(Thanks to 3 friends for the following writing prompts: birddogs, expectations, and in-laws. No murder, no mystery, just a story of two cousins…)
The Family Reunion ©D. J. Lutz, March 2011
A short, slice of life story about family relationships.
Jack Shields hadn’t seen his cousin Donnie in over ten years, since the time “El Don,” as his cousin liked to call himself, accidentally put a 12 gauge slug into the front tire of his in-law’s Cadillac. They just don’t make family reunions like that anymore, Jack thought. Now everyone wanted to get together again, this time at the ranch. While the girls were taking over the house, Donnie pestered Jack incessantly about going quail hunting. Against his better judgment, and with no expectation for success at all, Jack relented, hoping to not end up like that poor tire.
Growing up in the same neighborhood, the cousins had always been competitors. Jack knew it would only be a matter of time before “El Don” would start to up the ante by wagering on something: first bird, largest bird, most spectacular miss, something. Donnie always had to be first. All Jack wanted to do was get one quail so he could say he wasn’t skunked. If Donnie bagged two, then Jack would be fine with it, but then again, he didn’t want to just give away the hunt. Yes, there was a sly competitor hidden within Jack, as well.
The two hunters had reached an area that Jack knew would be full of wildlife. Good odds that they would find quail, possibly a deer or two, and unfortunately, perhaps even a wild pig. Jack knew that you had to be careful with those boys; they can be fast and mean. The last thing he wanted to do was spend the rest of the reunion in a hospital.
“Hey Jackie,” Don whispered. “I think we’ve got us some birds just up ahead. You wanna to go flush ‘em out so I can shoot ‘em?”
Jack had heard something, too, but it wasn’t birds. “Ah, I tell you what. How about I throw your beer bottle into that brush over there and we both shoot whatever flies out?”
“Whatever, man. Just get your trigger finger ready or you’ll miss ‘em…”
Jack tossed the empty long neck into the thistle patch and sure enough, three quail exploded up into the air. Donnie got the first shot off, but missed entirely. Jack took an extra half a second before pulling the trigger. Two birds fell from the sky, just over the ridge. Couldn’t have planned this any better, Jack thought.
The boys tromped over the hill, only to find slight a ravine leading to a bog. The downed quail were floating about 20 feet from solid ground. “Well, I shot them so I guess I’ll go get ‘em,” Jack said, wishing he had brought his old bird dog, or a pair of hip waders. Donnie laughed, saying “I’ll just take seat and watch the fun. You ought to smell real fine by the time we get back to the house. Hell, the girls probably won’t even let you in…”
“Suit yourself,” said Jack. He smiled, not because he had bagged the first two birds, but because he had heard something in the brush that wasn’t a covey of quail. Donnie had been too busy talking about his “awesomeness” to notice the rooting sounds made by a hog. Jack trudged out into the bog, his left leg sinking slightly into the mire as he reached the prize.
“What’s wrong, cuz? A little muddy out there?”
“Just a little inconvenience, that’s all.” Trying to keep his right leg free of the muck, Jack shifted his weight to the left leg and bent his right knee, lifting his foot out of the water slightly. Reaching down to pick up the bird, Jack heard his cousin start to laugh.
“I tell you what, Jackie. You bending over like that, one leg pointed back and your arm reaching out in front, man, you look like my old bird dog.”
Still frozen in that “bird dog” position, Jack just smiled.
By the time Jack made it back to the house, the girls were waiting for him. While everyone was impressed with the two quail he had bagged, they really wanted to know if Jack had seen that “cute, little piggy chasing cousin Donnie…”
Jack just smiled. Now this is a family reunion…