Birthday Doves

It’s your birthday. The old RV is sweating, just like you are. You keep the beer and soda in a cooler in the back, next to all the guns. Open season means doves fall from the sky like bombs. It means pipe tobacco and cheap beer. It means waiting in the trees for hours with little else but the passing of the sun to keep you occupied. It means you have to keep the dog close so he doesn’t get himself shot. Keep him hydrated. Don’t let him run out in the open until after the whistle, after all the shots ring out and small puffs of feathers rain down like shrapnel. Then the dog can run. He’ll kill the ones that aren’t dead yet. Maybe bring you back a dove of your own if he’s trained well. Your dad says that’s what his dog used to do when he was little, anyways.

Hell, your best friend had his birthday at the arcade in town. There was pizza and ice cream; you even smiled at the two girls that showed up. You participated in the normal collusion and division of those flimsy red-yellow paper tickets the machines spit out. You try to get one of the big prizes on the top shelf. You think maybe the bag of fireworks or the RC car. You hope you could have every birthday at the arcade so that maybe one day you’ll have enough tickets for any present you want. All the cars. All the fireworks. All the girls. But that is not your life. You will never have a birthday at an arcade. You will never experience the joy of having that singular day where you are the king. You will never have enough tickets. You sit in the hot sun holding the dog and hope that one day the remote control car will be yours. You are in the back of the RV.

Your birthday means that the gas station donut with a candle in it comes after your dinner of grilled bird and a soda. It means spitting out birdshot pellets into your napkin because you don’t want to be rude. Because you know what it took to shoot that bird. Because you waited in the heat holding the dog while your dad drank beer and shot at the sky like those anti-air artillery guns booming away at the things we have all deemed necessary to be shot down.

Your presents are at home. This is a hunt. This is a man’s weekend. No presents here. Why do you want to bring them in the RV, your dad asked? And you had a good reason but, like the birdshot, you spit it out quietly to be polite. You’ll open it when you get back home.

You’ve already seen your present, anyways. Your dad got it out of the trunk when you were standing in the front yard. You don’t know how you’ll carry that brand new shotgun next hunting season, it’s as big as your leg, but you’ll dress up in camouflage, drink soda from the sweaty cooler, and then, when the time comes, you’ll shoot the sky and watch the doves fall to the ground.

You’ll do this until it becomes a routine, until it becomes something your dad will hold up in his mind when he’s old and longs to recount the days when you were something else in his mind entirely. When you were quiet and he could hit you. When you were eager and willing to do something he decides is fun, even if it is your birthday.