Snipe Season

Will and Scott met in a dusty New Orleans bar on a wet November afternoon and shortly fell into a discussion of favored bridge abutments in surrounding states. Neither in fact were vagrants, both family men: Will an attorney, Scott a businessman, both Mississippians in NOLA for the wedding of mutual friends, Will the bride’s, Scott the groom’s. In time they found ethanol, automobiles and tall women in common too, but not hunting. Scott had never taken the field for game.

“Let me take you hunting,” Will said.

“Okay,” said Scott. “For what?”

Will looked him dead in the eye and said, “Snipe.”

“That’s not funny.”

“I’m serious,” Will said.

“It’s still not funny.”

. . . . . . . . . .

They left Jackson in the darkest dawn, drove through for coffee and biscuits, then went up 49 watching the earth settle, fall away and go somewhere else.

Clambering from the truck with gear, they sank ankle-deep in muck, slugged first to one patch of mud just above the pooled water to another atoll of broken grasses, the Delta sky pushing distance to the rim of a tall lens, bringing all else into focus, amplifying sound. The rattles of the brittle grass echoed into the distance, across the river, all over the world. The mud was as old Egypt’s, deeper and richer than sin itself.

That close to the river, the land is a matter of water–making it, shaping it, teaching it–letting earth absorb all light, all air, all crisp, cold and fragile, brushing a thin bitter crust on a north Mississippi morning with clouds coagulating white and gray atop a steady northwesterly breeze.

Furrowed and churned, dead with intention, the field was a patched mat of pale brittle stems that collapsed hither and thither, hiding muck, confusing footwork and sheltering snipe, the being itself, a will-o’-the-wisp the very color of winter—white, grey and black fading to or from indiscriminate brown, beige or buff in indifferent patterns on insignificant substance—a bird of earth without place in air where it seeks in fits to find a place and failing, furtive rustles back to the tussocks.

. . . . . . .  . . .

“Here we go,” Will said, stepping into the muck and pointing out into the water-mirrored field. “The birds hide up in piles of grass near water. They flush easy, so ease up before you move in.” The grass in front of them rustled and set alight two birds, translucent in the sun trailing faint alarms before they lit in another field.

“Can’t even see them mid-air,” Scott said. “They’re too light and grey.”

Will grinned. The sky was a blinding blue that dribbled down in pools and puddles. The only wind blew way above under a small cool sun, moving shadows of blades, leaves and stems. They walked, guns at their hips, talking to fill the void.

. . . . . . . . . .

“You don’t talk much about over there.”

“Not a lot to say,” Scott said. “It wouldn’t make sense to you.”

“Does it have to? Did it to you?

“Some of it did.” Beside them a clump of cattail folded brown and enclosed exploded into a busy ball of air. Scott crouched and shot, the sound bouncing across the field, the bird falling, twisting, one wing still struggling for buoyance.

Will found the winged bird, wrung its neck, put it in the sack on his shoulder and said, “I want to know what it’s like to kill someone.”

“Why? You gonna kill somebody?”

Will grinned. “Maybe. Maybe I just want to know what it feels like to point a gun at a man and pull the trigger and watch him fall.”

“They weren’t men,” Scott said. “Not to me. They weren’t even enemies. They were just things in the distance. Dark shapes that moved. I never killed anyone. I just shot things and watched them fall.”

“But didn’t they shoot at you?”

“Yes, dammit! Sure they did. You know they did, and I got hit, too!” Scott said.

“I didn’t know that,” Will said.

“In the fucking back,” Scott said. “Shattered my shoulder blade. It’s a steel plate now. Went right through. Bled like a motherfucker.”

“Can I see the scar?”

“It’s too cold to take my shirt off, man,” Scott laughed.

“You don’t have to. Just let me feel it,” Will said.

Scott stopped walking and rubbed the tears off his face. He cradled his gun in the crook of his left arm and with his right unzipped his jacket. “It’s on the left side,” he said.

Will took the glove off his right hand, turned and moved his hand into the jacket, beneath the shirt to the skin, the hair, gently probing, pausing, feeling.

“That’s not it,” Scott said, “That’s my . . .”

“I know what it is,” Will said.

“Up,” Scott said, “There.”

“Yes. Does it still hurt?”

“No,” Scott said. “Not any more. It’s still tender, but you’re not hurting me.”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Will said. “I just wanted to feel the scar.”

“You’re not hurting me, Will.”

“It’s okay, Scott. It’s okay. Why don’t we call it a day, have a couple of drinks on the way home?”

. . . . . . . . . .

They moved towards the ruts atop the dam that passed for a road, their steps less measured, more insistent, no longer stalking, but in pursuit, the sinking sun reddening, silhouetting the distance, a glittering planet punctuating the blueprint heavens.

They climbed into the truck. Will cranked it up and turned on the lights.

“We can grab a bottle and go to Smitty’s cabin on the Big Black. I’ll call Beth and tell her to call Ann,” Will said. “We’ll tell them we didn’t kill anything, be home tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Scott said, wiping his face. “I’m just tired.”

“I know you are,” Will said.

 

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