(Fiction): Just a little funeral
When I was younger, my dad and I would go upstate and hunt owls. It was a riot. We’d get packed in the afternoon, drive up 93 and arrive at the forest late at night.
It was important that we got there after sunset, you see, because we hunted by sound. When I heard a hoot, my dad would point the shotgun in that direction and fire away. You’d hear a rush of wings and paws, and then he reloaded. “We’re getting closer,” my father would say. “There’s a big colony up there, I know it.”
The joke was that we never hit anything. The owls were high up in the trees, and my dad was a bad enough shooter in the daytime. But it turned into a tradition, and whenever my father wanted to get away for a little, he’d throw some ammunition in the pickup and call me over from the television.
We don’t go owl hunting now. One evening—it was dark but you could see the clouds, I remember that—we heard an especially loud hoot. I pointed up and to our left, and my dad got into position and fired. Four or five seconds later, we heard a thump 20 feet in front of us. My dad’s shoulders dropped a little, and I took a few steps backward. Almost tripped on a root.
Neither of us was sure what to do, to be honest. All we knew was that owls were probably an endangered species, and my dad had watched enough detective television to know what a bullet mark—he called it a “signature”—could reveal in the crime lab. So he picked it up by the wings and stepped back over to the pickup, telling me it was nothing to cry over.
Our house is close enough to Albeit that it doesn’t have much of a lawn. Judging from the moon phase, we got back at one or two in the morning. My dad cut the engine and walked out back to get the shovel. I just sat there, wondering if I should look at the owl or not. It wasn’t very large—a foot tall, maybe, with a few feathers out of place in the chest.
My dad and I were already wearing black, so we didn’t need to change for the funeral. He said that God probably loved this little owl, and I asked if that meant we were sinful—but he told me not to interrupt the preacher. It was a beautiful little speech, really, and by the end I think we were both in tears. We both agreed that it was a beautiful owl.
Our shovel was too blunt to cut through the grass, so we decided to dig up the radish side of the vegetable garden—both of us got pretty sick of them once fall came around.
Just as my father picked up the owl, a beam of light poked us in the eye. There was a blue-and-white car crawling up the street with a badge on the side.
My dad stopped in place, as did the car. The man driving took out a flashlight and pointed it straight at the owl.
“Just a little funeral, sir,” my father said.
The cop looked at our beet red pickup, then at the lawn ornaments, then at the bird. I wondered what handcuffs felt like. I wondered what I would say in court. They didn’t feature many owl murders on the shows I watched.
“You two keep safe tonight, all right?”
My dad nodded. The cop turned off his flashlight, rolled up the window and took a right on Ptarmigan.
I still don’t know if I’ll take my kid owl hunting. If so, I’d better find a place where there aren’t any owls.