Sunday, September 3, 2023

The Squirrel Hunter

“Didja git yer squirrel?” Maude said looking up from her cup of coffee. She crossed her legs beneath the kitchen table and waited for Tom to answer.

Tom leaned his rifle against the wall next to the kitchen door and walked over to the stove. He grabbed the coffee pot and poured a cup.

“Well?” Maude said. “Ya been gone long enough. Ya shoulduv gotten a half dozen or so.”

“Didn’t git any,” Tom said. He blew the steam from the cup and sipped.

“What were ya doin’ all that time?” Maude said.

“I tromped around for a while and didn’t see any squirrels,” Tom said.

“That woods is full of squirrels,” Maude said. “I betcha I could go out there and shoot me a few b’fore noon.”

“I ‘spose ya could,” Tom said. “Ya always was good at huntin’ squirrels.”

“But there ain’t nobody as good as you,” Maude said. “Ya losin’ you’re touch?”

“Maybe,” Tom said.

“I told ya, ya need glasses,” Maude said.

“It ain’t that,” Tom said. “I kin still read a license plate from the mailbox to the curve in the road.”

“Must be the sights,” Maude said. “I told ya they was off.”

“Sights are good,” Tom said.

“Then what is it, ya lose yer taste fer squirrel?” Maude said.

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” Tom said.

“When it comes ta food on the table, ya better sure want to talk about it,” Maude said.

“Ya sound like we’re livin’ during the depression or somethin’,” Tom said. “If we want meat we got a freezer full.”

“I know that but ya like huntin’ squirrel,” Maude said. “And I like fixin’ it fer ya.”

“I know,” Tom said, “but—never mind. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“This sounds deep,” Maude said. “And I ain’t leavin’ ya alone until you fess up.”

Tom sipped the coffee again. He stood in front of the kitchen sink with his back to Maude and looked out the window. An oriole fluttered to a nearby tree and danced along a limb. Two white butterflies darted playfully just above the tall grass at the edge of the woods.

“I was walkin’ out there and I stopped a good aim from a tree full of squirrels. They was a barkin’ and chatterin’ like a hen house with a fox in it but those squirrels was havin’ fun; the time of their life. I sat against a tree and waited for a clear shot. There was so many squirrels in that tree I could have spent the whole morning there. I was watchin’ and before long my eyes go heavy. I dozed off. I don’t know what woke me; I think it was the quiet. I looked just beyond my feet and there was this curious little squirrel. Well, he wasn’t little—good eatin’ size.”

Tom turned his head halfway toward Maude. “Are you followin’ me so far?”

“Sure,” Maude said, “but I’m not so sure you know where yer headin’.”

“There’s something ‘bout the woods,” Tom said turning and gazing out the window again. “Ya kin be havin’ a bad day at work, ya come home and take a walk in the woods and it’s all gone; every bad thing, dark thoughts, every curse, every clinched fist—ya just let it go. I read where the leaves absorb CO2. I think they absorb other things—things of the mind—things only felt and not seen or measured. Do you understand me?”

“Have ya been wathin’ that public channel?” Maude said.

“That squirrel looked right into me and saw everything about me and yet he was willin’ to spend a moment to give me some joy. I slowly raised my rifle to my shoulder and took aim. He was maybe 15 feet away. I watched him through my sights. I wrapped my trigger finger around the trigger. I smiled a bit. My trigger finger trembled. I relaxed my finger. I sat the rife down. That squirrel came up to me and sort of nudged me with his nose as if to say move over.”

“Well?” Maude said.

“Well, what?” Tom said.

“Didja move over?” Maude said.

“Of course,” Tom said. “It’s his territory. He roots around a bit and digs up an acorn. He brought it over to me and dropped it in my hand.”

“That’s a crazy story,” Maude said. “I don’t believe it.”

“Maude,” Tom said. “I don’t think I can ever kill another livin’ creature.”

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