squad choose the hard way out. None of them survived; I did.

 

Love and Liz

When I was sixteen I met Elizabeth Van de Mier, the love of my life. I was a boy with all the dreams and desires young men have. Elizabeth moved from back east to my school in Michigan. The school was pretty small, a student body of less than three hundred; we were always eager to check out the new talent. As best as we could make out with the bulky clothing of the time, Elizabeth looked the stunning young woman, long hair and a perfect body. Several of the boys speculated whether she was a fast-girl or not, hoping she was but probably unlikely. Boys spent most of their time thinking about that and a lot of time talking about it too.

Most of us were raised to respect women; a wife should be a virgin. That didn’t mean we were adverse to a girl who was more generous with her body. At this rate, being a ‘good boy,’ I wondered if I was going to be a virgin until I was in my late thirties. Girls flirted a lot but always seemed to draw the line before the good stuff. At sixteen, the closest I got was a few kisses and some mild petting, which was halted before I could recognize anything I shouldn’t. I swore I went to the only school where all the girls were ‘good girls,’ a condition that did not get better in time. I continued to try, as did my compatriots, most of them lying about it. Expressions like, ‘Going all the way,’ didn’t always imply the same thing to each of us.

I can only imagine what the girls said about us; none of the them allowed more than an accidental brush of a hand or a kiss, no French kissing, of course. That kind of kiss was considered an act of depravity and promiscuity. We all knew how loose the French were or so we believed.

I had pegged Elizabeth for being like all the others and curtailed any fantasies that might wish to roost in my overly stimulated brain. My first indication that Liz took an interest came when we passed in the hall. She looked right at me and smiled, didn’t say a word; a guy didn’t need words when a girl looked at you like that. In those days it was as good as any formal declaration of intent. Girls generally tended to look away from you unless they were a neighbor or something like that. Passing moments of ‘Excuse me. Oh, hi,’ and minor pleasantries were designed to be noncommittal and definitely proper. I had to take some kind of initiative with this girl if I wanted to experience the wonders of a full-blown girlfriend.

The next time I saw Elizabeth, I smiled back and sheepishly said, “Hi, I’m Billy. You’re from back east, I hear.”

I immediately developed lockjaw and could not utter another word, having exhausted my limited ‘girl vocabulary.’ She saved me by adding phrases to my dwindling vocalizations.

“Hi, I’m Liz,” she returned. “The teachers call me Elizabeth but my friends call me Liz. Elizabeth sounds so formal.” She fluttered her eyes and added, “Yes, I lived in Maine and New York for a few years.”

“Uh, yeah, I suppose, I mean the name thing,” I stumbled over my words, searching for something clever to say. “What class you going to?”

“Choir,” she answered. “I’m not very good but I love to sing. Where are you headed?”

“English Lit,” I responded. I had never considered taking choir but felt like singing. “I’m not very good at it either. Those English writers can’t write American.” I immediately groaned to myself. How stupid that must sound, ‘American’ indeed.

Liz was gracious enough to ignore my stupidity. “Yes, I have to take that course next semester. I really like poetry, the best. You ever read poetry?”

 

Poetry, I thought swallowing hard. The only poetry I know starts with Roses are Red. She’s gonna think I’m an idiot.

 

“Not too much,” I returned. “I work after school at Martin’s Food Store. It’s just a part time job but there’s a lot of responsibility.”

My only real responsibility was getting to the job on time. Mr. Martin demanded that I show up immediately after school. I stocked shelves, cleaned the floors and played, ‘Boy Friday’ for whatever needed being done, broken milk and catsup bottles got dropped and had to be cleaned up. The truth be known, Mr. Martin hired me because he was good friends with my father. Work was an immediate and reasonable excuse for my failing to read volumes of poetry.

“That’s too bad,” she said an impish grin on her face. “Thought we might get an ice cream or soda after school. But if you’re too busy I guess that can’t happen.”

Panic was all I could feel. I might have overstated myself, providing an excuse for my literary shortcomings. I had to think of something quick before my chances walked away to choir practice.

“Uh, well maybe we could,” I responded. “I don’t work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Today is Monday, so we can do it tomorrow if you still want.”

