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Daddy’s Rifle

This short story will be incomprehensible to most, but perhaps less so to those who recognize its inspiration. A short explanatory note and fawning acknowledgement follows the story.

Image modified (cropped) from copy made available on Wikimedia Commons. Original by Louis Agassiz Fuentes (1874-1927).


There ain’t no more squirrels in them trees. I knowt.

It’s two whole moons that Daddy left an it’s gettin along three. I never knowt him gone longern one whole moon an that were when me an Sissy was here. He a never be this long gone me alone if he were okay. Drunk? Naw, he don’t try to be dead drunk when he gettin goods. Stealin em, Sissy say, but not when Daddy hear. That be a beatin.

Juss I gotta shoot a critter. I’m real hungry. Where they go?

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No fish in my trap never. Not this mornin neither. Shoot a squirrel two day back even but I thought em gone. So I ain’t starve yet. Full shells way low for my plinkin gun though. Only nine full shells for Daddy’s rifle too. He done take his shotgun. Got knifes but I ain’t killin critters with no knife.

I miss Sissy.

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Them ravers round again, more’n two. There be a dead critter or fixin to be one sure. Them birds won’t be hangin round here for no reason. Keep me company? Not them ravers. Daddy always say don’t shoot ravers for bad luck, an don’t eat em no how for bad meat. But he kilt ourn I knowt. Cook him too but he say it were grouse soup. I knowt though an Sissy knowt too.

We call him Big John, that raver. Found him hurt by a big red pine. Biggest red pine too. Sissy wrap him in a sack an tote him home. Daddy weren’t puttin Big John in, an he weren’t a feedin him neither. We keep him out in a old broke wood box. We weren’t a feed Big John but bad fish an varmints if we could catch em. Scrawly red squirrels an dirty voles. We could catch em alright.

We sneak some vimason too sometime for Big John but onlys when Daddy dead drunk. He were a lot.

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Ravers are noisy birds. They croak like do frogs an squawk like do mad crows. But Big John dint make no noise hardly at first. Still Sissy would talk to him always. Tellin Big John to callern Emmy an say Hello an Mornin Em. He did too. Then he make noise all times. Big John times did holler at Daddy too, an Daddy ain’t like it a little bit.

One day a buncher ravers come to our squat–that’s what Daddy call our cabin an clearin–an set in trees hollerin at Big John. Times one did fly down an worry Big John with loud noises an mean looks. This did go all day, an Daddy away no one stop it. Me an Sissy like the big fun. Onlys if the ravers fly down an worryt Big John we did chase em off. Big John couldna fly but he surely squawked.

After that day Big John hollerin always. All day cryin. Sure Daddy weren’t gonna stand that. He were drunk most days then cause of, Sissy say, Mama dyin an Daddy go bury her in a hole. He couldna stand the hollerin. He sure would a kill Big John only Sissy cry him Do no such a thing.

So Daddy put Big John inna sack an fixt a carry him a smooth valley where he catch varmints an live good. Then he did an were gone huntin two or more days. Come back draggin a deer an critters on a sledge. Some grouse in that bag.

But we knowt Big John were in that bag still. An we et him too. I miss Big John.

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Least I got two rabbit trapped. I cain’t find all a Daddy’s traps, times he do set em a long ways off. But he shouldna left me not knowin. Ones I know ain’t be helpin much. Rabbit today though.

I found new mushrums, an lots too. Have Sissy’s book on em to check. Some a mushrums bad.

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Sissy teach me some readin. Not too much cause I’m slow a some things. Daddy don’t take me learnin none. Say I ain’t need learn sums at all. Why he gonna add up numbers, he tell Sissy. Nothin that’s what they is. Sissy read me books though when Daddy away or dead drunk.

One day Daddy burnt books in the stove. Sissy save two a Jack London for me an one a her Charles Dickers. She save her best book, call A Tree Go in Brooklin. Her own favrit that she dint like read me. Brooklin a big city with hunnerds a people. I ain’t never see one but Sissy have.

She keep a plant book an a mushrums book. The mushrums book says ones for eatin an ones not for eatin. Sissy write a big X by not for eatin mushrums. Daddy woulda burnt em too, he knowt what for eatin. But me an Sissy dint.

