Sunday, December 18, 2011
Wikiphotomicro Day 9: "Half a Sniper"
More tours in Vietnam than he ever spoke of, but most of us knew. A sniper, they said. Never him. He never said the word that I could remember. But at least three tours, and he returned home without injury.
Then, a month after Jerry came home he was hunting with his brother and through unclear circumstances his brother’s shotgun fired, the barrel inches from Jerry’s kneecap. He lost the bottom half of his leg, his brother dragging him across the ridge to the old home place and then to the hospital.
Three tours or more, and then half a leg gone and enough talent with a gun to be dangerous. And left alone.
Jerry made few friends after that.
In the truck, with his near-rotted set of crutches tucked beside him along the driver’s door, Jerry is talking about the roofing job we’re heading out to this morning. He climbs a ladder using the stump, climbs it faster than me or the other workers. He lays down more shingles and faster than any of us combined, using that same stump as a third hand to hold while he tacks.
It’s middle summer and we’re contracted on a small job in Kenton, so we start early, before dawn, to avoid as much of the heat as possible. Jerry is talking about this as the sun appears over the rounded hump of the Appalachians. A small but large-eyed bird begins to circle low in the sky, about twenty feet above us.
Jerry points it out, says for me to watch, and pulls a pistol from under his seat. He situates it in his left hand and sticks the pistol out his driver’s window. When he takes out the circling bird with a single shot, he pulls the pistol back through the window and casually places it under his seat again.
That’s something else, I say. But I’m worried. Jerry is right-handed, but that must not matter when it comes to killing. I’m hoping it’s a short day. Let it rain, let the building catch fire. His stump seems to talk, to motion itself in my direction from the edge of Jerry’s seat, taunting, explaining things I cannot understand.
Midday. Water. Sitting on the ground and off the roof. The ground always felt different after hours on a roof. More water, breathing, free arm dangling and broken it seems from packing fifty pound bundles of shingles to Jerry. Jerry could cover ten squares on a roof in a no time flat, but getting bundles to the roof was not an option.
I drain a second bottle, chew some ice from the cooler and ask where Jerry’s got off to. A couple guys tell me Jerry’s still on the roof, so I climb the ladder.
At the far end of the roof, balanced at the peak, Jerry is staring into the distance. I search for the sky for birds, remembering his shot from earlier that morning. The sky is empty, hot blue and three clouds.
When I make my way to him, Jerry tells me I’m wrong. I asked him what he was looking at, and he told me I was wrong. Wrong.
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