I woke a few hours later, skin tight with sunburn and a dull, swollen ache in my head from the rum. Images from the night before curled through my mind like Polaroids floating up from the infinite depths of a black sea. Orange trees, the hill, that car. Broken glass scattered on top of everything, everywhere, writhing in the scarlet swirl of cruiser lights.
I brushed clinging sand off my cheek and stood up facing the lake. Its color matched the sky today, the surface reflecting rolling fractals of sunlight. Two mallards floated in the shallows, honking and poking their beaks at each other. Some kind of ancient territorial dance. How many times had these two ducks done this before, with each other? With other mallards? Do they do it consciously, or are they compelled by eons of evolutionary instinct?
Millions of years of honing a brain, a species, and they honk at each other.
My eyes fell to the .22 laying naked in the grass where I'd left it. I picked it up and saw the ducks through cross hairs this time. They honked still, flapping wings and poking beaks. How long would this go on? Maybe they would beak each other to death as I watched. Nature's aquatic cockfight. But it grated on me: the noisy splashing, this mindless dance of puffed-up aggression. As if they existed merely to survive.
I chose one, waited till it was still for just a moment, and squeezed the trigger. The head disappeared in a flurry of feathers and the body shuddered reflexively, carving silent ripples over the water even in its death. Finally, it was still and the head was visible again, dangling by a strip of skin into the water. The other mallard hadn't even flinched.
Millions of years of honing a species and a dangling head doesn't seem curious?
I slowed my breath, spied the living one through cross hairs, and waited. Waited til it was still for just a moment. And squeezed the trigger.