BLACK PEOPLE DON'T
The old Vizsla panted; a smile peeled away from her teeth like husk from a corncob. Blood leaked lazily from the puncture wound my bullet had just made in her side. The day yawned open, no longer timid. Fog rippled through the air in spectral wisps. I thought we must look like a Baroque painting of a hunt gone wrong.
“Angyal!” From the mouth of the clearing Phillip’s mother screamed the dog’s name. Phillip and his dad fought to keep her there, fifty feet away from the dying animal.
Her voice about-faced within the second syllable, becoming stern on the upswing, as if its obedience training could keep the 17-year-old dog’s body on task.
I hadn’t moved for almost a minute. My own blood drained from my head as the dog’s continued spilling onto the ground. For a lunatic moment I imagined the earth beneath her was slurping it up.
Should I try to staunch the flow? Would Angyal, in her distress, bite me? Shouldn’t I brave that possibility, considering?
I suddenly needed a toilet. I put down the shotgun and sprinted to a different patch of woods, upwind of my sorta-boyfriend (sure to be kinda-ex, now), his hysterical mother, and his father, who I could hear directing someone to the scene.
As I pulled down the corduroys I’d borrowed from Phillip and squatted under a maple, I asked myself two things. First, absurdly, Does a scared young woman shit in the woods? and next, Can you call the police about a dying dog?
“Black people don’t hunt, Nella,” my mom had said.
It was only the third time since moving to school that I’d made good on my promise to call “just to chat,” and I was not telling her something she cared to hear. I could practically see her furrowed brow in the glow of the Murphy Brown episode chattering away on her end.
“But the fact that I’m about to drive to New Hampshire to learn how to shoot a deer with Phillip’s family means that statement is false, so…”
I was testing it out, this separate, grownup identity. So far, adulthood lay in kissing Phillip till he bucked against the boundaries of my virginity, in agreeing with my sociology professor that 9-5 was what was wrong with America, and in drinking cut-rate pilsner from a Solo cup till I was too drunk to bike back to my dorm. New Nella was wobbly as a minutes-old fawn, but just as ready to run.
“Black women especially don’t call themselves hunters, unless they’re talking about bargains. Tell me, why did I bring you to this country if you were just going to head straight for the wilderness?”
My mother’s Bajan accent was strongest when I misspent her sacrifices.
“It’s not like I’m joining the NRA. This won’t necessarily turn into a hobby—it’s just an experience.”
“Experiences like those are for white people. Your experiences should consist of hitting the books and making grades.”
She was quiet for a moment. I hoped she would say, Do what you want. I’ll ready my ‘I told you so,’ which was as close to a blessing as I ever got.
Instead, she said, “I thought we agreed that you wouldn’t have boyfriends until your second year, anyway.”
“Phillip isn’t my boyfriend. We’re just hanging out.”
Later, Phillip would echo this dismissal to his mother and the wave of disappointment I felt would surprise me. I wasn’t meant to hear him tell her that we were “just buddies” or that he “thought it would be fun for Nella, who’s from the hood, to get some fresh air and maybe learn to shoot.”
I guess suburban Atlanta would seem hoodish to people who called their various homes “Woods Cottage,” “Beach House,” and “Mountain Retreat.”
But I wasn’t meant to hear him say it. We’d just arrived at Woods Cottage. Awkward introductions had been made. I was on my way back to the kitchen to get better directions to the bathroom when I heard his mother telling him, “I wish you hadn’t brought home your social experiment on the same weekend as Angyal’s hip surgery.”
Angyal was hobbling towards the kitchen, too. She stopped next to me in the hallway where I was reeling from the sudden knowledge of my place. Maybe she was sympathetic. She sniffed my hand. She was lovely in the way that very tattered but adored things can be. The clay color had retired from her face, leaving a white mask. I gave her some gas station jerky from my pocket. I smiled, joined mother and son in the kitchen. I gushed about its French décor. To Phillip’s mother’s poorly hidden dismay, Angyal barely left my side all weekend.
Later, I would confront Phillip about “the hood” and “buddies.” He’d tell me that his mother didn’t need to know about his relationships.
“She likes to meddle,” he’d said, putting his hand over my mouth before whispering, “Try not to scream.”
Afterward, as our sweat dried, he complained about his mother’s obsession with Angyal. She spent a mint on medication and surgery.
“Even though they’ve been together for 7,000 years, I think Dad’ll leave her if she doesn’t quit frankensteining that dog.”
“Hmm,” I’d said, eying a framed painting of his family’s coat of arms above the bedroom door.
Later, during target practice, I hit every mark.
But what made me pull the trigger the next morning, minutes after the deer left my sights and a second after Angyal wandered, dazed, into them? In that moment, I felt like a kid who lets go of a balloon, in the instant action and consequence become one. Maybe I thought the dog knew what she wanted. Or maybe the slip of my finger on the trigger was my first attempt to translate my mother.