Morning dew was like a wet blanket wrapped around Matt's shoulders, as he waited patiently among the sheltering shrubs alongside Cooking Lake, Alberta. He adjusted the leather strap on his backpack, placed a duck call to his lips and lovingly patted the 12-gage shotgun across his legs, prepared for quick movement.
Matt scanned the horizon, embers of sun preparing to burst into an egg yolk of brilliance. He hoped his left leg wouldn't cramp up again. Absentmindedly he gave it a rub, felt the weight of his weapon, took a deep breath, then released the tension, excitement almost overwhelming him. Now he was ready.
Mallard flocks and Teal hurried by several times, too high right now for a good shot. This waiting for the correct moment was like a game of chess; your move.
Yesterday about this time Matt was carrying a bucket of grain for the sheep on dad's ranch. Within bellowing Baa's from 21 wooly critters jostling in line for their regular munching he whistled a morning tune. The words were jumbled, same as his life had been these past few months, but it helped him be patient with himself, something he needed working on.
Things were getting a little better between mom, dad and himself since leaving his love nest and coming home. They warned him about the mess he was stepping into and him being stubborn didn't help. It was dad's fault. Yes, he thought, I'm the same as my old man. Mat smiled to himself wondering if he would also grow to look at life with black and white thinking. But, at nineteen it was his decision to make.
Alice finally came right out and said, "Maybe it's time for you to take a hike." And he did, more for her sake. Living together was a tricky option for himself, not quite mature to husband a single mother and young baby, but willing to try.
That really wasn't the problem. Her ex was always hanging around, ignoring the Court's Peace Bond, forgetting the many times he threatened her if she looked at another man. Why did that wife-beater insist on making things complicated for everyone? He should have been made to move to the far side of the planet.
Matt didn't enjoy the hassle of being considered a second hand lover every time George phoned the house at all hours of the day. He was insistent about getting back together with Alice, and too often Alice had long conversations. It was hard for Matt to even consider a lasting relationship with that nut sniffing around. And it hurt when Alice even whispered about getting back with her husband. Seemingly she enjoyed violence in her life.
There was no reasoning with her. What the heck, Matt figured it was better to take her up on her suggestion. Matt left and returned to the family farm, helping out with needed chores.
Matt stirred from his memories. Several ducks had broken off from a group, perhaps sent ahead to secure a safe landing spot. They came closer. Matt's simulated calling began to tease them back and forth, finally in the right direction. From a kneeling position his shotgun blast knocked one unsuspecting Mallard from its flight path, parachuting it to the ground. Almost like a lump of fallen dreams tumbling from the sky. Another shot went astray and a fleeing pile of feathers retreated in shock, leaving its mate behind.
With no further action in the sky, Matt retrieved his catch and hung it from a protruding branch. After settling back on his rubber mat he thought about that coyote lingering by the neighbor's woodpile yesterday. It's gray color with black on the bottom third of its tail wiggled happily as the creature pranced in anticipation looking for mice.
At the time he thought about getting his .22 and potting off the cute dog-looking killer. Coyote were such a nuisance in this part of the country. He would bet a year of steaks that animal was part of the pack responsible for ravaging a dozen of their sheep last autumn, something the family couldn't afford. The llamas had been a let down, being more interested in nuzzling with each other, oblivious to anything around them when needed. Since dad picked up half a dozen donkeys, the coyotes stayed clear of the farm.
Matt simply watched the animal trying its best to catch rodents, enjoying itself. The pest wasn't quite as frisky as his parent's dog, Misty or husky as Storm, a Pyrenee. But the coyote was having a good time and it would be a shame to end its life. Permanently. Besides, what if it had a mate depending on the wild creature? No use both of them losing a lover.
Yes, it was good to think, to plan ahead. A job, working things out, at least it provided a challenge. It was something Alice couldn't seem to do. Stand still, talk and forget her ex-husband, who couldn't care less about her and the baby. But she seemed to take it the wrong way. Matt wasn't trying to control her. "Open your eyes to what's happening?" he ended up shouting. 'Do you really want to live like that, always wondering when the next fist will come?" he often repeated.
Never once did her ex even pay maintenance payments, forcing Alice onto the Welfare rolls. Living with Alice was good. But, after a night in the sack, Matt realized very quickly there was much more to life within a family. He didn't mind necessary chores, tidying up around the house, helping prepare meals and learning how to change little David's diapers. Too bad Alice's ex-husband didn't think about those necessary duties.
But then, Alice and David had their own lives to live, and somehow they would survive precious journeys as many tomorrows awaited them.
Another flock came by and this time Matt's shooting was quite successful. Two more flying missiles were flushed from the sky with one just winged and doing a flopping dance. Getting up in a rush Matt sloshed through the shoreline water, then grabbing the victim, sharing the pain he knew was in its broken wing.
The mallard stared without fear somehow understanding this was the end. A broken neck soon removed nature's magnificent creature from an episode of further pain. Matt knew some humans were like that, wounded, feeling useless and unwanted waiting for doom. But then, this duck would be tasty, not useless and unwanted. And would offer itself up as a small feast for tonight's supper.
Yes, life was full of decisions. Like knowing when to leave Alice and return home. It meant there would be a chance for renewal within his own family, a re-focusing of his future. Bringing home meat for the table, would be his peace offering--for mom, dad and his brother, Travis. It was indeed an opportunity to share with loved ones. And seek forgiveness for those words he had left behind.
With the support of his family, Matt was sure days ahead would be better ones. Just then another flock approached his hideout. After lips blew a calling, Matt sighted down the barrel, focusing on his end bead.
(c) by Richard L. Provencher
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