Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Hawk Kill

Rosanne Griffeth


He found the hawk crucified on a barbwire fence off the east pasture of the McGaha farm. A red-tail, dripping blood from its breast with both wings outspread, tangled and punctured, a raptor Christ, forsaken by the God of skies. The head hung and the beak gaped, spasming in death throes, before slipping life. He waited until it died, hanging slack from the wires before removing it, untangling each wing and pulling the body down. The hawk, once released, slumped into his arms.

Bradley sat on the gravel verge of the road, holding the hawk, blood staining his uniform trousers. He cradled it for a moment, saying a prayer and a curse under his breath before probing the bullet hole in the hawk's breast. A through and through, the shot came from a rifle. A .22 most likely.

He hadn't been a game warden long, having come out to this county from mid-state. He'd already earned the community's ire by citing old Mizz McGaha for lack of a fishing license. He'd found her crouched on the side of the creek catching trout with redworms and grampus larvae, her fingers stained with worm guts and dirt, gnarled, growing sideways pointing toward the grave over knuckles like walnuts.

"I been fishin' here for 65 years, young man," she'd said, outraged, bringing to bear the authority of a face bearing lines, a roadmap to the pain of her life. She'd pointed her cane pole at him like a weapon.

He'd cited her anyway.  The rules were the rules.

Now at the foot of her driveway, the slain hawk heavy in his hands, wrapped in a towel, Bradley paused. He had no doubt the red-tail had been shot from this farm, seeing it soar in his mind, mortally wounded, spiraling down the slope of the pasture to hit—a downed Spitfire with feathers for flames.

Bradley drove up the gravel drive, his tires scrabbling up the incline, spitting rocks, to park behind Justin McGaha's truck. Game chickens skittered out of the way, as he walked up to the porch, the dead tiercel in his arms. The curtains twitched in the window and he saw Mizz McGaha's monkey face scowling behind the sheers.

Muffled from behind the door he heard Justin, Mizz McGaha's grandson say, "Let me take care of this, Gramma. You stay inside."

Bradley could hear her voice protesting, rising to a shriek, "…I got rights! It were killin' chickens…" when the door opened.

Justin closed the door hard behind him like the slam could keep her inside. Bradley saw her face back at the window, the curtains masking the wrinkles, making her a ghost of the beauty she once was.

"Yessir? Can I help you?" Justin said. They both knew "Can I help you," meant "I'd like to do you harm, but I might get in trouble."

Bradley held the hawk out like an offering on locked elbows. "You wouldn't by any chance know anything about this?" meaning, "I know you shot this hawk, you bastard, are you going to be man enough to admit it?"

Justin's eyebrows rose and with a closed mouth he stretched his jaw, sinking his cheeks in. His entire body cocked to one side and he said, squinting and lying, "Well, now—Can't rightly say that I do. Where did you find it?"

Bradley drew the hawk back to his body, protecting it from the lie, a further insult to its fallen spirit.  "Found it at the head of your drive. Dying on the barbwire fence. You sure you don't know anything? You got any guests hunting your land today?"

Justin pulled his mouth again, shifting his weight to his other foot,"Well, nossir. Can't say that we do. Might have been somebody on the road. There's been a smart bit of traffic going up and down there."

"Your grandmother wouldn't know anything? Would she now?"

"Oh, nossir! Gramma's eyes ain't so good and she's got the rheumatism so bad—she can't hardly get outside no more."

Bradley looked to his boots in defeat. "Thanks. You let me know if you hear anything."

"Sure thing," Justin said, watching the young game warden get in his jeep and start it up.

Patting the hawk, wrapped in its shroud in the passenger seat, Bradley drove down the drive. He'd never hear from them, they had killed the hawk for taking a chicken. They may have even seen the hawk dive to take it. He would never know and the bird would lie frozen in his evidence locker with the corpses of crows, owls, eagles and brook trout.

A loud ping hit the vehicle and Bradley stopped, listening, thinking it sounded too high to be a stone churned up from the tires. In the rear view mirror, Justin struggled with Mizz McGaha, trying to drag her back in the house. Her and her .22 rifle.

***

Rosanne Griffeth's work can be seen in Night Train, Keyhole Magazine, Smokelong Quarterly, The Angler, Insolent Rudder, Writer's Eye and Six Little Things among other places. She lives on the verge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and spends her time writing about and documenting Appalachian culture.

© Rosanne Griffeth

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012