One evening the old man told me there was a woodchuck eating his lettuce. He was too tired to sit and wait. He gave me the .22 and flashlight. He thought it would be good for me, killing something, saving the garden. It would build character. I did not want to kill anything. I had trouble killing flies. I was not on good terms with death since seeing my mother in the casket with one of my grade school portraits squeezed between her fingers. I tried to pull it out, but she held on! And that night I dreamed my wardrobe opened and her body was there, standing up. The picture between her fingers was different: I was in my own casket. I slammed the doors, woke with a silent scream.
I sat out there anyway, in a fold up chair. I didn’t need the flashlight; it was a full moon. I didn’t even watch for the woodchuck. There were more interesting things, like swooping bats and clouds shaped like bats sailing across the face of the moon. It reminded me of the night my mother died. We had moved her bed so she could see the moon and stars. To a shooting star she would say, “There I go.” It was August and the fan blew across her face. She held a mirror to her movie star hair. She was only forty, and it had grown back blond. “Tell me you’ll see my face when you look at the moon, Johnny. Promise me.” Or, “We’ll always have this time.” It was a black and white movie, half her face lit, moist eyes like Ingrid Bergman. I used a damp washcloth. I said, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
My mother’s face was there in the moon when the woodchuck waddled past. He left a silver trail. He stopped and looked back. “Hey,” I said. He (or she) continued on towards the old man’s lettuce. I fired into the air.