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An ornery kind of kid.


Mayo Maloney at 11 was a little shrimp of a fellow who was not rude so much as he was rudeness itself, for he couldn't even step inside a church, for instance, without giving everybody who happened to see him an uncomfortable feeling that he, Mayo, despised the place and its purpose.

It was much the same everywhere else that Mayo went: school, library, theater, home. Only his mother felt that Mayo was not a rude boy, but his father frequently asked him to get down off his high horse and act like everybody else. By this, Michael Maloney meant that Mayo ought to take things easy and stop findings so much fault with everything.

The only thing that didn't bore Mayo was the idea of hunting, but his father wouldn't buy him a gun, not even a .22-caliber single-shot rifle. Michael Maloney told Mayo that as soon as he was sure that Mayo that as soon as he was sure that Mayo had calmed down a little, he would think about buying him a gun. Mayo tried to calm down a little so he could have his gun, but he gave it up after a day and a half.

"I don't know how," Mike Maloney said one night at dinner, "but if you want a gun, you've got to calm down enough so I can believe you won't shoot the neighbors with it. Do you think my father so much as let me sit down to my dinner if I hadn't done something to earn it? He didn't invite me to earn any gun to shoot pheasant with. He told me to earn my food, and he didn't wait until I was 11, either. I started earning it when I was no more than 8. The whole trouble with you is you're too pent-up from not doing any kind of work at all for your food or shelter or clothing to be decently tired and ordinary like everybody else. You're not human, almost. Nobody's human who doesn't know how hard it is to earn his food and the other basic things. It's the fault of your mother and father that you're such a sarcastic and fault-finding man instead of a calm, handsome one. Everybody in this whole town is talking about how your mother and father have turned you into an arrogant ignoramus of a man by not making you earn your right to judge things."

"Now, Mike," Mrs. Maloney said, "Mayo's not as bad as all that. He just wants a gun to hunt pheasant with."

Mike turned to Mrs. Maloney. "Is it a gun I must buy for him now?" he asked.

Mrs. Maloney didn't quite know how to say that it was. She remained silent and tried not to look at either her husband or her son.

"O.K.," Mike Maloney said to both his wife and his son. "I have to go back to the office a minute, so if you'll come along with me I'll drop into Archie Cannon's and buy you a gun."

He got up from the table and turned to Mrs. Maloney.

"Provided, of course," he said, "that that meets with your approval."

"Aren't you going to finish your food?" Mrs. Maloney asked.

"Who wants to waste time eating," Mike Maloney asked, "when it's time to buy a gun?"

Mike Maloney went to the door where his nervous son was standing, waiting for him to shut up and get going.

He turned to his wife and said, "I won't be able to account for him after I turn the gun over to him, but I'll be gone no more than an hour. If we'd been poor and couldn't afford it, he'd know the sinfulness of provoking me into this sort of bitter kindness."

He saw the boy break loose and disappear far down the street. When he got to Archie Cannon's, the boy was waiting for him. They went in, and Mike Maloney asked Archie to show him the guns.

"What kind of a gun do you want, Mike?" Archie asked. "I didn't know you were interested in hunting."

"It's not for myself," Mike Maloney said. "If's for Mayo here, and it ought to be suitable for pheasant shooting."

"Would that be what it would be?" Mike Maloney asked his son, and although the boy hadn't expected anything so precisely suitable for pheasant shooting, he said that a shotgun would be what it would be.

"O.K., Archie," Mike said. "A shotgun."

"Well, then," Archie Cannon said, "this here's a fine double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun and it's just about the best bargain in the store."

"You shouldn't have said that, Archie," Mike Maloney said. "This man's not interested in bargains. What he wants is the best shotgun you've got that's suitable for pheasant shooting."

"That would be this 12-gauge repeater," Archie Cannon said, "which sells for $98.50, plus tax, of course. It's the best gun of its kind."

"Anybody can see it's a better gun," Mike Maloney said. "No need to waste time with inferior firearms."

He handed the gun to Mayo Maloney, who held it barrel down, resting over his right arm, precisely as a gun, loaded or not, ought to be held.

