They’re shooting again. So little Cory’s screaming again.
“Honey, go put something on for him,” Shirley says.
I walk to the living room. On the ground beside the “entertainment center” I find a disc out of its case. I pick it up and slam Grover’s face into the DVD player, turn up the volume.
Every Saturday now we keep putting his voice up louder and louder just to drown out their pow-pow-pow. And after Grover comes Big Bird. Then Elmo. Then Kermit. Then repeat. Until mid-afternoon. By then my mind feels like a wrecked Kings Island ride. Some weekends I feel like we’ll still be watching these shows when Cory’s a grown man. Other weekends I have to up and leave for a beer at Squeaky’s.
I never anticipated this problem when we moved out to this rural, upper middle class housing development three years ago, but it’s a weekend retreat for them; that’s what it is. Since the “For Sale” sign was taken down at the end of October, they’ve come from town every Friday evening, even Christmas, to stay up on the ridge. Each Saturday morning they walk down the hillside, three or four men with beagles and twelve-gauges, hunting rabbits in the thickets across their five acres behind my home. No need to check with the police or the church: it’s not illegal and there’s no sin. And with little to no snow on the ground, our mild winter hasn’t helped.
They start shooting even before we’re out of bed, often just when I begin to enjoy the warmth of my wife and the new down comforter from Kaufmann’s. Even if by some small chance I don’t hear the first shot, Rocky hears it and wakes us up anyway with his barking. By now I’m used to getting up at the first crack. I go downstairs and pace around, brew the Maxwell House. I used to look forward every week to those couple extra hours of sleep on the weekend, but they don’t exist anymore. The gunshots rattle me. They rattle me even before they reach my ears. I go to bed thinking about them, and after I fall asleep, deep in the night, there’s still some part of me waiting on them. Shirley says I toss more on Friday nights now than I do during the week.
With Grover jabbering at full blast, I go back into the kitchen. They’re standing at my property line this minute. Fifteen yards from my living room window as Shirley sets biscuits and apple butter from the farmer’s market on the kitchen table. I can see the burlap bags they carry over their shoulders so clearly that I could count how many rabbits are inside. Barrels are pointed at the ground as their splotchy dogs sniff near the piles of brush. I figure the dogs are close enough to smell the bacon frying on the stove. Even when they’re on the far side of their property I can see the men’s orange hunting vests through the barren trees. I can see as they lead their hounds up over the knoll, out of view, then circle back again.
“You want any hot sauce this morning?” Shirley asks after she calms Cory down, deciding not to carry him into the living room. I barely hear her over the “waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.” I learned to put hot sauce on my scrambled eggs from a Mexican fellow who I was stationed with at Fort Bragg, and I don’t know why Shirley even bothers asking anymore. That’s the only way I can eat them.
Cory is in his highchair. He was content sucking his pacifier, ready for his bottle of milk, until the shots started up again. Shirley herself is shaking now since they’re so close. I figure half of her shakes are on account of me, the others are for Cory. It’s like when we had bed bugs in the barracks. We didn’t fear the bites so much as knowing that we were surrounded and incapable. It’s the anticipation, the helplessness, I guess—the knowing that you don’t have any way to fight.
“You want more coffee?” she asks before she sits down to feed our boy.
But then there’s another loud pop. Then three more. The hunters’ hounds start howling, and Rocky walks over and curls up in the corner, not knowing what to make of things anymore. Cory’s mouth wrinkles after the first crack, and he’s bawling again after the second shot even though Shirley picks him up and swings him onto her shoulder. I jump up from my chair, apple butter falling from a biscuit onto my hand. That’s it, I tell myself. I can’t live like this every weekend for another two months. Heck, they might even start with possums in March.
Thursday after work I drive up on the ridge to make sure the men haven’t arrived for an early weekend. Then I continue home and talk Shirley into taking Cory with her to the supermarket for the pasta and red peppers I conveniently forgot. After she leaves, I grab two industrial grade plastic bags from the closet where I’ve stored the box of Havoc pellets. I put on my Caterpillar boots and leave through the patio door.
Only two months ago, the second weekend they hunted, I called from the back porch and walked out to talk to them. There were three of them that weekend, all with fluorescent orange jackets, cheap-ass twelve-gauges, fatigues, brown boots, and hunting caps. Around fifty years old. Overweight. Moustaches. I couldn’t tell them apart.
“It’s my property and I’ve got a right to hunt on it,” one of the men said. “Go ahead and call your Sheriff; I’d be glad to show off my permit. You and your family ain’t outside during the wintertime anyway.”
I didn’t say much. They don’t care if they wake me up early anyway. They don’t care if they frighten my family and rile my dog. I thought about telling them I was in the 82nd Airborne Division and fought in the Iraq War, or that I spent two years at Camp Bravo in Basra. But they’d either take that as a threat or a lie, not a simple call for some respect. Then I thought about ripping the pitiful guts out of each of their potbellies. Instead I just turned and walked back to the house, worried I might go and pick up my AR-15. It’s a short space for me between folding and snapping.
Two weekends later, the weekend after Thanksgiving, a party of six trampled the woods. It was a warm Saturday and I took my speakers out onto the back porch, cranked up some Thin Lizzy and Zeppelin just to show them things work both ways. One of the hunters came up to the porch and said the music made it impossible to hunt.
“I’ve got a right to listen to my music, don’t I?”
“Yeah. At a reasonable volume, you do.”
“How about your gunshots? They at a reasonable volume? Ask my one year old son if they’re a reasonable volume.”
“Now that’s different. And we ain’t but using twelve-gauges anyway.” The man paused and then lowered his voice. “But we got things a lot more powerful than them if need be.”
“Get off my property.”
