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The Last Trapshoot

ISSUE:  Summer 2000

Once a year on a Sunday in October before the corn was picked, I used to go to a trapshoot in Billy Foy’s pasture across from his house on the River Road. I would race there, taking a short cut through our corn field.

I remember that one Sunday when it all ended. It was chilly that morning but the sun warmed things up later on. The sheep pasture had clumps of dried grasses and weeds sticking up high, with seeds ready to spill out. The sheep had been taken to another field two weeks earlier, and Billy had mowed where people would be parking and walking.

Most of the hunters were farmers, some in overalls, who wanted to show off their prized shotgun. They drove up in their pickups, a few bringing along their hunting dogs and wives and kids. About 50 feet from the clubhouse, Billy had pounded into the ground a handwritten sign on a stick that said Parking Starts Here. He wanted to leave an open space in front of the clubhouse door so there was room to mill around. All along the field lane were pickups that had been recently hosed down for the event. Most of the hunters carried their guns in drab green canvas cases and a few didn’t bother. They held the butt in their palm with the barrel leaning against their shoulder. They hurried toward the clubhouse where the other hunters stood around joking about how well they planned to shoot clay birdies out of the sky. The man who shot most of the ten clay pigeons was the winner for that round, and then he advanced to another round. By the end of the afternoon only five hunters would be lined up facing the open pasture with a trap house hidden like a bunker out in front of them.

The green trap house sat buried in the ground, only two feet of roof exposed. The trap setter had to crawl into the bunker, which was three feet high. The hunter who was waiting for the pigeon would call out “Pull” and the boy running the trap, usually one of my cousins, would eject it, aiming the thing in a different direction each time. The hunter had to quickly follow the flying pigeon, aim, and fire at it before it got too low to the ground. Billy always worried that a young pup would try to shoot when it got too low and would hit the bunker. The bunker was made of wood with sheet metal siding painted dark green to blend in with the grasses. If one looked closely, the sheet metal had lots of holes in it from the spray of the shotgun shells.

But this Sunday a maroon Cadillac with a Michigan license plate pulled into the field and drove right up to the first pickup that started the line-up and this car edged alongside, knocking down Billy’s sign, so it was first in line. Two people got out—a man and a woman. But this woman wasn’t going to serve Maid Rites. No, sirree, she was going to shoot. She wore a safari outfit—tan pants and jacket with lots of pockets, and she had on brown leather boots with thick two-inch heels. Under the jacket there was a red turtleneck. She was taller than most of the men out there. Her hair was blonde like the silk on an ear of corn. It was long and pulled back into a pony tail at the nape of her neck, tied with a leather string, and in her ears were gold hoops. What I liked was how the extra short hairs around her face curled. The man, who looked a lot older, had a brown fedora on his head and a darker safari suit on. He limped ever so slightly when he walked.

I was outside, alone, because my cousins wouldn’t let me into the trap house with them, when she and her husband walked toward the club house, each carrying a leather gun case. I heard her say to him, “Think anyone can actually shoot here?”

He shook his head. “Most can’t hit the broadside of a barn.”

“Good, I plan on winning that gun.”

He stopped to open the door for her. “Don’t get too set on it. My trigger finger feels hot today.”

She paused, running her eyes up and down him. “Oh really. Your trigger wasn’t so hot last night,” she said.

He stopped, glared at her, and strode ahead letting the door close on her.

She stood there a second like she was thinking of turning around, then she took a deep breath and opened the door.

I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. My mom’d left when I was four-years-old, and I missed being around someone who smelled nice and wore lipstick. I got tired of looking at farm wives who wore housedresses or knit pants that were always too tight. Oh, there was Adelaide, who dressed like a man, but she didn’t count. This woman walked with her head high like she was somebody special. I wondered what she thought when she walked into that poor excuse for a club house.

It had been a sheep shed, but Billy covered the walls with thin wood paneling that was supposed to look like knotty pine. On the north side were three big picture windows, all different sizes, so you could watch the shoot. The floor was cement. Eight old kitchen tables—from oak to gray Formica-topped ones—with plenty of chairs around each—took up most of the space.

On the west side was a 20-foot counter which ran across the whole front. That’s where the food was served by the Women’s Izaak Walton League. Hot Maid Rites in big homemade buns with lots of pickles and mustard wrapped in waxed sheets sold for 25 cents each. Homemade brownies were a nickel. Little bags of potato chips cost eight cents. Hershey bars and Salted Nut rolls cost 10 cents. Along the south wall was a pop machine with bottles of brilliant Orange and Red Raspberry, Root Beer and Coca Cola—each 25 cents.

