Poems by Brenton Fisher

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Twenty-Two Caliber

by Brenton Fisher

From Canary Fall 2013

Brenton resides in Normal, Illinois, situated on the northern edge of the Salt watershed.

The first time I killed, it was euphoric in an ambiguous sort of way. Not in the good sense of the word but euphoric in a way similar to drowning, the last few moments of it, where you’re forced to watch the end of something.

I would never call what I did murder, despite the fact that I knew I was going to kill before I did it. Murder requires careful planning, an alibi, meticulous clean-up, acting, an aggressive reason and that sort of thing, maybe even a scapegoat if you wanted to get crafty. All I really did was put something in my scope and pull the trigger. I didn’t even have to drag the body back to the truck. My uncle did that.

Mist clung to the early morning air and the breaching sunlight teased the animals that had been forced to wait out the cold, unforgiving, night outside. I walked beside my uncle through grass and weeds with the pants from my ankle up to my knee soaked in morning dew. My uncle towered above me, a small cooler in one hand and a long black rifle slung over his shoulder. On each of our backs we carried a fold-up chair. The trees around me seemed more stationary than usual. Their statuesque nature appeared rather amplified by the frosty air that tore at their barky skin.

At his side, I kept up with my uncle’s long strides passing tree after tree, each one looking down on us with wary eyes, until finally we found a tree that trusted us more than the rest and we unfolded our chairs beneath its branches.

We sat quietly together, my uncle drinking beer after beer, turning toward the tree every so often to bathe it in urine. Time slunk by. All I could do was search the empty trees.

“Where are they all?” I finally asked.

He took a slow look around, then turned his head to me with puckered lips and shrugged.

I knew they were somewhere. Maybe they haven’t woken up yet, I thought to myself.

As I was examining one particular branch for any sign of life, a strong hand wrapped around my shoulder making me jump. I turned to see my uncle’s face fixated on a tree several to the left of the one I had been looking at. With a thick index finger he pointed to it, handing me the rifle with his other hand.

I accepted it, going over what he had taught me in my head. I aimed it away from both of us, clicked the dark safety circle off, and pulled the gun up to my shoulder.

“Do you see it?” he whispered.

I nodded, peeking over the scope to locate the drowsy tree-dwelling animal. My heart forced adrenaline into my veins and a surge of heat and sweat came over me battling with the cold air around me. I swallowed and closed my left eye.

In the cross hairs of the rifle I saw it, looking around, starting its day. I didn’t have time to think, but something inside me pleaded for me to stop. I pulled the heavy trigger anyway.

The butt of the gun slammed into my shoulder and I opened both eyes, just in time to watch the squirrel tumble down to the ground, its fall cushioned by grass and brush.

I sat up straight, trying to see what I had done.

“Did I get it?”

My uncle chuckled, “Ye-he-es, you did.”

He was proud of me, I could tell. I wasn’t sure why, but he was, so I forced a smile. I sat in silence, left alone with myself, while my uncle retrieved the animal I had blasted out of its home. He carried it by its tail, tossing it down in the grass by our chairs before sitting back down in his.

Its chest was open. Dark red innards and white splinters of bone were visible from where the skin had been peeled back by my bullet. I stared down at it, confused. It was breathing.

“What’s it doing, Uncle Mark?” I asked, staring at the mangled body as it changed the color of the grass.

He looked down at it. For a few moments their breathing synchronized. Heavy, full breathing filled the thin encompassing air in vacant puffs of steam.

“It’s dying,” he replied after the moments passed.

I blinked, and so did the squirrel. Teetering on the edge of its own life, its black beady eyes kept themselves glued to mine. It watched me, only ever breathing, blinking, and bleeding.


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