Our first fall at the log house my father handed me an axe, said he’d teach me how to crack a tree to pieces in a day. We had moved there from Chicago in 1974 after the gas prices had grown too high and my mother was starting to talk.
My mother watched us from the window, the axe bright and heavy in my hands. I felled thin blue spruces along the back edge of our yard, she patted boneless pink chicken legs with honey, lemon, sage. When I came in she hugged me, loose, said I swung just like him.
One night in late September, lightning struck our fir tree. Its fat pine-coned branches exploded into a thousand yellow-black shards, splintering everything, the clover, earth, birds. There were rotten tomatoes stabbed through and dripping down their vines out back. The log house smelled like burning sap, hair held over candles for days.
Around Christmas dad lost a finger and beat mom with a blue spruce log from a tree I had felled in the fall. He went out and peed in the woods, chicken burning in the oven. “It’s so cold,” he said, “my piss froze to the bark.” He said the log came from my pile, told me it was my fault.
My mother slept in the hospital seven full months, brain swelling like a flower in a too-small pot. When the nurses walked by, my father held her hand. When they left, he dropped it like a bad plum, like a spider.
I started seeing deer in the yard whenever he left the house. One day in July I saw a spotted one, a finger of wood jutting from its ear. My mother died that Saturday. I shot the deer the next Tuesday, cut the wood stud from its ear, kept it close.
Dad and I brined the venison with lemon, salt, sage. My father ate it, proud of his son. I buried mine in the bed of dead tomatoes. After a month he found the plate and beat me out of the house. I left, took my mother from the hearth so he’d stop throwing bone scraps into the fire.
Thirty years later my father calls, says he’s leaving the house to me. I drive eighty miles, close his hospital door. A nurse walks in, my hand loosens from the wet wood shard. It is the first day of fall.
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