Volume 30, Number 3

Bullets To Spare
from “Where Is The Gun”

I have a friend who likes to hunt and hear gunshots echo through mountainous valleys and sling clay pigeons into the air and imagine extinguishing avian life and he buys a permit every year that allows him to track and kill a bear and store its meat in a giant freezer and turn its fur into carpeting and give his children sausage to eat and claws as souvenirs of the hunt and it’s his prerogative to stockpile rations and hold a bayonet in his teeth and run his tongue on the bloodletting groove and up in the treetops he sees far less than he sees on the ground and learns much more lying prone in the weeds with his ear to the earth and his thumb on the hammer and eye on the scope than he does in a city or village or town because way up there the streets of America are perceived as equals and here he’s poised and welcome to strike and I didn’t mention yet that he’s Black and I hope you understand why not and know that he is aware of his Blackness whenever we drive out into the country and stop at a store to buy venison jerky and chewing tobacco and beer in cans and the looks we get when we walk in together are often sideways or taken aback as if to say you’re far from home and I know inside every scared White person a TV flickers with grainy footage of Malcolm X and a soundtrack full of disguised connotations to buzzwords like inner-city and thug and at no point during this cyclical show do We see ourselves on the wrong side of hatred and my buddy approaches aware of the reflex his Blackness provokes and grins ear to ear as he pays with change and takes his sweet time loading up his pack and a White man at the exit lifts up his shirttail and I know my buddy can handle himself and will handle himself because he’s operated under these rules all his life and it stops me from asking if I ought to speak up or whether it’s even my place to speak up and then we play with rifles all day like a couple of boys with no mountains between us and driving home we crack our last cans and loose rounds into STOP and YIELD signs and it’s all too easy to think we’re the same because we’ve shared the same passions and written about the same fucking scenes in the same White town for the past ten years and sat through the same editorial meetings and heard the same words from White wrinkled lips and only later on at the bar would he tell me the Word he actually heard when they ordered him to write about sagging jeans and rap music (the blues of our century) despite the fact he doesn’t like streetwear and listens to Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams or maybe Kurt Vile or John Prine or Blaze Foley if the night is clear and smoke is rising from his redbrick chimney and he leaned on me in a state of half-balance like a spineshot elk on its way to the ground and told me he only had so many bullets and one of these days he was gonna need mine.

—Andrew Valentine