I gritted my teeth, fearing the opportunity had passed me by. Now she would know I never read poetry and was a liar to boot. My life was over, celibacy my future.

“Okay,” she answered. “Tomorrow sounds good; it’s a date. See you then.”

With hooks held tightly against her chest, she swiveled and walked down the hall, glancing back only once to be sure I was looking.

Date, I thought. Wow! I actually have a date with Liz.

 

That night I spent the whole evening thinking about Liz; her brown wavy hair and hazel eyes burned into my mind. I couldn’t see much of her legs but they seemed thin and shapely, at least from the ankles. Her voice was the sweetest thing I had ever heard, a choir singer more angelic than any angel. The heart fails miserably, when it tries to justify waiting.

Our high school courtship was like many, at first, in secret and then acknowledged by all. Liz was a ‘good girl’ and did not encourage anything beyond kissing and light petting. I could tell she was as bothered by these restrictions as was I, imposed celibacy, lasting until our last semester in high school. In a moment of passion we gave up our innocence without regret, moving into a realm never before visited. The result was frightening, as neither of us had been prepared for what transpired, Liz reluctantly announcing a month later, her monthly visitor had not come, a polite way of saying she hadn’t had her menstrual period. Being an honorable boy/man, I suggested we get married, avoiding the awkwardness of an unplanned pregnancy. After all, we loved each other and it made complete sense.

Much to the disapproval of her parents and my aunt we had a civil ceremony at city hall. Liz’s parents did not attend the ceremony choosing to be absent in silent protest. My aunt and a few of our friends celebrated the event in a small Italian restaurant around the corner of the courthouse, spaghetti and meatballs. My aunt had a glass of wine while the rest of us gulped a Cola or Nehi, laughing at the usual jokes about marriage. My only real friend, Ray was off somewhere in Boston and couldn’t get there in such short notice. He was working in a hospital putting in his internship and could not leave. I understood but still felt sad about it.

My aunt said we could fix up the old garage and move in there if we wanted. What choice did we really have? Liz’s parents were not too receptive to us living there, especially under the circumstances. They were good Lutherans and felt betrayed. This was just not the sort of thing a daughter should do to her parents. Liz’s father felt a little more angry about his daughter being taken advantage of. I’m sure he had a more violent expression in mind than welcoming me with open arms. Needless to say, they weren’t overly excited by the prospect.

The garage was my first castle, even if it still retained the smell of motor oil and few other noxious smells. To Liz and me it was our place and it didn’t matter what it looked like; we were in love and could live on that. In the beginning, it was such a romantic notion, Liz and I living out the fantasy of husband and wife. Mr. Martin hired me full time, making me produce manager the week after the wedding. I didn’t know a thing about vegetables, except they came in boxes and needed to be unloaded into the bins. Every morning I had to pack ice in the bins and then put the vegetables in a neat organized display; the process repeated in reverse at the end of the day. Mr. Martin did not believe in the refrigerator cases modern groceries used. Ice was cheap and so was my labor; it had always worked. The new job required me to rise early and come home late.

Two and a half weeks after Liz and I were married, she had her monthly visitor, a surprise to me, a relief to her; she wasn’t pregnant.

 

Survival of the Fittest

With Lee gone and the prospects of human companionship eliminated, I settled down to a daily routine. Not that Lee was particularly talkative, anyhow; our conversations were limited to one and two word responses when he didn’t have some story to tell. I was going to have to hunt for some fresh meat; the baked beans were not my favorite. I hunted in the past but had never been a great hunter, my heart never being into killing animals. That was a definite disadvantage when one needed to hunt to survive. My edge was the remoteness of the place, animals less afraid of humans and their need for water. Deer and other wild animals often drank at a discreet distance from the cabin but within plain sight. It shouldn’t be too difficult to kill a deer or two. I needed to hunt early the next morning, while there was still a lot of activity down at the water’s edge; deer browse early in the morning.

