My Father Kills Everything – Jon Berger

It was Saturday morning and I had to work later in the afternoon. I was up sipping my coffee sitting in the living room chair, watching dead bodies on the news.
My dad was off to the side of the TV, partly blocking it. He had his head sticking out the window. He was pumping the lever on a pellet gun over and over again. He stuck the pellet gun out the window and the gun popped when he fired.
I took another sip of my coffee.
He turned and looked at me, his face red from drinking so much. “I think I got ‘em this time, there’s a blood trail. He jumped too. He’ll be dead,” he said. Then he got up and walked away. It was a chipmunk that he killed. He killed squirrels too. He also killed moles, muskrats, turtles, geese, mice, rabbits, raccoons, opossums, cats and the neighbor’s Aflac Insurance looking ducks that came over as a group and ate all the birdseed.
The only thing my dad loved were the birds. The robins and blue jays and cardinals.
What he used to kill all these things was his pellet gun, his Mossberg .22 semi-auto rifle, Remington .870 pump-action shotgun, .273 bolt-action hunting rifle, 30-ought-6 hunting rifle, single shot .17 mm coyote gun, .25 Remington handgun, Sig Sauer P226 .45 handgun with an ergometric grip, mouse traps, poison, underground traps he buried throughout the backyard to kill the moles as they burrowed underground. He used a spade shovel to kill the ducks.
Our idiot neighbor let his ducks free-roam so when the herd of ducks came over early in the morning, he would grab the shovel and run outside in his underwear in the rain waving the shovel around. He would whack a duck in the head and it would topple over kicking while it died. Then he would chase the rest of the ducks away deep into the woods screaming and throwing sticks at them as they quaked and waddled into the dark woods that went on forever behind our house. He would chase them into the woods all the way until it got swampy. Some of the ducks would get lost in the woods and never make it back. They became coyote food. Our neighbor didn’t seem to notice they kept disappearing.
I worked as a barista in the city. About a half hour drive. I was a horrible barista. I couldn’t do anything right. My coworkers hated me. I have no idea how I got the job. The coffee shop had bright colors that reminded me of a play area at McDonald’s but with more bubblegum. They played the same poppy music over and over again and the college girls I worked with would dance and clap to it.
I’d always get angry when some piece of shit pulled up in a brand-new Tahoe, walked in and started ordering a half soy milk half coconut milk half caffeinated mocha with diet this and sugar free that and it didn’t matter anyways because when you finally gave them their drink it wasn’t made right. I remember grinding my teeth and clenching my jaw as I saw the line behind them get longer and longer and they kept standing there explaining their fucking drink to me while I was starting to see redder.
When someone was being a dick about their coffee my coworkers had to step in. All I could imagine was grabbing them by their shirt and pulling them over the counter and stomping their face in.
Sometimes the girls would make me go in the back and do dishes or just tell me to go smoke cigarettes out by the dumpster. I think I scared them sometimes. I think they’d never seen someone get angry like I got.
But I liked some of our regulars. Once we got used to each other. I’m good with people once I’m used to them and they’re used to me. Our regulars would order their regular drinks and everything was a routine and I liked it. Our regulars were nice. We’d talk about sports or movies or getting drunk. Our one regular Matt always ordered a large over-iced green tea. He was an art teacher at a public school. A school I didn’t go to because I went to an alternative one. He had a tattoo on his arm of a barefoot guy wearing a black robe with a walking stick over his shoulder and a sandal hanging from the end of the walking stick.
I had the tea bag on ice in the cup and was pouring hot water over it when I asked him what was up with the tattoo on his arm.
“Oh this,” he said raising his arm. “This is Bodhidharma. He was a Buddhist Monk in China.”
“Nice man. You into that meditation stuff?”
“Yeah, I actually do a class every Thursday night at 7 if you want to stop by.”
“I don’t know. I never meditated before.”
“You can do it. It’s only for an hour. It might be good for you.”
“How much does it cost?”
“It’s free.”
I snapped the cover on his drink and slid it to him across the counter.
“Yeah, I’m serious stop by. Get there a little early and I’ll go over the basics with you.”
He gave me his meditation card with the address on it.
