(from the November/December 2013 issue)
by O. Victor Miller
BEFORE ORION FADES INTO A FROSTY DIXIE DAWN, we step from a stolen rowboat into the owls. We’ve spent the night at my house on the Flint, swept ourselves downstream with Tillie’s broom to a spring-fed backwater where wood ducks feed and roost yearround. Johann has my daddy’s solid pump. I tote a nickel-barrel trap gun from a cousin once removed, twice if you count his one-way trip to England in 1942, the year I became heir and incarnation of his grieving parents’ legacy.
Each feather sings a microcosmic miracle that patterns all creation: buff, chestnut, gold, iridescent green slashed in chevrons of transfigurative white.
Tillie will raise hell about the broom when she comes in to get my younger sister off to school. “The debil in them boys,” she’ll tell my high-strung mother. “They both slap full debilment.”
With first light the woodies whistle in, plopping like footballs into webs of silver. The drake ordained to forever haunt me appears, chuckling to his hens by way of introduction. He swims in range of where I squat sucking breath to quiet my drumming heart. At 15, I know it’s a deadly sin to shoot a wood duck on the water, but I’m scared if I jump him he’ll scat back into the outer dark. I can’t tolerate the thought of Johann bagging a duck before I do.
Tillie’s devil tells me, “Shoot!” The muzzle licks lightning into partial dark, stippling the floating silhouette, thunder launching Johann wide-eyed from his stump.
Mother Nature underwent a hormonal spasm creating the wood duck, a creature of splendid excess that the dull mind disremembers, like a bluebird’s blue, from one sighting to the next. Each feather sings a microcosmic miracle that patterns all creation: buff, chestnut, gold, iridescent green slashed in chevrons of transfigurative white. I’ve heard it bragged that eastern fly fishermen can swap out wood duck feathers for Western wives.
My murdered prize floats head down in feather shavings and trembling quicksilver. From an acrid mist of cordite and sulfur, I rake it to me with a broken limb, Johann bleating blasphemy from across the pond.
Novelist, humorist, and naturalist, Vic Miller lived aboard a sailboat anchored near a Kuna village off the Caribbean coast of Panama. Today he languishes in a vintage Airstream behind his family home on the banks of the Flint River in Southwest Georgia, where he grew up.
ART: Fall Woodies, by Mark Eberhard