Dear Huntingby Barbara Henning
Lenore was killed by an accidental bullet. She walked right into the woods. Her thighs were heavy. Her red peddle pushers disappeared like two little flags between the trees.
A flock of brown birds fluttered around the bushes outside the window.
She stepped out of the trailer as I walked around the curve in the road. She was carrying her bird watching book.
My brother and I were walking along the road. The little neighbor girl was between us.
My brother was cleaning his hunting rifle. I looked over at my father’s rifle on the wall. My uncle kept his gun hidden in the closet.
Do you remember our real mother, Robbie asked as we played a game of hearts on the kitchen table.
I took out my arithmetic book and a piece of paper.
He put his gun back up on the wall.
I was rocking in the chair in the corner when I heard a gun shot. The hunters were there early, preparing for the season. The snow had fallen, leaving one inch on the ground.
Where is your mother, my father asked when he came back from the grocery store.
She’s not my mother, I thought to myself. Watching birds, I said out loud, as I turned the pages of my book.
I fell asleep in the chair. I dreamt she had eaten some fish and vegetables which were cooked improperly...
My father woke me up. Where is your mother, he asked.
The book had fallen open to the wrong page.
There’s a blue jay in the bird feeder, she repeated twice in the morning as she drank her coffee. When you finish your cereal, wash the dishes please.
If looks could kill, I’d be dead three times already today, she said, as I scoured out the bathroom sink.
Yes, dear, he used to say to her, yes, dear.
There was a basket with three Macintosh apples on the table. I was peeling potatoes and dropping them into a pan full of water. I missed and cut my thumb. A red streak floated through the pot.
A man cut across our property, his rifle under his arm.
He wore a red and black checkered wool coat and a red hat with the ear muffs turned down.
My brother walked down the road. His book was under his arm. He was looking at his stamp collection. I was reading Great Expectations. “On the Rampage and off the Rampage, Pip—such is Life.”
She had a list of birds clipped to the front of the refrigerator. The Great Horned Owl was at the top.
Be careful, our father said to her before driving off in the station wagon. The hunters don’t pay attention to the signs.
Look at the shape of the tail. She gave us our lessons during breakfast. Is it notched, rounded, deeply forked like a Mourning Dove? She read from her book in the voice of an alien. Does it hold its head down or up? When it flies, does it glide or duck down into the water? Is its beak small and fine or hooked over like a bird of prey? Recite the names of all the birds I’ve seen this week so far. Begin now. She squinted at me and scratched her head. Then she seemed to forget we were there and went on reading as she put on her jacket. I’m going to find a woodpecker. I heard him crying from the edge of the woods, Queer, Queer, Queer.
The hunter almost stood up and shot his friend. A deer with her white tail turned into the wind. He lifted his rifle.
The freezer was stocked with venison. A salty tough taste, ruined by the wound. A tiger in a station wagon. A tiger in the woods. He growled to himself. Into the forest.
The deer are a thick nuisance and a hazard to the drivers. Food is the main thing.
She had taken a photograph of the woodpecker.
The doe began to move, ever so slightly, turning and staring.
My brother rubbed mink oil into his boots.
Hunting season opened on Friday.
The doe was lying on her side, panting, when we found her in the woods, a crusty old red wound in her backside. Her head lay in a pile of rotten frozen leaves.
Before purchasing a gun, think about the range of shooting.
My brother was practicing on the target in the back of the trailer. He went out without his rifle on the trail to see what was around.
The men at the coffee counter were talking. We’ll split up and drive them out of the woods. You stalk one, I’ll stalk the other.
He made a terrible mistake. It’s white tail was bobbing. She dropped in her tracks, then stood up and moved out of sight.
Orange is the color of safety. She was wearing red, white and brown.
The leaves were frozen in the snow.
The book was on the ground. He picked it up and read the instructions as he went down the trail. To dress a deer, be sure the animal is dead. Take a sharp hunting knife and cut open the belly from breast to pelvis. Cut around the anus. Pull back the skin and clip right through the belly. Cut away the male genitals and tie off the bladder. Cut the windpipe. Hang the carcass for draining. Sprinkle with black pepper.
The puritans outlawed bear hunting because there was too much pleasure involved.
He was sitting in a chair at the fork in the path. His gun was lying across his legs. He was snoring.
She looked through her binoculars at the Robin on the lawn, turned on her tape recorder. I’ve got her. I’ve got her, she yelled as she ran into the kitchen and put a check next to the bird’s name on the refrigerator. A Polaroid on the bulletin board.
She once gave my mother’s clothes away to the salvation army.
Our father was sobbing. He fell down in the mud.
Your eyes are the color of amber, my brother said to me, as we sat in the sitting room at the funeral parlor. So are yours. Our eyes are the same. They will always be the same. We are like two shoots from the same sprout.
She was swept away in an ambulance.
Father was stricken with a furious grief. He walked through the woods without his hat on, carrying his rifle. He sat out there for days waiting for the murderer to pass him by.
The police questioned everyone in the town. The bullet went straight through her neck. We had often wished that she might have had an accident. I am very accident prone.
Her sister came up north in the evening. We were watching Leave it to Beaver on the television. She was wearing a black coat with her babushka tied beneath her chin. She looked at us as we sat in the living room. Whoever did this will be punished. The Lord God will punish them.
We didn’t say anything. She wasn’t our mother. She had never had a child. We had only known her for a short period of time.
Barbara Henning is the author of several collections of poetry, her most recent A Day Like Today (Negative Capability Press 2015). Recent others include A Swift Passage (Quale Press), Cities and Memory (Chax Press) and a collection of object-sonnets, My Autobiography (United Artists). She has published three novels, Thirty Miles to Rosebud, You Me and the Insects and Black Lace, and she is the editor of Looking Up Harryette Mullen and The Collected Prose of Bobbie Louise Hawkins. Born in Detroit, Barbara now lives in Brooklyn and teaches for Long Island University, as well as writers.com. http://barbarahenning.com