Joyland

San Francisco |

Fall, Winter and Mercy Kill

by Lizzy Acker

edited by Kara Levy

In October, I stopped eating. I spent the month walking around Seattle. This was after I left Ben in my dorm lobby at 3:00 a.m. and took a taxi to my dad’s apartment. When I only had five bucks and so Ben gave me two dollars and when I said that wasn’t enough and he said, “Well, buy something nice anyway.” I wasn’t hungry for like three months. I wandered to the Space Needle and stared at the fish-thrower guys in the market. A girl from high school started sending e-mails around about a Thanksgiving party and in my mass response I wrote, “We should all wear costumes.” I wanted Ben to know I was working on other things. This was before the Fourth of July with the tequila and me setting off the bottle rockets under the cars. Before the New Year's in Sisters when I tried to drive my truck home, even though we were in the mountains and there was snow and ice and Ben chased me down Clint’s driveway. Before I spent the night in the truck at the end of the driveway, by the highway in the snow, woke up in the morning and went back in, pretending like nothing had happened. When most of the e-mail list still considered me basically stable. I spent every night sewing beads on my brown headband and appliqué-ing leaves on the matching dress like I was the Martha Stewart of McMahon Hall. Sometimes I used my meal plan money to buy thread at the basement convenience store. I found the perfect Indian feather. At the party my shoulder blades were sticking out, in a hot way. My tight pants were getting baggy. Ben brought some new friends from college and they laughed at everything I said. When he looked at me, I touched their hands. This was before the summer, when I rode my bike in the middle of the night to the Mennonite church twenty miles out of town and slept under a tree and waited for Ben to call me on my cell phone. Before he didn’t, when I rode back home in the dark. . . . Winter He takes his shirt off and then she takes hers off too, saying as she does it, “Can I take my shirt off too,” and he says, “You can do whatever the fuck you want,” and then they both have said something sort of weird and it isn’t too bad but okay, it is a little embarrassing for both of them which he tries to rectify with his hand on her thigh and she tries to rectify by kissing his mouth but at that point they are both steering the car out of the skid, overcorrecting, and everyone knows that’s the wrong way to steer it, you’re just going to flip the car or else go crashing into the railing and over the side of the cliff and actually, you probably shouldn’t have even been on the road at night, what with all the ice warnings and all you have is some Honda from 1982 and no chains so she jumps up to get a condom and neither of them can say anything except he says, after a bit, breathlessly, “Do you want to flip over,” and she says, “Sure,” a little too easily (not out of breath at all) so now she has said two stupid things and the car is sliding into the railing like anyone would have predicted but they thought they could do it, they’ve done it before, and now they are wondering why they didn’t just wait until morning, when their vision was better, their reflexes faster, and the ice had melted off the road. . . . Mercy Kill On the phone with the guy from Fish and Game I said, “I am looking for a hunt for me and my fiancé. Could we possibly sign up for a Family Hunt?” I told Joe I’d say “husband” but he said, “Don’t lie. Say fiancé.” Fish and Game has “Apprentice Heritage Pheasant Hunts” for new hunters who are women, juniors and family. We are not enough of any of those things and not engaged either. We are old friends from Oregon and, more recently, roommates in California. The guy on the phone was helpful, excited about finding us a hunt. “You probably don’t have a dog, do you?” he said. “Dogs, in my opinion, are the best part. I just love watching them when they get on a bird. They have abilities we can’t even imagine.” I have no concept of what dog hunting abilities might be or what these dogs might look like. Do they kill the birds themselves? Fly? Are they all the same breed? Big? Really big? I told him we do not have a dog and he said no big deal, there’ll be people with dogs to help you out. You need a dog for pheasant. * We pulled up just as the game warden was finishing his spiel about the hunting area and the rules and stuff. We jumped out of the truck and a phalanx of inbred-looking white people in blaze orange turned away from us, back towards their cars and their dogs. We put on our tactical vests. The air was cold enough and the sky was gray enough and we felt like we were in Oregon in October instead of in California in December. Joe carried the gun and I kicked bushes, trying to flush out the pheasants. The Fish and Game guy was right. You need a dog for pheasant. * Shots from a shotgun in an open field in the morning sound duller than shots fired on the street. The report is muffled by the big sky instead of ricocheted off buildings and it isn’t followed by the sound of humans screaming. In that field the sound spread out over us slowly and then a bird would fly and then fall. Or not fall. One flushed pheasant glided over us. I moved out of the way of the gun but Joe didn’t shoot. The pheasant landed in a small bush and then ran to a bigger one. Its head was black or green and its body was long or maybe its tail was long. Its black eye was ringed with white. It completely disappeared in the undergrowth and the bush. We walk-ran up to the bush where it was hiding, both on the same side so there would be no accidents, and started kicking the bush. Finally the pheasant flew out, straight away from us. Joe shot twice and missed both times. * Joe said, “It’s a possum.” He was right. In the ditch next to a levy, a little pink-and-white possum lay in the open, on the ground. I said, “Maybe it’s sleeping.” Joe said, “That’s the funniest thing you’ve ever said.” The possum’s eyes were closed. Its flank was going in and out and though it looked like it was in shock there were no signs of trauma on its smooth white fur. Joe said, “Should we kill it? It’s clearly in pain. A dog must have gotten it.” I tried to think for a second if I knew what Joe wanted me to say and I wasn’t completely sure but I said, “Yeah, I think we should kill it.” I imagined pointing the barrel of the shotgun down at that awkward angle, loading the chamber, pulling the trigger and watching the shot rip open the possum’s perfectly formed body. “Too bad we don’t have a handgun,” I said. Joe said, “It’s either my boot or a rock.” I thought of his foot in his boot coming down on the possum’s head, so bloody and personal. “Rock,” I said. I held the shotgun while he found a rock. The possum kept breathing but that was all. “Don’t look,” Joe said. He held the rock high over the possum’s head and let it drop. The rock was probably one and a half times bigger than the possum’s head. It landed straight on and then rolled. The possum’s eyelids fluttered a little and one of its hind legs came up, like it was a dog scratching its ear in its sleep. It kept breathing. “It’s not dead,” I said. Joe picked up the rock from next to the possum and dropped it again, this time without holding it still. It landed hard on the possum’s skull. The rock rolled again and the possum’s back leg twitched up again but this time bright primary red blood trickled out of its nose onto the ground and it wasn’t breathing. “It’s dead,” Joe said. “Those movements are just reflexes.” * I told my brother this story over the phone, a week or so later, when the blood was still dripping out of the possum’s nose every few hours if I thought about it and closed my eyes. “You did what?” he said. “It was playing dead, Lizzy. You know that, right?” I heard myself exhale through the phone and felt the condensation of my breath on the screen against my cheek. I had forgotten about possums playing dead but he was right. It was something I had known my whole life.