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Ed Troyer heard tapping on the window. Esther’s plump hands held Lightning under his armpits, his black face peeking through the parted curtains. Her stubby fingers held the cat’s front paw, tapping it against the windowpane.
The paw was stained blue. She dragged it downward, leaving an indigo streak of ink on the glass. She waved at Troyer, using Lightning’s paw like a puppet’s. She was giggling.
“Meowww. Hello, Master of the House. I’m mending fine,” Esther said in a whispery mix of baby talk and purring. Troyer shook his head and walked to the barn.
Troyer stood staring at the wavy effects of the woodstove’s intense heat. He walked over to a large cabinet and opened it. Inside, hanging from a rope by its heavy antlers, was the head of the Grey Ghost, the huge eyes of the buck glazed over, a film of dust on their surface making them look like dirty gelatin. He didn’t know what he would do with it, who he might give the trophy to, but he knew who wouldn’t be getting it. He considered selling it to pay for the cat’s operation. Maybe he would. He shut the cabinet doors knowing he would revisit the head many times before deciding.
He walked over to a pile of boxes stacked against hay bales. The top one was open. Troyer reached inside it, humming a Mennonite hymn as he gathered what needed to be destroyed. Someone, on a day far from now, he thought, might shatter Aldo’s belief in the boy, but it won’t be me.
Troyer opened the potbelly stove. The rumbling draft pulled the whitish flame upward, the fire crackling with energy. He threw the seven arrows, their vanes of orange and white, deep into the fire. He stoked them around—sure they had started to melt—using the tip of a remaining arrow as a poker. It was one arrow he decided to save.
There was a target point attached to its end ... the arrow Lightning pulled from himself. This Troyer felt compelled to keep. He looked up at the twisting carcass of the Grey Ghost, the sheer brutality of the image giving him a chill, even with the baking warmth of the fire blazing next to him.
“I pray that was your voice I heard, whispering in my ear, oh Lord,” Troyer said.
“Stupid country dipwad! Sixty bucks! Hillbilly, cornbread-eating hick!”
If someone had been sitting next to Mauro, they would’ve thought he’d been cursed with the worst case of Tourette’s ever diagnosed. His speedometer approached seventy-five, and he knew he had better let up on the rural highway or surely the local cops would nab him. But now he couldn’t get home fast enough.
He sped by a green highway sign reading, GLENNIE 22 MILES/I-75 55 MILES. His brain ached like a boxer was using it for a speed bag. It was a good four-hour drive back to Detroit, and he feared he might puke or worse at any minute. The eggs he ate with Aldo were repeating on him, and as he saw the blurry fence posts of a neighboring farm give way to guardrails, the strobing effect made his gut ache worse.
Mauro replayed the weekend in his mind over and over, but each time that split-second moment where he decided to shoot the cat knocked at the walls of his conscience.
“Could’ve just shot at its feet, but no, ” he said out loud.