by Matthew Jakubowski

Kills one lovebird, maims the other, flies off with a meal. Damn bird says Dad when he hears the story. I saw it I saw says little sister. In bed early that night the boy sleeps a few hours, wakes up hungry at midnight. Out back he sees the birdcage in the yard, how some of the grass inside is red like a fence around a bad place. There’s a shoebox next to the house with the maimed lovebird inside half-a-day dead. Everyone’s had a day.

You stop wanting to talk about things as soon as something else happens. All the stuff he’s seen it’ll be right later on. The red toenails in that shack, the look on the naked man’s face, the way those goats waited together, the halves of the small boar’s body. He makes a giant sandwich five slices of ham three slices of cheese lots of mustard and mayo, eats it by the kitchen window looking at the big tree. The yard’s peaceful again.

It’s gone well, there’s no blood for good reason because this was a good one. He digs with shaky hands. Must’ve been awful for his sister to see her birds killed. Nobody hears. The bird falls. No point learning to be a good shot if it never matters. Maybe it’s wrong to get revenge maybe a lot of things are wrong.

Yard’s already haunted anyway. There. He breathes in, aims, lets half the breath out. Gives the pellet gun just a few pumps, enough to kill from across the yard. Dad said never use the gun alone but he ignored that, he knows to check beyond the bird make sure he won’t hit anything else if he misses. Alone in the house days later he sees it land in the big tree out back yellow eye black body a few white feathers how it flops between the branches.

Swooping down it had plunged its head and beak through the bars. In the yard it spied the lovebirds in the cage that his Mom and sister had put out back to clean with the hose. Story was a currawong sailed by at just the wrong time. Little sister’s crying, Mom’s angry, too tired to ask about the hunt. Back home he knows the rule, a hunter tells no tales, but there’s no time for that anyway.

It’s been a day. He realizes he should’ve been shooting but didn’t want to feel the shotgun kick. Smiling with pride and embarrassment Dad pats his shoulder. Everyone’s sweaty. The goats stand around a minute then walk away over the hill unsure what all that booming was about. The men scowl at the four wild goats, the little herd intact save the one.

The boy doesn’t get why they kept stopping to look back. The ground near them explodes as they bounce side-to-side boom bounce boom bounce until the guns are empty. He stomps out of the grass and sees them go, five wild goats in bristly white coats, back and forth away in leaps between the trees as the men fire slugs fast as they can.

A pure white goat is keeled over, one side red with moving blood. He hears the men’s footsteps quicken ahead so he yells and crashes forward too cries out hoping he sounds scary not scared. Dad mumbles as the other men yell out haarrgh like the war is suddenly upon them. Hot walking uphill into some high grass his Dad’s there then gone, there then gone every other step and just as the boy’s heart is going like mad in the silence, ba-boom ba-boom from the guns up front.

You can say no I’ll stay home, but Dad’s hurt smile is brutal. Plus you learn things. Like it feels strange to turn and go. But that’s what you do. Bad luck someone says, I meant to hit the mother. It lies there smooth and puppy brown with light spots, like it had fallen, broken in half and could be squished back together, maybe run off again if they helped it soon. On the ground it’s a wild boar piglet, two soft pieces on a small mirror of blood. In a clear spot between shaggy-bark trees one of the men nudges something with his boot.

They had flinched when two quick shots punched out and one of the men yelled hah!, over here, she’s gone by the water. The boy jumped after his Dad who was off through whipping branches amid more shots a voice. Things just turn like that, keep happening one after the other, so he learns to move within and around the trees and dust and his blood, he goes bullet-quick when only a second before he’s stepping easy between the trees, listening with the shotgun in his hands, an eye on his Dad’s back, hoping he said the right thing.

They’re at the property to surprise another Army pal at his shack, but the whole idea backfires. Check your safety, Dad says and spits in the dirt as the other men finish a smoke. The boy saw red toenails, heard a woman and a man say what go away as they pulled up the white covers and his Dad slammed the shack door growling Jesus c’mon, c’mon. The boy had mumbled that it’s probably not right when his Dad asked, “What do you think of this, this married man alone in the woods enjoying the company of that woman?” The other men have split off, happy to be away from his Dad’s anger.

Breakfast was too small and there’s dust on the boy’s lips already. He hates thinking about the shotgun’s kick, misses his pellet gun, the one he impressed his Dad’s friends with last time by shooting beer caps off a fencepost. He looks at the tire marks, imagines they weren’t made by trucks going through mud after a storm but by a girl who spent months on her hands and knees carving patterns into the hard ground with a tiny wooden pick. The next storm would erase them. Insects hum like the blood of eucalyptus. These aren’t hunting thoughts, he tells himself. They stop at a gate and walk the dirt road carrying shotguns. Dewy cobwebs shiver in the grass. The grass is fed by blood. In the hills an hour from Canberra a boy, thirteen, yawns as his father hands an Army canteen to one of the other men.


About the Author:

Matthew Jakubowski’s short stories have appeared recently in Minor Literature[s], Numero Cinq, The Bohemyth, and Black Sun Lit. He has written for The Paris Review Daily, gorse, The Kenyon Review Online, Music & Literature, Fiddleblack, Kirkus Reviews, decomP, and 3:AM Magazine. He has served as a section editor for the translation journal Asymptote and a fiction panelist for the Best Translated Book Award. He lives in West Philadelphia and can be found online @matt_jakubowski.