Paula Brehm

TIME TO KILL

The Chronicle

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Swathmore College Receives License to Kill

By Ray Shear

SWARTHMORE — President William Foster of Swarthmore College has received a group hunting license from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Fish and Wildlife for what many are referring to as a canned hunt. According to Foster, the deer population on the Swarthmore campus has become, “a nuisance and a danger.” Foster also claims that several accidents and near-accidents on campus have been the direct result of the deer overpopulation. “They leap into traffic and sometimes even block traffic standing in the middle of the road and refusing to move,” said Foster. “Several traffic accidents involving students and deer have resulted in trips to the emergency room,” Foster added. Foster also cited the threat of Lyme disease and the destruction of the campus preserve as other reasons to thin the deer herd.

The hunt is scheduled for the third weekend in November, a time when most students, faculty and staff are away from campus. During the hunt, only essential personnel will be allowed on campus. State police will patrol the campus perimeter. Hunters will be required to provide a valid hunting license and must undergo a background check prior to being selected for the operation. Weapons will be documented on the morning of the hunt to assure that only approved weapons are used and that any possible accidents can be easily investigated.

Doug Hammond, Chief of Operations for the Bureau of Fish and Wildlife fully supports the college’s decision and says, “I know that many organizations and individuals will oppose this decision, but with no natural enemies, the deer population has grown to record numbers in this area. To allow the herd to continue to grow will only lead to starvation in the winter months, something I believe is crueler than hunting them.”

The Health Services Office on the Swarthmore campus confirmed that Lyme disease among the student population is on the rise and that over twenty students have sought follow-up treatment for injuries resulting from deer/automobile accidents.

For more information or to apply to participate in the hunt, contact Doug Hammond at 555-555-5555.

*

The paper folds, slides off the table and cascades to the kitchen floor as you lunge at the sink and heave up your first cup of coffee. The scalding bitterness stinks as it splatters onto the stainless steel. Your mind flashes on that moment, that phone call, those devastating words from a stranger. Your mind flinches from the pain and embraces a moment in the future, a moment of satisfaction and closure.

Surely this is a sign… a sign from God? Yes. This is the kind of sign you have been waiting for, an answer to the why, why, why. Why me God? Why my baby? What have I done to deserve this? Your mind wraps wisps of pain and hope around this sign and nurtures a dark strategy.

Getting in should be easy. You know this campus. You worked there once, before that call. You tutored in the writing center, guiding the math and science students through the precise placement of commas and semicolons and leading the art and music majors through the intricacies and beauty of subject-verb agreement. It was a quiet job, a job that offered time to pursue other interests. In the quiet moments, as you waited for appointments, you pecked out the lines of dialogue for the characters in your latest romance novel. No one knew, of course. You knew academia wouldn’t embrace romance novels as an art form, but they fed your fantasies and allowed you to live a little more comfortably than your tutor’s salary did.

Those same academic colleagues would also be surprised to know that you own a rifle. You know how to fire it. You have a hunting license, and you are an excellent shot. Your father made sure of that. Your father. A man who had wanted sons but had gotten daughters. He never said as much, but you knew. It was in the way he scorned tears, in the way he frowned and furrowed his brow when your little sister whined and tried to get him to play tea party, in the way he admired your strength, your agility, your willingness to kill. Early, frosted mornings in the Allegheny State Forest, hours waiting in the deer blind that reeked of urine, beer and cigarettes. What sort of an idiot smoked in a deer blind? Waiting. Waiting. And then the terrifying rush as a deer tipped into view. Delicate legs, graceful. Watchful eyes, wet, brown, enormous. Ears poised for the slightest sound. The time to kill has come. Your father nods in your direction, indicating that you should take the shot. You sight the deer, pause for one indecisive second as you ponder the emotions of killing, surviving, pleasing Daddy. Breathe. Hold. Shoot. The doe is down before the crack of the rifle echoes through the valley. You follow your father down the ladder and across the field through remnants of thistle, chicory and goldenrod. The shot is perfect. Right through the heart. Instantaneous death. Your father nods, smiles and claps you on the shoulder. You had killed. You had become a man.

Your baby made you a woman, proved that you were a woman. He had been a miracle, unexpected. Doctors had told you for years that you could not conceive, would not bear a child into this world. Without a child, the boyish nature that your father had nurtured became your truth. You were not a woman; you were still your father’s longed-for son. Even years of indiscriminate sex with boys and men did not prove you a woman. No voraciously aggressive fumbling fingers over buckles, buttons, zippers and waistbands, no sequacious sucking of enormous dicks or hungry swallowing of jettisoned spew, no vigorous cowboy-humping orgy of positions or openly offered orifices made you a woman. None of it mattered at all until it resulted in that solitary journey of one seed and the vicious squiggly-tailed pairing that resulted in two pink lines on the home pregnancy test. Then you were awash in a womanly aura of hormones and love and fear.

