O Shenandoah! Dirt Road Journal

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"Wood Ducks"


"I'll be back in an hour or so, okay."

Surprised, Chris looked up from crocheting. "Where are you going? It's nearly dark."

"Get us a rabbit."

"Okay." He just needs to be out by himself. "Don't get lost."

"Uh-uh. See ya."

Chris heard the door slam half-closed and got up to push it fully shut. Pausing in the kitchen, she turned off the oven. The roast would finish cooking slowly and cool while he was gone. It didn't matter. He wasn't a fussy eater.

Joshua slung the .22 over his shoulder and headed for the now barely demarked four-wheel-drive road. Two weather-smoothed ruts curled up a small hill, straightened through the abandoned flat of an old hayfield flanked by forgotten orchards, and furrowed into thick mountain woods tangled with brush.

"Hey!" Darcy called. "Don't shoot my pets!"

For the rabbits Darcy laid out old lettuce and apples he found on sale, so they hopped and nibbled in the morning dew and dusk of his yard. Once he'd stumbled on a nest of babies burrowed into the ground, blanketed with hairs and honeysuckle. He'd covered it carefully back, but the mother never returned. Perhaps it was the dangerous scent of a human that bid her away. Maybe a fox had found her. He'd left the babies undisturbed in their softly damp and shallow grave.

Joshua laughed. "They're the ones that sit up and beg when I see 'em, right?"

"Right. Where are the dogs?" Darcy had raised rabbit dogs years ago and loved the happy sound of their yipping when they got on a scent.

"Had to give 'em away. I don't have much time to put 'em on a track and the Beagle Club's too far away."

Darcy and Josh frowned.

"Well, when you retire, you'll have more time, get 'em back," Darcy offered.

"Yeah. I guess." Josh looked down, rubbing dirt back and forth on the road with his foot and sighing. "Pay off the cabin 'n trash it all. The city's killin' me."

"You'll get there," Darcy nodded encouragingly. "I did."

"Yeah, but I don't want to be an old man by then." Josh grinned.

"Who's old?"

"See ya', ol' man."

"Ya gotta work for your supper, kid." Darcy turned to his trailer. "Mine's on the guv'mint now."

"Yeah. Damn generous to you old folk they are."

"We won the war, kid. They owe us."

"Right."

Josh walked slowly, eyeing the brush piles on either side of the road, and disappeared around a curve as Darcy shuffled to a small concrete porch he'd poured years ago. A crack jagged through it where the earth had settled and the metal awning yawned down on one side from a heavy wet snow the year before. Darcy didn't see the point in fixing it. His strength was ebbing and he heard his words begin to slur. It sounded like he was drunk or took too many tranquilizers. The doctor prescribed them, but he only took one once in awhile when his hands shook too much to dress himself or fix his meals.

Darcy sat on the turquoise plastic chair and listened to the birds he'd heard calling from this holler almost all his life. The new owners down the road had brought in the volunteer fire department to burn down the mildewed and rotting house where he'd been born. He'd never walked back up there again. Hadn't gone there much anyway. But he felt like the house, mildewed and rotting. Perhaps he too would burn down soon.

Pushing himself up and out of his chair, Darcy grabbed an awning pole and stepped gingerly down the two concrete stairs. Rounding the short end of his trailer, he caught a pair of wood ducks gliding in tandem down through the small forest of trees, splashing into the lake between the hill and the river. As the dusky brown hen circled and dove, melting into shaded evening waters, her drake slid a brilliantly striped and shimmery green head into the lakeside reeds.

Like the hen, Vivian had circled, swimming the lake, diving into its clear coolness and laughing with glee at its depth. So many springs past, she too had melted into the shadows. Now perhaps, like the drake, he would simply slide into the reeds.





Midi music file, "Unchained Melody"

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Original material O Shenandoah! Country Rag April, 1996. All rights reserved.