Copyright is held by the author.
I WASN’T his son. He liked to remind me of that when he was three sheets to the wind. My stepdad — the former hellfire preacher and bare-knuckle disciplinary who liked the house quiet as a funeral.
Most days he’d spend his disability cheque on booze and pills while my mom cleaned hotel rooms near the highway. But in autumn when the Missouri skyline darkened with birds flying south for winter, the cacophony of their wild cawing unhinged him something terrible.
He hated the racket the birds made, but there was nothing he could do about it. We lived on the Mississippi River right under their path to warmer climes.
In those bird-darkened days, he’d sit brooding in the kitchen with a bottle of discount wine and some Luckies, looking like a man shell-shocked from battle.
One day he just snapped, I guess. I saw him take a deep swig of wine, stand up and fetch his shotgun and a box of shells from the back room where he kept the gun locked up.
He ordered me outside with the snap of his fingers like I was a hunting dog. Normally I would have ignored him, but I wanted to see what he was up to.
My stepdad climbed to the roof, found purchase on the shingles, lifted the shotgun and started firing round after round of shot into the wave of passing birds overhead.
We lived on the edge of town, but we still had to abide by city ordinances. So he told me to collect the spent casings and any birds that hit our yard before one of the neighbours called the cops.
About 20 minutes later, the sheriff’s car came, flashing lights, down the road. He motioned to me with the wave of his hand to hide, so I bolted to the woods with the bag of shells and dead birds.
Even from the distance, as I sprinted deeper into the woods, I could hear him bad mouth the cops above the din of the screeching birds. The cops were trying to get him to come down from the roof. But he was hooping and hollering while arguing with the cops about his rights.
My mom and the deadbeat’s marriage didn’t last long. He went to jail that evening on an old warrant and a slew of other charges. My mom reached her breaking point and kicked him out later that winter. Last I heard he hooked up with a waitress in town. But those birds! Those glorious birds! Shrieking all hours of the day until he went off the edge are about the only fond memory I have of the deadbeat.