Fiction

And a Hand Grenade


Craig has the steak knife wrapped in a dishcloth, tucked in his inside jacket pocket. He and Matt lie on their stomachs. Craig smells the dusty yellow grass, inspecting the tangle of it and the soil beneath. He takes out the knife and stabs the ground, for practice. He pulls the knife out and frees wet earth. There are people biking down the bike path—the ticking of a mountain bike when the pedals disengage. There are the cars careening down Deerfoot. But beyond that is a low hum—the train or machinery in a distant factory across the highway—that Craig associates with weekdays. It is Tuesday.

Craig desperately wants a rifle. There was a toy one at home. He would hold it up and take aim at people walking by his trailer. Click. Dead. Click. Dead. Then his grandmother, Grand Anne, would see what he was doing and tell him to stop because it was bad to shoot people. Craig would ask, what about bad people? Grand Anne would answer we’re all bad people. Which was the kind of thing Grand Anne said.

Craig can’t help but think about the only hunting song he knows, a song that has been running through his head all day. It was a marching song. Everybody would slap their thighs to the rhythm and repeat after the leader:

Going on a lion hunt

Going on a lion hunt

But I’m not afraid

But I’m not afraid

I got my trusty gun

I got my trusty gun

And a hand grenade

And a hand grenade

By Fré Sonneveld

By Fré Sonneveld

Ducks fly overhead, honking. They land where the creek widens out beneath the Sixteenth Avenue overpass. Craig rewraps his knife and places it back in his pocket. The ducks swim circles around each other, trailing lines of soft wake behind them. Craig and Matt crouch behind the reeds next to the creek. Craig finds round stones covered in layers of dry grass and mud, loosens one enough to get it out and hands it to Matt.

A bike skids to a stop behind them. Ben, Matt’s little brother, has spotted them.

“What are you guys doing?” Ben calls out as he runs to meet them.

The ducks stir.

“Shut the fuck up!” Matt says in a harsh whisper.

“What are you guys doing?” Ben asks again, quieter.

“We are on a hunt,” Craig says, digging in the mud for another stone.

“Grab a rock,” Matt says. “If you’re not going to be a little bitch.”

“I’m not a bitch,” Ben says and starts digging. He crosses over to the other side of the creek.

Craig counts to three and they throw. Ben’s rock lands short and rolls into the creek. Only Craig comes close to hitting anything. All the ducks but one scatter. The last duck, with its head in the water, hasn’t noticed the barrage of rocks. Matt still has his rock clutched in one hand when the remaining duck looks up. Its head is covered in reflective green feathers. That means it’s a boy, Craig thinks.

“Throw now, stupid,” Craig says.

Matt throws. His rock makes contact with the duck’s tail feathers. For a moment the duck is submerged; the water goes still. A frenzied ball of wings churns the water. The duck rights itself, shaking drops of water off its head.

Before the duck has a chance to regroup, Craig finds the heaviest rock yet, gets to where he is a few feet away from the duck and heaves the rock with both hands. It lands directly on the duck. Turning over, its flippers limply wave in the air before falling still.

“We did it,” Craig says, breathing heavily. “It’s like dead.”

“How?” Matt says.

“It just is,” Craig says.

“Is it dead?” Ben asks from across the creek.

“Yeah,” Craig answers laughing.

Ben heads for his bike and rides back up the hill.

“This is awesome,” Craig says. “What should we do with it?”

Craig steps into the creek, the water soaking through his jeans. He uses a dead branch to fish the duck out.  The duck bobs in the water as he directs it to the shore. When the duck is close enough to reach, he gathers it in with his hands. As he climbs out of the water with the duck in his arms, it starts to move, struggling to escape.

“Hurry. Help,” Craig says.

He can hardly hold the duck still, its wings hitting his neck and shoulders.

“Just leave it in the water,” Matt says.

“No, take it,” Craig says.

The duck’s flippers kick at his face as he hands the duck up to Matt. Unable to keep any kind of grip on the duck, Matt releases it. It lands hard on the ground, its feathers disheveled. One wing is bent back at a bad angle. They can’t look at it.

“We have to do something,” Matt says.

“Like what?”

It shivers in the grass.

“I don’t know. Bring it up to your house.”

This is the kind of thing Grand Anne would get very angry about, Craig thinks. He approaches the duck as it attempts to hobble away.

“I think we should just finish it,” Craig says.

“How?”

“Hold it still.”

Matt positions his hands around the duck’s body. Its wings flap frantically. Craig draws out his knife, leaving the dishcloth on the grass.

“But what if he can get better?” Matt asks.

Without even counting, Craig does it. The knife hardly goes in at all, like stabbing into a block of wax. The duck’s wings beat and Matt loses his grip. The duck manages a brief flight then flops onto the ground, the black plastic handle of the knife sticking out of its back.

“It won’t die,” Matt says.

Craig and Matt sit in the grass and watch the duck stagger away, letting out a feeble honk every few paces.

“But I stabbed it,” Craig says.

Matt pulls stocks of grass out of the ground. “We need to do something,” he says.

The thought of stabbing the duck again makes him want to cry, which is the last thing he wants to do in front of Matt.

Craig can’t think of what to do. The thought of stabbing the duck again makes him want to cry, which is the last thing he wants to do in front of Matt.  The duck turns its head back as if to preen his feathers and nips at the knife handle.

“There’s not even any blood,” Matt says.

Now Craig wants the whole thing to be rewound.

“He won’t ever fly again,” he says, dazed.

Matt forms a neat pile of grass between his legs.

“What the heck is going on?”

They turn around to see Grand Anne making her way across the little pedestrian bridge.

“We found him this way,” Craig calls out as she approaches.

“Don’t try that shit with me,” Grand Anne says. “Ben told me.”

The duck shakes his head over and over. Grand Anne painfully squats down and pets his head. He tries weakly to nip her hand but gives up.

Craig wipes snot and tears and mud from his face. “Can we save him?” he asks.

“You really did it this time,” Grand Anne says. “What were you thinking?”

“We thought it was dead, but then it started moving so we stabbed it.”

“You stabbed it,” Matt says.

“That’s what I said.”

Grand Anne waves them away.

“Just shut up,” she says.

She wipes her nose with the side of her hand.

“We just have to do it,” she says. “I should make you do it.”

Maneuvering his head to the ground, she places her puffy hands around the duck’s neck and squeezes. His bill opens and shuts, his wings flutter, then it’s over. She gets up and cleans her hands in the creek.

“We can’t leave him here. Bring him up with you. And was that my knife? Jesus.”

The two boys make their way up the hill towards the trailer park, leaving Grand Anne behind. Craig drapes the duck over his shoulder. The feathers feel greasy. Matt covers the duck’s head with the dishcloth.

They walk down rows of trailers. Craig feels the duck’s bill in the crook of his neck. They reach the end of the block where the dumpsters are. Craig heaves the duck in. When he realizes he left his knife, he climbs up the sticky side of the dumpster and rolls over the edge. Craig finds his footing on the cracked face of a television set. The duck’s head rests against a black garbage bag. The dishcloth has come off and his eyes are open and brown.

Holden Baker Since graduating from the University of Calgary in 2011, Holden Baker’s fiction and poetry have appeared in Filling Station and Sterling Magazine. He recently won the Alberta Views short story contest for his story "Turtle Room," which was also a finalist for the Alberta Magazine Award. He currently teaches ESL at Bow Valley College and works at an independent toy store. His lives in Calgary with is wife and their two cats.