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Anabasis: Text # 1

Inspired by author Patricia Ann McNair's 2012 writing prompts. Number 1: On Another Winter Morning.

"On another winter morning I might not have gone to the firing range. It was Arcticly cold, the wind slicing down all the way from Scandinavia and across the North Sea, arriving at our village with an audible whistling, whipping up plumes of snow from the fallow fields around the mines. But Grandad liked shooting, and he said he wanted to teach us, so on a Saturday morning in January my mother piled me, my brother, and my grandfather into the Mini, and we drove to a place about an hour north of the village. I remember a long low building, walls sagging slightly, a dark interior, and the tinny ‘crack’ made by the low caliber pistols. My mother and my grandfather paid their fee, put on the padded earclips, and went up to their allotted firing station. Each station was really one long countertop, separated into booths by flimsy partitions. My brother and I were told we could go in and watch, but we had to stand back, stay still, and stay quiet. My mother and grandfather joined the rank of people taking potshots at targets twenty feet away. The building was unheated, and it was as cold inside as it was outside. I squeezed my mittened hands into my armpits to warm them up, and stamped my feet to try and get some feeling back into them. The floor was so cold and my feet so frozen that it felt like I was standing on ice without any shoes. I looked up at one point to see my grandfather looking at the targets that he had reeled in on the wire: almost all of them bulls’-eyes. His face had a strange look, which I knew was related to the mining accident he had been in many years ago. His back had been crushed in a roof collapse, and though he recovered his strength and most of his mobility, the damage to his spine had left a curious after-effect: whenever he became excited or emotional, his eyes would cloud over, his jaw would go a little slack, and his head would fall slightly forward like he was nodding off to sleep. As he looked at the result of his near-perfect shooting, I couldn’t see his face, but I saw the dip of his head and knew that he was pleased to the point of near-ecstasy. My mother turned and asked if I wanted to have a go, but I was suddenly afraid, and I was colder than I had ever been in my short life, and I shook my head. Grandad was disappointed, but didn’t say anything. Only a little longer, I said to myself. Soon they’ll be finished, and then we can go home. Maybe when it’s not so cold we can come back, on another winter morning, and my grandfather can show me how to hold the pistol, and how to use the sights, how not to be afraid of the noise and the recoil, and I can shoot well for him, well enough for me to look up and see the cloud of happiness fill and then vacate his face."

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