By Francois Bereaud
A room away and through my earbuds, I hear them. My father first. “You just put it in the oven? It’s three o’clock, what, are we eating at midnight?”
“That’s fucking helpful,” my mother says.
Yesterday, and a world ago, Iliana and I lay in the Murphy bed of my Seattle studio. “Get in the shower or you’ll smell like sex on the plane,” she said.
“I don’t want to be on the plane.”
“It’s been two years, you gotta see them.”
“Less than one if you subtract pandemic time.”
Iliana slapped my ass and I got up.
I get up. I’m a grown ass man as Iliana says. Just confront them.
Potatoes and apples cover the kitchen counter but also a bottle of whiskey. My father stands, red faced, snifter in hand. My mother is at the bay window. I follow her gaze and see a squirrel sitting on the fence which borders the state forest. My father starts in again. “Maybe Candice can shoot a deer. That’d be quicker.”
“Candice hunts?” I say.
“I do.” My younger sister has appeared from nowhere. “Gear up.”
An icy wind shears and I shiver as our feet crunch the glazed grass. I struggle to keep up with Candice, the twelve-gauge swinging rhythmically with her arm motion.
“What’s with hunting?”
“I’m a Montana girl, remember?”
“I thought you were a pacifist.”
“Hunting is a form of population control.”
“You sound like a biologist instead of an English major.”
We enter the woods, and, with no wind, I feel my chest relax. “How do you do it?” I ask.
She stops and looks at me as if she were six again, an eyebrow raised. “Them,” I jerk my head in the direction of the house. “A total shitstorm in there. And don’t quote me the Tolstoy line.”
She laughs. “Good days and bad days. They’re nervous because you’re here. And disappointed. We thought you were bringing Iliana.”
“I tried. She wasn’t ready to show up here with her brown face.”
She pokes my knee with the barrel of the gun. “They’re a lot of things but not racist.”
We walk in silence and pine scent. I see my breath and long for a cigarette. Candice stops. Ahead there’s a clearing at the base of two large trees, maybe a campfire spot. She points to the right of the smaller tree. The creature’s thick coat is marbled with tan and gray. They used to be endangered, apparently, now it’s open season. She raises the gun. I don’t breathe. I know without knowing she’s a good shot. I try to remember the last dead animal I saw that wasn’t road kill or a chicken in the window of a Chinatown butcher.
She points the gun upward and fires into the high branches. Her legs shake at the recoil. The wolf runs away.
“Jesus,” I say.
“Let’s hope he stays deep in there.” She leans forward and kisses me on the nose. “It’s Thanksgiving, let’s celebrate.”
Francois Bereaud is a husband, dad, full time math professor, mentor in the San Diego Congolese refugee community, and mediocre hockey player. You can find more of his writing at francoisbereaud.com. He dreams of seeing one of his books in the window of his beloved neighborhood bookstore. @FBereaud