Hunting Alone

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(559 words)

He walked across the shallow pond.  He was a little drunk and struggled against the suction of the mud. He pinched the neck of the bird feeling the gravelly rice inside. 

A group dropped down and he raised the barrel straight in front of him.  One slumped and twisted through the thin, lit space between water and sky. Then it happened that he fell and both boots filled with the icy water. 

At first he fought to keep his mark. The bird swam towards the levee where the grass was thick along its edge.  It would be impossible to find in there without a dog.  His lungs burned hot then cold then hot again.  He lunged in the direction of the levee, falling forward this time. He saw that the bird had stopped moving just short of it. This had never once terrified him before.

Moving towards it and not knowing what was wrong with him, he fell again. He was curious, if a little panicked, as he settled down into the water to take his measure.  He began to feel he would not be able to remain upright. But, he did not believe it. Then, quantumly, he did, back through all the time of his life. A brief, little scene followed. More ducks circled and some flew over and back around but they would not land.

Even sober, it was risky to hunt alone at his age.  One friend, a younger man, from time to time would state his concern.  He’d told him to come along, then. But, for the most part, he went alone and he brought only the gun and the thermos for comfort.  It was a memento and it had the green plastic cap which screws off from the silver tube for use as a cup. 

In the old days they had brought wine.  Not in a thermos but in the bottles and they would be uncorked or unscrewed in the thatch covered hideout beside the pond. Just before the sunrise the water would look like a thick liquid silver.  They would eat leftover, baked bread and drink the cool, bitter wine set in and drawn from the cold water.   

His gun had had a carved, decorated wooden stock. The bluing on the barrel had worn off and it smelled a mixture of soil, oil, and metal.  He hadn’t liked the new fashions with black plastic components and Velcro slings.  In the same way, he had thought the old wars had a human quality, but probably they didn’t.  Now, they are sent to the cities full of innocents and the cold-blooded ones in the drug trades, which probably they were. 

All that being gone, now, he sat the levee again.  A long, dipping, black tunnel spiraled down on high.  It was made of new birds from the south.  They were up from the warm waters of the Yucatan, a swell from the deep blue gulf.  He happily smelled the mud and thick musty grass.  The sky whitened on the sunrise, streaked with pink and it was warming him.

He could see beyond the Gulf, now, on over its Yucatan and the Mexican peninsula, into the eastern regions of the South Pacific, where more birds circled higher, above the long, loping sea mammals in their early migrations heading home.