“Sashimi Bear”

On the television screen: a man eating the yet-beating heart of his enemy, chin red and wet with hot blood.

We gagged in delight, in mock horror. Outside, Coop’s daddy was skinning a deer. We rushed out there, to the garage where the body of the deer was hung up with chains and dripped onto a tarpaulin. The air felt wet and too warm. Coop told his daddy what we’d seen.

Have you cut the heart out yet, Coop asked.

Got it here, his daddy said, throwing Coop a plastic bag with a dense ball of redpurple meat.

Daddy take a bite, Coop urged, holding the baggie out for his daddy.

Nope, his daddy said, that goes onto the grill.

Daddy!

No now I told you how it is.

Daddy!

If I take a bite will you let me be?

Coop nodded, teethed his fingernails. I stood back, aghast.

Coop’s daddy unzipped the plastic bag, extracted the heart, eyeballed us, and took a little bite. He had to pull his head back and tear the meat off, like a savage, or a wild animal.

Disgusting, we said, and there was also blood now in Coop’s daddy’s short chin whiskers.

Go on now, Coop’s daddy said. Run and get me a towel ‘fore someone sees me this way. He put the heart away and continued to clean the carcass, skinning, pulling back muscle and sinew. The body of the deer looking more and more like a dog.

Coop came back, handed his daddy a wet towel. The man washed his face though his teeth were red. I looked for veins but saw nothing lodged in his teeth.

Go on now, Coop’s daddy ordered us. I have to work ‘fore this things turns.

We ran across the street to my house. I remembered the television in Coop’s basement, still televising the gore and violence we revered.

Bet your daddy won’t eat heart, Coop taunted me.

Bet he will, I said, defending my kin, my turf.

My daddy was in the backyard, trimming the edges of our immaculately jade lawn with a pair of scissors.

He was on his knees, though he wore pads there. White gloves on his hands. He looked up at us from beneath his fogged glasses.

Boys, he asked.

Daddy, I said, Coop’s daddy just ate a deer heart. Will you eat a heart?

I watched my Daddy fidget, adjust his glasses on his perspiring nose.

Come again, my daddy said.

A heart, I repeated. Will you eat heart?

Cooper’s daddy ate a deer heart?, my daddy asked, for clarification.

Yep, Coop said proudly, just like them lakota sioux in the movie. Except in the movie, Coop continued, it was another indian’s heart.

O, my daddy said, I see. You boys were watching movies again.

No, we said.

He scanned us seriously, little gnats on his neck and forehead.

Why are you cutting your lawn with a scissors Mister Foster, Coop asked.

Because, my daddy said, you don’t shave with a cleaver.

He removed his glasses and then his gardening gloves. He looked tougher then. More like Coop’s daddy across the cul-de-sac.

Then he surprised me and said, Come back here in five minutes and watch me eat a heart. I just bought a fresh bear heart from the grocery.

Coop’s jaw unhinged itself. I beamed in glory, though I could never recall our family or my daddy eating bear.

We ran across the street again to Coop’s house.

Daddy daddy daddy, Coop screamed at his daddy, Mister Foster is gonna eat a bear’s heart!

Coop’s daddy’s arms were in the chest cavity of the deer and his forearms were covered in viscera and blood. He looked at us, dubious-like.

Bear, he asked.

We nodded.

Where’d he get bear, Coop’s daddy asked.

The grocery, we said in unison.

Coop’s daddy laughed hard and from the depths of his corrugated and flat stomach. My daddy has a stomach but it is really more like a belly with a strip of a few hairs up to his button. His belly is as white as a fish’s.

This, Coop’s daddy said, I got to see.

He washed his hands under the cold flow of the garden hose and walked across the road to my house. This, just as my daddy came into our garage, bicycles hung from S hooks off the ceiling, the sheetrock mudded in streaks, the concrete smooth and unadorned with smudges of oil. My daddy held a very pink thing in his hands and it did look like a heart. Though, when he saw Coop’s daddy, his face drooped.

Foster, Coop’s daddy said.

Derek, my daddy said.

Picked up some bear from the butcher then, Coop’s daddy said.

My daddy looked down at his hands and said, That’s right.

I don’t know any grocery stores selling bear, Coop’s daddy said. Which one did you go to?

O, my daddy mumbled, you don’t know it. Outside of town. I got it on a whim.

On a what, Coop’s daddy asked, his bloody hands on his hips.

A whim, my daddy said.

Let me see that, Coop’s daddy said, extending his hand.

Is that my phone ringing?, my daddy said.

Our heads swiveled to and fro. In our garage, the air was cool as a gymnasium before the lights come on, before any bodies begin moving, when it is just a big dark space full of undisturbed air.

Coop’s daddy torn the pink meat from my daddy’s hands and in a jif he took a huge bite. He smiled at my daddy and said, That sashimi grade bear?

My daddy’s chin was on his chest, his glasses skiing down the slope of his sunburnt nose.

Coop’s daddy handed the meat back to my daddy who never did take a bite after all.

Nickolas Butler

About Nickolas Butler

Nickolas Butler was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, raised in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. His first novel, "Shotgun Lovesongs" won France's Page Prix, the 2014 Great Lakes Great Reads Award, and the 2014 Midwest Independent Booksellers Association Prize for Fiction. His first collection of short stories, "Beneath the Bonfire", will be published in the summer of 2015. He lives on 16 acres of land in rural Wisconsin, adjacent to a buffalo farm.