Chapter 22

The story so far: Katka discovers her natural talent for shooting.


Katka practiced shooting almost every day in March. Sometimes she went with Milo. He was a patient, strict teacher and Katka obeyed his every instruction. Other days, she went with Anton, who rarely spoke and never missed a shot. She memorized his stance, his posture, his timing. Then she tried to imitate it. It didn’t work. When she asked him what she was doing wrong, his answer was simple. “Don’t think. Just do. When your body feels right — everywhere — don’t hesitate. If you do, you’ll miss.”

By the beginning of April, Katka was hitting the paper with nearly every shot. Anton encouraged her to leave the shooting range and move on.

On her first day hunting with Milo, Katka shot her first deer. She and Milo were walking back to the house, rifles slung over their shoulders, when Milo suddenly stopped. He put his finger to his lips. Then he pointed to the east. Katka heard the distinct sound of branches breaking. She looked over and saw it. A huge buck, perhaps a six pointer, staring right at her. He was grand. His eyes were the color of coffee beans. His coat was clean and his ears stood majestically alert.

Milo raised his eyebrows toward Katka as if to say, “Take him.”

Katka quickly racked the lever, then lifted the Winchester to her shoulder. She looked through the sight, pinpointed the deer’s heart and fired. At the sound of the shot, the deer jumped, but could not run. Katka’s shot had been dead-on and within seconds the legs crumpled under its body and the animal fell to the earth.

“Clean shot!” Milo yelled. “Don’t even have to track him. That was magnificent, Katka!” Katka stood motionless for a moment. She watched as Milo ran toward the deer she had shot. “Eight points! Come, quick, Katka. You don’t want to miss his last breath.”

Katka walked over to Milo and the deer. The animal had fallen over his wound and his body was covering up most of the blood. He heaved up, then down. Katka watched. It was an odd sight. The deer was enormous; she was so small.

“How do you feel?”

Katka paused for a moment, trying to find just the right words. “Like a man.”

She grabbed one of the antlers, tried to pull it. It wouldn’t budge. Milo smiled. “We need to gut it first. Let it bleed out a bit. Do you want me to do it?”

“Yes,” Katka said, and then changed her mind. “I think I should learn to do it, since it’s my deer.”

Milo showed Katka how to cut open the abdomen of the deer, how to reach her hands inside the warm body and pull out the organs. “Do you want to eat the heart?” Milo asked.

“Absolutely not.” She grimaced slightly, holding the bloody entrails with both hands. “What do I do with this?”

“Throw it in the woods.” She did. Then she walked down the path a ways to a spring, where she washed her hands. She wiped them on her skirt as she walked back toward Milo.

Milo repositioned the deer so it would bleed faster. They sat on a log, listened to the chickadees. They did not talk, but both were smiling. Finally, they got up, grabbed the antlers and pulled. Together, they dragged the beast back to the house. With some help, they hung him in the smokehouse for Lily and all the men to admire.

After dinner, Katka went back to the smokehouse to look at her deer. She pulled up a stool, sat on it and watched it. Tomorrow, Anton would cut it up into steaks, chops, roasts. They would make sausages and jerky. They would sell the hide to the voyageurs when they came through town at the end of the week. She wanted to view the animal one last time, while it still resembled itself in its most glorified form.

“Katka?” It was Milo’s voice. He had followed her to the smokehouse. “Couldn’t get enough, huh?”

“Hi, Milo.”

“All the men. They keep saying, ‘Milo, you got quite a woman. Got herself a heckuva a deer, with a clean kill.’ ”

“I had a good teacher.”

Blood dripped from the dead deer’s body. Katka liked the smell. It smelled like life. Life, at its most elemental form, smelled the same as death.

“When they were saying that,” Milo continued, “I started to wonder if it was true.”

“You think it wasn’t a clean kill?”

“No, it were a fine shot. You know that.” Milo looked around for another chair. Not finding one, he finally settled on a metal bucket. He leaned forward. “I started to wonder if you was my lady, like the men think you are.” He took her hand. “Can I kiss you, Katka? Not on the cheek, but on the lips?”

She said he could, so he did.

It was a brief kiss at first. Their faces separated quickly, as if they needed a moment to get used to the newness of it. Then they kissed again. This time, it was a long kiss. Milo put his hands on her face, probed his tongue into her mouth. She reciprocated. When they were done kissing, they both looked at the ground. The deer was still dripping blood, slowly.

“Did you feel anything?” Milo asked.

“What do you mean?” Katka asked.

“Poetry.” She heard dripping, three drops in a row, then silence.

“It was nice,” Katka said. “It was the first real kiss I ever had.”

“But no poetry?”

“No.” His tongue had felt like gravel in her mouth. “You?”

“No poems for me.”

“I suppose that means something,” Katka said.

He took her hand, brought it to his lips and kissed it. Then he carefully placed it back in her lap. “Guess it means you ain’t my lady, Katka.” He stood up, slowly, to leave. “No hard feelings?”

Katka smiled with relief. “You will still teach me to shoot?”

He gestured toward the deer. “You can teach me.” Milo tipped his hat. “Congratulations. You’re a fine shot, Katka.” He left her alone in the smokehouse, gazing at her majestic buck, which had finally stopped dripping blood.


Tomorrow: Chapter 23 begins.