"Anything else?" Mike Maloney asked his son, who said nothing, but with such irritation that Mike quickly said to Archie Cannon, "Shells, of course. What good is a shotgun without shells?"

Archie Cannon jumped to get three boxes of his best shotgun shells, and as he turned them over to Mike Maloney, who turned them over to Mayo, Archie asked, "A hunting coat in which to carry the shells? A red hunting cap?"

Mayo Maloney was gone, however.

"He didn't want those things," Mike Maloney said.

"Some hunters go to a lot of trouble about costume," Archie Cannon said.

"He doesn't," Mike Maloney said. "What do I owe you?"

"One hundred and five dollars and 69^, including tax," Archie said. "Has he got a license?"

"To hunt?" Mike Maloney said. "He hasn't got a license to eat, but damned if I don't halfway admire him sometimes. He must know something, to be so sure of himself and so contemptuous of everybody else."

"To tell you the truth," Archie Cannon said, "I thought you were kidding, Mike. I thought you were kidding the way you sometimes do in court when you're helping a small man fight a big company. I didn't expect you to actually buy a gun and turn it over to an 11-year-old boy. Are you sure it's all right?"

"Of course it's all right," Mike Maloney said. "You saw for yourself the way he held the gun." He began to write a check. "Now, what did you say it came to?"

"A hundred and five sixty-nine," Archie Cannon said. "I hope you know there's no pheasant to speak of anywhere near here. The Sacramento Valley is where the pheasant shooting is."

"Where you going to be around ten o'clock tonight?" Mike Maloney asked.

"Home, most likely," Archie Cannon said. "Why?"

"Would you like to drop over to my house for a couple of bottles of beer around ten?" Mike asked.

"I'd like that very much," Archie said. "Why?"

"Well," Mike said, "the way I figure is this: It's a quarter after five now. It'll take him about 3 minutes to hitch a ride with somebody going out to Riverdale, which is about 25 miles from here. That would take an average driver 40 or 45 minutes to make, but he'll get the driver, whoever he is, or she is, for that matter, to make it in about half an hour or a little under. He'll do it by being excited, not by saying anything. He'll get the driver to go out of his or her way to let him off where the hunting is, too, so he'll start hunting right away, or a little before six. He'll hunt until after dark and walk a lot in the meantime. He won't get lost or anything like that, but he'll have to walk back to a road with a little traffic. He'll hitch a ride back, and he'll be home a little before or a little after ten."

"How do you know?" Archie said. "How do you even know he's going hunting at all tonight? He just got the gun, and he may not even know how to work it."

"You saw him take off, didn't you?" Mike Maloney asked. "He took off to go hunting. And you can be sure he either knows how to work the gun or will find out by himself in a few minutes."

"Well," Archie said, "I certainly would like to drop by for some beer, Mike, if you're serious."

"Of course I'm serious," Mike said.

"I suppose you want to have somebody to share your amusement with when he gets back with nothing shot and his body all sore from the powerful kick of the gun," Archie said.

"Yes," Mike said. "I want to have somebody to share my amusement with, but not for those reasons. He may be a little sore from the powerful kick of the gun, but I think he'll come back with something."

"I don't get it," Archie said.

"You're game warden of this area, aren't you?"

"I am."

"O.K.," Mike said, "if it turns out that he's broken the law, I want you to know it."

"Well," Archie said, "I wouldn't wnat to bother about a small boy shooting a few days out of season without a license."

"I'll see you a little before ten, then," Mike Maloney said.

He spent a half-hour at his office, then walked home slowly, to find the house quiet and peaceful, the kids in bed, and his wife doing the dishes. He took the discloth and began to dry dishes.

"I bought him the best shotgun Archie Cannon had for pheasant shooting," he said.

"I hope he didn't make you too angry," Mrs. Maloney said.

"He did for a while," Mike said, "but all of a sudden he didn't, if you know what I mean."

"I don't know what you mean," Mrs. Maloney said.

"I mean," Mike said, "it's all right not being poor."

"What's being poor got to do with it?" Mrs. Maloney asked.