I thought of turning the music up even louder, to the point it probably wouldn’t even sound like music, but I knew Shirley could already hear it inside the house and it made her almost as uncomfortable as the gunshots. Ten minutes later a county police officer showed up and told me I had to turn the music down; I was disturbing the peace. I followed Officer Scruggs’ instructions and went back inside the house. The next evening, after we got home from shopping, I went to mow the back yard before dark and saw they had busted my attic window.
I stop in the garage to put on a pair of latex gloves and grab a small shovel, then walk through the back yard, into the woods. I’ve been edgy all week, and Shirley and I argued three times, all about ridiculous stuff like how to hang the hand towel on the rack after washing. I walk to the first spot where I found cropped grass and rabbit droppings earlier in the week, where I’ve placed Havoc each evening since Monday when I get home from work, putting it down just before the rabbits come out to feed. The pellets are gone now, just like the food I put out the week before to acclimate them.
A carcass lies near the light walking trail that the hunters have made. There’s no smell and few insects; a recent death. No external bleeding from the Havoc either. I open one of the plastic bags, pick up the rabbit by its back legs, and toss it in—a complete waste that it’s not meat for humans or other animals, not even useable for fur.
There’s no Havoc left for the men to find at the second place either, but there are two dead rabbits in the brush about ten yards from each other. They stink and have been picked at and eaten. I set the open bag on the ground, pick up the carcasses with the shovel, and dump them inside. Three more are dead in the area of the third and final feeding area. I throw sticks at the bodies to scatter the insects, and dump them in the bag with the rest. I toss my gloves into the bag and tie it before heading back through the woods toward home.
In the garage I fill a bucket with water and set the shovel inside it to wash later. I walk to the driveway, open the passenger door to my Silverado, and put the bag of dead rabbits on the floor.
On the five minute drive to Arby’s I think about what will happen on Saturday when the men enter the woods. Let them hunt. If they find more dead rabbits, maybe they might guess what I’ve done. If they find live ones, let them shoot. Let them eat rabbit stew and give their dogs the innards and bones. Let them swallow the poison and let the doctors figure it out.
I pull into Arby’s and drive around back to their giant green garbage bin, get out of the car to deposit the poisoned carcasses. The bin is mostly empty and the bag hits the bottom with a metallic thud. Nothing more to do but wait for the men, wait for Saturday to come.
But when I arrive home, Cory’s crying and Shirley’s yelling. Bright green Havoc pellets litter the entryway in front of the closet. Rocky lies on the kitchen floor wagging his tail and licking his lips.
“You left the closet door open again.”
Inside the closet Rocky has knocked the box of Havoc off the bottom shelf and pellets are lodged in crevices, stuck between boxes and bags. How many are now in my dog’s stomach? One glance at him indicates he’s had a feast.
“What is it that he’s gotten into anyway, Eric? And why can’t you keep the closet door closed?”
“I just forgot, Shirley,” I say, quickly picking up the pellets. When I finish, I go upstairs out of earshot and call the vet. The office is already closed, so I dial the Poisoned Pet Hotline.
“You won’t see symptoms for another day or two,” the man tells me over the phone. “But get the dog into the vet first thing in the morning.”
Downstairs Cory is still crying. Even Shirley is making a lot of noise, and the weekend hasn’t even started. I walk back downstairs to take an inconspicuous look at Rocky, but Shirley jumps on me as I reach the bottom of the stairs.
“And what is it with more unpaid bills?” she yells. “Have you seen these? I know you’ve seen them. But you don’t do nothing about it. What’s wrong with you? Irresponsible is what’s wrong. Sure always got enough cash for the bar and strip clubs though, don’t you?”
She picks up the car keys and starts putting Cory’s shoes on him.
“Where you going?”
“Staying at Mom and Dad’s this weekend. Maybe longer. Tired of all this. Maybe you’ll miss us enough to get your act cleaned up.”
She slams the door behind her, Cory in her arms. On my side of the door there is complete silence, and it isn’t what I’d hoped for. I hear her shoes clicking on the sidewalk. I hear the car door slam and the engine start. Rocky starts to whine.
The next morning I take the day off to get my old mutt to the vet. Vitamin K1 treatment is the deal. We’re there by 9 o’clock, as soon as it opens, and out by 10:30. We get home and I put Rocky in his pen, then go back to bed. I don’t wake until 2.
When I wake up I go downstairs, fix myself a ham and onion sandwich, covering both slices of bread with spicy mustard. I pour myself a Mountain Dew and walk over to the sofa. By this time tomorrow I figure the hunters will have made some observations and decisions. These are the remaining hours in the bunker before the potential bombs start dropping.
I turn on the TV, but there’s little on but soap operas, crappy movies, and golf. I rifle through the DVDs in the entertainment center. There’s The Deer Hunter, Deliverance, and Taxi Driver, maybe a couple others of mine. There are a few aerobics programs that Shirley bought but never uses. Everything else is for Cory. But this time none of it’s for Cory, and if my platoon saw me trying to decide which Grover flick to watch, they’d wipe my ass in thirty-five different ways.
I put in the disc and sit down on the sofa, kick my feet up on the coffee table and bite into my sandwich. Grover’s wearing a cape in this one. He’s Super Grover. He yaps and jokes and crash lands. He talks a big game but gets nothing right. In my mind, Super Grover has seen his fair share of war.
I lose track of the bites I take out of my sandwich. I can’t even hear Grover as he chatters on. Deep in my mind is the question of what will happen tomorrow when the men come to hunt poisoned rabbits. Behind the men, peeking out from their camouflage vests, stand Shirley and Cory. Are they going to come back on Monday? Is a quiet house a peaceful one? And will Cory be around much longer to teach me this Grover guy isn’t such a bad little fellow?