My sister and I sat in the back seat
of my mom’s car
surrounded by the pock-marked asphalt
of a Hardee’s parking lot.
Its blackish chewing gum clogged pores
sweltering in the sweated steam of a five minute rain shower from six minutes before.
My eyes throbbed from my sister’s exacting slap. She had recently started wearing makeup and her face often looked like a drunken Kandinsky painting. I reveled in the delivery of my unsolicited art critiques.
I would frustrate her ego till her badly applied eyeliner drained off her lids like a swollen bladder to bowl.
My tearing eyes pulsed and sympathetically began applying eyeshadowed bruises in their belows.
We were waiting on our dad. It was his weekend to family us. We would meet at a semi-halfway point, picked by mom, that always geographically favored her.
Same routine on rotation routinely.
His car would revel itself.
Mom would string together a verbal sticky note of hateful suggestions for me to ventriloquist to him.
Pops her trunk.
Pops his trunk.
Hug for her in gratitude of her going away from us.
Hug for him in gratitude of him escaping us from her.
Two cars drive away from each other.
This weekend, dad had planned a dove shoot. My first. It would take place out on the Dunbar farm. These hunts would consist of many merry men, wet with Miller Light, stationed around a field that had been illegally baited with corn and sunflower seed the week before. The Sun rises up to reveal pairs of Mourning Dove drafting just above the horizon, coming in to feed.
The labored cooing of the incoming birds extinguished by the plumed punctuation of shotgun vomit. Lead birdshot mincing bone and feather, transforming symbols of peace into rambunctious snapshots of a grievous airborne pillow fight.
Feather cloud burst.
Daedalus cries for his son.
I was still too young and diminutive to steady a shotgun so my assigned duty was that of a retriever dog. As birds dropped from flight, I was to run out on the field, grab them up, and then run back, ready to run again. Once the shooting began, my young legs ran quick, to impress a father who was watching. I scrambled to paddock this clipped winged creature as it bounced the ground similar in pattern to my diabetic sister’s seizure. I wrapped my hands around its body. It was softer than I expected. It was warm and calm in my guardianship.
Black eyes staring at me. Black like Tutankhamun’s tomb; filled with splendor, unseeable in its darkness.
I ran it to my dad, not knowing what I was to do with it. He had not prepped me for the birds to still be alive. He was in a lustful frenzy as shots exploded the field over. He looked down at me without mentored patience. He grabbed the dove and ripped its head off, leaving a bobbing bloody lavender worm of a neck where a head once stood. Dad said “that is what you do. It’s the most humane thing to do.” I felt sick in the irony of his words, but I wanted my dad and his friends to think I was a man, so I decapitated them all, stuffing their quivering quilled carcasses into a bag as heavy as I was.
I woke that night with young tears from nightmares of lavender worms wiggling from piles of feathers. I rubbed my bruised eyes and went back to sleep in a dark full of splendor.
Joe Manus is a lifetime resident of the South. He was educated in the public schools of rural Georgia, receiving his high school diploma in 1992. Joe is an award winning furniture designer. He believes in living the best and the worst of the human experience and writing about it.