They sit aside one another, two brothers, cleaning dove as the last light stretches and dies. They sit on the porch in two worn metal chairs and work their hands, stopping only to drink from the bottles beside them. They make the same movements for each dove. Mirroring one another. Locked together in this. They pull and pluck the breast feathers until the dark purple of the meat appears. They grab the small knife from their laps and cut where the breast touches the bone. They pull, sliding their fingers into the bird’s chest and bringing them away so that they hold the delicate pearl of meat. Then they place it inside the bowl that sits between them, toss the waste, and take a drink before beginning again.
They do not speak to each other as they work, just as they did not speak as they hunted. Sat on opposite sides of the tank and let the shouts of their shotguns spread their presence past the surface. It is their first time there with him gone. Their first time together since the funeral. An unplanned trip, both of them showing up the first weekend of the hunting season and finding one another. The older from Abilene, leaving from work on a trip that he had long planned. The younger from Lampasas, leaving from a bar when he realized he had nowhere else to go.
In the distance, a coyote begins to howl. Alone, its voice begins as a bark just like a dog’s and then stretches and flies into the air. Anxious. Unsure. A second coyote takes it up and begins the same way only to be joined by countless others until the night is a mess of cries, each one flying and finding the others, a muddled clamor, a wash of sound that begs the night to hear. The brothers stop their cleaning and take it in. Without a glance for each other, they stare into the pasture, over the field of tall grass and towards the hill that rises to the horizon where somewhere amongst the cedar, mesquite, and live oak, the coyotes cry.
“Probably celebrating,” the older brother says.
“That he’s dead.”
“What the hell.”
They look at one another. Both shocked. Not by the sounds but by the words so that they both consider the moment, the threshold of conversation. It is the older brother who decides to fully cross.
“Cause he used to shoot em. Hell, we got one stuffed inside.”
“He only ever shot one.”
“More than you shot.”
The younger brother nods slowly and then looks at his hands before sucking a finger, one he cut before the beer settled in and the shakes went away. He tastes his blood and hates it, then gets back to work. They each have a few doves left, and so they finish them off, taking less than a minute for each. When they’re done, they stand together, kick the feathers and carcasses into a pile, and bring the bowl inside to the kitchen. The older brother takes the bowl to the sink and begins to rinse the breasts, watching the blood mix with the water and fall from the meat. Feeble ribbons of red. The younger brother goes to the cabinet, takes out a bottle and glasses, and pours for two. He places one glass beside his brother and stands a ways away so that he can lean on the wood paneled wall. Then he speaks.
“I could have shot a few.”
“I came here right after he died, you know.”
The older brother does not look at the younger as he speaks. He continues to prepare the meat, but turns off the faucet so that silence storms the room. He grabs a few paper towels and begins to dry the remaining droplets that crowd the surface of the meat.
“That hospital in Fredericksburg is just down the road,” the younger continues. “And I know you had your family and practice to get back to, but I didn’t. What the hell have I got, so I came on over here I guess. Sat on that old porch swing and got to swaying, but those damn coyotes got started and wouldn’t stop. They were as bad as they’ve ever been our whole lives, just crying the night away, and I started to hating it. Just hating every second and every sound, so I grabbed my .223 from the truck and decided I’d make em shut the hell up.”
The older brother is salting the meat now, but he stops for a moment. Looks over his shoulder and speaks.
“You aren’t catching no coyote at dusk.”
“Well hell I know that, but I couldn’t stand it. I was going crazy. I just didn’t know what to do, so I set off into the pasture storming through the tall grass and cutting up my hands on them stickers while they’re just calling away. By the time I got to the trees, I swear it sounded like one of em was hiding just around the first trunk. But of course when I got there, they sounded just a bit farther off, so I took on to chasing just like that for a while.”
“You’re a fool.” The older brother says.
“Don’t I know it, but I was going and I was going and following them hog trails through brush when I could or getting my body torn to shit when I couldn’t. I mean I was panting and breathing hard and making such a sound that I think by the time I stopped after half an hour, there must not of been a coyote for a hundred miles. Instead there was something else. I was standing there huffing and heard some commotion. Now it was dark by then of course, darker than shit, so I could hardly see at all, and definitely couldn’t see well enough to feel too good about the whole thing or spot what was making that noise, especially through them trees. All I could tell was that it was something big. Something big and heavy and heading my way. Sounded like it was coming just a bit at a time. A stone would rustle here and a twig would snap there. Sounded just like a big hog moving except I didn’t hear no grunting.”