If you needed to go to the bathroom, you went outside to the outhouse. There were two of them, one for men and one for women. They were about ten feet apart on the south side and a short distance from the club house. There was no running water inside. On a card table by the door, Leona, Billy’s wife, had two jugs of water if anyone wanted a drink and a new metal bucket half filled with water, with a bar of Ivory soap floating in it, where the women serving food would dip their hands and dry them on a roller towel hanging from the wall.

My job, and my cousins’, was to help search the pasture for good clay pigeons that the trap shooters had missed. We, and a few hunting dogs, ran out to the pasture between rounds to collect all the good ones. Billy would give us a penny a pigeon, so I could make enough money for a pop and Salted Nut roll and on a good day I’d get chips and a Maid Rite, that is if I watched carefully where the pigeons fell. A few of them landed across the pasture fence in our corn field and I knew where there was a low spot in the barbed wire section. I’d cross there.

When the woman and man paid their money and got signed up, they sat down and had a cup of coffee out of white glass mugs that said Billy’s Sporting Goods. I noticed how she left a red lipstick mark on the rim of the mug. When she was sitting there, she reached into the pocket of the jacket and pull out a green silk cigarette case. She took out a thin brown cigar, put it to her lips and waited for that man to light it, but he didn’t move to do anything. He was sitting with his legs crossed, his one foot dangling, watching out the window. When she touched his arm and motioned for a light, he looked angry. When she saw his look, she got angry, too. She jumped up and walked over to the counter and asked Billy for a book of matches. And Billy, with his greased moustache and slicked-back brown hair, who always had an eye for the ladies, grinned from ear to ear, and struck a match. All the while her husband sat there on the chair, not looking or acting like he wasn’t looking, but I saw him peek when Billy’s hand trembled as he lit the cigar for her. I noticed how she smiled at Billy and thanked him.

When they both left to go out to shoot, the women talked about them.

“She’s the new wife, well, not so new. Two years they’ve been married. She’s from Canada.”

Leona whispered to Gertie Malony. “She’s only a year older than his daughter Carol.”

And Gertie answered, “But she looks younger. Ain’t she pretty though. Much prettier than Mary ever was, God rest her soul. And Mary was such a sour puss. This one’s easier to look at in the morning.”

Another lady piped up, “Mary may have been ugly but she left him a bundle.”

“I hear that this one’s a crack shot, wins all sorts of prizes and stuff,” a woman wrapping Maid Rites said.

“I heard that Carol wouldn’t let them stay with her,” said Gertie. “They’re at the Suburban Motel in town.”

“That’s half true,” Leona added. “Carol said her dad and the new wife—that’s what she calls her—won’t stay with them because her house ain’t fancy enough, which is just fine and dandy with her. She doesn’t like to be treated like a servant by someone who’s spending all her inheritance money.”

“Spending all the money, huh?” asked another woman.

“Yah, they just bought a big house on Lake Huron.”

“Then why don’t they stay there. Why come back here?” Gertie asked.

“Well, you know, he comes to check out his farms,” said Leona.

“Why don’t they come in the summer when normal people visit?”

“Carol says she—Aldora, that’s her name—has allergies and can’t take the humidity and pollen in the air. They wait until after the first hard frost.”

Aldora. I said the name over and over. It was a beautiful name. Well, I didn’t care what those ladies in their stretchy knit pants thought. I knew she was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. And I loved how she smoked, blowing that smoke out her mouth like she was getting ready to kiss somebody. She never finished it but left the cigar to burn out by itself in the ash tray on the table. Her nails were long and painted maroon, and on her left hand was a fat ruby surrounded by tiny clear stones.

When they went out for their round, everyone watched them. I saw a few women step from behind the counter and move to the window. I went outside to be nearer them. I stood next to the snow fence where the spectators had to stand. The five shooters were out in front of the fence about ten feet. Each had a podium in front of him where he set his shells. Another man, who looked official with a badge on his jacket, was in charge.

He called out, “Round Four. Hunters, are you ready?”

And the five trapshooters stood with their shotguns at their shoulders, aiming out at the sky above the bunker. I was so glad I wasn’t in the bunker. I’d be missing this sight. How cool she looked as she stood there, squinting at the sky. Then I saw her lower her gun and the official called. “Wait, the lady’s not ready.”

And she reached into her top pocket and pulled out a pair of gold framed glasses—the land that pilots wear. She was having trouble trying to flip back the bows of the glasses with one hand. The official man moved up to her pretty fast and said, “Let me hold your gun.”

