Pheasant Dinner

Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
Image of Short Story
The family had one ritual that was somewhat normal. On the days that the step dad was off work they would all pile into the jeep and go exploring into the mountains. These trips were second on the list of Ariana’s favorite activities, the first being the evening swim out to the floating dock each evening with her little brother. She liked the solitude of riding in the car with family right next to her but everyone lost in their own thoughts. They pulled out of the gravel drive from their shiny metal home that sat in a circle all lined up with other wheeled homes like wagons at a circus waiting to pull out to another destination. The trailer village sat at the top of a hill overlooking the bluest lake Arianna had ever seen. A majestic snow covered mountain was a backdrop behind the lake, behind the lodge, behind it all, a reminder of permanence. The sight was breathtaking and Arianna fell in love with the whole scene immediately. Every day could have felt like vacation there in the mountains of Southern Oregon if the reason Arianna, her mom, brother and step-dad had moved there hadn’t been for her step-dad to work as the resident deputy.

To say that Arianna was less than thrilled to move there would have been an understatement. She left behind her friends, her first boyfriend and a Summer full of camp outs, game parties and trips floating down the creek. Her mom told her “It will be fun,” as she furiously stuffed Arianna’s clothes into black plastic garbage bags. Her mom said, “You will have a better Summer vacation than any of your friends.” Yeah, sure I will, Arianna thought. Mom needs to learn the carrots of a thirteen year old before dangling them before me. The move was the lame idea of Arianna’s new stepdad, a veteran of the Korean War. One of the effects of serving in the war was that he suffered from migraines that meant a trip to the hospital in the middle of the night for morphine. Another side effect was a curfew for the household at dark and locking everyone inside the house while he was working. Arianna felt imprisoned in her own life and fantasized of the day she was old enough to escape.

Today Arianna’s escape was a short jeep ride that came to a stop on a hill overlooking a valley of trees as far as the eye could see. Arianna watched as her step-dad loaded bullets into his duty pistol then they all piled out of the jeep and struck out in different directions. Above them was a pale blue sky full of cotton ball clouds, with warm sunshine and a breeze that lightly blew the smell of pine trees across Arianna’s nose. Arianna was used to seeing guns, it had become a norm around their house, lying on the counter, pointed at her mom during an argument, and sitting in a holster. The trees cast shadows on the ground in patterns that shifted and moved with the wind. Birds were chirping and she imagined the stories they were telling other were about Arianna and her family, these strange beings that had just wandered into their world.

BANG. The sound echoed out ricocheting off the trees and boulders. First Arianna saw the grin on her step-dad’s face and then she saw him hold up something feathery. He had shot a bird. Then Arianna saw the baby birds, horrified and stunned, she couldn’t speak. Her mom, always the peace keeper, gathered up the baby birds. She assured Arianna and her brother that they would take them home and nurse them until they were fully grown and then release them into the wild. Her mom had it all figured out and everything would be fine. Arianna was somewhat satisfied because it was the least they could do after her step-dad shot the babies’ mother.

The ride home took forever and nobody was quiet except the baby birds. All Arianna’s step dad talked about was how good that bird was going to taste and how he hadn’t ever shot a pheasant for dinner before. Baby pheasants were running all over the back seat of the truck and Arianna’s little brother was trying to keep the baby birds corralled on the floor board. Arianna just stared out the window, wondering if normal people really shot birds with their work gun and took them home to eat. A couple of the babies were not looking so good. Arianna’s mom said they just needed some water and they would be fine when they got home and her brother looked hopeful. Arianna just looked out the window.

When they arrived at home, Arianna’s mom found a box and she and her brother settled them all in on a towel. The baby birds had stopped moving around as much and weren’t looking very good. While her mom went looking for a lamp to keep them warm, two of the four babies stopped moving. Arianna’s brother began to yell out for their mom. Arianna started to cry while her stepdad was busy at the trailer sink plucking feathers from the mother pheasant. All of a sudden, there was a blur of activity and chaos, everyone was moving at once and in Arianna’s mind it seemed everything was going very fast. Her step dad was plucking away at the mother bird. Her mom was trying to find and place a lamp over the remaining babies, lest another one die. Her brother was frantically trying to cover them up and keep them warm while he hollered at their mom to hurry up. Arianna just stood there, watching it happen around her, clinching fists and crying. At that moment, she looked over to the counter and saw that naked plucked mother pheasant sitting in a bowl of water, feet stuck up lifelessly in the air. Before her brain could catch up to her body she grabbed that mother bird by the feet and started running out the door. Arianna ran fast but she didn’t run far, just out behind the trailer. Arianna didn’t stop to look behind her but she felt that no one was following her. She dropped to the ground and started digging. She dug with a fervor that would rival any dog trying to dig itself to freedom under a fence. Arianna dug. She scraped with her fingernails at the hard dry packed dirt that is Southern Oregon. She cried and dug until she had a shallow hole. Arianna placed that mother bird down in the hole and carefully buried it with dirt. She would be damned if her step dad would eat that bird. This mother bird who up until a few hours ago had been living her normal bird life, who had been taken away from her babies, not knowing that they had met the same fate as her, was not going to be my step-dad’s dinner.

Arianna woke up early the next morning and crept out of the trailer to visit the burial site. There lay a gaping hole where she had carefully buried the mother bird. Sometime in the night an animal had dug up the mother bird and eaten pheasant for dinner. Arianna stood staring down at the empty hole, thinking that even though the bird was eaten, her actions still had worth. Her step dad would go on to eat another bird, but not that bird. Arianna’s victory, although it felt small, also felt pointedly hers. Something in Arianna shifted. She felt as though she had somehow been that pheasant. A victim of circumstance caught up in a life without any choice to be there. The rage and powerlessness Arianna felt to not be in control of her events, her tragedies, her happiness, surged up and engulfed her. She recognized the futility of trying to change a chain of events that had already been set in motion. In that moment, Arianna knew the truth; some choices have to play themselves out and don’t always end as we expect them. Arianna saw the utter futility of trying to change events and in that same moment also knew that she would never stop trying. The part of Arianna that would stand by and watch idly while circumstances unfolded around her, crying, as life whirled out of control had disappeared. Somewhere caught between observation and participation, Arianna had found her chosen place, she would no longer be a passive witness to others making life choices that involved her. Just like the pheasant, Arianna knew that a part of her had died, was buried and eaten.