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She must have smelled fresh air and fluttered over, hungry. Poor Daisy’s legs stuck out straight instead of folding into her body. Worse, I sat in the smart row because I could read. After school the bullies tackled me, and I skidded through the gravel. Their faces were red and fierce, and their shoes had hard outsoles as they kicked me. Come February, as I handed out requisite Valentine’s Day cards to every kid who beat me up, I would have been just as happy for the cards to say, Because if I broadcast the sense that I didn’t care, it took the fun out of it for them.When the bullies peeled off, I sat up and picked gravel from the open wounds. I was not very old when my father beheaded every goose in our flock.
My father and brother constructed the trap in the basement workshop.
I followed them to the forest behind the barn, where they would set it.
I could feel her sweet bones, move them apart, flatten them out, look at her nails, find their quick. My fingernails were filthy and broken; I was dirty up to my armpits.
I had listened for them, but all I’d heard was the groan of branches, the birds in the canopy. “Jane, you have to stop being so squeamish,” my father said, gripping my wrist. “Follow me.” In his basement workshop he took the rabbit’s other rear foot apart to show me ulna, carpus, metacarpus — the skeletal structure that had once allowed her to hop.
He tossed her on the stump where he did his executions. My father presented me with her lucky rabbit’s foot. I had spent two days tearing at the ground around the trap under the pine, digging with a kitchen spoon, now twisted, trying to find the rabbit’s babies.
“The real deal,” he called it because he’d “made” it. I still had a pill bottle full of milk and an eyedropper in my pocket ready for them.When she and I ran errands in the Comet, we passed a mink farm: rows of cages, brown weasel-like animals slinking up branches. To get the leather for our shoes, cows’ throats were slit. She’d tumbled from a nest, Mom said, and hurt her leg. I tucked her in the box my saddle shoes had arrived in, punching holes in the lid, wadding paper for a nest, and dropping in two pink, squirming worms.I wanted my mother to stop so I could get close, but she said, “Ew, no, Janie, they’re vicious. In bed I let her out of her box, and she peeped, opening her beak while I dropped in a worm.My father told me to gather the goose heads, but I was loath to touch them. She planted a kiss on my nose and tugged another hat firmly over my skull. I didn’t know killdeers would feign broken wings to lead predators away from their nests.He said, “Do it, Jane,” so I gathered a bloody mountain of heads that looked at me. Later I sat at the kitchen table, polishing horse brasses — decorations for harnesses. “They laugh ’cause of my baby bonnets.” I held out the one that had gotten wrecked when I’d fallen. I’d never seen a killdeer before, though I’d heard them.We kept the brasses all over the farm: above the telephone, in the feed room of the barn, in the tack house. It was Saturday, and my younger sister and I, looking for something to do, had ended up at the schoolyard. He marched me to the hawk’s enclosure, retrieved a rabbit he’d caught, and threw it down on the grass.Underneath me was the local newspaper, , open to the wedding announcements. My mother was busy with flashing knives, bones cracking while mounds of goose offal piled up on the counters, smelling of grease and blood. We knelt to help the bird, wondered how we could carry her home. He loomed over us, trench coat flapping open on one side. Dad moved his knife around its scruffy brown neck and started tugging its skin down. My brother went hunting with my father and grandfather every winter.“I can’t make you eat them,” she said, dumping the still-warm carcasses into a freezer bin. “I won’t.” “I just fell off the monkey bars,” I said to the teacher, holding my elbow. ” We didn’t stop until we were halfway down the path where I usually got beaten up. “You’re a flying bullet,” said my teacher as she squeezed my shoulder and gave me ribbons. I always asked for double homework, because who wanted to go outside to play after dinner? Every night my father made me set traps in the feed bin to catch mice; every morning, while tears rolled down my cheeks, I brought the hatchet down to chop off their heads. “If Hawkeye caught a mouse in the wild,” I said, “he’d eat the head.” Hawkeye pooped bones; you could take a stick to his poop pellets and find miniature tibias. I was bitter: If we had been planning to release him soon, why did we have to feed him a rabbit? They hammered a nail through the tail and hung it outside. I eyed it warily every day when I came home from school, wishing I could meet the beaver it had belonged to, wondering how much her family missed her. Skipper was a Holstein, the youngest of three calves that my father bought in an attempt to teach his children a lesson in economics.The guilty children could barely contain their glee. Doubled over and breathing hard, we checked over our shoulders. There were always bullies — if not the ones from school, then my brother’s friends. I kept a broken-winged hawk, Hawkeye, in a huge cage my father had constructed. Hawkeye opened his beak to me as if yawning, and I tossed in the day’s beheaded mouse. What do you think life will be like for you if you stay like this? All of us watched Hawkeye hop to the door, spread his wings, and launch. We would raise them and later sell them at a profit, investing it in new cattle, and so on.They got in the chicken coop and killed the hens — and not to eat, either, just for the joy of a bloodbath.” I couldn’t believe there was an animal that was bad by default. Then I curled around her, to protect and warm her, and tried not to let sleep overcome me.In the morning my father found her under my arm, her box overturned on the floor, poop on my sheets, and the other worm missing, and he decreed that Daisy needed to live in the tack house. ” I said, but negotiating got me nowhere, and the next morning, when my father opened the tack-room door, he accidentally rolled its bottom edge over Daisy. I everything they called me: bucktoothed and bald-ugly and smeared in stinking ointment; a baby who wore a bonnet that tied under my chin to school every damned day. I didn’t know) and the kid with crutches got picked after me. Those were the moments I was safest — standing, wobbly, my cuts stinging, sure I wouldn’t be attacked again because they were done with me for the day. When my mother asked me about my scrapes and bruises, I only shrugged. I learned that if I gave in, I was in a stronger position than if I fought, which the kids saw as an invitation.