AS FROM A TALENTED ANIMAL
by Carley Eason Evans
2014 Copyright All Rights Reserved
19 – Salutatorian
Michael and I had our worst brotherly fight when we turned twelve. Michael got the perfect gift from our father — a bb-gun while I got a book on butterflies. I was so angry. I couldn’t take it out on our father, so I took it out on Michael later when we were alone in our bedroom. I didn’t understand why our parents made us share a room; it wasn’t like one of us couldn’t have stayed in the attic or — oh god — the basement with my father’s collection of dead insects and rodents!
I crawled on top of Michael just as he was falling to sleep and pressed my left hand into his throat. He gasped and his eyes flew open. He stared at me in the darkness. I let my hand up slightly so he could breathe. He gasped again, whispered hoarsely, “What? What are you doing?”
“I want to trade,” I said.
“What?” he asked and his eyes widened as he must have realized what I was doing. He whispered, “You want the gun?”
“Yes,” I said, “and you want the book, don’t you?”
He shook his head to indicate he did not want my book, but I pressed my hand into his throat again and saw that my brother couldn’t breathe. I smiled at him, nodded my head several times, said, “You want the book, don’t you?” I let up my hand again, and this time Michael said, “Yes, I want the butterfly book — please.”
I let go of him, stepped off the bed, stood up straight and said, casual-like, “Oh okay. You can have the book. I tell you what — I’ll take that bb-gun for it. Okay?”
Michael sat up in his bed, rubbed his throat, said softly, “Okay.”
“Great,” I said, feeling cheery, “it’s a deal.”
Then I crawled into the top bunk and went to sleep. I knew Michael wouldn’t tell our parents of my attack. I knew this because Michael knew I’d kill him — not metaphorically mind you, but actually kill him.
The next day, I took my bb-gun into the woods behind our property thinking I’d shoot some crows. But when I aimed at one of the birds, my arms began to shake. Within a few seconds of having the bird in my gun sight, I realized I couldn’t shoot a dumb animal. I couldn’t be like my father — I couldn’t kill a living animal. I admit that this inability to kill a dumb thing surprised me. Standing in the woods with the gun, I also realized that a gun was too impersonal. I didn’t want to kill anything with a gun. I would use a weapon that required up close and personal attention. I would use knives.
And that’s when I remembered my grandfather’s knife on the cutting table — so beautiful and balanced. That’s when I decided to purchase my first knife through mail-order. I sold my bb-gun back to Michael and not for the book on butterflies. I made him pay me his whole allowance — five dollars. With those five dollar bills and money I’d earned mowing lawns and raking leaves, I ordered the Colts High Plains dagger.
When the dagger arrived, I showed it to Michael. I said, “With this, I can do anything I want. You know that, don’t you?”
“I won’t need my hand on your throat anymore,” I said, smiling. “I need only put this sharp edge against your throat and slice. And you’ll bleed out like a stuck pig —.”
Michael started to cry, said, “Shut up.”
“Make me,” I said, and walked out of our room, the dagger in my left hand. I stopped in the hallway, came back into our room and put the Colts High Plains dagger in my locker. I put the small key in my pocket, and left my brother behind.
In seventh grade, I showed Michael what it meant to be smarter than most other students. I did very well, especially in our math and science classes. Unfortunately for him, we were in the same classrooms for these two subjects and his grades were consistently and considerably worse than mine. But then again, most of the students in those classes didn’t do as well as I did. I had competition from one boy — I’ve been trying to remember his name — I think he was called Lon or Larry. I’m not sure. At any rate, he was smart, did well on tests. He had no trouble with homework whereas I hated homework and sometimes turned it in late which counted against me. Therefore, Lon or Larry was first in our class and I was second. Being second didn’t bother me until graduation; then I was Salutatorian whereas Lon or Larry was our Valedictorian. As he delivered his speech to our high school graduating class, I dreamed of ways to kill him. However, I didn’t kill him. Instead, I killed Steven Miles who I didn’t know except that he was vulnerable on the day I decided to kill someone — even if that someone was not Lon or Larry.
