A summer Saturday in Dallas and the boy Howard sat out on the back steps, knees up, propping in between, an old single load, twelve-gauge shotgun. While he steadied and squeezed the butt in one hand, the other, with studied unbroken slowness, wrapped a long piece of friction tape around and around the stock—for beginning at the toe of the butt and stretching up about five inches was a thin dry crack in the old wood.

His mother came out, down off the back porch carrying an enamelled basin heaped with twists of wet, wrung clothes.

“You wantta be careful with that old gun,” she said, making a slight frown.

A squat woman and dark-haired, almost eastern in the intensity she tried to bear on situations, her face was perhaps too open, eyes too widely spaced, and the effect was ever what she calculated. She would not suspect, however, that within the block only a few could take her seriously.

Her boy Howard did, of course, though if others were present he might be embarrassed, or a little irritated.

“Aw now you’re kiddin’,” he said, wanting mainly to reassure her about the gun.

She had just given him a dollar for the week-end, and before dark he would have spent over half of it. Sitting now on the back steps he could reckon exactly how it would go. And with her standing there talking, he was aware, too, that except for the show she had no idea at all how he would spend the money.


At the kitchen table his father treated it lightly.

“Where you goin’ boy? Shootin’?”

“Aw just fool aroun’,” said Howard, looking away, eating slowly at a piece of bread, buttered and covered with sugar.

“Who, you and Lawrence? What’re y’all goin’ after?

“Aw I dunno,” said Howard, “just fool aroun’, I guess.”

“Where’re you and Lawrence goin, Howie?” asked his mother, back at the sink again.

Aw out aroun’ Hampton Airport, I guess,” he said.

“You wantta be careful out there at Hampton,” said his mother, “with the planes comin’ in and all.”

Howard tried to laugh, even to catch his father’s eye.

“They ain’t any planes there now,” he said, sheepish at having to be impatient with her, “they closed it down, didn’t you know that?”

“I don’t want you goin’ up in that trainer-plane either,” his mother went on as unhearing, almost closed-eyed, packing faded dripless lumps of cloth into the basin.

“Aw now you’re kiddin’,” said Howard, “it don’t cost but three dollars for fifteen minutes. Not likely I will, is it?”

At the table, though, his father spoke about the gun, the danger, abstractly, as if he himself had never fired it. And yet, when he saw the box of shells on the table, he opened it and shook two or three out, holding them loosely, so as to appear casual, familiar, he who had not held a gun in thirty years.

“Look like good’uns,” he said finally, “what’d they cost?”


Howard reached Big Lawrence’s house by way of the alley. Stepping through an open place in the fence two houses before, and cutting across these back yards, he could hear Lawrence on at the house and he saw his shadow dark there behind a window screen.

Ka-pow! Ka-pow! Ka-pow! was what Lawrence said.

It was a small room.

Big Lawrence sat out on the edge of the bed, and all down around his feet the scattered white patches lay, fallen each as the poison cactus-bloom, every other center oil-dark, he cleaning his rifle, a 30–30 Savage.

Across one end of the bed, flat on his stomach looking at an old comic book, was Crazy Ralph Newgate, while Tommy Sellers sat on the floor, back flat to the wall. Tommy Sellers had a baseball and glove in his lap, and every so often he would flip the baseball up and it would twirl over his fingers like an electric top.

As Howard came in and sat down on the arm of a heavy-stuffed, misshapen chair, Lawrence looked up, laughing. Most of the time Lawrence’s laugh was coarse and, in a way, sort of bitter.

“Well, goddam if it ain’t old Howard!” he said, perhaps remembering a western movie they had seen the night before.

Somewhere, next door, a radio was playing loud, Saturday morning cowboy music from Station WRR in downtown Dallas.

Big Lawrence put the bolt back in, slapping it.

