Blood – short story

Blood – short story

Craig Curtis

“He isn’t going to kill it, now or ever”‘ Victor said. Victor got down where Paul was and watched. Paul saw it first, the light blinking at him through the brush, the feet crackling over the spent branches. The feet were like the blades of Hunt’s knives. Paul wanted to touch the feet, but only when Victor held them, kissing the nose and the mouth of it when it bellowed and the sounds were like Hunt shaking the sack full of bullets, because that was the way Hunt liked to keep them, tied with a string. “He won’t go far,” Victor said. “Hunt?” Paul said. Paul called his father Hunt. They all called him Hunt – including his sister Isis. “I wish you could think,” Victor said.

“There!” Victor whispered. He saw it, too. The dark eyes stared at them both from the thicket, from the depth of green shoots covered with webs. “We’ve given him nothing but bucket water for a week,” Victor said. “I think he knows.”

From the night Hunt sat down with his face red and looked at the boys and their sister and their mother, and said: “I’ll have meat,” nothing else mattered. The boys stared at each other. There was Felix – the oldest – and Peter, who was the youngest of the four, and Paul; and Victor, who was the fattest and loved the lamb that had been a gift. They were used to potatoes and greens, whatever else they could find, including chickens and squirrels. Hunt paid for it when he had money. Now Hunt didn’t have money. The dam broke from up the road, on the hills, and his business – a tool shop – was washed out uninsured. There was no government help. Things started going bad. Hunt looked at the lamb. Week by week, Hunt kept looking at it, on its tether. When Victor saw him pet it, he knew.

“Out of their bellies,” Hunt said. “Out of their sweet bellies, Goddamn!” Hunt looked at Isis and at her mother, Hazel, and at the grandchild. The child’s head burned in the sun. It looked like Hunt’s head. Isis kept it covered with calico. “She had her,” he said, pointing his beer at Hazel and Isis, “and she, him,” meaning the infant. “Maybe it’s water. I don’t know what. You do these things, and then something happens. Just look at the war in Europe.” Hunt was too old for the war in Europe, too old to kill the Kaiser. “We only put it there, the juice,” he said to Peter – who was the only son who called him father, but not often. Hunt meant the spore of the other two besides Hazel, his wife.

Everything Hunt wanted to do, Hunt did. Only the government was too big. Hunt paid taxes on all twelve and one half acres and on the brush and the groves of trees overgrown and full of shadows at night, and took care of the children and his wife and everything alive on that property until the dam busted and Hunt saw the lamb, fattened like Victor. “I want it,” Hunt said. He said it at table. “Now bring it to me!”

Victor ran and hit the side of the door and pried loose one of the nails along with the wood. “Let him go,” Hunt said. Behind the house, Victor cut the tether and slapped the wool hiding the flank. It bellowed and went off, white under moonlight, shining like a coin. This was after sunset. The evening star was out. “What you doing?” Paul said, out of breath, when he found Victor and the lamb. Victor cried under the canopy of leaves. “You don’t know nothing, do you?” Victor said.

Hazel had been Hunt’s wife too long, five children too long, and Peter (the last) had been cut out of her. Hazel’s belly was full of lines. Her skin fell over the bones. The bones were like shadows, though Hunt saw a bride, at least in darkness. “He’s drunk, you know that,” she said. “Hunt won’t remember.”

“He will,” Peter said, who never contradicted him. “But he won’t find it tonight.”

“Goddamn filthy hog!” Hunt said, from the pole under the overhang that was the only other place the animal could be. Hunt went back into the house and hit against the stones of the fireplace and limped to his bed and fell on the mattress. Hazel had hopes. “My man’s intoxicated, she said.

Isis held her child. She saw it all: Victor ran to the woods, and Paul went after him. She had thought there would be peace when she brought her boy – Hunt’s grandchild – into the house. Isis’s husband was dead. “What’d he die of?” her mother asked Isis. Hazel didn’t like the man. “Of leaving me,” Isis said. It didn’t matter he had left her before he did die, killed by a horse and cabriolet because he drank so he didn’t know how to walk (like Hunt sometimes), and took the trunk that was hers and the bright gingham dress he gave her, and gave it to someone else female, because, as he said: “She’s fresh-looking, more than you.” “What will you do?” Hazel asked her. “Be your daughter again,” Isis said, and looked at the walls as though she’d never left them. “Hunt hasn’t changed,” she said now. “Some day somebody’s going to kill him flat.” “Hush,” Hazel said. There was pain and agreement etched on her face.

