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Authors: David Vann

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BOOK: Legend of a Suicide
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Sorry, his father said, and then he closed his eyes and slept the rest of the day, Roy fearing all the time that he might fall back into a sleep that he wouldn’t wake from. He wondered whether he should run out to the point with flares and try to signal someone, but he was afraid to leave his father for that long, and he didn’t know, anyway, whether his father wanted him to set off the flares. He whispered it twice, Should I go set off the flares, Dad? But there was no response.

When his father woke again, it was near sunset and Roy had been on the verge of falling asleep but had opened his eyes for just a second and saw his father looking at him.

You’re awake, he said. How are you doing?

His father didn’t answer for a long time. Okay, he finally said. Some food. Water.

What kind of food?

His father considered for a while. Soup. Do we have?

You can’t breathe, can you? Roy said. You can’t say anything. Maybe I should go set off the flares, all right? I’ll try and get some help.

No, his father said. No. Soup.

So Roy heated up the cream-of-mushroom he had planned for the pancakes. It was one of the last cans of anything because of the bear. He brought it to his father and fed him slowly with a spoon.

His father could eat only a few bites before he said, Enough for now.

What about the cuts and stuff? Roy asked. I didn’t know what to do.

It’s okay.

Roy brought him more water, lit the lamp and stoked the stove, and they waited together, not saying anything, until his father called for more soup and then more water and then rested and then fell asleep again.

In the morning, when Roy awoke, his father had pulled his arms from beneath the blankets to rest them on top. Only one was cut up, and it had scabbed over by now.

I should go light the flares, Roy said. You still can’t get up. You might have something really wrong.

Listen, his father said. If we leave now, we won’t come back. And I don’t want to give this up yet. You have to give me another chance. I won’t let anything stupid like that happen again. I promise.

I thought you were going to die, Roy said.

I know. I’m sorry. You don’t have to worry about it anymore.

It looked like you just stepped off.

I got too close to the edge. It’s all right.

So they waited. Roy fed him soup and water again, and then his father had to go to the bathroom.

I have to go, he said. And I can’t get up by myself. Grab some TP and come help me up.

Roy grabbed the toilet paper and got behind his father to pull him up under his armpits. His father was able to help some with his legs, then with a hand on the table, and so they were able to stand and then make it to the door, where they rested.

It doesn’t seem like you broke anything, Roy said.

No, it doesn’t, his father said. I was really lucky.

They rested against the door for a few more minutes while his father looked out at the cove. Then they moved along the outside wall and out to the steps and took them one at a time, Roy going first, his father leaning on him.

This is gonna work, his father said. We’ll be fine. I’m just a little sore and stiff, but it won’t last.

They rested at the bottom of the steps.

The outhouse might actually be easier, his father said. Even though it’s farther away.

I can try to carry you, Roy said.

I think I can walk if you help me.

So his father hung on him. They stepped slowly toward the outhouse, resting every ten or twenty feet, and then it started drizzling faintly but they decided to keep going and made it to the outhouse, where his father got help turning around and sitting and then Roy stepped outside to wait.

Roy standing there in the drizzle felt things he could not make sense of. His enormous fear had mostly lifted, but a part of him that he did not understand well wanted his father to have died in the fall so that there would have been a kind of relief and everything could be clear and he could simply return to his life. But he was afraid to think this, as if it were a kind of jinx, and the thought that he could have lost his father made his eyes well up suddenly so that when his father called out from inside that he was done, Roy was trying not to cry, trying to fight it down in his throat and eyes.

His father extended a hand when Roy opened the door. Help me up, he said. But he still had his pants down and Roy couldn’t
help looking at his penis hanging there and the hair on his thighs. Then he was embarrassed and tried to look away as if he hadn’t looked.

His father didn’t say anything. When he was standing, still holding on to Roy’s hand, he pulled up his pants with the other, then turned to lean against the doorjamb so that he’d have both hands to button. Then they went on to the cabin, where his father lay back down, ate and drank a little bit, and slept the rest of the day.

Over the next week, his father strengthened. He became limber again, enough to walk himself to the outhouse and then walk around out front slowly and then finally walk out to the point and back. Soon after, he announced himself fully well.

Back from the grave, he said. Lungs never felt better. And I’m not gonna let anything like that happen again, I promise you.

Roy wanted to ask again whether his father had stepped off on purpose, because that was the way it had looked, but he didn’t.

They hunted and shot deer, the first from the pass behind the cabin shooting down the other side. His father let Roy take the shot and he hit it in the neck. He had been aiming low behind the shoulder and so was way off, but he let it seem afterward that he had intended the neck.

They found it sprawled in the blueberries, its tongue hanging out and eyes still clear.

Good deal, his father said. This will be good meat. He un-slung his rifle and got out his Buck knife. He slit up the stomach, pulled out the entrails, bled the neck, cut off the balls and everything else down there, and then slotted the hind legs and pushed the forelegs through to make a kind of backpack.

Normally I’d carry it, he said. But my back and side are still a bit sore, if you don’t mind.

So while his father carried both rifles, Roy put the hooked hind legs over his shoulders, the deer’s butt behind his head, and carried him that way up the side of the mountain and down the other side, the antlers banging his ankles.

They hung the buck and stripped off the hide, punching down between meat and hide with their fists. Then they cut most of the meat into strips and dried them on the rack or smoked them.

The rack’s not going to be great, his father said. Not enough sun and too many flies. But we’ll smoke most of it.

They stretched the hide just as it was getting dark, then salted it and turned in.

His father did not cry that night, nor had he since the fall. Roy listened and waited, tense and unable to sleep, but the crying simply never came, and after a few more nights, he got used to this and learned to sleep.

