covered with fur, and she kept lifting her head and then dropping it
again, and a feeble whimper leaked out of her until Vance took the rifle
from Philip and shot her and she didn’t move again.
Waldreve folded the fleece calmly over one arm, never looking away
from Vance. His face was blanched and gaunt, but his eyes were awake
now and cracked with harsh light. He held the rifle at his side, smoke
creeping from the barrel, and Waldreve smelled the burnt gunpowder in
the air, rich and dark like rotted wood.
“Take this to the barn and start fleshing it,” he said, holding the hide
out to Philip.
Philip took the pelt and then folded it lengthwise and wedged it
beneath his arm. A wind cut over the yard, spitting flecks of grit into his
face, and he squinted and then shielded his eyes until the wind died. He
looked once at Vance holding the rifle, and then he turned and left for
When he’d gone, Waldreve stooped and drew his knife from the earth.
“You best go help your brother,” he said, wiping the blade clean against
his thigh. “He’ll want someone to talk to anyway.”
Vance let out a long, slow breath. He propped the rifle against his leg,
his small fingers wrapped around the gun barrel.
“I don’t feel like talking,” he said.
“Then do some listening,” said Waldreve.
He sheathed the knife but rested his hand on the pommel and waited.
Vance knocked the rifle against his thigh, and Waldreve recalled the
gray afternoon so many years before when he’d taken his sons to hunt
quail in the dry fields on the southern edge of the farm. Here a shal-
low, dry creek bedded with black stones marked the end of the property,
and they’d followed it, the pointer dog Waldreve had borrowed from a
neighbor nosing in the weedy cover along the banks. Just before dusk,
a covey flushed from a stand of cedar, but only Waldreve cut true aim.
When the dog brought him the soft, broken birds, he’d smiled at his
sulking children and said, “I couldn’t shoot no better than that I’d just
go marry a rich woman so I wouldn’t go hungry.”
Both Philip and Vance had married into money. Their wives wore
heels and carried designer handbags. Sometimes when he visited them
in their subdivided neighborhoods with the tended yards and paved
driveways, Waldreve wondered if he’d starved something out of his sons
the night he’d eaten his quail at the table while they broke stale corn-
bread into bowls of buttermilk. But he knew it wasn’t his fault. It was