For my father, Pasha
The woodgrain of the arrow hurt between my fingers.
I struggled to keep my composure as I pointed at the beast with my fingers. The cool summer breeze swept past me and made the trees and brush perform a calm ballet just out of sight. I couldn’t watch though, my only concern was the white elk quietly eating in the distance.
My father told me stories of elk like these when growing up.
“Misha, I pray your arrows to shoot straight if ever faced with an animal as gorgeous as these,” he would say as he cradled me in his lap in front of the stone fireplace. “White elk bring fortune, fame, power or whatever the hunter wished for. Don’t you ever hesitate.”
We would hunt for many things, food, clothing, money. Mostly, Pasha would bring us out on cold Sunday mornings to hunt for the fabled elk until sundown. At times it seemed he was rabid about hunting the wild animal. Even when he could no longer hold his bow, and I did most of the hunting, he would only ask me about the elk. It was as if he didn’t mind starving, so long as I got it this time.
My happier memories of him were scarce, but I could remember a time before I could hold a bow. He’d sing me lullabies in Russian before bed, and I’d doze off and envision a better life for us. In my dreams, we had a big brick house at the edge of the forest. We had a fireplace where we could roast marshmallows, and we’d never know hunger. That me being there would be enough for him.
Now, years after his passing, I found myself staring at the only thing that truly mattered. An elk that’d bring me whatever I desired in the world, most of all. Slowly I began to pull my arrow back, the string tightening more and more. I wished Pasha could see me, to guide my bow.
I stood there and watched as the beast raised its head and finally noticed me. To my surprise, it didn’t move. It just watched me. The sunlight shimmered through its antlers and reflected off of its coat, nearly blinding me. My lungs slowly filled with air until they were full. My father’s dream would be realized.
“Momma?” a tiny hand reached up and grabbed my coat just before I fired.
I looked down and saw my little one looking at me with tired eyes. He looked out and saw what I was aiming at and looked back with wide eyes. I could see in his eyes what I saw in my father’s.
After a few seconds, I was walking my son back home, his hand holding mine, dragging the day’s kill behind us.
An extra arrow in my quiver.