Matthew Lederman


Jimmy tore the red and white wrapping paper off the end of the long, flat box and slid out the smooth hard brown cardboard. He held the box gently on his upraised palms, hefting it, testing its weight, examining it for damage and printing. He glanced up at his mother, sitting silently, solemnly in a chair against the far wall, and smiled gratefully. He looked at his father and nodded seriously. His father nodded back. He looked back down at the box. Winchester.

Jimmy watched his father run the oily rag down the barrel of his big, scuffed and well-used lever-action Winchester 30-30, making a light swishing, scratching noise with each stroke, the only sound in the room. His father's gnarled, tanned hand grasped the rifle tightly, a hint of white showing at his knuckles. His father's thigh supported the scratched and weathered stock, pressed tightly against his trouser leg, moving noiselessly along the fabric, synchronized with the slow, deliberate up and down motion of his arm. Jimmy's father gently handed him the rag and the rod. Jimmy carefully wrapped the rag around the tip of the rod, his father watching, not smiling, not frowning, nodding once, quickly and decisively, but without urgency. He pushed the rod down the barrel of his similar, though smaller, Winchester 22. He pulled it out slowly, examined the cloth, and gently plunged it back in. He drew it up and down a few times, looking at the rag and looking at his father, finally pulling the rod completely out and offering it back to his father. He accepted the rod, ran the oily rag down it once, tossed the rag aside lightly, unscrewed the rod and carefully put the pieces into the green velvet-lined wooden case. He closed the lid gently and snapped the clasp shut authoritatively. He stood up and slipped a box of shells into his coat pocket. Jimmy stood quickly. His father handed Jimmy another, smaller box and led him through the door, outside.

They stood one hundred feet from the split rail fence and shot at the row of cans along the top, Jimmy squinting down over the barrel and squeezing the trigger slowly, gently, just like his father, watching the clouds of dirt and grass kicked up by the missed shots in the rolling meadow beyond the fence, his father watching Jimmy casually between his own shots, offering no insight or instruction, expressionless. Jimmy reloaded his rifle and exhaled loudly. His father turned at the sound. Jimmy turned back toward the fence, aimed and fired. A paint bucket leapt off the rail. The clang of bullet against can rang out seconds later. Jimmy looked at his father and smiled. His father nodded gravely.

Jimmy and his father shot until all of the cans lay on the ground around the fence. They shouldered their rifles, trudged over to the fence and set them all back up. They walked back another fifty feet farther and started shooting again, Jimmy aiming at the cans in the middle, first at a large one that once held beans, a picture of them on torn paper still partly visible and identifiable in the distance, then at an even larger can with a large picture of a red tomato against a dull gold background. Jimmy's father shot the can on the far left, then the next one over and then the next. Jimmy stopped, watched his father and then started shooting at the can on the far right. He hit it on the fourth try, then started shooting at the next one left. A blue jay lit on the fence thirty feet to the right of the can. Jimmy swung his rifle around and shot. The bird flew away. Jimmy glanced over at his father. He stood erect, rifle lowered, looking calmly, curiously at his son, then he raised his gun and turned back toward the cans and shot five times rapidly, pumping the lever after each shot, five cans in a row flying off the top rail, landing on the ground. He dropped the gun from his shoulder, looked at Jimmy and started walking toward the house. Jimmy followed slowly.

They put their rifles and unspent shells into the case beside the door. Jimmy's mother looked up at her husband quizzically. He looked back at her without saying anything and went into the kitchen. Jimmy smiled weakly at his mother and sat down on the couch. His father lumbered out of the kitchen with an open beer can in one hand and a folded newspaper in the other and sat down beside him. He put his free arm around Jimmy and opened the newspaper. Jimmy looked at his rifle through the glass doors of the cabinet until bedtime.

Jimmy crept down the stairs in the moonlight streaming in the windows. He slipped into the kitchen, opened the drawer beside the sink and took out the long, heavy flashlight. He stepped silently into the front room and walked up to the gun cabinet. He turned the handle slowly until it clicked and then he pulled the door open. He picked up his rifle and took a handful of shells out of the drawer. He stuffed the shells into his pocket and slipped outside.

Jimmy walked back in the fields through the thigh high grass, the moonlight reflecting off the tufts of seed at the tops, barely undulating in the slight breeze filtering through the trees surrounding the meadow. No clouds obscured the stars, but the bright light from the moon blacked out a large circle of sky around it.

The tall grass rustled. Jimmy stopped instantly. He raised his rifle, holding the flashlight in his left hand along the bottom of the barrel, tightening his finger around the trigger. He looked ahead into the tall grass, the fuzzy hair on the tip of his nose, invisible in the day, reflecting the moonlight that diffused slightly in the vapor from his breath. Something moved. He jerked the barrel toward it and flicked on the flashlight. A brown rabbit looked up, motionless, into the light below the barrel, eight feet away. Jimmy squeezed the trigger. A crack. The rabbit flew backward, awkwardly tumbling through the undergrowth. Jimmy crashed through the grass after it, tucked his rifle under his arm and picked up the warm soft brown bundle of fur. He looked down at the small, trembling animal in his hands until its eyes died. He felt the warm wet blood seeping out over his hands, trickling through his fingers.

Copyright 2005 Matthew Lederman. All rights reserved