A Taste for the Hunt
A boy acquires a profound appreciation for the hunt
The greatest meal of my life involved a Triscuit.
At the age of eleven, you see, I came into possession of a .177-caliber Crosman air rifle. The rifle shot mushroom-shaped lead pellets, and if you pumped the rifle a dozen times or so, to the point that a pneumatic/mechanical explosion felt dangerously imminent, it shot them pretty hard. One afternoon, bored with plinking cans, I took lazy, purposeless aim at a mourning dove perched upon a branch in the next-door neighbor’s yard. Perhaps I meant to scare it, to startle it skyward, I don’t know. In any case I felt certain I couldn’t hit it.
I hit it. The way the dove dropped, in an awful flutter of wings, mirrored the state of my insides; my heart collapsed in free-fall panic. As a boy of the suburbs, I’d never killed anything before, or even considered it; my imaginary targets had always been Nazi infantrymen. I leaped the concrete-block wall dividing our yard from the neighbor’s, only obliquely aware, at that moment, of how severely forbidden was this terrain. (The neighbor was a middle-aged mumbler, schizophrenic if you trusted neighborhood rumor, who was fond of sunbathing nude on the roof.) No matter: I dashed across his backyard to where the fallen dove was flailing in the shade. Desperate to end its misery, I pumped the rifle to its airy maximum and shot the dove point-blank in the head. The stillness that followed didn’t console me. My eyes soaked, I shot it again, and then again, sobbing, and then again and again until I was finally out of pellets.
I could have left it, or buried it. But something inside me, with a wise and moral voice like Obi-Wan Kenobi’s, said I had to eat it. Wasting it, said the voice, would only compound the sin. As a latchkey kid, as we were called in those days, I’d become proficient at making Triscuit pizzas in the broiler, to feed myself after school, but this recipe, cadged from the Triscuit box, marked the beginning and end of my cooking chops. With a pocketknife, then, I cut the dove open, not knowing what to look for but finding a small wedge of purple breast meat from which I carved a few mangled slices. I heaped them atop some Triscuits and watched them sizzle under the red electric coil, my tear-smeared face staring back at me from the oven glass. And then, alone at the breakfast counter, I ate them.