Thursday, August 19, 2010

Deer Hunter

Everything was known. The limits of the rural town punctuated in the center with smoke stacks, the babushka that walked slowly to church every afternoon, even in the snow. The tiny grocery store that was stocked and always full of etched recognizable faces. Everything was known. There wasn’t a stone he hadn’t seen, not a person he couldn’t call by name. Those friends he had known since infancy, boys he had grown up with until they were full chested men ready to serve god and their country.

He could walk the streets of the town blindfolded. He could walk from his house, down the narrow treeless drive and go down the hill, knowing exactly as he was passing the Mason’s house, walking steadily as the street sloped until the shops of downtown appeared, he could smell them, could imagine their worn shutters and screen doors. Following the street, he could walk towards the edge of town delineated by the raised train tracks that created a tiny tunnel for the semi trucks that hurtled through town towards the plant.

Every breath he took came from that air, every sip of water fell towards his sink from the mountain chain in the distance. Everything was known. His friends with their worn out jokes, the clear beer glasses and the familiar bar. The seasons shifted, colors changed from orange to white to green to yellow and then back once more. Trucks came and went, paychecks were delivered and cashed. It was a familiar rhythm of gentle movement, but everything seemed to stay the same, it was all known.

But sometimes they escaped. Filling the car with the bodies he had grown up with, bringing along their guns and cans of food, they would drive recklessly to the purple mountains, going up and up the curving slopes until the air was thinner and colder, until thousands of trees did not appear to be the same and instead looked different and new. He would walk with the only man he trusted, climbing boulders in clear silence while they tracked the signs of antlers and nibbled leaves. He saw her walking through the trees, evading him, almost. He went towards it, taking her down with one shot, because even the other bleeds.

He drove back recklessly to the known, down the dark slope towards the familiar lights of the bar. There was blinking neon sign with its comforting welcome, the pool table, the waiting frosting mugs, that smell which was so familiar he could no longer distinguish it from his own.

And then he was taken away. A big jet engine and a uniform and god and country gave him the ride. He went to where the syllables all sounded different, where bodies lay for the flies and even babies were red targets. There the familiar memories crumbled and the smell on him changed. He couldn’t walk blindfolded here, there was jungle and bombs and soaring bullets. He managed to keep his breath and mind and was eventually flown back to the known.

But when he saw the smoke stacks and roads and faces it was not the same. They were the same, but he was different. A part of the other remained in him, hollowing out the familiar and turning it into images that rubbed at his heart, touching it all the wrong way.

He drove towards the mountains again, doing what he knew, what he had always done. He brought his gun and his cans and walked slowly and quietly, just as he had always done, following the nibbled leaves and the traces of antlers.

When he saw her, a wide body and dark eyes staring back at him, he did what he always did, raising his gun. One shot, that was what he always wanted. But the other stared back at him, and this time, he saw. He had been changed and this time, there was no need to shoot.

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