The Bunkhouse, An excerpt

There is no wind tonight. The heat from the fire in the woodstove hums through the chimney, air racing into the flue to feed the flames and then racing again, tempered and smoky out of the metal chimney and into the night sky. Tenaya is cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, her night for the chore. And my dad and the German are sharing stories of glorious hunts in the past, or of family and friends. I watch from the far end of the table and laugh and smile and draw the English out of the German’s heavy accent. The sound of the chimney droning on underneath it all and Maggie stretching her legs and her paws at the foot of the stove. The fire cracks and she looks up, a yawn, and then rests her head again on the hardwood floor.

“When I was younger my father took me to hunt zebra.”

“In Africa? What an adventure that would make.”

The German laughs. “No, no, no. In Norway!” He laughs again and nods his head, smiling and resting the weight of his torso on his elbows and cradling a small glass of scotch.

“That’s not possible!” The shine in my father’s eyes is tangible. He is friendly to all of the clients that come to camp, but this I see is a friendship. They have shared drinks and meals. My father bugled for the large bull elk hanging from the tree outside and they were together when the German pulled the shot and brought the animal down. My father does these things for all of the clients, but something special is happening here. Tenaya has finished in the kitchen and snuggles next to our father and pulls his arm around her like a blanket. She presses her head against his chest with her eyes closed. Maggie rises from the woodstove and retreats to the farther wall of the cabin and lays down exhaling heavily.

“This is true! Close to the Arctic Circle he took me to shoot zebra.” He looks toward the window, the sky outside darkening late in the autumn night. “This is true!” And nods his head agreeing to his own words.

“There was a farm. A very expensive farm. The owners there would pay to fly animals from all of the world to this farm. And for money we could go there and hunt.” He shakes his head. “I couldn’t shoot. My father says “Henrick shoot! Shoot!” when the zebra comes out of the trees chased by the dogs. But I couldn’t shoot. It was silly. All of that money and for what? To shoot a striped pony chased by dogs?”

The German lowered his eyes to his glass and raised it to his lips and sipped and then sipped again. “Stupid what we do sometimes.” He turned on the bench and swung a leg to the other side. Looked over at Maggie lying there against the wall. “My father saw that I would not pull the trigger. He stood up and walked behind me and I stayed there on the ground. He shot the dogs chasing the zebra and said “Let’s go.” and then we left.”

Tenaya was sleeping against our father who looked at the German and then at Tenaya.

“We should get to sleep I think. Billy you’ll sleep in the bunkhouse with Jim?”

“I think so. We’ll get up early and skin that bull in the morning.”

“Alright. Henrick, if you stay up will you let the dog out?”

“I will of course.”

The hum of the woodstove had quieted and the cinders inside cracked and swayed from red to gray and from yellow to black through the window of the stove and the glow of it in the dim light of the cabin flickered against the wall.

“I will of course.” Henrick said again. I closed the front door behind me and stepped into the cold of the darkened night where there was no light from the bunkhouse.

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