A Family Secret
“Get ready, boy!” my step-father, Neil, shouted. “I don’t want to get skunked again.” Getting skunked meant going home empty-handed.
As the sun set it became harder to see and the ducks flying into our decoys became shadowy ghosts. Occasionally you’d hear the low thump of wingbeats and a splash as something landed nearby. Neil shot at everything that came close. “Dang it!” he yelled after firing both barrels and missing, again.
Every year I swore would be my last. But I never seemed to be able to say how I felt. Recently I’d started missing on purpose.
Finally, Neil had had enough and we loaded all the decoys into the boat. Normally we both jumped in and he’d row, but ice had formed throughout the afternoon, and we were forced to push the boat through the frosty surface and thigh-deep water. After 20 minutes we were both soaked with sweat and still not halfway back to the truck. Neil stopped suddenly.
“Gotta catch my breath . . . wait a minute.” He bent over at the waist gasping for breath. After a minute, we started to push again.
“Oh, no,” he stopped abruptly, clutching his chest. He looked deathly pale.“I can’t breathe . . . my heart.“ His voice rose in pitch and sounded on the verge of panic.
“Just stay calm,” I said. “Climb in and I’ll push.” Neil didn’t say anything but let me hoist him up into the boat where he slumped against the metal bench. Over the next hour, I had to stop repeatedly to make sure he was okay. When the truck finally came into view I was exhausted but had to pack everything up after he collapsed into the front passenger seat.
As I drove home he started to regain his colour and made me promise to never tell anyone what had happened. Mom rushed out crying when she heard us pull up. She’d phoned the RCMP a few minutes earlier as we were long overdue.
Neil told her we’d had problems with the truck. He glanced at me nervously, but I just looked away.