Advertisement

Hot Tin Roof: Agates


By Nickolas Butler

The land beneath the trap had been in our family since before the time of steel and always without poachers. We had taken it from the Indians who had in antiquity taken it from their own or those like them. That history we owned and we were unabashed. We did not think of them as savages because our fathers had taught us to think of ourselves as savages. We thought of them as obsolete. We were the inheritors of their earth. We are not apologizers.

Her boot had hovered over the trap and I could not claim credit for having seen it there, hungry for her little foot, its teeth jagged and painted in rust. I had been walking behind her, in a path well-grooved by the deer that move through our land as if it were their own. I might have bumped into her, pushed her into the trap but at the last moment she fell away from it and called my name.

We rarely spoke once we were inside the forest–it was poor practice.

What is it, I whispered.

There, she pointed.

Staked into the breast of the earth and held there by a chain, the steel jaws gaped open, undisturbed. A lace from her boots draped over one set of teeth like a strand of spaghetti. She drew her leg further away from the trap and we both watched the lace follow her leg. The mouth there did not bite. On hands and knees we peered at the maw.

How, she asked. How could it never have been tripped?

I shook my head; it was incomprehensible.

All the things falling all the time from the heavens and the canopy above: leaves, limbs, snow, rain, hail, meteorites, satellites, running hooves, landing birds, stray bullets. A hundred years undisturbed. This patch of earth a vacuum of movement until us, then. Out gathering fiddleheads and morels. Out scouting, out collecting tinder and kindling. What if we had not wandered by? How much longer would it have remained, forgotten? And how much longer could it be, could it persist as metal forged by man before returning its molecules to the loam below?

Touch it, I said. I dare you.

No, she said.

SIGN UP TODAY

Subscribe for daily news updates from Little Village

SUBSCRIBE

Touch it, I said, and I’ll braid your hair forever.

She hesitated. Give me your agate collection, she said.

I sucked the still air, then nodded.

She reached for a stick and was about to depress the trap’s spring when I said,

No, that ain’t the deal. I could have done it with a stick. You have to do it with your hand.

Fear went over her face replacing the color in her cheeks and the light in her eyes.

You would make your sister do that, wouldn’t you, she asked.

Or don’t, I said. But we had a deal. You can welch out if that’s what you want to do.

No, she said, I’m going to have your agates. This trap is broke anyhow.

Alright then, I said, go on.

Her fingers shot out quickly, quicker than I would have guessed. But she arrested their reach. Her hand was over the teeth now and our faces were close to it.

You need to press hard, I said. You need to press down hard enough to imitate a she-bear.

She looked at me, then closed her eyes. She made a fist of her little hand and punched the spring.


Louder than a shotgun, louder than thunderclap, louder than a chainsaw, is the sound of grouse frightened from its nest. They explode from the forest floor, their wings and feathers like a bass drum and what’s more, no matter how many times you have spooked a grouse, each time they burst into the near air it is enough to quiet your heart forever. That was how grandfather died. He was out, hunting with our father. They had taken no more than ten steps into the forest when a grouse erupted out of the bush and grandfather keeled. He was ninety-one years old.

We kill bears. Their meat makes good stew, good chuck. They trouble our dogs and given a bad spring or summer they come for what little garbage we make. Once, they topped the outhouse for our shit. Everything in our world is food or fuel. What cannot go into our hungry mouths goes into our stoves to beat back the winters. We are unapologetic. Winter is a cold war for calories. The bears wait out their winters in sleep. We find their dens sometimes, the holes where their breaths have melted away the ice and snow. We leave them be. A winter bear is too skinny to eat.

At night, I hear her with my agates. Our room so dark the notion of shutting our eyes seems redundant. I hear the polished stones, the stones I polished with boot oil and my underwear, those stones in her hand like the prayer beads the nuns in town dangle between their wrinkled hands when they see our approach.

I pray these nights, these days. Pray that something long hid comes to get me one day. Some bullet fired decades ago in some anonymous war. A star broke lose from heaven, careening down through epochs of time to snuff me out. I walk beneath the widowmakers of the forest, the big maples hung up on their brethren and uprooted from the earth. I want them to crush me. To come down and pound me into my grave unboxed and without a stone.

I am sorry, sister. Please now, put them agates into their velvet pouch and let me be.


Thoughts? Tips? A cute picture of a dog? Share them with LV » editor@littlevillagemag.com

Advertisement

Advertisement

For $15/mo you get FilmScene Member and Englert Friend benefits and help secure our future.

Advertisement

Summer Programs 2020

Get 150+ local restaurants delivered to your door in the Iowa City & Cedar Rapids areas!

Advertisement

New Year, New Career!

Free Help Desk & Systems Admin Education available to Iowans impacted by COVID.

Sign Up Today

Advertisement

World of Bikes presents:

GET GEARED UP FOR WINTER

Come talk with our experts about ways to stay on the bike this winter! Find out more at World of Bikes.

Get Started

The Future is Unwritten

You look to Little Village for today’s stories. Your sustaining support will help us write tomorrow’s.

Regular

$10/mo or $120/year
(AUTO-RENEW)
The cost of doing this work really adds up! Your contribution at this level will cover telephone and internet expenses for one month at the LV editorial offices.

Italic

$20/mo or $240/year
(AUTO-RENEW)
$240 is enough to cover one month’s costs for sending out our weekly entertainment newsletter, The Weekender. Make a contribution at this level to put a little more oomph on your support and your weekend.

Bold

$30/mo or $360/year
(AUTO-RENEW)
LittleVillageMag.com connects eastern Iowa culture with the world. Your contribution at this level will cover the site’s hosting costs for three months. A bold move for our boldest supporters!

All monthly and annual contributors receive:

  • Recognition on our Supporters page (aliases welcome)
  • Exclusive early access when we release new half-price gift cards
  • Access to a secret Facebook group where you can connect with other supporters and discuss the latest news and upcoming events (and maybe swap pet pics?) with the LV staff
  • Invitations to periodic publisher chats (held virtually for now) to meet with Matt and give him a piece of your mind, ask your burning questions and hear more about the future plans for Little Village, Bread & Butter Magazine, Witching Hour Festival and our other endeavors.

Advertisement

Randy's Flooring is a local, employee-owned retailed that has been part of the Corridor for over 40 years, delivering quality and value through the largest selection of carpet, tile, hardwood, window treatments, and specialty products supported by the knowledgeable staff and in-house flooring designers who can help transform residential and commercial spaces.

 
Get Started