The older brother abandons the meat and the counter. He steps to the middle of the kitchen and stares at his younger brother where he stands against the wall. The younger brother stops to drink, but the older keeps him going.
“Well what the hell was it?”
“It was a moose.”
“A moose. A whole moose.”
“There ain’t no moose in Texas.”
“Well I was looking at one. And later I called Tommy Lee over the way with the high fence and asked him if he had stocked any and sure enough he had. Stocked a few Canadian moose down here just for the winter. Apparently planned to kill them all, but one got out.”
“Well what’d you do?”
“I shot the sonuvabitch.”
“Shot him. He was coming at me quick and so I just let it fly. Took about three shots before he hit the ground. They’re big as all hell.”
“I know it.
“Shot him and then just didn’t know what to do. Watched him fall. Bigger than anything I’ve ever seen, bigger than anything I’ve ever shot before—and so big when he was half way down, I still wasn’t even sure if it was possible for him to fall in the first place. But he did though, fall I mean, fell right in front of me, and I just didn’t know what to do. Alone at night with a dead moose. Hell, I must have been a couple miles from the house by then, so it wasn’t like I was about to drag him back, and I wasn’t near no road. I mean, who the hell would know what to do? At the time I don’t even think I remembered how I had gotten there in the first place, so I just sat down. Just where I was, not too far away from an oak, and just watched it. Watched it while the stars came out and the moon got to going and the whole thing lit up a bit. Realized that moose had been alive and probably born up in Canada, and now here it was damn near Mexico and deader than shit. I bet it was confused before I got him. Like it didn’t know where the hell it was going or where it had come from, only knowing it had to head to all that noise right away that I was making. And then I shot him, and I’m sorry for that now, but I did it. And then I watched him until them coyotes I was chasing in the first place, the ones I had just about forgotten, smelled it and came on back.”
“About ten of em. Just wandered into that clearing, ignoring me and setting to eating. They weren’t whining anymore or making sound at all, but just having their dinner together.”
“What did you do?”
“I just watched. I just sat and watched. Watched them eat it all, tearing up that moose a bite at a time with their teeth slicing through that fur like it weren’t there at all, while more kept coming to join, all through the night and from all over, until he was gone. Ignored me the whole time, and I let them. I mean I thought about shooting a few times and scaring them off or killing me one, but I couldn’t anymore. I just wasn’t angry or nothing.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t know what I was, sitting there and feeling sorry for myself for no reason at all I guess. You know how sometimes you’re hunting and everything changes when something dies. Like the moment something is dead on the ground, you reconsider everything, your whole life. Well I was kinda doing that, thinking about it all, how I stood in the middle of things, and in the end I stayed the whole night watching them.
“Cause they’re not how you think. I mean I know you’ve seen em plenty but I mean when you really watch them. They’re so small, like mangy dogs, them last ones at the kennel that no one wants. And they’re sad, I think. All of em are sad. Even sitting there and having a feast they had no reason to ever eat in their lives, eating more like wolves than coyotes, they were just sad creatures, or they made me sad to look at, or I think what I mean to say is that they look like they sound. The way that first one sounds. You know how they always start howling just because that first one did. They look just like that first one sounds, when it’s all alone and it don’t know how to feel about it. Cause they aren’t supposed to be alone like that, coyotes. All they got is each other. They don’t know how they’re supposed to keep going or even get through the night when they’re all alone like that, and so they look exactly like that feeling. They look like they feel, so I don’t think they’re celebrating like you said they were, I guess, is what I’m trying to say with all this. I don’t think they know how to celebrate.”
“Good god. It was a joke. You told all that cause I made a joke.”
“No, I mean, yes, but I just wanted you to know it. I wanted to tell you that cause I got no . . . because I feel like somebody’s got to know it.”
They have both finished their drinks now, and they stand closer than they were before. Not moving to refill their glasses, but looking at one another. Looking and listening as through the walls the sound of the coyotes comes crying.
“Well,” the older brother says, “I guess I heard you.”
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