Though I was not keen with shooting anything, my old Enfield was a bold action rifle, noted for its accuracy at a long distance. My particular Enfield had a long distance sight, which could be adjusted for several hundred yards. The British troops still used that rifle during the war. It didn’t have the firepower of the M1 but made up for it with its accuracy. It was also comforting not to use the same kind of weapon I killed humans with.

I thought about my experiences with my M1 and basic training. During inspections we would have to lock the bolt open, inserting a thumb in the breach. If you were not careful the bolt would slam home and mash your thumb, affectionately know as the ‘M1 thumb’ by many of the soldiers. Mastering the removal of the thumb took practice, the learning curve producing a black and blue thumb for slow learners.

After the war was over, I swore I would never pick up a rifle again; that turned out to be a misstatement. It was different now; it wasn’t a matter of fighting but a necessity for survival. A steady diet of Boston baked beans, miner’s lettuce and wild onions was not enough; my skill with fishing only provided me with a meager handful of trout. Something bigger had to be snagged, deer the logical choice.

I felt the hard steel of the barrel, cold in my hands, the smell of gun cleaning oil inescapable. The magazine held quite a few rounds but I chose to load only a three at a time; too many rounds in a magazine could jam it. Plus the temptation to fire off all the rounds in a fully loaded magazine might prove disastrous; I was limited in the amount of ammunition I had. Because of the bolt action, it was unlikely I’d get a second shot, if I missed with the first one, anyhow.

The next morning I crept to a place of optimum concealment, hoping to spy a deer; I was not disappointed. A big buck came down early, nibbling on greenery and drinking from a quiet pool adjacent to the river. I could easily make him out over the large boulders, which stood in front of the buck. The head and shoulders raised up, lowering again as he drank, his five point antlers shadowed by the angle of the sun. I estimated the distance and set the sights. I tucked the rifle butt tightly into my shoulder, my finger poised on the trigger, waiting for that clear shot. It came when the large buck turned to face me, his big brown eyes looking directly at me, a healthy scar below one of his eyes. He knew I was there. Through some strange form of communications, he implored me not to shoot, his eyes sad. I didn’t hear any words, just had a feeling.

As I aligned my sight to hit him in the head, something else wash over me, another memory, frightening and all too familiar. The war was coming back to me, reminding me of its violence and murder; that’s what it was, murder. Battle wasn’t a faceless being, anonymous and impartial, a target at a practice range. You shot at people; you shot people and killed them. You knew they were humans like yourself; yet you shot them because you were told to. That was the way it had to be. Firing at a distant moving enemy revealed nothing; they were just moving targets, like the tin ducks at a shooting gallery, a carnival game; prizes would be a stuffed bear or doll. Shooting a man, whose face met yours, made it personal.

I wanted to shoot the buck; but now I could only see the eyes of men I had killed and their final moments when life drained from their bodies forever. The face on one German plagued me in my dreams, my age, maybe younger. I thought he must have a girlfriend or wife, like myself. Maybe he read poetry; maybe he was dumb as a rock; maybe he had children. I had no idea. This face had brown eyes, not unlike that of the deer in my sights. The German’s eyes and face showed surprise, when he turned a corner; discovering me with an M1 poised to fire. I saw the sadness in his eyes; he knew what would happen in the next second. I fired and watched the blood drain from his body, his face still displaying sadness in death, a look of regret for all the things he would never get to do. I don’t think anyone should be sad when they die. But I suppose dying is not a matter anyone wants to consider.

I had to tell myself over and over again, ‘It could have just as well been me, instead of him.’

War isn’t a personal issue; it is impartial, too much so in my opinion. Success is gauged on the number of dead on either side; the victors relieved while the dead counted without notice of their humanity. It made me think; being a number was all we were and a person’s life being less important. I didn’t want to be a number; I didn’t want to make that German boy a number. It was my duty, the job of a soldier. I didn’t have any choice, no more than when Mr. Martin told me to clean up a broken bottle of vegetable oil. The difference, the broken bottle was not a broken human being. Like the bottle of vegetable oil, we are not as easily swept up and tossed in the trash, forgotten and tallied as a loss, though the generals viewed the numbers instead of the men. When does morality enters into our decisions and actions? There is nothing moral about war.