They set about stocking up for winter more seriously now. When his father was strong enough to work again, they dug a huge pit a hundred yards from the cabin, back in a small stand of hemlock. They dug with shovels until his father was shoulder deep and Roy in over his head. Then they widened it until it was over ten feet on every side, a huge square cut into the hillside, and after that they deepened it some more and used their homemade ladder to get in and out. When they hit a large stone, they dug around and beneath until it was free and then hauled it out by rope. They stopped when they hit solid rock and there was nowhere left to go.

The hole was to be their cache, but once the hole was dug, his father had second thoughts. I don’t know, he said. I don’t know how it doesn’t mold, or how bugs don’t get to it. And I don’t know how to make it easy for us to get to stuff inside without it being easy for bears to get inside. And this whole place is going to be covered in snow, too.

Roy listened and looked down into the huge pit they had dug for a week. He didn’t know, either. He had just assumed his father knew more about this.

They stood there some more until his father said, Well, let’s think this thing out. We can put the food in plastic bags. It may mold, but it can’t get wet or get bugs in it.

Are we supposed to build some kind of shed or something in there? Roy asked. Or do we just bury it all?

The pictures I’ve seen, they’re made out of logs, whether they’re in the ground or up in the air.

Okay, Roy said.

Let’s sleep on it, his father said.

So they fished out on the point as the day drizzled and faded and then cooked salmon again for dinner and turned in.

Roy had trouble sleeping and lay awake for a long time. Hours later, he heard his father begin to cry.

 

In the morning, Roy remembered and stayed in his sleeping bag and did not get up until late. His father was already gone, and when Roy walked up to the pit, his father was standing down inside it with his arms folded, staring at the walls.

Let’s think this thing out, his father said. We’ve dug a pit. We have a big pit here now. And we need to store our food in it. We
need a low cabin-like thing, I think, and a door that we can get into but a bear can’t. The door could be on the top or it could be on a side with an entrance that slants down to it. I’m thinking the door should be on top and nailed shut and buried. What do you think?

His father looked up at him then. Roy was thinking, you’re not any better. Nothing has gotten better. You could decide just to bury yourself in there or something. But what he said was, How do we get to the food?

Good question, his father said. I’ve been thinking about this, and I think that a cache is what you save for late in the winter. You stock up in the cabin and just don’t leave it. You keep your rifles ready and you shoot any bears that come by. And then when you finally run out, you still have something left. You come up here and dig and take it all and you’re ready to go again. Or maybe you come up twice, but not more than that. So we don’t have to have any easy access. And the reason the food keeps is that it’s all frozen in addition to being smoked or dried and salted.

That sounds right, Roy said.

Voilà, his father said, raising his arms. I’m good for something, huh?

Maybe.

His father laughed. Maybe, huh? My boy’s getting a sense of humor. Starting to feel at home out here, are you?

Roy smiled. A little bit, I guess.

All right.

They celebrated then by cutting down a bunch of trees and cutting them into posts for the walls of the cache. That took all
day. By nightfall, they had the posts hauled to the edge of the pit.

We’ll put them in tomorrow, his father said. Happen to have about a mile of twine on you?

No.

Well, we’ll think of something. We don’t have enough nails, either. But we’ll think of something.

That night, Roy stayed awake again waiting for the crying, needing to know if it was every night, but then he woke in the morning and wondered whether it had not happened or he had simply not stayed awake long enough. It was hard to know. His father was hiding from him now, and Roy had to pretend he didn’t know this.

They shoveled enough dirt back in to bury the posts side by side. They weren’t attached in any other way, just buried next to one another.

I think they’ll stay like that, his father said. Just the pressure of everything on the inside against everything on the outside.

What about when we take the food out, Roy asked, or when a bear digs down and tries to take it apart?

His father looked at him, considering. He looked at him more plainly than Roy was used to, so that Roy avoided his eyes and looked at the light beard his father had now and the hair longer on the sides and flattened against his skull from not being washed. He didn’t look anything like a dentist anymore, or really even like his father. He looked like some other man who maybe didn’t have much.

You’re thinking, his father said. This is good. We can talk about what we’re doing. I’ve been thinking about the same
things, and it seems to me that we have to bury it deep enough and put enough stuff on top that a bear can’t dig down, because if he does get down there, no way of putting the cache together will keep him out.

Roy nodded. He didn’t know if it would work, but it made sense at least.

And when we take stuff out, finally, late in February maybe, the ground will be so frozen that nothing will move. It won’t be able to cave in even if we take the wood away completely, which we may need to do for our stove.

Roy smiled. That sounds good.

All right.

They placed the rest of the posts, like the walls of a small fort town only a few feet high, and then sat back to look at it.

It needs a roof, Roy said.

And a door. We’ll cut long poles that go clear across, and we’ll figure out the door in the roof. Probably just a big hole with a second roof over it.

We don’t have the food to go into it yet, Roy said.

Right you are. And we won’t put it in until it snows. Until then, we have to keep it from caving.

We should have waited to dig it until a few months from now, huh?

Yeah. We dug it too early. But that’s okay. We didn’t know.

Over the next two days, in the rain, they cut the poles for a roof and a smaller second roof. They sawed the lengths and stripped off the branches with a hatchet, Roy watching this father with his grim unshaven face when he worked, the cold rain dripping off the end of his nose. He seemed as solid then as a
figure carved from stone, and all his thoughts as immutable, and Roy could not reconcile this father with the other, the one who wept and despaired and had nothing about him that could last. Though Roy had memory, it seemed nonetheless that whatever father he was with at the time was the only father that could be, as if each in its time could burn away the others completely.

When they had finished cutting the poles for both roofs, they placed them all carefully and stood back to see. The sides were already washing in around the posts and caving the roof, rivulets of mud everywhere in the unceasing rain.

BOOK: Legend of a Suicide
4.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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