“You ready?” he asked Howard, and Howard nodded—but before he could get up, Lawrence had turned around on the bed and leaned hard across Ralph Newgate’s legs, sighting the rifle out over the back yard. There across the yard, out about three feet from the back fence, so crouched half-sitting that the feet were drawn way under, was a cat—a black cat, rounded small and unblinking in the high morning sun. Big Lawrence squeezed one out on the empty chamber.

“Ka-pow!” he said and brought the gun down, laughing.

On the floor, next to the wall, the baseball spun twisting across Tommy Sellers knuckles like a trained rat.

“Goddam! Right in the eye!” said Lawrence. He raised up, and with some shells from his shirt pocket loaded the rifle; then he quickly threw out the shells, working the bolt in a jerky eccentric motion. One of the shells, as they flew all over the bed, went across the comic book Ralph New gate was holding and hit the bridge of his nose. The other three boys laughed, but Crazy Ralph muttered something, rubbing his nose, and flipped the shell back over into the rest next to Lawrence’s leg, as he might have playing marbles—and Big Lawrence flinched.

“You crazy bastard!” said Lawrence, “what if it’d hit the cap!” and he picked up the shell and threw it as hard as he could against the wall behind Ralph Newgate’s head, making him duck. They left the shell where it fell on the floor behind the bed. Ralph didn’t speak, but just kept turning the pages of the comic book, while Lawrence sat there looking at the book that was held in front of Ralph Newgate’s eyes for about a minute.

Lawrence reloaded the gun and drew another bead out the window. The black cat was still sitting there, head on toward the muzzle when Lawrence moved the safety with his thumb, and next door someone turned the radio up a little more.

In the small room, the explosion was loud.

The comic book jumped in Crazy Ralph’s hand like it was jerked by a wire. “Goddam it!” he said, but he didn’t look around, just shifted a little, as in settling to the book again.

The cat hardly moved. It seemed only to have been pushed back toward the fence some, still sitting there, head down, feet drawn under, staring at the screen.

But in the screen now, next to a hole made in opening the screen from the outside, was another, perfectly round, flanged out instead of in, worn suddenly, by the passing of the bullet, all bright silver at the edge.


Big Lawrence and Howard walked a dirt road along one side of Hampton Airport. It was a hot, dry day.

“What’s a box of shells like that cost?” Lawrence asked, and when Howard told, Lawrence said, “Sure, but for how many shells?”

At crossroads, the corner of a field, a place where on some Sundays certain people who made model airplanes came to try them, they found, all taped together, five or six shiny old dry-cell batteries as might be used for starting just such small engines.

Howard pulled these batteries apart while they walked on, slower now beneath the terrible sun, and when Lawrence wanted to see if he could hit one in the air with the shotgun, they agreed to trade off, three rifle-cartridges for one shotgunshell.

Howard pitched one of the batteries up, but Lawrence wasn’t ready. “Wait’ll I say ‘Pull’,” he told Howard.

He stood to one side then, holding the shotgun down as he might have seen done in a newsreel about skeet-shooting.

“Okay, now Pull!

Lawrence missed the first one, said that Howard was throwing too hard.

Howard tossed another, gently, lobbing it into the sun, glinting end over gleaming end, a small meteor in slow motion, suddenly jumping with the explosion, this same silver thing, as caught up in a hot air jet, but with the explosion, coughing out its black insides.

“Got the sonofabitch,” said Big Lawrence. “Dead bird goddam it!”

Howard laughed. “I reckon it is,” he said softly.

Once across the field, away from the airport, they turned up the railroad track. And now they walked very slow, straight into the sun, burning, mirrored a high blinding silver in the rails that lay for five miles unbending, flat against the shapeless waste, ascending, stretching ablaze to the sun itself—so that seen from afar, as quite small, they could have appeared, as children, to walk unending between these two columns of dancing light.

With the rifle they took some long shots at the dead-glass discs on a signal tower far up the track, but nothing happened. When they were closer though, one of the signals suddenly swung up wildly alight. A burning color. Lawrence was about to take a shot at it when they heard the train behind them.