There was a titter of giggling as he held the gun while she slipped the sunglasses on. Then she smiled at him, saying “Thank you” and took back the gun.

The official gave the order. “Ready. Commence with shooter No. One.”

The first guy in gray work pants and a jacket that had the name Russ on it, aimed his gun at the empty sky and called, “Pull”

My cousins in the bunker sent a clay pigeon flying off in the direction of the pond at the lower end of the pasture. Russ shot and missed.

When it came her turn, she aimed and said, “Pull” but it wasn’t loud enough. The official came running down, happy to have a chance to see her again. “Say it louder, mam,” he said.

She called out again but still the bunker was quiet.

At that her husband said, “Dammit, just yell it. Quit being so prissy.”

She spun around and aimed her gun right at him. I couldn’t see her eyes to tell if she meant it. Everyone watching took a gulp of air and people began to back away from the spectator fence. Her husband just stood there, not moving, his gun lowered, and he grinned. Just grinned, nothing more. He didn’t move an inch.

The official, who was right behind her, stepped up and gently pushed the gun around until it faced the empty field. He said something to her in a low voice, and then I saw him pat her on the shoulder.

She lowered the gun for a second, then raised it and called out “Pull” in a shrill voice that made the official jump. When the pigeon flew straight out over the adjoining corn field, she followed it and fired. She hit it, sending a spray of clay in the air.

The people behind her clapped and there was one whistle from a high school boy.

Then it was her husband’s turn. He raised his gun and then he did the same thing she did. He turned that gun to her and pointed it right at her head and grinned. And it was a grin that made me back away. I saw his yellow teeth in that grin. The official ran over to him and called out, “Sir, lower that gun.”

She stood there, her gun at her side, and said. “You don’t have the balls to do it.”

And with that, he pulled the trigger. We saw her lurch forward and fall face down on the grass, her face away from us. Her body shook, quivered for awhile, then stopped.

There were screams and sobs and someone was yelling, “Get the doctor.”

Another man in khaki pants came running out from the clubhouse. He kneeled over her and we heard him say, “She’s dead.”

And before anyone had a chance to take the gun away from her husband, we saw him walk out toward the bunker. The official yelled “Stop. Put down your weapon” but he didn’t stop. He kept on walking toward the bunker and I held my breath. He didn’t stop there but just kept going, walking with that limp toward the corn field. We watched as he broke all the hunting rules of setting your gun down when you crossed a fence. He held the gun in one hand as he crossed and the last we saw he walked right into our field of corn that was ready to be harvested in a week.

A group of men with their guns in hand took off toward the fence. The women were out there crying and calling out, “Leave him alone or you’ll get killed.”

Then we heard it. A blast coming from the field. And everyone stopped.

For a second or more there was no sound. Then a couple more men took off for the corn field. Billy and the doctor kneeled next to the woman. Billy found a blanket and covered her, even her head. When the ambulance and Sheriff finally got there, I was in the clubhouse. All the mothers made the kids wait inside, and we all watched at the windows, our faces pushed against the glass.

What I remember seeing is the ambulance driving right up the spectator fence, which was a cheap snow fence, and pushing right through it. Before it stopped, the ambulance man in the passenger side was out the door, running to her. When they got her in the stretcher, I saw her hand with the maroon nails flop out from her body. The ambulance man lifted it and tucked it under the blanket and tied her in.

And that was when I took the cigar. I looked over to the table and saw it in the ash tray. I could see a faint red lipstick mark on the filter end. I took it and put it in my pocket.

I still have that cigar butt. I wrapped it in waxed paper and put it in my shoebox of important things. It’s next to the clipping from the newspaper of the murder/suicide. There’s a photo of Aldora in her khaki hunting clothes holding a trophy for her marksmanship.

That was the last trapshoot. Billy closed it down and put the sheep back in the pasture. The next October, I was in the truck with my dad driving by the pasture when I saw three sheep going into the club house. The door was gone. And I could barely make out the trap house which was overgrown with weeds. In another year you wouldn’t be able to make out the bunker at all. Nothing would be left to remind us of that day. My cousins said they found the shell casing and some shot that had gone right through his head because it was in the dirt beneath a dried puddle of blood. They didn’t tell their dad or mine about it but wrapped the shot in a scrap of denim and hid it in a knot hole in their barn. A few times they pulled it out and showed me, but I wouldn’t touch those pellets. I touch the thin cigar butt, holding it in my hand like she did and blowing smoke up like I’m kissing the air. And when I do that I think about her pretty hair like corn silks and how she sticks in my mind. And I think it’s a doggoned shame he shot her when she was the one who won all those prizes.


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