You remember laughing when reading in one of your numerous books on pregnancy, labor and child rearing that your breasts would likely enlarge two cup-sizes. You, the woman straddled between the A and B cup, would eventually fill a D? Ha! You, the girl who had easily scrambled through briars, crawled through mud and wriggled under barbed-wire fences in pursuit of whatever prey was on the menu that season, would soon be encumbered by a massive pair of womanly orbs? You just couldn’t see it, could not see it in the movie-version of your life that ran through your mind, but it happened. One night as he curled into you, hard penis nudging the moist cleft under your ass, you saw his fingers as they stroked and nagged your nipples, cupped and squeezed the flesh underneath; they strained to engulf, could not hold it all. You were huge, and as your belly swelled, breasts heaved, hips splayed, you had never felt more beautiful.

You’ve never been convicted of a crime…and hopefully never will be. You could probably get selected for the hunting party, but maybe that’s not the way. Is it better to be a known participant and claim accidental shooting? Maybe it would be better to sneak in and let them wonder who shot the bitch…but they’d trace the gun back to you. There must be a way. God—oh, it still felt so strange to be speaking of God after all of this time—but surely God would not put this opportunity before you with no way to act upon it. You close your eyes. You take a deep breath. Think. Think, think, think. You smile, seeing your son that day not long before….

“What are you doing?” you had asked him, spotting him tapping one finger against his temple as he surveyed his building-block city.

“Thinking,” he had answered. “This is how Winnie the Pooh does it.”

You had laughed and asked, “What are you thinking about?”

“I’m just thinking,” and again he tapped his finger on his head—that fragile head with fine strands of corn silk hair. “Where do you think our house should go, Mommy?”

“Hmmm.” You walk into the living room, put your hands on your hips and tap your temple. “Think, think, think.”

He had laughed then. You had both laughed, and you scooped him up and nuzzled his neck with your nose causing even louder squeals.

You shake the memory away and try to focus on vengeance more than sorrow and loss. You remember. You have another rifle, an unregistered rifle, another father-son moment that you had almost forgotten. A Winchester that had been passed down from father to son for six generations, a rifle that your grandfather’s great, great, great grandfather had used as a volunteer in the Pennsylvania militia, an honorable rifle with an honorable history…but did it fire? Could you get ammunition for it? Could you find it? The attic? The shed? The barn?

You try to recall the last time you’d used it. Your father had taken you to the firing range immediately after presenting it to you. He had kept it in good condition, cleaning and oiling it regularly. He told you that he tried to fire it at least once a year, but you had not kept it up. After your father’s first stroke, you quit hunting, you became his caretaker—a role usually reserved for women, but when your father needed a son, you were a son. When your father needed a daughter, you were a daughter. You spent years spoon feeding him as he drooled from the left side of his mouth, years cleaning his filth and listening to him rant impotently, cursing you and ordering you to leave him alone, years listening to him plead with you to have mercy, to put him out of his misery…like a wounded animal. His suffering both pleased and terrified you. It broke your heart. Eventually he won. Eventually you had mercy.

You are sure that the rifle must be in the barn. You scrape away from the table and stalk to the porch. You shove on work boots and an old black and red mackinaw jacket. The jacket smells of camp fires and rain storms. It hangs on your stocky frame as it never hung on your father’s. The air outside is cool and damp. A mist hangs in the trees like fog. The barn is barely visible. The screen door slams behind you and attracts the attention of Mr. Harper, your closer-than-you’d-like neighbor. What’s the point of living in the middle of nowhere, you’d always asked your father, if you can still see your neighbors? Harper smiles, raises a hand and starts down his driveway. He snatches up his paper before crossing the road and stuffs it under his arm.

“It’s good to see you out and about, Lou.”

You wince at the nickname your father had relished. You insisted on being called Louise by the participants in your adult life, but it was hard to change the habits of people like Lloyd Hardy, who had been almost as constant in your life as your parents. Not by invitation, but by injection. Now, after…everything…he pounds on the door every three days or so just to make sure you’re alive and to assure the propagation of his reputation as a neighborly man.

You nod noncommittally and keep walking.

“Don’t see you out this time of the day usually,” he continues. “What’s got you going?”

“Just headed to the barn,” you reply still walking.

He follows. “Oh, I bet there are some real treasures in there. I’ve been watching this show on the television called American Pickers. Funny name, don’t you think, Lou? Anyway, these here pickers, they just drive around and drive around and when they see an old barn or a shed or a farmhouse that looks like it might have some good stuff, they stop.”

