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God's Backyard MAG
It had been a long drive from the airport, and my grandfather and I had already recounted all the new happenings of our lives to each other, so it was natural that we sat down to relax. He stretched out on the sofa watching football and I hunched in the armchair, absorbed in a portable video game. I had practically not put it away since I left the San Francisco airport. Even when I did it was only to talk to Papa in a rather dreamy manner, partly from the nostalgia of being in Arkansas after such a long absence and partly from sheer LCD-induced stupidity. I had been so focused on it that all I could remember seeing on the hour-long drive from the airport to his house was the enormous church off the interstate and the new Walmart, which caught my attention as it stood mere feet from the old one. My trance was not broken until several minutes later, when I noticed Papa taking a pellet gun off the gun rack.
“Blue jays chasin’ off all the birds again,” he said, partly explaining, partly complaining. He maintained the birdhouses and feeders. As a matter of fact, he kept up his whole yard very well – pond, plants, everything. He took a shot.
“Got rid of so many, now only the smart ones are left,” he said, reloading. I turned off the game and stared as he slowly adjusted his aim. I had been under the impression that he was only trying to scare it away with the first shot. I couldn’t see the bird from where I was, but I knew he had hit it when I heard him chuckle.
“Come ’ere ’n’ see this,” said my grandfather. I followed him, curious. “They’d prob’ly arrest me in California,” he said with a belly laugh. “Nope, you won’t see this sorta thing there.” I laughed a bit too, not entirely sure if it was only to humor him.
Beneath the feeder lay the blue jay, its left wing flapping wildly, propelling it in small circles. Scarlet poured from the left side of its head. My grandfather picked it up by its calmer wing and continued toward the pond in the front yard. He tossed the writhing creature into the water. A moment passed silently.
“Will it drown?” I asked.
“Naw. He’s already dead. ’Sides, turtles prob’ly get ’em,” he said, starting back to the house. I didn’t know there were any turtles left in the pond. My grandfather had often sharpened his aim on their heads as they surfaced for air. They had eaten so many of the fish they had damaged the ecosystem, so I couldn’t really blame him. But this was different. The blue jay wasn’t hurting anything. The other birds could easily find another source of food.
“Do you really think that was fair?” I asked. The blue jay had only been protecting its resources from competitors, even though it wasn’t nearly as pretty to look at.
“The Bible tells us that God gave us dominion over all of the creatures of this earth. It is our place to care for them and use them as we see fit,” he replied, still walking. I took a step.
“Well, yeah … but how do you know it didn’t feel any pain?” He stopped, turned.
“How can you feel without a brain?” he asked rather quickly, uncertain. He paused. “Can’t feel without a brain.” He turned toward the house again. I stayed a moment, picturing that single wing flapping madly. But I said nothing.
I slept in the guest bedroom on the second floor that night. I had turned on the TV but wasn’t watching. It was just there to break the silence while I played my game. But even with the white noise, I still couldn’t concentrate. I could see the bird as vividly as if it were lying on the floor at the foot of the bed, staining the carpet as it thrashed. He hadn’t needed to kill it.
I paused the game for a moment as the irony hit me: a man of the church playing God in his yard, every day, in full view. It was nearly blasphemous. I thought about writing to let out some of my confused thoughts. I had packed a notebook and pen. But I was too tired. I unpaused my video game.
My game, “Tactical Advantage,” was a grid-based combat simulation. The objective was to get as much territory under your control as possible by defeating neighboring armies. I was just finishing a battle with an army that had attempted to take over one of my less significant bases. I hadn’t really needed it, strategically speaking, but it was one of my favorites because it had a paint shop. My tanks looked a lot cooler with custom paint. I finally finished off their last squadron, which I had surrounded, then used as a test subject for my experimental weaponry. It wasn’t much of an accomplishment, defeating them – they were doomed from the moment they challenged me.
Then I remembered the bird and turned the game off. I didn’t feel like playing anymore.