They slid down an embankment, through the bull-nettle and bluebonnets, to walk a path along the bottom. When the freight train reached them however, they turned to watch it go by, and at one of the boxcars. Big Lawrence, holding the rifle against his hip, pumped three or four rounds into the side of it. Under the noise of the train, the muted shots had no connection with the bursting way the dark wood on the boxcar door tore off angling and splintered out all pine white.

As they walked on, Howard said, “Don’t reckon anybody was in it do you?” Then he and Lawrence laughed.

They struck the creek hollow and followed it in file, Lawrence ahead, stepping around tall slakey rocks that pitched up abruptly from the hot shale. Heat came out of this dry stone, sharp as acid, wavering up in black lines. Then at a bend before them was the water hole, small now and stagnant, and they turned off to climb the bank in order to reach it from the side. Howard was in front now, as they came over the rise, he saw the rabbit first. Standing between two oak stumps ten feet away, standing up like a kangaroo, ears winced back, looking away, toward the railroad track. Then Lawrence saw it too, and tried to motion Howard off with one hand, bringing his rifle up quick with the other.

The sound came as one, but within one spurting circle of explosion, the two explosions were distinct.

On their side, the half face of the rabbit twitched twice back and down even before it hit him, then he jumped straight up in a double flip five times the height he had stood and landed across one of the old burned out stumps like a roll of wet paper.

Goddam!” said Lawrence, frowning. He walked slowly toward the stumps, then looked at Howard before he picked up the rabbit. “Goddam it!” he said.

One side of the rabbit, from the stomach down, looked as though it had been pushed through a meat grinder.

“You must be crazy,” Lawrence said, “why didn’t you let me get him, goddam it, I could of gotten him in the head.” He dropped the rabbit across the stump again, and stood looking at it.

Howard picked up the rabbit, studied it. “Sure tore hell out of it, didn’t it?” he said.

Lawrence spat and turned away. Howard watched him for a minute walking down toward the water hole, then he put the rabbit back on the stump and followed.

They leaned the guns against the dead grassed ground that rose at their backs, and sat down. Howard got out the cigarettes and offered them, so that Lawrence took one first, and then Howard. And Howard struck the match.

“Got the car tonight?” he asked, holding out the light.

Big Lawrence didn’t answer at once for drawing on the cigarette. “Sure,” he said then, admitting, “but I’ve got a date.” In this sun, the flame of the match was colorless, only chemical, without heat.

“Where you goin’?” Howard asked, “to the show?”

“I dunno,” said Lawrence, watching the smoke, “maybe I will.”

The water hole was small, less then ten feet across, overhung only by a dwarfed sand-willow on the other bank, so that all around the dead burning ground was flushed with the sun, while one half of the hole itself cast back the scene in distortion.

Over and on the water though, in and through the shadow that fell half across them, played wasps and water-spiders, dragonflies, snake-doctors, and a thousand gray gnats. A hornet, deep-ribbed, whirring golden bright as a spinning dollar, hung in a hummingbird twist just on the water surface in the deepest shadow of the tree, and Howard threw a rock at it.

Then an extraordinary tiling happened. The hornet, rising frantically up through the willow branches, twisted once, and came down out of the tree in a wild whining loop, and lit exactly on the back of Howard’s shirt collar, and then very deliberately, as Lawrence saw, crawled inside.

“Hold still,” said Lawrence, taking a handfull of the shirt at the back and the hornet with it, holding it.

Howard had his throat arched out, the back of his neck all scrutched away from the shirt collar. “Did you get it?” he kept asking.

“Hold still, goddam it,” said Lawrence, laughing, watching Howard’s face from the side, finally closing his hand on the shirt, making the hornet crackle as hard and dry as an old match box when he clenched his fist.