 

The buck stared at me for some time, silent, invoking some kind of communications, requesting I evaluate my morality. He wanted me to examine my reasons to kill him. The buck is not a human, I scolded. I kill it; I eat. Come on Billy. You can’t bring back the boy or any of the boys you’ve killed. Get on with it!

Tension on the trigger of my Enfield increased, encouraging it to fire. The buck moved his head just as I completed depressing the trigger, my bullet missing the mark and clipping a boulder in the foreground. The buck accepting the warning, bolted off, his agility a thing of beauty. He stopped for a moment looking back hailing my decision as his victory. Then he leaped among the boulders and trees, like a well-planned escape route. The shot was an easy one. I could have brought the buck down several times in the minutes he stood in my sights. But the brown eyes, the innocence, the wisdom in his stare stopped me in my tracks. Could it have been the brown eyes of that German soldier, his youth plucked from him by the projectile from my rifle? Perhaps this four-legged creature saw the atrocity, standing judgement like some god of the wilderness.

That night I didn’t bother to heat up the Boston baked beans, eating it right out of a can. I was becoming accustomed to eating cold food, preparation unnecessary given the content. In war, there was little time to heat food, also dangerous; a fire could give away your position. There wasn’t any danger here nor was there a war, only me sitting in a rustic cabin with an Indian, who will only come back if I use smoke signals. The deer would live longer, my disturbing memories giving him a reprieve. Maybe he deserved that; maybe God saw fit to keep him alive.

Half way through the beans, I put it down planning to finish it off later. Growing concern about my survival in this gorge was taking a serious place in my head. I had the tools to survive but not the will, still living the nightmare of the war and the crushing blow of Liz’s rejection. I wanted to build that smoky fire and get Lee to bail me out of here, no struggles, just return to my life back in Michigan. What kind of life was that? Nothing had changed; I’d fall off the wagon and the morphine would still be my master. I had to change right here; make something for myself to continue on living and give this place a chance, get over my fear and the ugliness that still lived inside of me.

I took out the old crumpled letter from Liz, the final words leaping out at me, screaming, the reality, the betrayal. I should have known; I should have seen it coming. I was young and stupid, she young, selfish and spoiled. Her parents treated her like some princess in a fairytale, not something I was prepared for. How could I have ever measured up to that? She never wanted for anything, her dear old dad barring no expense to keep her happy. I wanted to do those things for her but old man Martin counted the pennies when he paid me.

Even from the beginning, the marriage was a farce, a relationship where I provided the minimum and she enjoyed them without complaint. The fact, that I was there or not, didn’t necessarily have any bearing on her happiness. Daddy, as she always called her father, filled in the gaps I couldn’t provide. At first I resented that; my only wish was to make Liz feel content. For all intense purposes, I thought she was.

 

The crumpled letter got stuffed back into my shirt pocket, my feet taking me out the side door with a trickle of water nearby; it ran out of the mountain behind the cabin. Ray was pulling my leg me when he told me the place had running water. He wasn’t completely wrong; it was about a hundred feet from the cabin, fresh and ice chilled. The river water was safe to drink, though the numbers of animals visiting it required boiling or purification if you wanted to drink it. This small trickle by the mountain ran deep inside, its source uncontaminated by animals or man. Unfortunately, people still had ways of spoiling everything.

The trickle slowed but did not completely freeze during the winter, an ice cap forming over the trickle, a few icicles still dangling on the edges of depression in the mountain. A few insects buzzed around the water their sound familiar to my ears, not the swarm of mosquitoes Lee spoke of. Right next to the indentation I noticed a huge spider web, the resident clinging to the side awaiting her next victim, hopefully lots of mosquitoes. She was huge and apparently successful in her efforts to secure food.

Though thirst was the reason for being there, I couldn’t resist watching this tiny predator of the insect world. A small pine needle fell on her web causing her to dart out, eagerly anticipating her prize. Once its composition had been ascertained as a non-food, she carefully released the pine needle letting it fall to the ground, working to repair the tiny rip in the web. She returned to her camouflaged resting-place, the ancient instinct of patience, her master.

