Magazine article World Literature Today

The Grouse Hunt

Magazine article World Literature Today

The Grouse Hunt

Article excerpt

She's still in bed. She already got up once, but crawled back into bed again, inching her way along the walls, trying to make herself invisible, and she has no idea why, it happened from one day to the next; something has changed, though, and it's impossible to trace the matter back to whatever triggered it. That stifling sensation in her chest, a weight in her stomach trying to burn its way out.

Why doesn't she simply want everything to be like it always is, for everyone to do what they always do, she hopping out of bed to feed the children so she and her husband can harness the dogs and be off on the grouse hunt? While standing among the dogs, she tends to glance up at the houses along the road, well aware that although she can't see her neighbors behind the curtains, they're there, watching, bitter they're not in her place, that they're not married to her husband, and that they're not heading off into the great white wilderness with him.

She doesn't want to go. She's a dog on a chain, conscious she's done something wrong but without a clue what it might be. He could take one of their sons instead, or better yet both boys, so she could have a little peace, or in any case the youngest; the oldest can look after himself. Their youngest son would love to go, it's what he begs for every time his father heads out; fact is, you'd think the only thing filling his mind was how he might come to perch on the sled and speed off down the trail in search of birds.

She hears them shouting in the kitchen, quarreling no doubt. Then he lifts his voice, a door slams, and all is silent.

He won't take the boys. It'll end with her, and she has it coming. No matter how she moves, no matter where she moves, she's in his line of sight. No, that can't be true. She's tried observing his looks, his words, and every time she draws the same conclusion: he's not watching her, it's only in her mind, and she needs to stop thinking such thoughts, nothing is wrong, everything is like it's always been. But still she feels out of sorts. All she wants is to sink through the mattress, down beneath the bed, and never come out again. Yet why can't she just think about something else?

She heads down to the kitchen; the boys have already run out. She can see them outside the window, the youngest in rubber boots and a sweater; he's standing and bawling on top of the snowdrift on the road-side. The impulse to go out and pick him up flutters through her and disappears. Farther off she can see the older boy's back. He's leaving.

Crumbs cover the table. What's left of the bread is beside the bag. She butters the wedge and eats it standing. The house is comfortably still, the snow dampens sounds from without, and the double-paned windows block the rest. Nonetheless, she can still hear the dogs, their restless yapping; her husband must be down with them. The little one can stay with the neighbors while they're gone, the old couple is always home, and they know her children.

She works silently beside her husband while they ready the sled, retrieve the rifles, strap them tight on top of the skin. The dogs are excited, in their eagerness they tumble over and around each other, they tangle up the traces before they've even started off. She casts a stolen glance at his face, but there's nothing to see, just the usual concentration. And now he frees the sled, time starts, the dogs cast themselves forward in the harness, and they glide through the city; when finally she looks around, the houses are already behind them, and they're on their way out into the country to hunt for grouse; soon they'll be heading home again.

They follow the trail through the first two valleys but leave it at a place where they've found grouse before. When they reach a bare patch of rough stones that are free of snow, he signals to the dogs to stop. In a snap he's pushed the sled onto the patch of ground and stowed the traces beneath the rudders. If the dogs suddenly decide to head home without them, they'll have to pull the sled right along behind. …

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