And then Lawrence had it out, in his hand, and they were both bent over in looking. It was dead now, wadded and broken, and in the shade of his hand, the gold of the hornet had become as ugly-colored as the phosphorus dial at noon. It was the stinger, sticking out like a wire hair, taut in an electric quaver, that still lived.

“Look at that goddam thing,” said Lawrence of the stinger, and made as if to touch it with his finger.

“Be careful, you’ll get stung,” said Howard.

Look at it,” said Lawrence, intent.

“They all do that,” Howard said.

“Sure, but not like that.”

Lawrence touched it with his finger, but nothing happened.

“Maybe we can get it to sting something,” said Howard, and he tried to catch a doodle-bug, crawling on a bluebonnet that grew alone between them, but he missed it. So Lawrence bent the flower itself over, to get the stinger to penetrate the stem at the bottom. “It’ll kill it,” he said, “it’s acid.”

Lawrence held the tail of the hornet tight between his thumb and finger, squeezing to get more of the stinger out, until it came out too far and stopped moving—and Lawrence, squeezing, slowly emptied the body of its white filling. Some of it went on his finger. Lawrence smelled it, then he let Howard smell it before he wiped his finger on the grass.

They lit another cigarette. Big Lawrence threw the match in the water, and a minute after if had floated out, took up the 30–30, drew a bead, and clipped it just below the burnt head. 

Why?” he asked Howard, handing him the rifle, “are you goin’ to the show tonight?”

“I might,” Howard said.

“No, but have you got a date?”

“I guess I could get one,” said Howard, working the bolt.

“I’ve got one with Helen Ward,” said Lawrence.

Howard sighted along the rifle.

“You know her sister?” Lawrence asked.

“Who, Louise?”

“Sure, maybe we could get ’em drunk.”

Howard held his breath, steadying the rifle. Then be tooka shot. “Sure I know her,” he said.

They shot water targets, mostly with the rifle, Howard using the shots Lawrence owed him. Once, however, after he dug an old condensed-milk can, out of the bank and sat it on the water, Lawrence took up the shotgun and held the muzzle about a foot from the can. 

“H-Bomb,” he said, pulling the trigger.

They sat there for an hour, talking a little and smoking, shooting at crawfish and dragonflies, or underwater rocks that shone through flat yellow, or more often, dull dead brown.

Then they decided to go back to the house and drink some beer.

Near the stumps, Howard crossed over and picked up the rabbit, Lawrence watching him.

“What’re you goin’ to do with that damn thing?” Lawrence asked.

“Aw I dunno,” said Howard, “might as well take it along.”

Lawrence watched while Howard held it by the ears and kicked at a piece of newspaper, twisted dry and dirty, yellow in the grass. He got the paper, shook it out straight, and he wrapped it around the rabbit.

They started across the field, Lawrence not talking for a while. Then he stopped to light a cigarette.

“I know what,” he said, cradling the 30–30 to one arm, “we can cook it.”

Howard didn’t answer right off, but once, as they walked back toward the stumps, he looked at the sun.

“I wonder what time it is anyhow,” he said.

Using Howard’s knife, Big Lawrence, once it was decided, sat on one of the stumps to skin the rabbit while Howard went pushing around through the Johnson grass, folding aside with his feet, peering and picking, bundling back, to build the fire.

At the stumps, Lawrence cursed the knife, tried the other blade, and sawed at the rabbit’s neck, twisting it in his hand.

“Wouldn’t cut hot niggerpiss,” he said, but somehow he managed to get the head off, and to turn the skin back on itself at the neck, so that he pulled it down like a glove reversed on an unborn hand, it glistened so.

He had to stop with the skin halfway down to cut off the front feet, and in doing this, hacking once straight on from the point of the blade, the blade suddenly folded back against his finger. He opened the knife slowly, saying nothing, but he sucked at the finger and squeezed it between two others until, through all this heavy red of rabbit, sticking, covering his whole hand now, he could almost see, but never quite, where in one spot on his smallest finger, he himself, up through the blood of the rabbits, was bleeding too.