 

I have to be crazy, I thought. I’m staring at a damn spider, fascinated by her ability to capture food, while I failed to shoot a deer, guaranteeing me another dismal feast of Mandy’s Baked Beans. Is my quest any different than the spider’s? At least she has the instinct to kill her prey without attaching a personality to the victim, survival, nothing more.

 

From that day on, I watched Gladys in her hourly pursuit. Yes, I named my spider Gladys after an aunt, who could not resist jabbing and poking her bony fingers at any child coming within her reach. Tickling was her favorite form of torture, her technique lacking in physical sensitivity required to actually tickle. Her intentions had been good but were excruciatingly uncomfortable. Luckily, she lived a fair distance from me and we rarely saw her.

I felt a little sad when I remembered how I mistreatment spiders as a kid. Something inside of me was afraid of their ruthless carnage, capturing innocent insects and sucking their insides, mosquitos were okay, though. Now this was the only creature I had to talk to. She never answered; perhaps because she knew of the many spiders I stepped on as a child.

Making a spider your companion was in stark contrast to squishing them with your shoe. Ray called it karma. He read all the time and had a weird collection of books, religions and philosophy. He loved reading about different faiths, comparing the practices. Coupled with philosophy, he claimed the two were not unalike. I guess that’s why Ray was so smart. Some religions forbade killing anything, including insects. He told me spiders had a place in the scheme of things, even though we may not understand what it might be.

Liz was terrified of spiders, screaming at the top of her lungs, should one cross her path. I rather enjoyed making a huge display of bravery when I’d smack the threatening spider with a rolled up newspaper; yeah, I killed them almost as much as did as a kid. Though the display of squished spider body did not look too appetizing, the results always lead to a lot of hugging, kissing and appreciation for being the man-warrior. Killing spiders was as good a reason as any to get close to Liz. Now I thought how cruel my actions had been towards the spiders through no fault of their own. Maybe they had bad karma or perhaps it was I.

I learned something from my spider friend, Gladys. Killing was necessary to survive sometimes. It was a function devoid of any personal emotion. I tried to act that way during the war. It worked for a while but started to crumble when the faces of my enemies looked back at me. I took Gladys’ lesson seriously, applying it to my survival. A few days later I waited, like Gladys in her web, for another opportunity at bringing down a deer. My mind was clear, thinking of nothing; I was rewarded with a young buck wandering too close to my web of vision. A quick aim and I fired, a clean shot killing the deer immediately. At that split second I had a flickering of contrasting emotions; there was elation over the kill and sadness at taking the life of a fellow creature.

Ray used to say we were linked together as one living organism; no animal was more important than any other, including humans. I admired his philosophy, even if I didn’t understand it. Ray had wisdom exceeding his years or maybe I was imposing that quality because he took such an interest in me. His life had been for others, a doctor, a friend and a helping hand. Giving back what he had given to me, felt impossible. What skills and knowledge could I impart to humanity, special on broccoli, a new crop of tomatoes? My years in the war provided humanity with a killer.

I remembered something he told me about American Indians. Many of the hunters would pray and thank the dead animal, apologizing for taking its life. The prayer would include an explanation on how the hunter’s family would survive because of the animal’s death. It was a poetic notion but not so different from people saying Grace at the dinner table.

I walked up to the fallen buck, making sure he would not stand and charge me; that can happen if you aren’t careful. The lifelessness of his glazed eyes no longer saw me or the clear water beneath his feet, yet I could feel a lingering sensation around this large brown body, a life force that was no longer in the shell of the animal yet very present. A small dark pool of blood hailed my success but disturbingly similar to Jonathan’s accident as a boy. Tears welled up in my eyes; I cried like a baby for several minutes, unable to stop regardless how hard I tried.

The event was my release from the guilt I carried, pouring over of the things I never said to my brother, how I loved and respected him. Brothers don’t normally say that to each other but I wish I had. I said a short prayer for the deer, my brother and for the unnamed faces of men who would never breathe the air or smell the perfume of the woods. The tears dried and rational thought returned. The deer was not my brother; it was not any of the men I’d killed. It was food for my table, survival.

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