Chapter 21 continues

The story so far: Stirrings of spring bring out the poet in Milo.


They stayed quiet for a bit. Then Milo said, “It’s time to shoot, I think. Ever shot a rifle before?”

“Once. My ata was sick, and somehow a raccoon got in our cottage. I picked up Ata’s gun, aimed and pulled the trigger.”

“Did you hit it?”

“Not even close. But the shot woke Ata. He made me give him the gun and he killed the raccoon in one shot, from his bed, while sick with the fever.”

Milo took the rifle off the sling.

“It’s heavy,” Katka said. “And very beautiful.”

“A beauty, it is. This is how you load the chamber.” Katka watched as Milo loaded first one, then another bullet. “Now you try.”

Katka was surprised how quickly and smoothly the ammunition slipped in. After loading the remaining twelve bullets, she handed the gun back to Milo.

“See that tin can, propped up on the hay bale? That’s our target.” He raised the gun to his shoulder and pulled the trigger. He hit the can dead center and it went flying. He ran and set the tin can back on the hay bale. “Now your turn. Before you take aim, you need to crank the lever out and down all the way, like I did. You’ll do this each time you shoot. Spread your legs a little to get balanced and pull the butt in tight against your shoulder. Tighter. Yep. Just like that.”

“Where do I put my cheek?”

“Against the wood. Put three fingers in the lever, with the other one sticking out until you’re ready to go. When you squeeze the trigger, do it gently. If you jerk, you’ll jerk the whole gun. You want each shot to feel like surprise.”

“How do I line it up?”

“Use your dominant eye to look through the rear sight here. Some folk close the other one.” Katka closed her left eye and looked at the can. She pulled the gun into her shoulder and took a deep breath. Then, softly, as if she were tickling the cheek of a newborn, she pulled the trigger.

The noise was deafening and she couldn’t believe she had created it. There was very little kickback. Her shoulder did not hurt. The bullet did not hit the can, but Katka smiled. Shooting a rifle was not only easier than she had imagined, it was exhilarating. “Can I try again?” she asked.

“Shoot as many times as you please. But before each shot, remember to rack the lever.”

She lined up the gun as she had before, but this time she shot the rifle in rapid succession, each time racking the gun faster. The smell of smoke was intoxicating and she felt a rush of adrenaline sweep through her body. Bullet casings flew in the air, landed in her hair and bounced off her shoulders. She felt bigger and more powerful than she had ever felt before. Finally, on her eleventh shot, she hit the can and held the rifle above her head, whooping jubilantly.

“Lily’s got competition,” Milo said, laughing. “That’s a deadly weapon you are celebrating with. There’s one more bullet. Aim for Anton’s bull’s-eye paper. It’s farther away, but worth a gamble.”

She aimed the gun, lining up her target with precision. She pulled the trigger and watched as the bullet missed the bull’s-eye by two inches, leaving a small hole in the paper.

“Blazes!” Milo said. “A natural, you are!”

Impulsively, she grabbed Milo’s hand with her free hand, bent over and kissed him on his knuckles. “Thank you, Milo. For the best day ever.”

He squeezed her hand in reply. “Next time, we’ll try to shoot some rabbits. Moving objects are more fun.”


When they got back to the house, Lily called out for Katka to help her with chores in the barn. She thanked Milo, who went inside, and then headed for the chicken coop. First, she looked under the nest of Sasa, the fattest hen of all. She found a small pouch of coins, nearly five dollars. It was their proceeds from the latest edition of the Iron Range Ladies Journal.

“Well,” Lily said, appearing in the doorway. “Did you fall in love with Milo over a dead squirrel?”

“I don’t understand you,” Katka said, mischievously. “My English is not so good.”

“Do you think you’ll marry him?”

“Have you been drinking, Teta?”

“Did you feel tingly? Did you feel as if you couldn’t breathe? Did you feel as if you wanted to stay just in that moment and be no place else in the whole world for the rest of time?”

Katka laughed. Teta Lily had too much life for one body. “Is that how you felt when you met Uncle Anton?”

“That is how I still feel about Anton. But we’re talking about you here, not me. Did you feel it?”

She did actually. Katka felt all those things. But she knew it was not Milo who made her feel that way. It was love for something else. The 1873 Winchester. There was only one other time when she felt as if all of the physical parts of her body had turned to nerve endings, flushing her skin red. That was nearly a year ago, on the big ship. But she didn’t say that to Lily. “Not exactly,” she said.

“No details for me? None at all? You are an absolute bore. You don’t entertain me in the least.” Lily grabbed her skirt, pulled it up and flashed Katka, exposing her knickers. Then she stuck out her tongue and went back to the house.

Katka jiggled the black bag of coins. Tomorrow, she would buy some bullets.


Tomorrow: Chapter 22 begins.