For Whom the Ducks Call
(A Hymn on Hemingway)
Pullman let his eyes wander upward to the blue afternoon sky. His gaze caught the tightly held vee formation of the planes returning from the bomb-run against the pale indigo background and the glinting silver of the planes soon gave way to the pale belly feathers of the mallards swooping south over Venice. Oblivious to almost everything, Pullman slowly raised the barrel to the pale-silver, glinting feathers, inhaled and let out half a breath, and squeezed off a shot leading just enough to be certain not to ruin the meat. Nothing happened at first. The duck didn’t fall and the plane didn’t fall and even the sky didn’t fall.
Then Pullman began to be aware of the other hunters again. Faint shots echoed up to him on the rise, but still the vee continued unbroken towards the horizon.
When the second bullet slammed into Pressure Pullman, he swung to his left leaving ducks and Venice behind and further increasing the flow of blood from the first wound, the wound he had ignored at first. It had started as an almost orange trickle coursing down from his left shoulder and soaking across his chest to pool in the dirt by his right side. Now that he’d swung left, the trickle had reversed its course and changed to a deep scarlet. This scarlet flowed in a steady stream back across his chest, merging with a second big river pulsing a deep purple from a new spring near his heart where the second bullet had exited.
“I shouldn’t have turned my back on the bloody bastards, Grace. That’s my second mistake this year. I must be getting old. Besides, you can never trust another hunter in this damned country. It’s no good for hunting.”
Grace didn’t pay much attention. She’d heard this all before. Now, she knew, he’d say something about the other country where if you paid the hunters enough, they wouldn’t shoot you. Nobody would shoot you if you paid them enough. But in this country you couldn’t pay anyone not to shoot you. It didn’t matter that these weren’t hunters, not real hunters, and it didn’t matter that he hadn’t paid them and it didn’t matter that they didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
“Nothing. Nothing! Nothing matters!” Pullman finished.
Yes, she’d heard it all before he thought. Even before Venice. She didn’t understand it, of course. Not then and not now. She was female and couldn’t understand the joy of killing cleanly and being cleanly killed and of paying and being paid. Dumb broad, he thought.
He heard the hunters gathering for the final assault and he knew that this last defense was indefensible, but it was what he must do, had to do. He had no cover here, not even concealment, and he knew what he had to do about that too.
Pullman patted Grace affectionately on the rump and drew his Smith and Wesson .45 cleanly from the holster. He sighted at the intersection of an imaginary line drawn vertically from the part of her hair to the bridge of her nose, and one horizontally from one ear lobe to the other.
“You don’t really like women, do you Pressure?”
“That’s not true. It’s not pertinent either. This way we can finally be merged together and become one. You can become just as good as me, almost.”
He pulled the trigger smoothly and blew her brains out neatly, dropping her exactly where he had planned, forming a slight barricade against the approaching hunters.
He’d never had her. There hadn’t been enough time. But if he couldn’t have Grace under Pressure, he’d be damned if anyone else could. And besides, it had been a clean shot, bringing her down without bruising the meat. He pulled Grace closer, melting them together. He was remembering Venice and he could almost hear the call of the ducks.
Pullman didn’t notice the vee in the darkening sky overhead.
Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school (remember the hormonally-challenged?) English teacher living in Moreno Valley, California. He believes in the succinct, that the small becomes large; and, like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, that the instant contains eternity. Given his “druthers,” if he’s not writing, Rick would rather be still tailing plywood in a mill in Oregon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.