Michael graduated in the middle of our class, having average grades. But our parents were proud of him, of what he accomplished despite not having the mental prowess I had. As for what they thought of me, my mother said something about my Salutatorian address to the class — she said it was “interesting.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I said.
“But that Valedictorian, he was something else,” said my father. “What a fantastic speech.”
“Yes,” beamed my mother, “he was amazing, wasn’t he?”
“He was,” I admitted even though by now I hated Lon or Larry. I remember his name — he was Lon Lancaster and he went on to own a computer software development company in Sioux Falls and become wealthy and powerful in his own right. I never went down to Sioux Falls for fear I’d run into him and naturally murder him. If I murdered Lon Lancaster, everyone would turn to look at me and I’d be caught — caught long before I was ready to confess.
Michael shook my hand after we both received our diplomas. Because the first letter of his first name comes before mine in the alphabet, he was in front of me in line. I stood behind him as he reached for his high school diploma and saw him turn back to watch me receive mine. He was proud. I saw this in his face and I admit I teared up briefly when I realized Michael still loved me despite every threat he’d endured from me over the years. I was embarrassed as I took my piece of paper from our district superintendent for I’d not felt anything when Michael graduated.
After that day, my relationship with Michael changed. I didn’t threaten him again. To some extent, this was due to the fact that Michael and I parted ways — he went to the local two-year community college while I left the state to attend a much better school — the University of Iowa in Iowa City. The four years that I attended university, studying chemistry, I didn’t think about killing. This hiatus went unnoticed by me until much later — it was as if I became a different person the day I graduated from high school.
Unfortunately, the day I graduated from college, something changed again. Standing in the crowd of graduating seniors, I — almost inexplicably — missed my collection of knives which I’d left in my metal locker under my bed at my parents’ home in Rapid City.
The next day, I bought an old heap at a local used car dealer and drove it from Iowa City to Rapid City. I parked on the street, walked up to and unlocked our front door, startling my mother who was watching television in the living room.
“Oh, Rich,” she cried out. “Why didn’t you call?”
“I don’t know,” I said. Then without speaking to her further, I marched upstairs, opened my bedroom door, reached under the bed, pulled out my metal locker, trotted downstairs with it, peered into the living room. “Got what I came for,” I said to my mother who was just turning off her program. “I’ll be heading out now.”
“What?” she asked.
“I got what I came for,” I repeated. “I’m leaving now.”
“No, Rich,” she said. “Come in. Come in. Have a cup of tea with me.”
“No,” I said, “I don’t have time. Besides, I don’t want to.”
“You don’t want to,” said my father who came into the living room from the kitchen.
“No, I’ve got to go,” I repeated.
“What’s that?” asked my father, pointing to the metal locker in my hands.
“It’s mine,” I said.
“That’s not an answer, Richard.”
“It’s mine,” I repeated, “and it’s none of your business what it is.” My father moved toward me, and I threatened him with the metal locker, raising it up as if it were a weapon. “Don’t,” I warned the man who hated me. “I’m going now. Okay?”
My father stepped back and nodded.
Before I left, I said to my mother, “By the way, I graduated yesterday.”
“Yesterday?” asked my father.
“Oh Rich, that’s wonderful,” said my mother and for a moment she sounded excited, proud.
“I didn’t know you went to a college, Richard,” said my father.
“I know, sir,” I said. “I went to the University of Iowa. I got a Bachelor of Science degree yesterday in engineering.”
My mother started to cry, said, “Rich, we thought you were in Montana fighting fires or logging or something like that.”
“I know,” I said, “but I wasn’t. I was in Iowa City.”
“Did Michael know?”
I nodded, said, “Yes, Michael attended the ceremony yesterday.” I turned, opened the front door after resting my metal locker on my thigh so my hand would be free to twist the door knob. I turned again, said to my parents, “Don’t blame Michael. I asked him not to tell you. Good-bye.” Then I pushed the door open and walked out as I heard my mother howl like a hurt dog.