We are in the Te Urewera ranges. He has given me a gun.
Mum thinks it would be good for me to spend more time with Dad, so we are hunting.
There are rules in the bush, because deer are stupid but not stupid, and because people make mistakes. The gun has to stay pointing upwards, because if you fall the barrel might jam with dirt or you might bend it. You can’t point a gun at something unless you’re prepared to shoot. Safety on. Safety off. Twigs don’t break on their own; you have to move quietly, slowly, in places where the ground is soft but not squelchy, and make no sound, like a deer.
Dad knows where to step, so try to trace his steps across the Novemberdry leaflitter. He hears me coming, and turns as if to say
-A deer, I whisper.
-Over there. It was. Sort of. So big. No horns, so a doe, maybe? Didn’t you hear it?
He shrugs, looks to where my oversized orangebrown longsleeve points, over a dry crest no taller than me. On the other side is a clearing, a few fern ribs poking out from the earth and shading the undergrowth like silvered umbrellas.
-It came down the other side of this bit here, I say.
I thought it was someone walking it was so loud, the slow lop-plop amble of a Sunday on the beach. When you make no sound you sound like a deer. You have to make sure that what you’re looking at is a deer. Always Identify Your Target.
-Why didn’t you shoot it?
-Something’s wrong with my gun, I say. His gun. A few fat kilos of smooth wood and oiled blackmetal, a little telescope on the top that makes the world look greener and so much bigger.
He slings his rifle over his shoulder and gestures for mine. He slides up the bolt, draws it back and a whole round spins out. The air is hot and sweet and so very, very green. The brass of the casing catches the light before it lands in his hand. I slumf my bag on my shoulders a couple of times to shift the weight of water bottles and peanut slabs and a camera with an untouched filmroll. Dad turns the round in his fingers, looks at the back where the pin fires, then to the gun. His breath smells of tea and and kidney, like Granddad without the Port Royal yellow teeth.
-Didn’t you hear it?
He palms the round, shifts the bolt back and forth, tries the safety trigger a couple of times. Slower. Safety on. Safety off. The bullet is still in his hand, warming.
Do Not Squeeze the Trigger Unless You Are Prepared to Kill.
A pin firing sounds like a breaking twig. He shows me the back where the pin fires, where there should be a dent.
Twigs do not break on their own in the bush.
The dent is as clear as the stones on the creekbed, a short sharp hollow in centre of the silvered back of the casing. Dud. He throws the round off to land somewhere in the undergrowth and turns away.
-The deer dashed, I say. I watched it go from the inside of the scope.