Archive for the 'Hunter' Category

30
Aug
07

Hunter

Hunter
Hunter sat on the steps outside the store where his daddy worked, selling milk and eggs to the mothers and cigarettes and whiskey to the men. The sun was sinking behind the old buildings, dyeing the sky a startling blood red. Hunter sucked at his teeth, prodding the one in the front with his tongue. It was a little loose, and wiggled when he pushed at it. He was worried it might fall out. He knew that sometimes people lost teeth in fights. His own daddy was missing the front one on the right. But teeth weren’t supposed to fall out on their own, at least not as far as Hunter knew.
Hunter had never been in a fight. At least, not a real one. He had been in a couple of school yard scraps, but the yard teacher always came over and broke it up before anyone started throwing punches. Hunter’s daddy used to be in a lot of fights. He had a long scar down one cheek from a knife cut. His daddy was so tough that he had won that fight with his bare hands. Hunter was dreadfully proud of his daddy for this. Hunter sometimes wished he would get a long scar down his cheek too, to prove his bravery and make his daddy proud.
His daddy didn’t do much fighting anymore, except sometimes with Hunter’s mama when he came home drunk. He said a smart man avoided such things, because he was liable to get himself killed, or put in jail, and then what would Hunter and his mama do? Now that Hunter’s mama was pregnant again, his daddy didn’t even fight with her anymore. Hunter was awful glad about that. His mama always cried afterward, and it made Hunter sad and sorta scared.
Hunter could tell from the way his daddy was closing up shop that he had had a bad day. Hunter guessed that he had already started on one of the beers he sold in the store, and would want to go to the pub down the street where the men went to drink. That meant that Hunter would have to go home by himself. He shivered a little, thinking about the darkness waiting for him. He wished he could go with his daddy to the pub, where it was warm and light. But Hunter wasn’t allowed to go in there.
Once he had slipped in after his daddy anyway, even though his daddy had told him to run straight home. He had hidden under one of the splintery tables teetering on a single leg. The smoke lay thick in mist-like patches throughout the dimly lit room where men sat in chairs with broken legs and backs and drank until they fell broken to the floor. Hunter had stayed, crouched under the table, blinking smoke from his stinging eyes, until a long legged woman noticed him peeking out at the men.
“Honey,” she said, bending down to look at him. “What are you doing down there?” Her face was hidden by piles of mascara and lipstick. The blood red of her lips and over-pronounced features had frightened Hunter, and he had withdrawn farther into the shadows.
“Is your daddy in here?” she asked. Hunter nodded slowly.
“Would he be mad if he knew you was in here?” Hunter nodded again. The woman sighed.
“Why don’t you come out now, honey, and we’ll slip you out the back, no trouble. Your daddy never has to know you was here.” Hunter crawled out from under the table, and accepted her outstretched hand. She stunk of alcohol and cheap perfume. She led him out of the room and through a dark hallway to a door, which led to an even darker alley.
“Now I don’t want to see you hiding under anymore tables, you hear me?” She said as she shooed him out. Hunter had nodded and scampered away through the darkness toward home.
Hunter wiggled his tooth and watched the sun set. Somewhere a siren wailed, its undulating shrieks piercing the restless silence of the street. Hunter knew the street wasn’t really deserted, even when it was quiet. There was always someone watching. He wiggled his tooth harder. It seemed to be getting looser.
The door to the shop closed, and Hunter’s daddy walked heavily down the steps. He was not a large man, small and wiry all over except for the soft pudge that hung over his belt from too many beers.
“Hey kiddo. I gotta go run some errands before I head home tonight. So you just run on home without me.”
“Kin I go with you?” Hunter asked.
“Nah. You just go on home and tell your Maw not to keep dinner waiting. Mind the alley and stay out of the shadows.”
“Yes, Sir,” Hunter said. He started walking down the street toward home. The sun had dipped below the horizon, and the buildings cast pools of liquid darkness not even the stuttering street lamps could penetrate. Hunter walked along the street, skirting potholes and trying not to be afraid. It was a game he played every time he had to walk home alone after dark. The darkness consumed the street, swallowing the familiar shapes of the weather-stained buildings in shadow. Hunter shoved his fists deeper into the pockets of his jacket and pushed his tongue against the tooth.
A rat scampered across through the light from the street lamp, casting a shadow as big as a small dog. An explosion of noise to Hunter’s right made him spin around, his heart pounding. But it was only a couple of alley cats who had found a trash can for their dinner.
Hunter quickened his step, wiggling his tooth ferociously. His neck and back felt bare and exposed, the hair standing on end. He tried to slow his breathing, reminding himself that he was almost home. Just a little bit further. In his mind he imagined his mother, who would be standing over the oven when he opened the door, or maybe stooped over his sister’s high chair feeding smashed canned peas into her slobbery mouth.
He peered around the corner of the alley. The narrow pathway was pitch-black. Hunter edged along the wall, trying not to act as scared as he felt.
Suddenly he froze. There were voices coming from a connecting side street. Hunter’s first instinct was to run. He steeled himself against his fear. His daddy wouldn’t run, of this he was sure. His daddy would stay and fight, if it came to fighting. He thought of the long scar. His daddy would be ashamed to have a coward for a son.
“Hey, there’s someone over there!” a voice exclaimed.
“Where?”
“There, hiding behind the dumpster.”
Hunter stepped of the shadows. “I am not hiding!” he shouted defiantly.
“Hey look what we got here!” Another boy yelled. There were four of them, all much bigger than Hunter, maybe members of a junior high gang.
“What’s a small fry like you doing out wandering the streets?” the first, taller boy, asked.
“None of your business,” Hunter said, standing up straight and balling his hands into fists inside of his pockets. The boys hooted and jeered.
“Well what if we wanna make it our business?” the tall boy asked.
“Well, it ain’t none of your business anyhow,” Hunter said bravely, his heart ricocheting around in his chest. “Now let me go!”
“Oh, he’s a tough one,” said the tall boy with admiration. “Now come on, squirt, show us how tough you are.” Hunter struck a fighting pose, his hands clenched into fists.
“C’mon now. You’re not afraid, are you?” the boy taunted. Hunter shook his head. Pushing his tongue against the loose tooth, Hunter swung at the tall boy’s middle. The boy neatly sidestepped his swing and punched Hunter in the stomach.
Hunter fell back against the wall, struggling to breathe. Another blow sent pain lancing through his jaw and he fell to the cracked pavement. He could taste the sharp sweet tang of blood dribbling across his tongue. The boy nudged him with his foot.
“You stay outta our territory after dark, okay squirt? And don’t go trying anymore tough stuff.” The boys moved off through the dark, and disappeared into the twisting labyrinth of streets.
Two tears trickled down Hunter’s face. He sat up and spat out the blood and the tooth. The tooth glistened in the faint light against the black pavement. He got up slowly, holding his aching stomach with one arm and feeling the ragged hole in his mouth where the tooth used to be. He stumbled home, angrily wiping the tears streaming down his cheeks on his jacket sleeve, leaving the little white tooth to be lost among the grime and darkness of the alley.

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