Shotgun in hand, I inch toward the contorted deer. Behind me, breath reeking of whiskey, Pa hisses, “It’s suffering, boy. Put it out of its misery.”
I rest my cheek against the stock and aim the barrel at the buck, my finger curling around the trigger. I take a deep breath and slit my eye. The buck twitches and jerks, then starts bleating. Over and over. Crap. My heart thumps out of rhythm. Bile rises up my throat. I can’t swallow.
“Goddammit!” Pa snatches the gun from me and fires off a shot.
The bleating stops.
“Damn sissy.” His voice is fraught with disappointment.
I don’t even want to be here, but Ma thought we should spend time together for Father’s Day, even if that means driving around the roadside looking for jerky meat.
I lean against Pa’s truck as he drags the buck by its antlers along the hot pavement, grunting like a caveman, sweat dripping down his forehead, neck, and arms. When he catches my eye, he barks, “Get in the goddamn car.”
My hands tremble. I want to apologize, but every time my mouth opens—nothing. The buck’s cries are stuck in my head like that whiny Sweet Child O’Mine song he’s been blasting all morning.
When we arrive home, he throws me the keys and orders me to unlock the shed. He waits a bit, then adds, “Or is that too difficult?”
I drop my head and make my way there. Several minutes later, he drags the carcass onto the tarp-lined table. Its deadpan eyes stare back at me and its jaw hinges open. Blowflies swarm in. The scent of rotting cabbage mingles with the sweltering June air, sucker punching me in the gut with an invisible fist of stink. I barely make it outside before spewing cream-colored viscous chunks onto the grass.
“Holy hell, boy!” Pa gives me a vehement head shake then advances across the lawn. “I need a drink.”
I wait a few beats before following him toward the house where Ma greets us in the kitchen. “How did it go?” she says when the screen door screeches open.
Pa shoves past her. “Useless fuck couldn’t pull the trigger.”
She turns to me, and a look of sorrow crosses her face. “Don’t worry, honey. Next time.” Her voice is soothing, and, for a moment, the knot in my stomach loosens.
Pa takes a swig from a bottle of Jack. “Stop babying him, Marianne.”
“Bill, please. He’s—”
“A goddamn sissy!” He takes another swig then gropes Ma’s breasts as if testing avocados for ripeness.
I swallow my revulsion. Ma wipes her palms against the side of her red-and-white striped apron, then turns to me and mouths, “It’s okay.”
My hands fist. I can feel my blood boil.
“Now. If you’ll excuse me.” Pa slams the bottle onto the table so hard it wobbles. “I’m gonna cut me up some venison and make myself useful around here.”
I think about pissing in his bottle after he leaves, but instead join Ma at the sink to wash dishes, and we listen to the chain saw rattle for a few minutes before Pa screams out, “Motherfucker!”
My head jolts up. Then Ma’s. She looks at me with an odd indifference, the kind of look one gives when a random car alarm goes off. It isn’t until he screams again that I feel a curious obligation to head to the shed.
Inside, Pa’s crumpled on the ground, eyes wincing shut, gripping his left thigh. A six-inch gash is spewing blood like a fountain. My hand reflexively goes to my own thigh.
“Don’t just stand there like an idiot,” he yells. “Help me.” His lips part, exposing clenched teeth.
I think back to the buck’s cries.
“Are you suffering?” I ask.
Pa gawks at me. “What?”
I clear my throat and repeat, louder, “Are… You… Suffering?”
His eyebrows pull together. “What the hell does it look like, smartass?”
I run to the truck, grab the shotgun, and return to the shed.
I rest my cheek against the stock and aim the barrel at my father, my finger curling around the trigger. Sweat drips down my face as I take a deep breath and slit my eye.
He twitches and jerks as blood saturates his pants and puddles around his legs.
“Help me,” he bawls over and over, his voice growing weaker with each word until he’s almost whispering.
“No.” I put the shotgun down and relax my shoulders. “I’m going to help Ma and make myself useful around here.”
I walk outside and lock the shed.
Jennifer Lai lives in Washington state with her pet rocks and dying pepper plants. She enjoys eating ice cream when it’s cold.