I got to his Buddhist meditation studio at 6:45. It was downtown in a suite on an upper floor. I walked up the stairs and followed the numbers down a hall until I came to a small room. In the room was Matt. He was lighting some candles. I walked in and the room was dim and there were eight little black pillow cushions on the floor.
“Hey, you made it.” He walked over to me and shook my hand. “I have something for you.”
He gave me a little read book called The Zen Teachings of Bodhidharma. On the cover of the book was the same guy that was tattooed on his arm. He told me to give it a read.
I nodded, said thanks and told him I would read the book.
We sat down on some cushions and he showed me how to sit like a monk and how to rest your wrist on your knees and how to let your hands hang loose. But he said the most important part is breathing. To focus on your breath. To inhale through your nose and exhale slowly out your mouth. But to do it calmly and quietly and to breathe in with your stomach. I tried and it was hard. He said that you have to focus on the center of your brain and on your chest. He said try to think about nothing, to push all my thoughts away.
Then people started to come in. A young couple and some older people, teachers that he worked with. One lady looked to be in her mid-thirties. I was getting nervous being in a room full of people I didn’t know. I sat in the back. Some of the people shook my hand and introduced themselves to me.
Matt was not the leader. He sat on the same black cushion as everyone else and faced the same direction. There was no preaching or praying.
Everyone started meditating. And that was it. We all just sat there in silence with our eyes closed. It became hard to tell how much time was going by. I started to peak every once in a while, and everyone was super focused like a laser. When I closed my eyes, I felt like my brain was broken up into bright floating spots.
I wondered if anyone else was peaking but just wasn’t doing it at the same time I was. I felt bad peaking, like I was cheating. While I was supposed to be meditating, I kept thinking about all the things that piss me off. I know that’s not what I was supposed to be doing but I couldn’t stop. I’d think about something someone said to me or how I got made fun of and then I’d try to hurry back to my blank space where I needed to be for the meditation but I was never able to stay there very long.
I started seeing shapes and colors with my eyes closed for so long. I don’t know how long. But I started breathing harder and I stopped breathing until my chest felt like fire and then I would exhale hard like an explosion. I could feel my heart beating faster and I could feel a burning in my chest that spread into my shoulders and to the center of my back and up my neck. My hands starting to squeeze. I felt like an old hidden landmine in the jungle or desert or wherever and an innocent creature finally stepped on me and I exploded. I inhaled but snorted and exhaled too soon. I forgot all about using my stomach to breathe. Nobody could help me.
Eventually a phone timer went off and it was over. I opened my eyes and the room seemed brighter than before. It was quiet and awkward and I caught some people glancing over at me.
Matt stood up and thanked everyone for showing up and thanked me for coming to my first class. Everyone got up and started talking like people do. I could feel that my face was red so I just left.
I was sitting at the kitchen table eating cereal and scrolling on my phone. The Buddhist book that Matt gave me was on my desk in my room. I’d been looking at it. I didn’t read much but when I flipped through the pages it looked easy to read. I was thinking about starting it tonight.
My dad was on the computer, drinking. There were a bunch of critters eating at the bird feeder. One of them was a red squirrel. My dad hated red squirrels.
He got up and grabbed the shotgun leaning on the wall and loaded red buckshot shells into it. When he opened the sliding glass door and stepped outside all the animals scrammed in different directions.
The squirrel picked the worst possible direction. Right past the door, he was heading for the big tree that he lived in.
My dad aimed and fired.
A poof of dirt flew up right behind the squirrel but he kept running and went up the tree. Maybe he missed him. He crawled out onto a branch and laid still. He would pick his head up a little and then put it back down. He did this a few times. Some of the buckshot must’ve got him.
My dad went right up underneath the tree branch and racked in another shell. He aimed up at the dying red squirrel and fired. The squirrel and tree bark flew off the branch and fell to the ground. And when the squirrel hit the ground it spasmed like glitching in a video game and then it stopped. I took another bite of my cereal and looked back down at my phone.
My dad came back inside and leaned the shotgun back up on the wall. “The fuck you eating that shit for? You’re gonna get fatter eating that shit.”
I shook my head, chewing the cereal. “No, this is some healthier cereal I bought the other day. It’s just like oats and shit with no sugar.”
“It looks like god damn fucking coco puffs to me.” He sat back down at the computer.
I kept my eyes down at my phone and took another bite of my cereal.
I wanted to kill everything.