Rich spent the rest of the day at Don’s home. They had a wonderful time, shooting arrows at a bullseye target in the backyard. One of Don’s arrows went arrant; beyond the bales of straw, the bullseye hung on. It ripped into a rabbit pen. They discovered the arrow pierced a rabbit, behind the left jaw and lodged in its nostril, with about six inches of the tip protruding. Don removed the arrow. He said the rabbit should be killed. He first tried a couple of karate chops across the neck. Rich protested. Don twisted the rabbit’s neck until it died.
“What did you want me to do?” Don said. “You couldn’t expect it to live long like that, could you?”
“You’re right, Don,” Rich said. “It’s just nothing I could do.”
“You think I enjoyed it?” Don said.
“You seemed awfully eager,” Rich said.
They walked to the house and Rich stood his bike up. He straddled it, ready to go home.
“You’re right,” Don said.
“About what?” Rich said.
“There was something about ending a life,” Don said. “It had to be done, but it was the first thing that came to mind. Maybe my first instinct should have been hope. That’s a gift from God. Sometimes, I think you have more hope than me.”
“I don’t think so, Don,” Rich said. “It would have taken me a half hour to arrive at the same conclusion you did in a moment. That animal would have suffered all that time. You did the right thing.”
“It’s just that death is final,” Rich said.
“Maybe its soul goes to heaven,” Don said.
“Don, I know you well enough that you really don’t believe that,” Rich said. “If everyone really believed in heaven and hell, we’d all be acting like angels and lining up to die, so we could get to heaven.”
“What do you mean?” Don said.
“If for one moment you actually believed, you would be punished by being burned alive for peeking in the girls’ locker room, you wouldn’t do it if the hole was ten feet around. If you thought heaven was so real and really believed in it, what would prevent you from getting there the first chance you got? You’d be asking me to pierce your heart with an arrow, to hurry your journey to the great beyond. There is just something wrong with heaven and hell. If they exist as we’ve been told, why is everyone trying so desperately to visit the one and avoid the other?”
“God’s ways are mysterious,” Don said. “And he works in mysterious ways.”
“Don,” Rich said. “Could it be it is us, that is mysterious and not God. Just think about it, Don,” Rich continued. “There has to be something more profound than if you’re bad you go to hell and if you’re good you go to heaven. What about life; right here and now, and about the future. I can’t live a life wondering which way I’m going to go. Sending people to burn in hell is the cruelest thing imaginable. That’s not a god of love. And taking little infants to heaven, because God needs another angel is selfish on God’s part. I believe in God more than most. I’m willing to wrestle with angles and question the Almighty to prove it.”
Don swallowed and pressed his lips. “I wish I could have what you have. In a strange sort of way, you are closer to God than I’ll ever be.”
“I got to go,” Rich said. “Promise again not a word to anyone about what happened last night.”
“Sure,” Don said, “I promise.”
Rich pushed away on his bike and headed home. He regretted telling Don about the night before, but yet, he knew if it ever became public, he would be a legend.
Rich ate supper at home in front of the television but listened to the conversation between his mom and dad and Uncle Bob at the dining room table. He expected an accusation at any moment. He often got accused of things, he did not do.
Eventually, Mrs. Larsen asked Rich if he heard about the stolen police car. Rich told her, the first he heard about it was from Mrs. Hastings and that’s all he knew. Mrs. Larsen said she got a call from Mrs. Kirk about one-thirty, telling her that someone was being chased in the cornfield by the police. Mrs. Larsen locked the doors after the call.
Rich was so incredibly tired by nightfall. He plodded up the steps and to his room. It was another warm evening. The air was saturated with humidity and a heavy haze hung above the crops as if an unraveled ribbon. The crickets and tree frogs seemed to labor under the oppressive atmosphere. Rich’s sheets and pillowcase were moist and smelled like dirt, because of the collection of a mixture of humidity and field dust. The kind of evening that one wishes they were just about anywhere, except where they were.
Rich clicked on the radio and spun the dial until he heard a far-off radio station playing jazz.
Rich reviewed the day’s activities in his mind as felt his skin stick to the sheet and pillowcase. He surmised, Don was jealous that it was him that had the adventure. It was evident in his tone and demeanor. Don would never do such a thing. He would never be out roaming the night. To Rich, it seemed perfectly normal, but knew that to others it was not.
“There was something wrong with me,” Rich thought. “There was some reason for enjoying the unusual and absence of structure or conformity. I like that, but something makes me not want to experience it again. What makes me stop and what makes me go? Why do I give into impulses? Don retrains himself. What am I missing? Why is Don content with the country and not me. Why do I experience so much discontent? On the other hand, I could never kill a rabbit with my bare hands.”
Rich became bored with the jazz and spun the dial to another station, where Rod McKuen recited poetry with music in the background. Rich reflected on the previous evening and muttered to himself, “I think I’ll stay in this evening.”