Even when they know I am out here, even when they are certain, I can outwait their certainty.
I am as patient as a stone.
As the sky.
If a man is certain or suspicious, he will be wary.
He will watch himself, prepare.
His wariness will act as a shield.
Killing a wary man does not have the same effect.
If a man is prepared, when he dies it is as though he dies in battle.
It is better, then, to strike seemingly out of nowhere.
To become the hand of fate or the wrath of an offended creator.
I don’t know who dared it, but the rule was the rule.
Dare me, I’ll do it.
Anyway, it was me drew the short straw.
I squeezed through the loose board and snuck up through the weedy underbrush.
Near the the edge of the property there were a lot of broken bottles and trash people sometimes pitched over the fence, but by the house there was nothing but dead weeds.
I went to the open window you could see from the alley, black like the mouth of a corpse.
I stood under it for a minute to work up courage.
“We were so worried. Papa heard shots.”
He removed his coat. It was always a surprise, how thin he had become. I suppose we all had. “I’m fine, ma. Don’t worry. I’m always careful.”
“Were you able to get it?” Papa asked him. I could see he was trying to guard his eagerness. To shield himself from disappointment.
He reached into his pocket with a look of triumph and pulled out a muslin-wrapped parcel. “A whole loaf!”
Papa got to his feet, clapping. “Splendid! A feast! I’ll get the knife.”
I knew we should save it, but I said nothing.
Two days outside Sidewinder his horse stepped into a gopher hole and busted the right fetlock. Much as it pained him, he’d been obliged to put a bullet in its head.
He’d left the horse lying there without cutting off any of the haunch to take with him. He couldn’t bring himself to butcher such a faithful animal. It seemed wrong. Now he regretted his scruples. This barren country was an endless vista of rock and scrub. Not a critter to be seen.
There was nothing to do but cinch his belt tight across his empty belly and trudge onward.