I was ten years old the first time I butchered an animal. It was early winter, the sun low and cold. I huffed from running after the beagles as they chased a rabbit. The dogs howled as they ran, spreading away from me, galloping feet tracing lines in the snow. I fired once at the rabbit as it crossed to my side. The ear ringing mark of the shotgun echoed among the maples and oaks, long clear of leaves. I ejected the shell, took in the metallic whisper of it. I stood sniffling from the cold, looking at the lump of gray fur that no longer moved. My stepfather came behind me as I stepped silently towards the rabbit.
I wedged the rabbit’s head into the crotch of a tree branch as my stepfather growled instructions. He was a cruel man, always ready to raise his voice and hands. This is the man who kicked my brother in the stomach for forgetting to flush the toilet, who threw me down a set of concrete steps for raking leaves incorrectly, who left bruises the size of oranges just below my mother’s elbows from where he grabbed her and forced her to answer to a slight. Out there among the brambles in the squat forest, he smacked the back of my head and pointed to where I should make the first cut.
I didn’t say prayers at the butchering, didn’t offer thanks. I didn’t think I needed to. My stepfather said it was only a rabbit. Earlier that morning, as I walked the forest on my own, I shot a white-throated sparrow for no reason. I took aim and blasted the small bird into fluff as it perched in a thicket. I had imagined, briefly, that the bird was my stepfather’s eye.