Hunting Day

Flash fiction. A son remembers his father.

I carry the doe through the woods, as you would have, slung around my neck. Leaf fall crunches under foot, making me pause and turn. Above me on the hill, the copper wings of leaves whirl and fall from the silver birches, the orange-brown burning against the ghost glow of the bark.

I’ve kept the knife sharp, the one you gave me for my twelfth birthday. Back in the shed, it slides easily under the skin. I peel the skin back to reveal the dark purplish-pink flesh and remember how your knife moved, the way you’d effortlessly strip the meat from the bone. Your skill mesmerised me, even after I became a vegetarian.

I leave the meat wrapped on the table for Julie. The rest, I put in a sack to bury. Skin and bones and all. When I come out the barn to wash up, Julie’s van is parked out front. She’ll wait until I’m done before she joins me. Same every year. Stupid how you’d never take her out with you. She would have gone and probably liked it better than me.

The tap out back splutters to life with a yank. It used to burst every winter, until you covered it in spray insulation. The stuff still clings to the wall in mustard globules, like an alien growth, but the tap doesn’t burst anymore. The water’s cold, a shock to the mellow warmth of the day, but I bare its icy pinch until the blood and gore has run off.

In the orchard, I take a shovel and the sack, and choose a tree. Around its roots some of the windfall I’ve missed is starting to brown. Mum would have given us a roasting for the waste, but it does no harm. The gentle autumn sun keeps shining for me as I dig.

My arms are sinewy and veined, like your arms, and tanned dark. I watch them work like I watched you work, when the rhythm would send my mind off to other places, dreaming of the things I’d make. My daydreaming irritated you for years, until I think you came to accept that our paths had parted. I don’t recall when I got your arms, stretching canvas over frames and laying colour down. Maybe it was keeping your house in shape, the way you asked me to.

I dig the hole over a metre deep, so the foxes won’t come and dig it up, and haul myself up on the sides. With a shove, the sack falls heavily into the earth.

Julie comes over the field, two beers in hand, as I pat the soil down. I rest on the shovel. She hands me a beer, top already off, jewelled with droplets, and cool from the box in her car. We drink in silence and watch the sun go down.