Hunting

Hunting

They were strapped to the roof of our car. Two bucks. Both shot first thing that morning; the first dawn of gun season. One by Uncle Dan, the other by dad. I thought I would like it, hunting. I carried around a twelve-gauge shotgun, an antique passed from gramps to dad to me, for the entire month of August, that late summer of 2006. But the day finally arrived. We drove out among the hills of Bristol, the early turned red oak leaves fluttering in the sun. We set up camp, dad cooked, which he rarely did at home unless we grilled outdoors. They played poker, offering to teach me. Instead I read A Separate Peace and tried to relax about the big day tomorrow, but the smoke from their tiparillos’ caught in my throat. Then, a sleepless night in a trailer with five snoring, whiskey filled men. I watched the moon, paralyzed cold, in my too thin sleeping bag, wondering if I’d have the balls to do it. If I’d be man enough to actually squeeze the trigger.  I’d never killed anything before, except ants once with a handheld mirror that I took from mom’s vanity, and forgot to return before she noticed it missing that evening. The same ants I put down Evan Cramer’s back that same summer for no apparent reason. An alarm sounded, we dressed in pitch dark using kerosene lanterns.  While the men swilled down instant coffee, Dad showed me how to load my gun for the hundredth time. How to keep the safety off while we walked. Uncle Ron told me how most morons accidentally shoot themselves while they’re walking. I wondered if that was what happened to vice president Cheney, but I forgot to ask. As we put on our hunting vests, Dad said, “Now, like I told ya, look for the rack. Don’t get trigger happy. We’ll leave you on Whiskey Rock and split into two groups, circle wide, then drive them toward you. All you have to do is pick the largest rack! But be patient.” I nodded, licked my lips with excitement, my toes tingled in dad’s hand-me-down hunting boots. Uncle Dan said, “If he shoots anything like you, Hank, we’ll have the first buck weighed in on opening day.” We left camp single file, at the first crack of light on the horizon. No talking, and walking careful, like Indians. Dad had me practice that around the house, and I nearly scared mom half to death a couple times.  “Stop creeping up on me,” she’d say, when I’d finally mastered it. “That’s spooky.” They dropped me off at Whiskey Rock. Dad nodded, pointed to the safety on his gun. Motioned me to settle down. I found a nook atop the mammoth rock, felt like I was nearly invisible. I could see how hidden I’d be, among the lowest branches of the closest trees. The moss on the rock smelled earthy, the dew felt wet enough to gradually come through the seat of my thick, camouflage trousers. As the men faded from sight, Uncle Dan looked over his shoulder and gave me thumbs up. I began to feel strange. Alone in these alien woods I had only hiked once or twice, and always with my father. It was eerie, too quiet, I could hear my heartbeat. The tiniest sounds magnified. A squirrel running along a fallen beech. A hawk settled into a nearby douglas fir, its prey in its talons.  I looked down at the gun across my lap and for a split second thought what am I doing here? Then I saw the most magnificent creature, probably a hundred yards away. A buck, I was certain from its size. It slowly moved my direction. I looked for a doe, figured she might be even closer. Dad taught me bucks often follow the dainty females. There she was! The doe came closer, twenty yards, then ten. I hunkered down even more, moving minutely, eyes frozen on the animal. I wondered how I would actually get my gun up to my shoulder, aim, and fire at the buck. I couldn’t scare the doe, surely; if she caught wind of the danger, or saw me, she’d bolt, as would her suitor. Instead I sat like a statue, heart leaping while the gorgeous doe passed by on the very same trail beneath me. Then the buck came into view less than two minutes later. He had one focus: her! I knew as soon as he looked squarely at me that I could never shoot him. There was a peacefulness as I realized this, combined with the disappointment that I would let dad down. And Uncle Dan. Even grandpa, whose dementia might make the blow easier. I would see three more does and five other bucks from my vantage atop Whiskey Rock that morning. The largest buck had a twelve pointer. All passed readily by, none the wiser about a geeky hunting teen who chose only to admire their grace.]]>

Tracks

Tracks

He came running in the back door, wet track marks and globs of snow all over the hardwood floors I’d just mopped clean. “Joey, for chrissakes,” I whined. “Take your boots off at the door.” He was oblivious. “Mom, you gotta come. Mom, get dressed.” I was still in my bathrobe watching old Abbott and Costello re-runs. I was cozy, wrapped up in grandma’s pashmina, a family heirloom that Mom gave me after gram’s recent passing. “What is it honey?” I hadn’t moved. Not one iota. I paused the DVR. “There are these tracks, Mom. We were sledding out back on Rebel Hill, and Tina saw them. Tracks this big!” He held his hands out and indicated about two feet of space between them. I smiled. He is adorable, of course. He’s my baby, my pride and joy. Such a good boy, and his entire face lit up with possibilities, with that magic of the unknown. But, not on a Sunday morning. I wasn’t about to freeze my ass off, sauntering across the Artic northern regions to investigate what animal might eat me for breakfast. “What do you think it was?” I asked. But Joey was distracted by the fresh Tollhouse cookies, still warm from the oven. “Honey, how about some cereal? A banana?” He ignored me, devouring his second one. “You’re gonna make yourself sick.”]]>

