MALE BONDING

October 23, 2021

by Joe Mitchell

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On my thirteenth birthday Dad took me moose hunting for the first time.  It wasn’t his idea, but after some coaxing from Mom, he agreed. I had no desire to go moose hunting. We would both rather be in different places with different people. We got along sure, but donning camo and sitting in wet bog with dad and my uncle wasn’t on my bucket list. Mom charmed me. Said it’d be good for me. She said it would get the stink of the house off me.

Dad and Uncle Bert were already outside the house throwing gear into the bed of the truck.  That’s what woke me up. Banging and swearing. The sound of metal hitting metal. Looking I saw there were fishing nets and rope, an old backpack, rubber boots, and a gun case all slapped in the truck bed. “Where’s he at?” I overhead Dad yell to Mom. “Just waking up Denis, Christ, give him a few minutes before you lays into him.”  I don’t bother showering, knowing that I’ll be covered in tree sap, moose crap, and possibly blood.  After throwing on a t-shirt, hoodie and a pair of track pants, I grab a banana and shove on my sneakers. I don’t own rubber boots.

“About time. Is that what you’re wearing on your feet?” Dad asks.

“Ya, what’s wrong with it?” I respond.

“Your feet are going to be soaked,” says Dad.

“Here, throw these on,” Dad says as he hands me a pair of boots.  There’s Sobeys bags inside to keep my feet dry.

Dad insists I sit in the middle, between him and Uncle Bert. Dad calls this riding bitch. Part of me wants to tell him that offends me but I realize I have to spend hours in the woods with him and weapons.

Uncle Bert is quiet. He smokes a cigarette blowing the smoke out a crack in the window the size of a deck of cards. We’re driving so fast it creates a vacuum, sucking the smoke straight out. Occasionally he makes a snort with his nose and throat bringing up snot and phlegm.

“So where are we going, Dad?”

“Same spot as always. Loggerschoolroad. In about thirty clicks,” Dad says.

Dad says Logger School Road so fast it runs together as if it was one word. Named after the loggers who chopped wood for the paper mill. I have no idea where the school comes from.  Driving in the truck reminds me of times when I was young and Dad used to take me hunting. It wasn’t that long ago.  He used to say that a gun is dangerous weapon. He’d say this with his eye in the scope of the gun. I’d be standing behind him looking at my phone and trying to post a Facebook status about how shitty and inhumane it is to be forced in the woods to hunt with your father. There isn’t an emoji for dead animals.

Dad: “Bert, give me a smoke.”

Bert throws Dad a smoke without saying anything. He grunts and then spits phlegm and snot out the window. No wonder my Aunt left him. He’s gross and smells like Old Spice.

The truck is showing its age and the smell in the cab is something I can’t pinpoint. Not cigarette smoke, and not Old Spice. Smells worse than B.O., if that’s possible. The gear stick is up against my left leg as Dad changes gears. The truck makes an awful sound trying to move from first to third.  Closing my eyes doesn’t help me breathe any better. My body is tensing from being stuck in between two men who smell worse than a decaying animal. I’m trying to trick my brain into thinking I’m home in my bed, wrapped up in the blankets. BANG. My head flies forward almost hitting the radio on the dash. “Jesus Dad, what the hell?”

Dad: “Sorry princess. I know I’m interrupting your beauty sleep but there’s a scattered pot hole.”  


I don’t respond. It’s easier this way. I learned this the hard way. Mom tells me not to respond when Dad is flustered, because it makes him worse. Mom said that even if I was right, it didn’t matter. “Not with your father. He’s stubborn like an old ox, or an old horse. You can’t teach this dog new tricks,” Mom said.

Uncle Bert still hasn’t said much. He must be smoking his third or fourth smoke and doesn’t show any signs of letting up. Maybe that’s why is skin is leathery and why Auntie left him. Who wants to touch leathery skin? Gross. BANG. BUMP. BANG. BUMP. Me: “Jesus Dad.” Dad: “Calm down. Hold the dash.”

My left hand is bracing myself on the dash and I don’t know if I should let go yet. We must be getting close to this hunting spot by now. I want to ask if we are there yet but I’m afraid of getting yelled at. I’m starting to think Uncle Bert measures distance but how many cigarettes he smokes. He’s on number five, so we must be getting close. Cough. Cough. BANG. Pot hole. My head is a bobble head, a jack-in-the-box ready to pop.

