I believe it started with a slug and three hundred pellets leaving my uncle’s yard and ending their journey two trailers down. My uncle had perfected his stance, legs half-lunged, shotgun stock on his thigh, barrel arced high. Pellets on the tin porch roof. Pellets sending the chickens flapping. Pellets making unseen scratches on the other fella’s trailer roof. Pellets that opened the door.
The neighbor fella burst onto the porch, skipped onto his broken blacktop driveway. The Piggly Wiggly parking lot had been busted up, the extra pieces piled in the ditch on the edge of the new smooth stuff. The fella and my uncle and the guy in the trailer between had exited the Carolina road on which their trailers sat and gathered some of those pieces at night to refresh their jagged driveways.
My uncle hobbled and moaned, drunker than either of us thought. He crouched behind the metal Coca-Cola cooler on the porch’s far edge. He pointed to the birdbath in the center of the yard, the little ceramic robin missing. He said, “That’s the safe spot for you.”
I did as I saw Rambo do in the line of fire—the leap from the porch, the roll into bounding, executed with nine-year-old limbs too long for my body, a watermelon head that could barely fit through my T-shirt hole. I hugged the post of the birdbath like a firefighter suspended on his way down.
The first response was fired and the pellets rained. The same as before, except closer, in my uncle’s yard. The porch’s tin roof chortling. The chickens in the yard hopping into the open windows of my uncle’s pick-up truck. The roof of my uncle’s trailer taking its share of scratches.
And my uncle hobbled off the porch, laughing. I heard it first, then saw it with my eyes, unburying them from my wrapped hands and the birdbath’s post. My uncle was laughing, taking a swig of beer, jamming another shell into the shotgun. The fella waving his arms like a monkey who’d just found an extra banana. The fella swigging his own beer, head poking from his trailer’s doorway.
I had seen plenty of video tutorials for being shot at—Rambo and Swayze flicks, Tombstone, even that one Schwarzenegger movie. It was always evade and cover, then fire for the win. The tactic was never to laugh or drink a beer, let alone laugh into your beer. The tactic was never to aim high or make the bullets rain down like the mid-afternoon hail showers I saw back home in Indiana.
Yet this was what my favorite uncle did. Uncle of the shed, the shed with Waylon wailing on the radio and a goat named Sissy Girl chewing on Milwaukee’s Best cans. Uncle who called them “The Beast” because that’s what they brought out in him.
All afternoon, my uncle, all 5’ 5’’ and 130 pounds of him, unloaded a case of shells from his porch into the sky and back down. A twelve-pack of beers traced a similar trajectory, from cooler to mouth and back down. He even handed over two extra shells when the neighbor had ceased fire, out of ammo, arms clutching the shotgun above his head as if hanging from the side of cliff. The fella returned the favor ten minutes later, refueling my uncle, who’d unknowingly swallowed his last drop of beer.
Disappointed that I wasn’t witnessing a scene from an action movie after all, I went inside, where I sat eating a banana sandwich and watching Gunsmoke reruns. I played with the singing Big Mouth Billy Bass toy. I put grapes my dad had sent with me in the freezer, waited for them to freeze. I gutted the solid grapes with the hunting knife I got at the flea market, a present my uncle had just given me to make up for all the presents he never put in the mail.
When the grapes were gutted and the Gunsmoke reruns had given way to Time Wars, I plodded back outside. The TV’s black screen left a silence in the air, equaled by the situation out front. My uncle was peeking over the middle neighbor’s El Camino. The shooting fella was passed out in one of those blue-and-white-striped rubber deck chairs, shotgun in one hand, barrel in the dirt, beer can in the other dripping onto the ground. My uncle flung a rock that pinged off the trailer’s end window. He flung a rock that sent the chickens in the backyard back to hovering. He flung a rock that bounced off the hot dirt and tugged the beer can to the ground. The fella matched the silence of the sky, the TV back inside.
I peeked at the action, crawling army-style beneath my uncle’s blue truck, his own chickens poking their heads out the open window above. My uncle clutched a rope, the yellow kind my daddy tied to his waist and then to the fishing raft when we waded in the summers. The fella’s chickens pecked at the ground, clucking about all of this: their unconscious owner, the kickback of the recent gun show, the steaming red dirt, my uncle approaching, licking his lips.
A cow stood, untethered, unfenced in, with its back to us. My uncle wrapped one end of the rope to the passed-out fella’s foot. My uncle bent down and tied the other end to the cow’s foot. My uncle plucked a branch from the only tree in the yard. My uncle raised the switch, the kind my daddy told me about, the kind my granddad whacked my uncles and my daddy with when they drank their second cola of the week, the kind I’d only seen in movies. My uncle walloped the cow square on the ass.
I believe it ended with the neighbor staggering back up the hill he’d been dragged down, his shoulder twisted (later I would learn it was dislocated). His face housed a few gashes, two already swollen eyes, and their pus. He wasn’t smiling anymore. Though years younger, he limped the way my uncle limped, that slow, determined gait as if from couch to fridge, from the end of the rope to the fastener of the rope. My uncle was done laughing. He tossed the remaining shells over the neighbor’s head into the trees, his guns on top of the trailer. Behind the neighbor, the cow was drinking at the stream it had chosen instead of crossing.
Rumpus original art by Xavier Almeida.