"Abe"

An excerpt from one of Salon's 10 favorite books of 2000.


Richard Slotkin
December 19, 2000 12:11AM (UTC)

There: brown against the brown. Now it was becoming something, moving stiffly, jerkingly this way, that way. Now it is this: a wild cock-turkey, stepping point-toe into the yard, pecking grains and bits of offal off the ground. He's got long legs, longer than the chicken's, and a body like a big brown melon. There he spreads his fan. There he lifts his head: a shiny knobby red-and-blue cockhead lifting in his long scraggy neck. A bright eye -- head profiled left, the wattles swagging off the nose like a bull's balls. Head profiled right ...

Abe eased the rifle forward on its rest: soundless. Eased the hammer back, his hand muffling the snick as it came to full cock. Come on, Abe thought as if his spirit was talking to the bird's, come here come closer so I can kill you. I want to kill you, I want you to come closer so I can kill you.

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Listen him, Konkapot said. Listen what he is how he think.

The turkey stopped. Wasn't sure. Profile left. Did he hear something? Turkey thinks: Hungry. Lots corn-seed. Bits of dead pigeon. It's easy. I sure as God am one lucky turkey! Profile right. Profile left. The eye bright with greed.

In the flash before the barrel-smoke blanked it out Abe saw the cock-head explode.

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"I got him!" Abe yelled.

He crouched by the turkey. It flopped, its scaly legs jerked, and its wings flared and quivered. Its red naked neck ended in rags of skin and a small spout of blood scrawled signatures in the dirt. He remembered the warty head, the wattles looped over the beak, the beady eye, left right, hungry, frightened. Gone.

Then he was sorry.

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The Mam was there, and Aunt Betsy behind her, both in their shifts, Denny with one gallus holding up his trousers. "Whoo-ee," said Denny, "plugged the head at forty paces. There's a lucky shot!"

Abe wheeled on him hot: "It ain't luck!" he yelled and realized he was crying.

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Mam paid him no mind. She looked into Abe's eyes and he looked back. It had been so long, an age of the world since last she saw him so, and he saw her: how her deep eyes were so blue, nightblue not gray-blue like his own, and the smooth dome of her forehead, the narrow tapering planes of her cheeks, and her wide thin-lipped mouth smiling at him real gentle. She said, "Mebbe if you give thanks for this turkey, Abe, it'll set better with you."

"... though what we'll do with more bird-meat I'm sure I can't tell," he heard Aunt Betsey mutter.

So he sighed, closed his eyes, and said the words inside. Thank you thank you, I'm sorry I killed you for nothing.

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-- From "Abe" by Richard Slotkin. © 2000 Richard Slotkin. Used by permission, all rights reserved

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Richard Slotkin

Richard Slotkin is the author of "Lost Battalions: The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality" (2005).

MORE FROM Richard Slotkin


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