There’s a haze covering the woods. You can’t see anything between all the trees. My hand and arm are killing me from trying to keep myself braced against the dash. We start to slow down and then stop. The brakes squeal to a halt as Uncle Bert puts down the window and flicks his butt out. There’s a small sizzle as it hits the standing water in the pothole.

Dad: “C’mon, let’s go. We don’t got time for frigging around.”

Uncle Bert: “Ya wanna go down over the bog there or scoot back around and hit the trail?”

Dad: “Bog. It’ll be a state but there’s bound to be a few bull around.

Me: “I thought we were hunting moose.”

Dad: “A bull is a male moose, dummy.”

I want to take my phone out and Google it. Just to make sure he’s right. But I don’t. I’m in the middle of nowhere with two adults who have guns.

Dad gives me the small backpack with the food in it and tells me to strap it on. Dad and Uncle Bert throw their guns over their shoulders and start walking into the woods with the fog. Following behind, my feet are a foot deep with every step into marsh. I’m sinking but not getting stuck with every step. Dad: “Quiet now you two.” Dad leads the way.

I’m walking in knee-deep bog with two men who have guns and not much sense. Uncle Bert waves me in between him and Dad. Dad slows down and puts his hand up. I’m assuming he means stop, so I just stop. Uncle Bert follows suit. Uncle Bert and I kneel down close to the forest floor. The bog is covered with moss, and dead tree branches, and animal feces.


Uncle Bert: “Shhhhh. Moose shit.”  The feces are the size of marbles, and blend in with the muddy trail.

Dad: “He’s here somewhere. I can feel it.”

Me: “Dad, are you losing your mind. There’s nothing around here anywhere.”

Dad: “Shhhh.”

Dad’s “Shhhh,” comes with the sound of twigs and branches snapping.

Uncle Bert taps me on the back with the barrel of the gun case. He then points to the right of us, where there’s a huge brown moose standing between a few trees and some bushes. Uncle Bert lifts his finger to his lips to tell me to shut up. My eyes catch Dad steady his gun into position and he gets as flat as he can. Behind me Uncle Bert is following Dad by whipping his gun out and laying it between him and me.  It’s the closest I’ve even been to a gun.  The brown handle looks worn and has dirt all over it. The long part is black and not shiny like I thought it would be.

Then a familiar buzz buzz sound.

Me: “Shit.”

Dad: “What the hell is that noise?”

I haul out my cell phone. Dad gives me a disappointing look. Lips pursed. Eyes wide. He’s yelling at me without making a sound.

Dad whispers, “Turn it off and leave the friggin’ thing off.”

I nod and shut the phone off and put it in my coat pocket and zip it shut. I guess I’m not texting a picture of our hunting trip or our dead moose. And I wanted to use my gun emoji.

Behind me Uncle Bert lights a smoke and picks up his gun. Putting the gun to his eye, he steadies himself. “Denis, clear shot. You?”

Dad: “Nothing here yet. Can’t get a good look see.”

Uncle Bert: “Want me to take it?”

Dad: “No, hold on. I gotta better idea.”

Dad looks at me with a grin on his face and I know I’ve done something wrong. He points to me and then takes his gun in both hands and holds it in my direction. Dad: “Here.”

My mind is racing and flipping through pictures of people’s limbs blown off, and their faces hanging from their jaws. Dad hands me the gun and I take it. The weight is surprising. Dad tells me to have one hand on the barrel, the end against my shoulder, and one finger slightly on the trigger. My head is pounding with my own heartbeat. Sweat is starting to form on my forehead. I have no idea if the moose is still there anymore and all I can smell is cigarettes and feces.

   

Both my hands look like where they should be. Looking at Dad, he’s looking at Uncle Bert who’s close to the ground and in a laying position. He’s focused on that same spot the moose was. There’s another cigarette between his lips. I crouch down and look through the scope in the same direction. The moose is still there just over from where he was. Dad: “Stop moving so much. You’re going to miss him.”

I try and steady myself on the wet bog. My hands, wet from sweat, feel the gun slipping. Dad reaches for the gun, so it doesn’t make too much noise. And BANG.

 

JOE MITCHELL

Joe Mitchell is a writer from Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, Canada. His story titled, “Amy,” was published in Zuegma (Literary Journal) in 2006. His story, “Male Bonding,” was a winner in the 2020 Arts and Letters Competition-Short Fiction in Newfoundland and Labrador. He recently participated in the 2020-21 Mentorship Program for Emerging Writers Program with The Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland & Labrador (WANL). He was paired with Heather Nolan. He is currently working on a collection of short stories, with themes of mental health, addiction, and trauma.