My father brought us to look at blue tick coonhounds. He drove to a nearby town and parked next to a house that had a big yard. We walked to the back and saw a cage made of wood slats and chicken wire. Inside the cage, several dogs were running back and forth. When they saw us, they pressed their noses to the mesh to sniff our fingers.
The dog breeder came out and said, "These hounds are hunters. They get along with children, but they get along with other dogs better."
We looked at the different dogs, trying to pick a favorite.
"You take them out at night," the breeder said, "let them loose, and wait until they tree a raccoon. You hike to the tree, spot the raccoon with a floodlight, and shoot it."
"My sons and daughter are afraid of the dark," our father said.
We touched the dogs' bodies through the mesh. Their hair was short and bristly, and they had bluish-gray spots on their white chests.
"These hounds can live indoors," the breeder said, "but they'll tear the furniture apart if they can't run."
"My kids will destroy the furniture on their own," my father said.
The breeder showed my father some documents on the blue ticks. "These hounds are pedigreed," he said.
"They're expensive," my father said.
We didn't take any of the dogs home.
When we told our mother about the coonhounds, she said, "I'm glad you didn't get a dog. You have too many animals already."
She was right. A white-feathered duck lived in the woodshed next to our house, and a turtle was confined in a sandbox in the backyard.
"You wouldn't take care of a dog," she continued, "and I certainly don't want to take care of one. Where I grew up, most people didn't have dogs. Violent or big dogs were outlawed in our city. Owning dogs is a Western custom. Chinese people have cats."
I went out to the woodshed and found the family duck nesting on a pile of log shavings. I picked up the bird by pressing its wings to its body. It snapped its bill at me but couldn't reach around to bite. I carried it to the yard and put it down on the grass.
I looked into the turtle pen and saw the specimen we'd found at the local creek. The reptile seemed alive, but it didn't move. When I picked it up, it retracted its head and closed its hinged shell. I held the animal next to my face and waited. Soon the turtle poked its head out. When it saw my eyes next to its own, it heaved its head forward and bit me on the nose. Its beak caused pain but didn't draw blood. I dropped the animal onto the ground.
Our father took us to look at a new house. The place was made of yellow brick and was located outside a small town.
The house sat on a piece of land that was bordered by a stream. The fast water looked deep enough to support trout. Planted pines blocked the view beyond the property.
A real estate agent led us up a central stair and through the bedrooms, then through the downstairs rooms.
"Does the furnace burn a lot of oil?" my father asked.
"Heating bills are going up," the agent said.
"What about property taxes?" my father asked.
"This house is in the same district as the university; taxes are high."
"How close is the nearest bar?"
"About five miles down the road, in town."
After we left, my father said, "Why should I drive to a bar, when I can walk to one now?"
In the evening, my father settled into his pattern. He sat on a stool in his workroom, rolled cigarettes, and smoked them while he drank bourbon with beer chasers.
Shortly, he called me to his doorway. "The reason taxes are so high," he said, "is that politicians make the laws. Politicians are shysters, and people are sheep. They want to be led. They'll do whatever the sons of bitches in Washington tell them."
"If you want to do something with your life," he continued, "you'll go to Washington and change things. You'll go as a lawyer, or you'll go with a gun. That's what I'd do, if I didn't have kids."
I stood on the wood strip that formed the bottom of the door frame. My sneakers wouldn't balance on the raised wood. Sometimes I leaned forward, sometimes I tilted back.
"Stand up straight!" my father said.
"It's the same thing with prices," he continued. "Prices are high because capitalists set them. Capitalists are thieves, and most people are marks. You should join the Communists. That's what I'd do, if you weren't holding me back. I'd give my house to the people."
"But we rent our house," I said.
"You can go now," he said. "Out of my sight."
I sat and watched television with my brother and sister. At one point, I saw a man spanking a woman on the screen, but because they were speaking a foreign language, I didn't know why.
Then I saw our father go out through the front door. He didn't say where he was going, but I guessed he was heading for the bar.
Later, after he returned, I heard him telling my mother that there were wolves howling in the hills. "You might not believe me," he said. "You might think they were wild dogs or coyotes. But I know they were wolves. They've come back."
Early in the morning, my father took me hunting. We walked out of our house, crossed the town's one street, and followed a dirt lane toward a patch of woods.
As we crossed a creek, my father said, "The new owner ruined this land. He cut down the trees and bulldozed the stream. The fish have no place to hide. I'd better not see him while I'm armed."
When we got near the trees, my father showed me how to work my gun. He pushed shells into the clip. Then he told me how to use the safety latch. "When it's back," he said, "it's on. But when it's forward, it's off. If you touch the trigger, the gun will fire."
At one point, a rabbit scampered out ahead of us. I lifted my gun and let out a squeal, but when I pulled the trigger, nothing happened.
"Why didn't you shoot?" my father asked. "And what was that squeak? Was that you or the rabbit?"
"I forgot the safety," I said.
Later, while I was walking beside my father, he suddenly lifted his gun and touched off a blast. The explosion hurt my ears, and I could smell burnt gunpowder. "I saw a thick tail," my father said, "like a fox's, but gray. It was a wolf's tail."
I was afraid to walk beside him after that.
I trudged for a long time without seeing any game. Then I paused, looked up and saw an animal on a branch. The furry thing was about twenty feet above my head. I looked closely. It was a raccoon. I'd never seen a live raccoon. I didn't think a raccoon could be eaten. I let the animal sleep.
Later, I asked my mother about the house we had looked at.
"Your father doesn't want to buy anything," she said. "He doesn't want private property. He wants everyone to share ownership."
I mentioned that the house was located in a better school district. If we moved, I could take advanced classes.
"When I came to this country," my mother said. "I couldn't understand the professors at all. All I could understand were numbers. Numbers are the universal language. You should work hard on your algebra."
"I liked that house," I said.
My mother showed me a picture of the place where she grew up. It was a YMCA building, made of cement. There were Chinese characters painted next to the door. The windows were holes that had no glass.
"My father was a minister," she said. "He was sort of a missionary. He was on the wrong side when the Communists took over."
I hiked to the woods by myself. I was looking for wildlife, but I saw only some sparrows and a couple of crows.
By the time I turned back for home, it was getting dark. As I passed a clearing, I saw a fenced-in area. Several dog-like animals were in the pen. They were walking fast, pacing, almost running. They were unmistakably wolves.
There was a trailer next to the kennel. Someone in the trailer turned on outdoor lights. I could see that the wolves were thin, thinner than any dog. In the artificial light, their eyes glowed yellow.
A silhouetted figure appeared at the trailer's door. "If you don't leave," a man's voice said, "I'll shoot."
I looked at the wolves for a second or two. They were silent in their swarming motion. Their tongues hung out as they loped.
As I walked away, the outdoor lights went off.
Copyright © Thaddeus Rutkowski 2007.