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“I can’t make you eat them,” she said, dumping the still-warm carcasses into a freezer bin. “I won’t.” “I just fell off the monkey bars,” I said to the teacher, holding my elbow. ” We didn’t stop until we were halfway down the path where I usually got beaten up. “You’re a flying bullet,” said my teacher as she squeezed my shoulder and gave me ribbons. I always asked for double homework, because who wanted to go outside to play after dinner? Every night my father made me set traps in the feed bin to catch mice; every morning, while tears rolled down my cheeks, I brought the hatchet down to chop off their heads. “If Hawkeye caught a mouse in the wild,” I said, “he’d eat the head.” Hawkeye pooped bones; you could take a stick to his poop pellets and find miniature tibias. I was bitter: If we had been planning to release him soon, why did we have to feed him a rabbit? They hammered a nail through the tail and hung it outside. I eyed it warily every day when I came home from school, wishing I could meet the beaver it had belonged to, wondering how much her family missed her. Skipper was a Holstein, the youngest of three calves that my father bought in an attempt to teach his children a lesson in economics.The guilty children could barely contain their glee. Doubled over and breathing hard, we checked over our shoulders. There were always bullies — if not the ones from school, then my brother’s friends. I kept a broken-winged hawk, Hawkeye, in a huge cage my father had constructed. Hawkeye opened his beak to me as if yawning, and I tossed in the day’s beheaded mouse. What do you think life will be like for you if you stay like this? All of us watched Hawkeye hop to the door, spread his wings, and launch. We would raise them and later sell them at a profit, investing it in new cattle, and so on.
She loved animals, so I didn’t understand how she could do this. I stood on my brother’s chair and, out of curiosity, lifted an intestine full of poop. She rolled the goose pieces into pink paper bundles and tied them with string. I picked up a goose heart, held it on my open palm, wrapped my fingers around it. “Wrap her in these,” he said, and I took the underwear he held out: white cotton men’s briefs. He slipped the knife between the pelt and carcass when he encountered resistance. I saw their checkered coats, their snowshoes, their Daniel Boone raccoon hats with tails.
An hour earlier it had been beating, probably while chasing my brother, whom the geese had hated. They would work, I guessed, but I was confused about where they’d come from. The man lurched toward us, and I grabbed my sister’s hand and shouted, “Run! I got pulverized at school with tedious regularity until, in the spring of third grade, we had sports day, and I discovered I could not only run but launch myself over a high jump better than girls several years older than I was. I went to the forest and kicked over my father’s trap. Then he stood behind me and put his huge, bloody hands around mine and made me do it. A couple of weeks after I fed Hawkeye the rabbit, my father declared the hawk’s wing healed, and we opened his cage door for good. My brother came home looking pleased, color high in his cheeks, Dad patting him on the back as they held up a rack of antlers and a beaver tail, both red where they’d been severed from the animals’ bodies. My brother and father made a plaque for the antlers and hung them in my brother’s bedroom.
We lived on a thirteen-acre farm called Merryview, where we raised horses — hunters, jumpers, and Shetland ponies — along with other animals.
My brother was tensed with excitement as they assembled the trap under the pines, practicing how it would snap, resetting it with pride. The next day my father held up a limp white rabbit by her ruff, her pink-tipped teats streaming with milk that hit the dust like white raindrops. “You can hang keys on it.” “I’m a .” He looked down at me with a familiar mix of exasperation and pity. You make yourself so unhappy.” He reached to ruffle my hair, to say there were no hard feelings; I shrank.
Skipper was a deeply sad little calf who bawled piteously and continuously. I would have been happy to have Skipper on my arm at a school dance.
I pitchforked his cow patties out of his pen and lay down in the straw with him. They gripped the nipple between their fat tongues and the roofs of their mouths, and the milk ran down their throats. I begged my mother to let me bunk in the barn while he was needy, but she refused.They got in the chicken coop and killed the hens — and not to eat, either, just for the joy of a bloodbath.” I couldn’t believe there was an animal that was bad by default. Then I curled around her, to protect and warm her, and tried not to let sleep overcome me.In the morning my father found her under my arm, her box overturned on the floor, poop on my sheets, and the other worm missing, and he decreed that Daisy needed to live in the tack house. ” I said, but negotiating got me nowhere, and the next morning, when my father opened the tack-room door, he accidentally rolled its bottom edge over Daisy. I everything they called me: bucktoothed and bald-ugly and smeared in stinking ointment; a baby who wore a bonnet that tied under my chin to school every damned day. I didn’t know) and the kid with crutches got picked after me. Those were the moments I was safest — standing, wobbly, my cuts stinging, sure I wouldn’t be attacked again because they were done with me for the day. When my mother asked me about my scrapes and bruises, I only shrugged. I learned that if I gave in, I was in a stronger position than if I fought, which the kids saw as an invitation.I remember things: how the rusted screen crumbled under my fingers; the part of the screen door that was soft, into which I could push my pudgy fingers. For the year my pate was noodle clean, my mother refused to take me out in public. “You’re too ugly to look at.” She took no pictures of me — and wouldn’t let anyone else take them, either, making sure I was out sick for school photographs.There had been a body once in our pond, a teenage boy whose leg had gotten caught in the reeds. I had alopecia totalis — a complete loss of hair on the head — but no one knew anything about autoimmune disorders in those days.When he was through, he plucked them until those geese were as bald as I was.He tried to show me how, but seeing the birds beheaded had left me in shock. easy.” My father lifted me up to see over the edge of the rendering vat.He tossed her on the stump where he did his executions. My father presented me with her lucky rabbit’s foot. I had spent two days tearing at the ground around the trap under the pine, digging with a kitchen spoon, now twisted, trying to find the rabbit’s babies.“The real deal,” he called it because he’d “made” it. I still had a pill bottle full of milk and an eyedropper in my pocket ready for them.I took a hank of feathers and pulled unconvincingly. A horse leg, the hoof still attached, floated in the red, bubbling froth.“Against the grain,” he said, and he enveloped my hand in his before tugging hard. Just under the water a horse’s head looked up at me: a brown eye, lashes curling, its mane sweeping the surface.