March 17, 2013
The old man lived alone at the end of the two mile road that was the only way in and out of the pine wood village. It was the first house ever built in our village and it had that grayish unpainted-for-years look about it. Huge pecan and oak trees lined his chain-link-fenced yard, and all us boys would try to shoot as many of his squirrels as we could before he came stomping out with his Long Tom single-shot twelve-gauge and threaten to blow us all to kingdom come, but as intimidating as his shotgun was, it never once kept us from coming back and shooting into his yard. There’s no use in trying to describe him in any great detail as he was as gaunt and pathetic as any old man in that particular place and time. He was just another old man living alone with a bunch of cats and empty tuna fish cans all over the front and back porch steps and stacks of old newspapers reaching as high as the porch ceiling.He did have a name though, his name was Mr. Rodriguez, but if he was of Mexican or Spanish descent, he didn’t at all sound like it as he hollered at us from his porch about shooting his squirrels.He sounded like the rest of us, half Acadian and half redneck.
Sometimes I would find myself hunting alone just far enough from the back of his house, where he couldn’t really say anything about my gun going off as I hunted the squirrels that were traveling to his yard to eat from the abundant trees, and I would listen to the high wind blow through the trees and wonder how the old man lived and how he got here in the first place and where his family might be; was he never married? Didn’t he have any children somewhere, someplace? Where were his people?
There are a couple of things I remember about Mr. Rodriguez from all those thirty years ago. One is that he died with his eyes wide open in front of a blaring television set. Somehow my stepfather was sent to get rid of the old man’s cats. My stepfather hated cats and he went from room to room and shot every cat he saw with an automatic .22 rifle.There were over two dozen cats and when he ran out of bullets he gathered all the dead cats into a huge plastic bag. When we got home he ordered me to burn them in one of the rusty old 55 gallon drums we kept in the backyard to burn our household garbage.I threw the cats in and spread lighter fluid over the plastic bag and dropped a match. The flames shot up three feet high out of the barrel, and as I watched I tried to think really, really, hard how not to die like Mr. Rodriguez, but nothing came to mind and I stood in front of the fire trying not to cry.
Louis Bourgeois is the Executive Director of Vox Press. He lives, writes, and edits in Oxford, Mississippi. His latest collection of poems, Damascus, is due out by Xenos Books in the Fall of 2013.