Jan 19, 2010

Work we do

Little Mike stopped on the downhill side of the rise. He put it in park but left the truck running. He opened the door but didn't close it, stood there and shaded his eyes. The coyote was on the far side. He was smelling the wind which was coming down the valley between them. The wind was pushing the last of the stray clouds up against the foothills, holding them there, bunching them up there until they were black enough to rain. The coyote was belly deep in the brown grass, but his head was up, smelling the wind. Mike lifted the gun off the rack on the back of the cab and cradled it.

Of all the things a man could do, this was what he did. And why was that except that he'd liked pigeons, wanted to raise them and then joined the 4H, found the ad Big Mike had there and said, yeah, he'd be willing to muck out an old barn and bang together some fence posts for money. That was 12 years ago. Big Mike was retired and the dairy company moved him into the Route 2 house. He watched the calves, every spring, pulled them out when they were breech, and kept the bulls in hay in the winter. He put the catalytic converters back in the two trucks ever summer for the inspection sticker, then pulled them out again in the garage so they wouldn't start any fires when he idled in the fields. He worried about having enough water, and every day watched the way the dirt dried. He watched the sky, wanting clouds, and carried a gun in the cab. He supposed any particular profession out of the vastness of things a man could do might be weird. But this seemed strange to him. The other place he'd applied, 12 years ago, was making popcorn at the movies in Visalia. Because of a couple of homing pigeons, this was his work.

Little Mike had the gun out and a bullet from the box, a .223. He levered it in and worked the bolt, resting the rifle up on the frame of the door. He had one boot on the step of the cab and the other on the dirt. The dirt was hard and showed no mark from his heel. He breathed, exhaled half way and held it, lined the lines of the scope across the front shoulder and squeezed. The Remington was rifled clockwise, 1-in-12. The pin hit the primer, which exploded, lighting the powder, which expanded rapid into gas, sending the bullet in a spiral to the right. It went across the valley, over the field. He wanted to hit the lungs or the heart. The coyote jumped, but he couldn't tell if he hit it or not with his shot, and he knew in the wind his bullet could have tumbled. He'd have to go over there to look for blood. Of all the things a man could do. He worked the bolt and ejected the cartridge into the cab. The copper casing, still hot, rolled on the rubber mat on the floor.