On autumn Sundays my parents would fuck wildly, like children. I remember this vividly. It was November and the air had begun to turn to steel. The turn was final. Pennsylvania does this each year—dies, maybe before Halloween, maybe after, gives way to night as a jack-o-lantern collapses to mush. Mother and Father fought the cold ferociously. Like the Vestals they tended to fire, the fire of marriage, their bedroom a temple. Purple carpet, purple curtains. But I say they were Vestals only as a figure of speech. In reality they weren’t virgins. They loved to fuck.
Their romance had no physical basis, I later learned. That is not to say my parents are unattractive. My mother was Miss Jersey Crustacean 1972, and my father has a square jaw and high cheekbones. His facial structure is Greek, despite his Germanic provenance. He has very little body hair. As I said, however, these things did not cause my parents to mate with apocalyptic profundity. They did not screw for love or money. No marital duty compelled them.
Then, one Saturday I saw a pair of jackboots by the porch. They were caked in lichen and dirt and something like burnt-red acrylic. This was the blood of a charge, the blood of a deer. And then I knew.
It was the hunt that got my parents off so good.
My father would wake with two beers and rouse his friends. They piled into an old car. It was an Oldsmobile. There were bobbling moose-heads on the dash. At the McDonald’s in Kenhorst they ate and planned; I am told he would talk the most, my dad, he being a salesman and a high-ranking member of the Elks. The road to the game-lands was not paved, but the station wagon’s suspension was soft. Pete, Bob, Steve, Bill. The boys. My mother would gaze out the kitchen window. She had some idea what was coming. Then she set to our coffee and eggs.
They’d pile out of the car by twos, wave man-like to the woman at the door of the ranger’s house. She had her own husband to look forward to, and they their own wives, and the sun was just birthing itself. Orange hats and vests and orange slicker pants. Guns cocked and loaded and cocked. Their picture lies before me on the table; I can see him.
They stalked low through the bushes and shot the shit. Sports, mostly, but other things too. Occasionally a row would break out and the boys would tussle. Once Bill built up a whole head of steam about The Lion King—the musical, not the movie—about how neat it was, the choreography. He had gone to New York for the first time and had seen it. “That arty bitch,” he said, referring to Julie Taymor, “that arty bitch knows what’s doing. I don’t normally understand pussy shit, but this was cool pussy shit, and Rosie O’Donnell was in the audience.” No one spoke for a moment.
“I don’t mind her neither.”
Bill loved the sound of his own voice, and the boys knew that. It was no surprise. But the Rosie bit stretched things too far, and Steve stifled a snicker.
“What’re you laughin’ at?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Whaddya think it means?”
“You sayin’ I’m nuthin’?”
And so on. Then my father cocked his rifle again and they all fell silent. He’s powerful tough like that.
At that very moment—so I’m told—something gave out in the bushes. I say “gave out” because it did, like a truck’s tire gives out on the Turnpike. Just goes BLAM and sprays black rubber to the shoulder or onto your windshield. My father’s eye went right to it.
“Real quiet,” he whispered heavily.
They nudged forward.
Then the stuff hit the fan and bullets were heading everywhere, every which way. Up to the Blue Mountains and down to the creek bed and in-between, mostly straight. They stood in a line so they wouldn’t nab each other. Like a firing squad, like the old times in the state before electrocution and hanging.
They huddled ’round numbly. There is numbness after you kill—the refractory period of ejaculation. Deer guts hung in the trees. It was Vietnam, and Bob shuddered because he was in Vietnam, in the Second Division, and he saw VCs like Christmas lights in the palms.
“Well we fucked that one up,” my father said, spitting. He did this when he was disgusted. Dragging his boots in the dirt he noticed the blood there, on the steel toe. Then he remembered how good it was. The refractory period was over, and they cracked beers.
In the car ride back they listened to heavy stuff, man stuff. The Olds had a tape deck and some necessaries in the glove box—The Doors, of course, and T. Rex and Van Halen and Bruce. My father once saw my Pavement CDs and asked what they hell they were, and I told him, but he called me a faggot. That’s not really a part of the story.
My mother would be bent over the oven, as if in anticipation. Her apron was always bleach white and double-knotted at the back. I can’t imagine how she kept it so neat. Anyway, she would be there and my brother’d be down in the rumpus room at his G.I. Joes, having them shoot each other, because that’s what was familiar. Dinner conversation’d start off with something else, maybe that fat shit at work who couldn’t meet quota, then would wend its way toward hunting. We never ended up eating any deer, if that’s an indication of my father’s abilities. I’m not so sure it is, though.
There was a real comfort in my father’s step and his foot-stink. Goddamn did his feet stink in those days. And he could belch forever, it seemed. Like I said, there was a nice feeling to it, and my brother and I would take turns at the lingerie catalogues in the bathroom, and my mother’d pretend to be exhausted until my dad got her by the hips, gripped them for a while. While furiously pulling at myself I’d hear them head up to bed, and gol-ly if there weren’t extra hash browns in the morning.