He went down to the pool to clean his hands, but he finished skinning the rabbit first.

When he got back, Howard was down, ready to light the fire.

“Are we goin’ to the show or not?” Lawrence said.

“I don’t care,” said Howard, staring up at him, “do you want to?”

“Well, we better get back if we’re goin’.”

Howard got the old newspaper from where he had put it to burn and wrapped it around the rabbit again, and he put this inside his shirt. He folded the skin square and put it in his pocket.

Lawrence had the rabbit’s head. He tried to get the eyes to stay open, and one did stay open, but only the white showed when he sat it on the stump. He took a brick from the windbreak Howard had built for the fire and put this on the stump too, behind the head, and they started across the field. When they were a little way out, they took shots at the head, and finally Lawrence used the last of the shells he had coming to go up close and shoot the head, brick, and even part of the stump away with the old twelve-gauge.


Before they reached Rosemont Street they could hear Tom-my Sellers cursing and Crazy Ralph Newgate farther, yelling, “All the way! All the way!” and as they turned in, Tommy Sellers was there, coming toward them, walking up the middle of the street, swinging his glove by one finger.

Howard pulled the wad of newspaper out of his shirt and held it up to show, and Tommy Sellers stopped and kicked around at some dead grass piled in the gutter. “Okay, all the way!” Ralph Newgate was yelling halfway down the block, and Tommy Sellers found the ball with his foot. Then, bending over, in a low twisting windup from the gutter, never once looking where, he threw it—the ball that lifted like a shot to hang sailing for an instant in a wide climbing arc.

Big Lawrence brought the rifle of his shoulder. “Ka-pow!” he said, “Ka-pow!” and the barrel-point wavered, sighting up the lazy wake of the ball. “Dead sonofabitch bird,” he said.

Tommy Sellers was standing close, hands on his hips, not seeing down there an eighth of a mile where Ralph Newgate, with his eyes high, nervously tapping the glove palm, was trying to pick the bouncing throw off the headlight of a parked car.

“God it stinks,” said Lawrence, making a face when Howard opened the newspaper. The paper now was like a half dried cloth, stiff, or sticking in places and coming to pieces. Almost at once a fly was crawling over the chewed up part of the rabbit.

“You know what it’s like?” said Lawrence—“goddam rotten  afterbirth!” and he spat, seeming to retch a little.

“What was it?” asked Tommy Sellers, looking close at the rabbit, then up, away, not caring in dancing out to take the wild looping throw from Ralph Newgate.

They walked on. Howard wrapped the newspaper around the rabbit again and put it in his shirt.

“It’s already beginning to rot,” said Big Lawrence.

“Aw you’re crazy,” Howard said.

Crazy,” repeated Lawrence, “you’re the one who’s crazy. What’ll you do, eat it?” He laughed, angrily, spitting again.

They were walking in the street in front of Lawrence’s house now. Tommy Sellers and Ralph New gate were at the curb, throwing their gloves up through the branches of a cedar tree where the ball was caught.

There were some people standing around the steps at Lawrence’s front porch. One was a youngish woman wearing an apron over her dress—and a little girl was holding on to the dress with both hands, pressing her face into the apron, swinging herself slowly back and forth, so that the woman stood as braced, her feet slightly apart. She stroked the child’s head with one hand, and in the other she was holding the dead cat.

They watched Howard and Lawrence in the street in front of the house. Once the woman moved her head and spoke to the fat man standing on the porch who frowned without looking at her.

Howard didn’t tum in with Lawrence. “See you at the show,” he said.

As he walked on, the fall of their voices died past him.

“How’d it happen, son,” he heard Lawrence’s dad ask.

He turned off on a vacant lot that cut through toward his house. Halfway across, he pulled out the paper and opened it. He studied it, brought it up to his face and smelled it.

That rake’ll reach!” Crazy Ralph was yelling way behind him, “that rake’ll reach!”