The rifles displayed before him amounted to the greatest sum of his possessions, that is, behind an old Chevy and a small home on the outskirts of Kalispell. More than their material worth, though, they constituted some indescribable part of his being. What was a hunter, after all, without the primary tools of his trade? And that was he all could rightly regard himself as, a hunter. Neither the tree-huggers or his ex-wife would take that from him, he thought, by God! Not like his job driving that old timber lorry for 18 years.... not like his son, who would no longer speak to him, thanks, no doubt, to Sheryl's libel!
He took a breath and relaxed his eyes behind his heavily curtained lids. Sinking into a reverie, he saw his progression through life, shooting squirrels from his grandfather’s ponderosa trees, stalking mule deer through the Lewis and Clark wilderness, and packing out elk with his buddy Skip—lost to the war, which a heart defect had prevented himself from attending. Vietnam he’d never live down, and he considered it solemnly, about the time a boy wearing an Afghanistan Veteran’s hat approached from the sparse crowd.
“Mind if I take a look at this model 700?” the boy said.
“No, take a look at anything you’d like,” the man replied, still sitting on his stool.
“7mm..” the boy said. “Nice rifle. I’ve been considering this or a .270.”
“Both good calibers for these parts,” the man said.
The boy turned the rifle over. He pulled the bolt back and inspected the chamber, shouldered the rifle, and assumed a square-shouldered stance the man found slightly unorthodox.
“I read the 7mm will put a bigger hole in the meat,” the boy said.
“Well,” the man said. “It is a bigger round.”
The boy set the rifle back on the table, picked up a knife that once skinned a wolf, ran it over the hair on his wrist, and set it down too.
“Have a good day,” he said and disappeared.
The gun show was a bust, with all the charm of a bingo hall—20 venders when 200 were supposed to be present. A crowd of the lonely and desperate, or lonely and angry, but all lonely and looking for a thrill. Everything he hated to see in himself.
“Hey, Hank!” An acquaintance from these events had said. “How are you doing these days?”
“Oh, you know,” the man replied. “I’m breathing and taking nourishment. That’s about all I can do.”
Maybe it was the guns keeping him alive the man realized. He’d sell them one way or another. He’d sell them, retire to the comfort of his bed, and then, with a grim determination, he’d pass into the only conception of heaven he could imagine—one of open ridges, wide valleys, and abundant game.