He watched the sunlight fall in bands through the forest canopy, heard the scratching of small animals in the mulch. He tracked birdsong through the branches, content that he was the only biped in the area. Setting down his pack, he breathed deeply of the pine-scented air and smiled.
Friday, March 25, 2022
2 Minutes. Go!
It was a smile born of pain. And it didn't last.
From the pack, he took a rough heel of brown bread and the last of his cheese. With his barlow knife, he sliced the cheese as thinly as possible and paired it with the bread. He chewed methodically, turning the bread to paste in his mouth before swallowing. His canteen was full, but he took only small sips.
He had been in these woods before. He remembered the subtle bend of the deer trail and the trickle of a stream that was hidden from view. Stream might be an overstatement, he thought. Trickle. It was a trickle, but it was life, and it was for this reason that the deer came.
From his coat pocket, he palmed his father's pistol, a .38 Police Special that his old man had carried for years and never fired. He intended to fire it, but first he needed to think.
If he had to pick one moment when things had gotten off track, when the train of his life had derailed, then it was this: heartbreak. He was aware that he had no monopoly on the feeling, but it didn't matter. If he was honest with himself, he allowed that his heartbreak had been something special. Something extra. You lose your wife and your son and heartbreak becomes chronic. Leaden.
There was nothing holding him to life anymore. This is what he thought as he stared at the ground in front of him. He saw stalks of chewed grass, droppings from various animals, and the scratch marks where a predator had sharpened its claws on a tree. He saw life and death before him, and, once again, decided that there was nothing left in the life part. Not for him.
His heartache had claws that were unbelievably sharp. They were tearing him apart.
He heard a hawk cry in the distance, and the sound was so forlorn and empty that it made his chest ache. He opened the pistol and checked the loads. Fresh, shiny cartridges that looked out of place in the old gun. Like it was putting on airs. He chuckled at the idea that he needed a fully loaded gun. He didn't.
He needed one bullet. The rest would rust and decay and be buried by time. Or found by some intrepid woodsman. It didn't matter. Maybe a deer would learn how to shoot and become king of the forest.
It didn't matter. Not anymore.
He pulled a cigarette from his pack and lit it with the Zippo that had also belonged to his father. The gun and the Zippo had been all he wanted from the tornado of "stuff" his father had left behind.
He smoked the cigarette down to the butt and put the butt in his pocket. He chuckled at this, too. His whole life was about to become litter.
It didn't matter. Not really.
The sun was just dipping in the sky when he firmed up his resolution. It was the golden hour that he loved, and it was fitting.
The gunshot stopped the birds singing, and it drowned out the sound of the trickling water. But only for a moment. Soon, the birds were chirping and lamenting. The forest returned to stasis, the way it had been before he came. From the edge of the clearing, a buck raised his head and scented the wind, smelled something it didn't like, and bounded back into the thickest part of the woods. The sun dropped, and the night animals came.
All was right in the forest again.