“You two like meat well enough. Get up!” Hunt said. It was morning. They had each of them fed the lamb, for over three years. “It’s a pet,” Felix wanted to say. But he didn’t. They’d all petted it – all except Hunt – and groomed it, until the dam broke open and the rains that broke it stopped, flushing out top soil to leave dried creases and stones hidden underneath leaves and branches, and everything corrupted. “I had thought something might happen,” Hazel said. She cleaned the grandchild, put fresh, washed cloth about its nakedness, because Isis, its mother, went for Victor. Victor sat on a log covered with ants. His jacket lay on one of the stunted branches. “Where’s Hunt?” he said. “Drunk? You wait, now, Isis. I’ll kill him first. I will.”

Isis shook her head. Of all her brothers, Victor – and not Paul, who could not think – was most vulnerable (most naked to Hunt). Isis saw Victor as she had seen him, not even eight yet, but huge, his big, shapeless shoulders sweating through the cotton of his undershirt, from running through groves. He ate anything. When Victor stood to put his pants on (Isis saw it, from the half-open door: voices-his and Paul’s, which drew her – in the steam of the mirror gone flat, opaque), she saw the concentration of flesh and desire, too, hidden underneath as something caged and ashamed. “You look like an elephant,” Hunt said to him. Victor hated Hunt because Hunt had to touch and turn everything he saw in his hands, leave a mark, before he would let it go; nothing else came to Hunt’s door but Hunt first had to maul it, hold it tight, if only for the minute it took to drop it, because with Hunt everything was itches; raw, unscratched places. Now Isis said (because she loved Victor): “You won’t kill your own kind.”

“I’ll cut him in half,” Victor said. His lips were wet. There was so much flesh to them.

“I can hear them,” Isis said. She meant the three: Hunt, Peter, and Felix. Then she said: “No you won’t.”

They heard Hunt stepping through the underbrush, and the sack of bullets hanging at his side hitting the cloth of the pants he didn’t change, and the other four feet, fighter, more precise. Hunt already had the lamb hanging, its throat cut, and he ready to piece it and bum it into food. “God!” Hunt said. Birds shot out of the trees. Isis and Victor made out the disjointed outline of the man, through green patches, veined with light; saw Hunt reach to dislodge the buff sunk into the flesh of his thigh. The voices – Felix’s and Peter’s – moved away; then Hunt’s. The foliage was clear.

Paul remembered the lamb. The wool was white and Paul could take it in his hands and not let go of it, regardless how much the lamb fought. “Mine,” Paul said. Paul snuggled against the odor and held the neck inside his elbow and stared at the feet “pointed like the Devil’s,” as Hunt told him. “It’s not yours,” Victor said. “It belongs to me. Hunt gave it to me.” Three years ago Christmas, Hunt gave it to him. Victor was then fourteen. But Hunt stayed away. “That boy,” Hunt said, giving Victor the tether and the animal, and showing him how to tie the knot, “isn’t going to get a woman, not with enough flesh for two people, he better learn to love this.” When Paul found Victor, it was not that far from the house, in a thicket, with brambles, and almost without enough fight to see a face. “We’ll stay away,” Paul said. Victor’s lower lip was trembling. “You’re sad,” Paul said. Victor’s head didn’t move. They could hear the three of them now singing something they’d all sung together when it snowed and Hunt opened up the stove and put wood in it. The three were drinking from Hunt’s bottle. The bottle flashed. The sun caught it. “Felix and Peter are with him,” Paul said. “Shut up,” Victor said.

Hazel remembered this: after Isis was born, Hunt held Isis. She told it to Isis – along with sewing and cutting wood (because sometimes the boys didn’t want to cut wood). “A split tail,” Hunt said, holding her daughter up without the blanket. The blanket fell free. Hazel told her when she was old enough, when Isis’s husband-to-be gave her the flower to pin on her dress, and said: “Wear that, you’re mine.” “Don’t trust them,” Hazel told Isis. Isis thought of the nights she looked through the window at stars, and the iciness settled into her skin. “This is your last,” Hunt said. “Now give me boys. Don’t breach any more split tails, ever!” Hazel already had: Felix and Victor – though Victor came out fat as a hunk of cheese. There was Paul and Peter, too, then. Isis was given to his wife to name. Hazel found it in a book on cosmetics. The sound of it was clear and distinct, and she liked it. Paul was a botch, but Peter was beautiful.