You stop at the entrance to the barn. You don’t want him to come in. You turn.

“That’s something, Mr. Harper, but I’m real busy. I wish I could talk.”

“Oh, it’s something all right,” he continues. “Some of the stuff they find is worth big bucks. You’d be surprised at some of the beat up old junk they pay for.”

“I’m sure I would be Mr. Harper, but I really don’t want anyone digging around in my barn. I’m just…looking for something.”

“I could lend you a hand, save you some time.” He narrows his eyes, inclines his body toward you, willing you to walk inside and allow him access.

“No, no.” You shake your head, try to rattle loose an excuse to keep him at bay. “I…don’t really know what I’m looking for yet.”

He eyes you and pulls away, thinks you might not be serious, but you hold steady.

“I’m looking for something to…help me…help me…with my writing.”

“Oh, my granddaughter just loves those books you write, Bradley at the Zoo, Bradley on the Farm, Bradley at the Park. She wants me to read them again and again.”

You wince every time he repeats the name.

“I’m so glad she likes them, Mr. Harper. I….”

“So, where’s Bradley going this time? The planetarium? That’d be a good idea, or how about the Space Center?”

“Oh, now, I couldn’t say, Mr. Harper. Even if I knew, I couldn’t tell you before I tell my publisher.” You offer a tight, one-sided smile, but snatch it back before Mr. Harper can interpret some sort of invitation for more conversation.

“Well.” He begins to rest back on his heels, to turn away from you. You start to hiss out the breath you’ve been holding. “I guess I’ll let you get to it.”

“Yes, thank-you, Mr. Harper. I’ll be sure to give you an advanced, autographed copy of the next book.” Your body slumps.

“Oh, Izabel will love that,” he wiggles with delight as he heads back across the road and up the gravel drive to his black and white farmhouse.

You watch him all the way inside before you turn into the dark, musty barn. The scent of moldering hay and manure is weak but still lingering in the dark corners. Drapes of cobwebs cling to the beams and joists, weave through the black interior. You enter, glancing into the unused stalls as you walk by. Most are empty, but you think the one at the end has some boxes stacked in the back corner.

You turn into it, throw your elbows up on the stall gate, peer into the darkness, and squint letting your eyes glide over the neatly stacked gray shapes surrounded by projections that might be an old plow, the remains of a milking machine, toppled stacks of bushels, books, clothing, chains and bicycles. The surface milieu smothers the ordered storage beneath.

You walk back to the entrance, flip the switch. Lights still work. No sparks. Now the jumble of junk is at least visible if not decipherable. What the hell happened in here? Several of the boxes had been ripped open and pilfered, one completely dumped, the items seemingly kicked around on the ground—tea cups with floral designs and gold trim, a harmonica, hundreds of buttons and spools of thread, old issues of Home and Garden, House Beautiful, National Geographic and Reader’s Digest. Layers of dust lay over all of the boxes and debris, so nothing had been recently disturbed. Maybe your father had come out here looking for something after your mother died, before he got sick.

Assuming that the rifle could not fit into any of the boxes and had not been put in here long enough ago to have been neatly stored by your mother, you squint along the wall, poking at dusty blobs and blocks, yanking your fingers back quickly in case any spiders are waiting in the shadows to attack. A rusted Red Flyer wagon is stacked with books. You bend and nudge them to get a look at the titles—Black Beauty, Misty of Chincoteague, Little House in the Big Woods, The Secret Garden.

You stand, put your hands on your hips, turn, survey the stall again. I need more light. You walk back to the gate. There it is. It is nestled into a coil of rope next to a mismatched collection of hubcaps. The rope smells dusty, but sweet, slightly of pine. It crumbles in your hands as you slap it aside to retrieve the rifle. This is a good sign.

You return to the kitchen, pour another cup of coffee. You smooth and blow the dust off of the rifle. You crack the barrel. It’s empty. I’ll need ammo. You lean the rifle against the table and sit down. You sip your coffee. You remember paths in the woods that surround the campus. Do they go as far as the road? Can you reach them from the road? There must be a way.

You go there often, to that overpass with the Schuylkill River rushing below. You have to park a few yards back and walk down the steep embankment to the river. Here you have cried. You have cursed God. You have envisioned over and over walking into the water, joining them. Taking slow deliberate steps, your pockets filled with rocks like Virginia Woolfe. You close your eyes and breathe deeply to stay calm. You try to welcome death. You try to think of it as a way of joining them…but you can’t. You can imagine it, but you cannot welcome it.

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