Costa Rica

Costa Rica

They plodded on and on before the torch began to give out. They’d left the hostel at eight this morning and it was beginning to get dark. The rapid sound of birds flying through the jungle canopy, a distant beating of some kind of drum. A monotonous humming, was that just in her head? “This is bullshit, Julio,” she complained. “You have no clue how to get us out of here.” Her worst nightmare was getting lost. Before she’d moved to Manhattan to attend freshman year at NYU, she’d memorized the grid: avenues are north and south, numbered streets run east and west, 5th Avenue divides the island in half. New friends assumed she grew up there, and she embellished their fantasies. But out here, in this inhospitable backcountry of Costa Rica, she felt clueless and her apathy began to turn to anger. Her blood felt as if it was beginning to boil. If she hadn’t opted to go hiking on their only day off. A group of students were there on a field trip, and their teacher asked if anyone was interested in a virtual tour of the national forest. To include the jungle: machete, packed lunch on the beach. Crossing rainforest streams. It sounded like a fantasy, but she was surprised. Not one other student raised a hand. She’d go solo? No, there’d be a guide, the teacher assured her. Then last night, lying in bed, she’d wondered about Julio’s credentials. I mean, who the fuck IS THIS GUY? “Julio?” She’d stopped on the trail. His small, wiry frame turned in the dark. The torch cast a ghoulish glow to his face. She felt like they’d been going in circles for hours. Every sound around them caused her heart to race, the smell of wet leaves and damp earth made her dizzy. “What?” he whispered. Was he grinning? Her heart raced. She tried to swallow. Her mouth felt wooden. The canopy of tall trees made her feel miniscule. No one would even miss her. He took a step toward her and the torch flickered, as if it would extinguish.]]>

Audition

Audition

When the lights came up, I was petrified. There they were, in the middle of the audience seats, this panel of judges, scowling, arms crossed. The man on the end looked like an owl, a bald head with huge glasses and eyebrows long enough to comb over. “Can I start again?” I asked, hearing my voice shake. I knew this was against protocol, audacious, and the answer might not be favorable. To begin with, I hadn’t properly prepared. Sure, I knew the song in my sleep, backwards and forwards. I could sing it in the key of D or F sharp. But that was home in Nashville, the practice rooms of the High School of Performing Arts. Here it was all different. The Eastman School has a legacy, a prestige I felt oozing from the rafters. Pretend you’re with Mr. Marsh in your weekly lesson. Easier said than done, as I watched the judges conferring about my fate. “Imagine them naked,” Mr. Marsh had said. “Being scared is normal, you focus on the back wall. Helps projection, too.” These shards of advice darted through my mind. A bead of sweat drip down my spine. The lady in the middle of the panel stood. She cleared her throat. “Miss…Majong?” “That’s Majune,” I said, hoping I sounded happy, ready to serve. Her bun was piled so tightly that her eyes lifted at the corners. Please say yes, I prayed. “Please compose yourself,” she said, “and begin again.” I nodded, instead of the way I’d have responded in Mr.s Marsh’s class. My hands felt moist. I looked over at the pianist, a geeky young kid wearing a grey t-shirt that said ANGST. He smiled, feebly, but affirmative nonetheless. Close your eyes, imagine yourself already here. I felt a surge of energy, contained it. Knew I could make this happen, sing my heart out. I signaled the pianist to start the recitative.]]>

Life After Love

Life After Love

The ceiling fan whirled, a speed that seemed manic, way too fast. For a moment I pondered what might happen if it came off its hinges, randomly beheading the various other occupants of the waiting room. Might be fun, I thought. Might be. I glanced over at mom. Her eyes were closed, beads of perspiration rested lightly on her forehead, just above her painted-on eyebrows. And above her lips. It was hot, was their air conditioner broke? I’d never get used to the Florida humidity. I’d arrived only two weeks earlier, when dad called and said, “You’d better come now.” I scanned the room for the a.c. unit, saw one way back toward the corner near the toy basket. Near the bald kid, about five, playing with the Bert hand puppet. I shuddered, wondering how many other kids had put their hands up that same toy. Germs gross me out. I wiped my hands on my lap. The couple across from me kept staring. I thought mom’s wig might be askew. As usual, we’d argued that morning about which one she’d wear with today’s muu-muu. “I like the black hair better,” I’d said. It was long, Cher reborn, in those Sonny and Cher, I Got You Babe, days. “It makes your blue eyes pop.” “Pop?” She’d said, like any word was an effort to get out. “That wig is too strange. The hair gets caught in everything. No, I’ll wear the short blonde one.” Ugh. She looked like a Shitzu. Or Ethyl Mertz. No, the black one suited her better. Now, sitting there, I thought of mom as Cher, with her hair streaming out behind her, singing, “Do you believe in life after love, after love, after love…”]]>

