HE WOULD LEAVE HIS APARTMENT IN THE CITY

 

It is rumored in his later years he would leave his apartment in the city and drive through the night to arrive before sun up. He would dress warmly and bring a gun, his grandfather’s Winchester model 1912, a pump action with walnut stock and blue finish. Hiking through the dark, he liked the weight of it against his shoulder, and when he lifted it to his face, sighting down the barrel, he’d feel the cheek-polished wood against his own— and that’s when he thought of his grandfather. By then his eyes were as old as the old man’s, and he worried they were one and the same: the eyes, the two cheeks, the paper mâché serenity of the morning he could so easily blow a hole through. How many times had he done it before? Reaching the blind, he would sit and unscrew the lid from a thermos of coffee, watching the steam, imagining time curling in on itself like the aromatic tendrils he inhaled. In these moments a weight was lifted, and he saw himself at the center of a great and powerful will that was, like the birds, just waking up. It was an easy thing to do, the scent of wet mud thick as a blanket around him, all those pinks and purples bleeding into the world like the sky was a sponge soaking up blood. He thought of his dog in these moment too, dead all these years, and his memories brought him a strange kind of solace he wished he could fold and place in his pocket like the knife that he carried. Still, he was there for the birds, the mallards and pintails and coots, for the quiet mutterings they spoke to each other. Yet despite his best efforts, he couldn’t reconcile himself to the fact that they were leaving. He was afraid he’d never see them again. Which is why, before the sun came up, a magnificent red ball that broke the horizon like a promise, he’d walk back to the truck, toes cold, gun unfired, memories trailing behind him or running ahead like that old Brittany Spaniel. On the drive back, he’d have the gun zipped in its brown leather case and classical music on the radio, and many times flocks of the exact same birds he’d been watching would pass overhead, paralleling the highway. He’d be concentrating on commuter traffic and never see them, and just as well. In his mind they were miles away, flotillas of squabble and down on the black glass of the refuge lake, hundreds of them massed in the growing light, preening chest feathers, dunking for weeds, kibitzing about air currents and the finer points of warm weather. All this, I remind you, is rumor and speculation. The bread and butter of gossip. His friends deny every word. They say it never happened. But I saw him the day they brought him in, blue as a teal, a queer smile draped like Christmas tree garland, loose and ropey, hung on his face.

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Charles Finn is the editor of High Desert Journal, a literary and fine arts magazine dedicated to the interior West of the United States, and author of a collection of micro-essays, Wild Delicate Seconds: 29 Wildlife Encounters (OSU Press 2012). A freelance writer for over 20 years, his work has appeared in a wide variety of literary journals, anthologies, newspapers, and consumer magazines. As a self-taught woodworker, he began A Room of One’s Own in 2004, building “microhomes,” one-room wood cabins constructed entirely out of reclaimed lumber and materials. Originally from Vermont, he lives in Federal Way, WA with his wife Joyce Mphande-Finn and their two cats, Pushkin and Lutsa.