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"Don't do it. Please," I said.

"Close your eyes, Mr. Dave. Don't be moving, neither."

"What?" I said, as weakly as a man would if he were slipping forever beneath the surface of a deep, warm lake.

He cocked the pistol, and his bulging eyes stared disjointedly into mine.

Some people say that you review your whole life in that final moment. I don't believe that's true. You see the folds in a blackened leaf, mushrooms growing thickly around the damp roots of an oak tree, a bullfrog glistening darkly on a log; you hear water coursing over rocks, dripping out of the trees, you smell it blowing in a mist. Fog can lie on your tongue as sweet and wet as cotton candy, the cattails and reeds turning a silver-green more beautiful than a painting in one flicker of lightning across the sky. You think of the texture of skin, the grainy pores, the nest of veins that are like the lines in a leaf. You think of your mother's powdered breasts, the smell of milk in her clothes, the heat in her body when she held you against her; then your eyes close and your mouth opens in that last strangled protest against the cosmic accident that suddenly and unfairly is about to end your life.

He was crouched on one knee when he pulled the trigger. The pistol went off ten inches from my face, and I felt the burnt powder scald my skin, the dirt explode next to my ear. My heart twisted in my chest.

I heard Tee Beau rise to his feet and brush his knees.

"I done it, Mr. Boggs," he said.

"Then get up here."

"Yes suh, I'm moving."

I remained motionless, my hands turned palm upward in the stream. The night was filled with sound: the crickets in the grass, the rumble of thunder out on the Gulf, the cry of a nutria farther up the coulee, Tee Beau laboring up through the wet brush.

Then I heard the car doors slam, the engine start, and the tires crunching over the gravel out onto the two-lane road.

It rained hard once more during the night. Just before dawn the sky cleared, and the stars were bright through the oak branches overhead. The sun came up red and hot above the tree line in the east, and the fog that clung to the bottom of the coulee was as pink as blood diffused in water. My mouth was dry, my breath foul in my own nostrils. I felt dead inside, disconnected from all the ordinary events in my life, my body trembling with spasmodic waves of shock and nausea, as though I lay once again on the side of a trail in Vietnam after a bouncing Betty had filled my head with the roar of freight trains and left me disbelieving and voiceless in the scorched grass. I heard early morning traffic on the road and car tires cutting into the gravel; then a car door opened and someone walked slowly along the side of the filling station.

"Oh Lawd God, what somebody done done," a Negro man said.

I tried to speak, but no sound would come out of my voice box.

A small Negro boy in tattered overalls, with the straps hanging by his sides, stared down at me from the lip of the coulee. I raised my fingers off my chest and fluttered them at him. I felt one side of my mouth try to smile and the web of dried mud crack across my cheek. He backed away from the coulee and clattered through the cane, his voice ringing in the hot morning air.


Three months later I spent much of my day out on the gallery at home. The days were cool and warm at the same time, the way they always are during the fall in southern Louisiana, and I liked to put on a pair of khakis, a soft flannel shirt, and my loafers, and sit on the gallery and watch the gold light in my pecan trees, the hard blue ceramic texture of the sky above the marsh, the red leaves floating like rose petals on the bayou, the fishermen on my dock shaking sacks of cracked ice on their catches of sac-á-lait and big-mouth bass.

Sometimes after a couple of hours I would walk down through the grove of pecan trees and across the dirt road to the dock and bait shop and help Batist, the Negro man who worked for me, count the receipts, seine the dead shiners out of the aluminum bait tanks, or paint sauce piquante on the split chickens and links of sausage that we barbecued in an old oil drum I had cut longways with an acetylene torch and welded hinges and metal legs on. It was a good season that year, and I made a lot of money renting boats and selling bait and beer and serving barbecue lunches to the fishermen who came in at noon and sat around my Southern Bell spool tables with beach umbrellas set in the centers. But I would tire of my own business in a short while, and walk back up on the gallery and look out at the round shafts of light in the trees, and the gray squirrels that ran through the piles of leaves around the trunks.

My left shoulder and arm and upper chest didn't hurt me anymore when I moved around, or even when I turned onto my left side in my sleep. I was all right unless I picked up a lot of weight suddenly with my left hand. Sometimes I unbuttoned my shirt and fingered the round scar that was an inch and a half below my collarbone. It was the size of a dime, red, indented, rubbery to the touch. In an almost narcissistic fascination with my own mortality, I could reach over the top of my shoulder and touch the rubbery scar that had grown over the exit wound. The bullet had gone through me as clean and as straight as an arrow shaft.

On some afternoons I unfolded a card table on the gallery and took apart my guns-a double-barrel twelve-gauge, a.25-caliber hide-away Beretta, and the.45 automatic that I had brought home from Vietnam-and oiled and wiped and polished all the springs and screws and tiny mechanisms. Then I'd oil them again and run bore brushes through the barrels before I reassembled them. I liked the heavy weight of the.45 in my palm, the way the clip snugged up inside the handle, the delicate lines of my fingerprints on the freshly oiled metal. One day I loaded the clip with hollow-points, walked down to the duck pond at the back of my property, eased a round into the chamber, and sighted on a broad green hyacinth leaf. But I didn't pull the trigger. I lowered the automatic, then raised it and aimed again. The afternoon was bright and warm, and the grass in my neighbor's pasture was dull green in the sunlight. I lowered the.45 a second time, released the clip from the magazine, slipped it into my back pocket, pulled back the receiver, and ejected the round in the chamber. I told myself that the pistol's report, which was a deafening one, would be unsettling to the neighbors.

I walked back to the house, put the.45 under some shirts in my dresser drawer, and took no more interest in it.

I did not handle the nights well. Sometimes after supper I took Alafair, my adopted daughter, to Vezey's in New Iberia for ice cream; later, we would drive back down the dirt road along the bayou in the waning twilight, the fireflies lighting in the sky, and I would begin to feel a nameless apprehension that seemed to have no cause. I would try to hide my self-absorption from her, but even though she was only in the second grade, she always read my moods accurately and saw through my disguises. She was a beautiful child, with a round, tan face, wide-set Indian teeth, and shiny black hair cut in bangs. When she smiled her eyes would squint almost completely shut, and you would not guess that she had witnessed a massacre in her Salvadoran village, or that I had pulled her from a pocket of air inside a crashed plane, carrying illegal refugees, out on the salt.

One evening on the way home from the ice cream parlor I could feel her eyes watching the side of my face. I looked over at her and winked. We had bought some new Curious George and Baby Squanto Indian books, and she rode with them stacked on her knees.

"Why you always thinking about something, Dave?" she said. She wore her elastic-waisted jeans, pink tennis shoes, a USL T-shirt with the words "Ragin' Cajuns" printed on it, and an oversized Houston Astros ball cap.

"I'm just tired today, little guy."

"A man in Vezey's said hello to us and you didn't say anything."