Sissy hide things by a board unner our bed. That where the books stay. Only one more book in our cabin. Mama’s bible Daddy keep on a board along his bed an a pitcher a Mama. We cain’t touch neither. Times Sissy did anyhow, before she was drownt. I miss Sissy an Mama.

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Trappin more rabbits. I move some traps on a long, slow hill to that river. I sit on the ridge up high a that hill. Shot a squirrel right up thern out a oak tree. There more too, but I like rabbit an save my plinkin shells.

I chew dry mushrums there an watch that river. Guess I can see a mile up. Daddy dint lets us go near that river less folk see us an find our squat. I cain’t see harm now Daddy been gone so long. Sides, no one on that river to see.

Times Daddy use a boat an go on that river an trade goods. But he cain’t keep a boat long.

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Feelin sick times now. Light an funny like. It were a whole moon last night yes it were. I mark it down. That three now an Daddy gone. A lot a days that is. Squirrels back most a tree now. Where they go times? Daddy knowt.

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I set on that ridge most days now. Sun feel good an shade too ifn I want. Cool wind blowin. Most times I think on Sissy an Mama. Least what Sissy say a Mama. I don’t rightly know Mama good a cause I were young when she go on. Buryt in a hole.

Sissy knowt though. She tell Mama was good an ever kindly. Scare’t too, an sad.

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One day Mama stay in a big real house in Arkansaw with hern own Mama an Daddy. But she run with Daddy to a new real house long The Kota way. Big city too. Sissy members it good. A waterfallin river town she say. She sure was bornt there straight after Mama an Daddy run there. I was bornt there too along four yearn on. More, like. Sissy go a schoolhouse thern an I a fixin to real d’rectly too. But.

But Daddy he gotta go far away some day. Sissy say we campin lots. See buffalos, a wolf like White Fang. See big big heads on a mountain. I member that pretty good too. We dint stop anywheres long. Mama cryin all times but Daddy say Go an Go. Mama cold always too.

Mama’s dog name Powder run off them days. Or Daddy say so. Sissy see Daddy shootin Powder, but Mama never did.

I knowt by the bare log we mark whole moons we been stayin on this squat six yearn more. Daddy make a deep cut aftern 13 whole moon mark. Along round one year he say. Daddy like it here an aim to stop ten yearn more right by.

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I’m a losin my shootin eye sure. Keep missin squirrels I won’t have full plinkin shells a day soon. Trappin some critters, trappin some fish. Not much still. Jars a garden eatin low now. Nothin come up this plantin time. No Sissy here, Daddy an me dint plant much. I dint put water much on em from that crick neither. Bad it is, but what come winter? Sore bad.

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Lots a dreams now. Scare dreams too. I see Mama so sick, always cryin fore Daddy buryt her. An I dream Sissy here. Or Sissy lookin me from bottom a that crick bathin hole.

Chew a dry mushrums, settin up ridge here watchin that river I do days. Sleep night here too, times.

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Scare’t now all times. Bad things comin sure. I shot a raver. Never should I knowt.

I cain’t plink a squirrel. Eye go funny, hand go shakin. Squirrels laugh to me times now. Ravers say mean words all days. Say Sissy bad leavin me. I fix to shut a raver up good with a plinkin. Never knowt I’d a hit em. I did though. Saw that raver head blowt up in blue sky. All colors a rainbow too.

I never et that raver though. Never. I took that raver an float em down that river on a big peel a red pine bark. With mushrums an Mama’s bible. I keep two black feathers back an wear em by my ears with stickem out a pine. Ravers knowt I never shoot em now.

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Sissy hadda go even but she dint wanna. She were sore sick an sore sad.

Was times I see Sissy were outta bed nights. Times I spy her on Daddy’s bed. Eyes open wide an Daddy snorin so. Along a time Sissy ud get out quiet an lay aside our bed on cold floor. Never back in bed them times.

That were a start a Sissy’s sad times.

Sissy get sick too them times. Throwt up good food. Cryin Sickness Daddy say. Don’t get That Emmy Lou, never better You get That, he say. Then he go. Mad an mean. Might to get goods. Meanin more drink, most like.