“They’re camped out,” Hazel said. “Hunt took a bottle with him, and that’s the reason.” The two women waited in the house. “They’ll get more,” Isis said. “You know they will. They’ll go down the road to Eisley’s. Eisley always has something.” Isis and Hazel heard them hooting, with the heat of day behind, and the cool aftertaste of night dissolved in silhouettes. “Why’d you marry Hunt?” Isis said. For a moment, Hazel didn’t answer. Then she said: “That’s not for you to ask.” Hazel had her hand on the infant’s head; ran the circle of its ear with her fingertip. “Because he looked good. You’ve already begun to know things change.”

“He won’t find them,” Isis told her. “Not tonight. He’ll be mean by morning, though. If Hunt wakes.”

“My husband will wake,” Hazel said.

“Victor hasn’t anything else to his name,” Isis said.

Hunt was so full of piss he stood on the edge of the clearing, in moonlight, and urinated into the trees until the rodents and bugs underneath began to come out, rustling and grating. “Come back, Pa,” Peter said. Peter was half asleep. Hunt grunted, did up the buttons and almost fell over Peter, with the bottle out of reach, still in nettles where it fell, empty. Hunt put his head down and then dreamed, talking, turning against his own breathing, and saw it: not the lamb (living or moving or running from the strike; because it was his knife he used, not the rifle), but the moment the blackened carcass yielded flesh, dripping down this was the sweetest thing on earth, against everything else would happen, until there was no more rising stretching and putting things on. The world hadn’t done a thing for Hunt except bring flood so Hunt could pull tools out of the mud. What Hunt had – and would keep – was appetite. But everyone had that and no one needed it.

Felix – beside his brother, Peter, and his father – lay awake for a time and thought of the trouble. Felix saw the throat after the knife had gone across, because that was the way Hunt would do it: not shoot or kill it outright, but hold it, bind it, legs, everything, and sever the throat of blood that smelled of bad salt. Before anyone else had to, Felix did things first and foremost, whether this was building or finding out or sorting or even tearing things down.

Where Peter slept, he had no idea. His head spun. Clouds came over and there was rain, enough to uncover leaves. Hunt woke and shook the two boys and already knew; he sensed it, close to them, the three of them; felt the ground full up with it, with the sun coming, and they were on their feet, smelling of the dirt and already beginning to move toward it over washed brambles.

“I want to go home, now,” Paul said. He leaned over Victor’s big body. Victor looked up at him. “Then go home!” Victor said. “Now,” Paul said.

Victor kicked his brother. Paul whimpered and ran, and Victor saw the six eyes, then, turned to face him while Paul got smaller and smaller as he ran, tearing his way through branches and webs, stirring up the ground.

Isis heard it from the house. She handed Hazel the infant. “I been out once,” Isis said, “I can go out again.” Hazel heard Victor coming, the bones covered and the flesh moving, and the huff coming from his mouth, running to dear the woods, for the sunlight – until Hunt stepped from behind a tree and tripped him up with the butt of his rifle, and Victor wailed with the kick and went down and Hunt was on top of him, just yards from the house, pommeling him and demanding where. Peter and Felix held Victor’s arms and legs. Felix said: “I thought we was to slaughter a lamb, not a pig!” Hunt looked cross, until he saw Paul get inside the house. The door shut, and then opened again for Hunt. Hunt went in to where Hazel could see the filth in Hunt’s eyes. “Something will happen,” Hazel said. Hazel locked the door and sat down with the baby on the floor and her back against the bed, and prayed against Hunt. That was what happened, then – because Hunt was with Paul a minute and came out saying, “Idiot!”

“That animal doesn’t know it’s dead,” Peter said. Both Felix and Peter could hear it bleating. They had sticks, and Felix had a butcher knife. Hunt was already in the thicket. He’d left the rifle behind. Hunt was there, calling, stepping over roots and stones, with his utility knife that was bigger than his hand, sloshing through mud, and saying, “You bastard!” to no one, not even the boys. There was the sound of Hunt getting quiet – and bleating – in light flickering in patches. There was a commotion. Hunt said: “I wish I could see you.” Hunt was crazy with sleep. When Hunt went in, there was no squeal; there was just the wide awake look in his eyes as Hunt drew the knife out again and it was tugging on it – the tether – and on the hand that still held it. Hunt’s knife had gone in and come out easily, as of nothing cut through; and she with her eyes (her own eyes, like her father’s) still open in the instant of death, in the moment it takes hold and people become things.

“Isis,” Hunt said. Hunt drew up his breath in a wail and rolled down on the ground of the clearing to hear the other wail – foolish, unknowing – from the house itself, that was the child, Isis’s child, now his.

COPYRIGHT 1993 Fairleigh Dickinson University

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group