- Essays: On The Road (And A Little Off)


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Rockvale, TN Feb 1, 2013 –

“POW!” sounded like nothing so much as a transformer blowing.
“What's that?” Patty asks.
“POW!” once again.
“I don't know. I'll go look,” I say, opening the sticking kitchen door.
“Put on your jacket.”
“No time, I'm out the door already.”

I step off the deck in my T-shirt and slant across the yard, by the pickup and around it and look across the field. There is a kid (okay, in his twenties, but when you're as old as me...) standing under the large carport at the neighboring church. He is holding what appears to be a small-bore rifle, but judging by the report it's a shotgun.

“What are you shootin' at?” I ask.
“That skunk there,” the kid replies, indicating the roadside in front of the church and my house. There is a small black critter convulsing feebly beside the road. Two shots, I think to myself, and this little guy is still alive.
“Why?” I ask.
“Uh...because he was sprayin' the church.”

Looks to me more like the skunk was walking down the road and this kid drives by in his pickup with his shotgun, sees it and decides, I got a gun; shit, I'm gonna murder somethin'. Then swings his pickup into the church parking lot and slams it into park, jumps out and aims (poorly) at the harmless member of the mephitidae persuasion, blasts away with his thunder stick. I see this situation, make these deductions, but remember that this little asshole is armed and don't divulge what I've figured out.

“Well, you might want to go over there close enough to hit him this time and put him out of his misery,” I say.
“Well, you're welcome to get closer to him if you want, but I don't want the stink on me,” Billy the Kid replies. And it's true: I can smell, wafting across the frozen field, the unmistakable odor of fresh skunk.
“I think he's squirted his last,” I say, and walk over to where the critter has now somewhat regained his feet and is crawling across the road. But he's crawling in circles.
I put my foot down and turn him toward the other side of the road. Each time he makes a right, I nudge him with my foot back to the left and toward the other side.
The kid is watching me, but has nothing to say.
I shepherd the little guy to the side of the road across from the church and onto the shoulder. He rolls down the shoulder, gets up again and starts crawling along the ditch.
He's a goner, fersure.

I say nothing that comes to my head regarding the kid's humanity, or his marksmanship, and I turn back across the road and go into my house. I wish I had a pistol to put the skunk out of it, but I don't. I have killed bigger, smarter, more dangerous creatures and have put that stuff behind me. I know that death will soon come to the little guy and he will welcome it.


When we get ready to go shopping this morning I go to get the mail from the mailbox across the road. I look to my left, where I had last seen the skunk. There, about thirty yards down, I see that he has dropped his body, for it lies, unmoving, in the fresh snow.