Sissy tole me Daddy bad to her when he drunk. But it weren’t make it Right, she say. Like it don’t make it Right for ole dirty Noah neither.

I knowt Noah’s big boat, but don’t knowt Sissy’s meanin. I miss Sissy.

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Fishin boat on that river todays. Raver say to me Plink Em. So I hides by tree an shoot twice’t. Far off for my plinkin gun, but I aim close. Sound like a can hit. Man yell mad words but they ain’t see me hidin. They run off quick. Ravers say they come back times soon though.

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Shoot a big deer with my plinkin gun. Dint stop em neither an I knowt that afore I pulled. Now I aim to tote Daddy’s rifle on that ridge. Might shoot a deer, might run off mad boat men too. Ravers say them men sure will come back.

I miss Big John the raver. These ravers ain’t good, an sayin mean words on me all a times now.

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Watchin Sissy swimmin a that river. All mornin alone. I fix to run down too but she swim deep away an I stop runnin. She swim up. Again an times again I go a see her close an she swim deep ever when I do. Ravers say I drownt Sissy again less I set on that ridge an watch. So I sits.

I like a mushrum tastin like trees an grass an dirt.

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Sissy were sore sad. Tole she loves me ever so. Say foller Daddy on a day. Sneak like we try that time but stay long back an don’t be scare’t. Sleep back ways when Daddy do but be ready too, one eye open like. Find real houses where he go gettin goods an find a nice kind a Mama. An stay thern.

I should a done it too. Now Daddy go an I not knowt a way.

Why do Sissy go?

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Boat comin now. Right now comin hard. Ravers foller too. One raver here still a hollerin too.

I hold Daddy’s rifle on em. Boat a white boat. Big on that river. Never see so big a boat neither. Gettin bigger seems all times. Not juss close bigger neither. Man standin a front a boat an holdin rifle too. Big man, big rifle, big boat.

Ravers tellin me out sure.

Daddy? Lookin like Daddy up on a boat in that river. Cain’t be so. I got Daddy’s rifle a my hands. I ain’t scare’t cause a havin Daddy’s rifle a my hands. Cain’t be Daddy an cain’t be Mama standin by him neither. That ain’t Sissy a swimmin by em neither, no how. Ravers tricks sure. I ain’t go a see em no mores. Won’t look. Cain’t.

Squirrels laughin up ever tree. Deers a grazin quiet. Sun shinin all colors a that blue sky.

I want to put down to layin grass along unner this big oak tree a that ridge top a that river. I do want so. Feelin sad an worryt. Them ravers a talkin me mad days now. I fixin a get sickly an sad like Sissy I knowt. Go way may like.

Juss I cain’t though. That big white boat. Comin for me I knowt. An now buncher ravers fly up this tree a coverin me. Tell me out afore boat man sure. They still comin in, crows too most like. Hunnerds may be, a Brooklin a birds.

Cain’t run neither an won’t run.

I knowt I hearin that big boat man hollerin mad. Want me quick an Daddy’s rifle lay down. I cain’t, I won’t never. Sweatin right now. Sun growin big. Do ravers say No or Go?

Now, right now, I raisin Daddy’s rifle a my sharp eye. Hold it on boat man now right now an he hollerin No No. Mama cryin?

Oooh Mama. A hard thump a my chest like a big boot a juss kick me fierce. Oooh, ah, I fixin a lay back hard. Now a clap, loud like a thunder. Ah, tree over me a hunnerd ravers jumpin off at once’t. Black but all colors too an a big blue sky.

Ah Sissy. Mama. Ah Daddy. Why all go?

This story was inspired by the enigmatic “Powderfinger,” one of Neil Young’s signature songs. The story was inspired by the song, but it is not based on it. It doesn’t interpret, comment on, or illuminate the song in any way. The song remains inscrutable. The story borrows ideas, names, and events and transforms them into something reminiscent but distinct. The song is an enduring work of art. The story is a fleeting idea.
Readers unaquainted with the song may wish to hear it in its full, electrified Crazy Horse studio version at youtu.be/9nTthuudYDY. Those happily familiar may wish to listen to Neil’s stripped-down acoustic live performance at youtu.be/pMBaeOma_D0.

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