Temple Marriage

Temple Marriage

A few of the regulars are perched on stools at the counter. We are seated at our usual booth in the corner. The traffic whizzes by up Sixth Avenue; taxis like schools of fish jockey for space. Daisy, the sixty year old waitress poured a round of steaming coffee. Her face looked like the Sahara. She’d been through an awful lot through the years, had a heart of gold. We ate at the Moondance Diner every Sunday. I loved their corn beef hash and Jack always got the same omelet: the Denver without grilled onions. “I can’t do it,” I said. My partner, Jack, sat opposite. His new haircut made his cowlick stick straight up. “So, that’s it then?” “I can’t get the time off from work,” I said. “You know the fall is our busiest season.” “But this is a huge event, Ronny. We’ve known these two for how many years?” We’d all met at the University of Utah. Yeah, good Mormon boys, freshly home from that all-important mission. Nick was my boyfriend first, we’d been assigned the same dorm. Within a month, he’d met Stu. It hurt then, but Jack was a better fit for me. Now Nick and Stu were getting married on the steps of the Salt Lake City downtown temple. The one that looks like Disneyworld on acid. It would be a huge media event, with gay marriage hanging in the lurch in nearly forty other states in America. “Why don’t they just go to Cancun and we can all fly there?” I asked Jack. I fidgeted, crossed my feet under the table. Uncrossed them. “Cancun? You have enough time in your work schedule to fly to Mexico, but not Salt Lake?” Jack squinted his eyes and I knew he was onto me. Truth be told, I could take a Friday off for a three day weekend. But what might be the consequences if my parents saw me on television?]]>

Back Room Banter

Back Room Banter

“I’ve seen people come into the shop with all sorts of things,” I said to Kamy. “One time, this lady brought in those sticks that a doctor uses to check your tonsils.” “Uh huh,” Kamy said, looking at her text messages. “She wanted to know if I could give her a perm on them.” Kamy whooped, set her phone on the counter. “That’s crazy!” “You bet it is. I told her, I’m sorry, Mrs. Hammond, but I’m a beautician, not a magician.” Kamy laughed so hard she almost puked up the lunch we’d just devoured from La Cantina. “One time,” she said when she got her breath back, “I was doing a color consultation on Mrs. Lee. And I was halfway into it, you know, color charts, swatches, level this, retouches, blah, blah, blah. And I notice something moving on her lap. Like, under her cape.” “She was a he?” Kamy punched me playfully. “No, silly, she had her Pekinese on her lap. I must have been with her five minutes before that dog ever moved.” Chuckling, I looked around the corner from the back room of the salon. Coast clear. No clients. “What about that time the Jesus guy came in here selling those daily slogan cards?” Kamy looked confused. “That wasn’t a Jesus guy. That’s my friend, Eddie. He’s deaf.” “Oh.” I felt like an ass, so I ate the remnants of leftover tortilla chips. “Hey, I wanted to ask your advice,” she said. “Okay.” “I’ve got this guy coming in at 2:00 for a wax service.” “Oh yeah?” I’d never done any waxing, except in cosmetology school with Miss Jo. “What’s he getting done? Eyebrows?” “No, it’s on our books as Back, Crack and Sack,” Kamy said. As the shock registered, my mouth gaped open.]]>

When Amelia Calls

When Amelia Calls

You try to muster enough energy to get off the sofa and get a frozen yogurt. New flavors every week. The whirling churn of the clothes jumbled in the dryer. The neighbors’ clinking glass mobile as it bends and smashes against the house. The marbled eyes of Muffin perched on the fence, batting at the mobile, intense.

Phone rings, you answer, knowing only your sister would call at this inopportune moment.

“Men are so full of shit.”

Say: Thanks. You feel mis-represented.

“You aren’t really a man in the traditional sense.”

Wonder if she means you’re more like a woman. Or if she refers to the familial fact that you were supposed to be born a girl. The doctors said so.

Say: You sound upset. Mean: must we get into this again?

“I’m just tired of this. He was supposed to call, then come over. I could have done a million things. Damn, it’s the same old story. Instead I sit at home and transfer old names into a new address book. I’m not even in touch with half of these people.”

Think: I don’t know how you put up with it, but you do. You have.

Say: What’s in it for you?

“What?” She sounds startled, protective. “Well, I mean, he’s charming. he’s usually very thoughtful.” Emphasis on usually.

You are thinking this is the type of display of wishy-washyness that you’ve become accustomed to. “Amelia, does his wife know?”

She says “of course” a little too quickly.

“Well, you know about his wife.”

Pause.

“I’m not sure what you mean by that.”

This is how our conversations go now that we’re adult.

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