"I mean it's all right, that's all," Mike said.

"I don't know what I think now," Mrs. Maloney said. "You're had so much trouble with him all along, and now all of a sudden you buy him and expensive gun and believe it's perfectly all right for him to go off hunting in the middle of the night on the third day of October. Why?"

"Well," Mike Maloney said, "it's because while I was preaching to him at the table this afternoon, something began to happen. It was as if my own father were preaching to me 30 years ago when I was Mayo's age. Oh, I did earn my food, as I said, and I wanted a gun, just as he's been wanting one. Well, my father preached to me, and I didn't get the gun. I mean, I didn't get it until almost 5 years later, when it didn't mean very much to me any more. Well, while I was preaching to him this afternoon, I remembered that when my fater preached to me, I was sure he was mistaken to belittle me so, and I even believed that somehow--somehow or other, perhaps because we were so poor, if that makes sense--he would suddenly stop preaching and take me along without any fuss of any kind and buy me a gun. But of course he didn't. And I remembered that he didn't, and I decided that I'd do for my son what my father had not done for me."

"Do you mean you and Mayo are alike?" Mrs. Maloney asked.

"I do," Mike said. "I do indeed."

"Very much alike?"

"Almost precisely," Mike said. "Oh, he'll not be the great man he is now for long, but I don't want to be the one to cheat him out of a single moment of his greatness."

"Well, I hope he doesn't hurt himself," Mrs. Maloney said.

"We'll never know if he does," Mike said. "I've asked Archie to come by around ten for some beer, because I figure he'll be back by then."

Mike Maloney went out on the front porch with his wife, and they sat and talked about their son Mayo and their other kids until a little after nine, and then Mrs. Maloney went inside to see if the beer was in the icebox and to put some stuff out on the kitchen table, to go with the beer. Then she went to bed.

Around a quarter to ten Archie Cannon came walking up the street and sat down in the rocker on the front porch.

The two ent inside and sat down at the kitchen table. Mike lifted the caps off two bottles of cold beer, filled two tall glasses, and they began to drink. There was a plate loaded with cold roast beef, ham, bologna, and sliced store cheese, and another plate with rye bread on it, already buttered.

When it was almost 12 and Mayo Maloney hadn't come home, Archie Cannon wondered if he shouldn't offer to get up and go home or maybe even offer to get his car and go looking for the boy, but he decided he'd better not. Mike Maloney seemed excited and angry at himself for having done such a foolish thing, and he might not like for Archie to rub it in.

A little before one in the morning, after they had finished a half-dozen bottles of beer apiece and all the food Mrs. Maloney had set out for them, and after they had talked about everything in the world excepting Mayo Maloney, they heard footsteps on the back stairs, and then on the porch, and after a moment he came into the kitchen.

He was a tired man. His face was dirty and flushed, and his clothes were dusty and covered with prickly burs of all kinds. His hands were scratched and almost black with dirt. His gun was slung over his right arm, though, and nested in his left arm were two beautiful pheasants.

He set the birds on the kitchen table, then broke his gun up for cleaning. He wrapped a dry dishtowel around the pieces and put the bundle in the drawer in which he kept his junk. He then brought six unused shells out of his pockets and placed them in the drawer, too, locked the drawer with his key, and put the key back into his pocket. Then he went to the kitchen sink and rolled up his sleeves and washed his hands and arms and face and neck, and after he'd dried himself, he looked into the refrigerator and brought out some bologna wrapped in butcher paper and began to eat it without bread, while he fetched bread and butter and a chair. He sat down and began to put three thick slices of bologna between two slices of buttered bread. Mike Maloney had never before seen him eat so heartily.

He didn't look restless and mean any more, either.

Mike Maloney got up with Archie Cannon, and they left the house by the back door in order not to disturb Mrs. Maloney and the sleeping kids.

"I'll walk you home," Mike said.

In the kitchen, the boy finished his sandwich, drank a glass of milk, and rubbed his shoulder.

The whole evening and night had been unbelievable. Suddenly at the table, when his father had been preaching to him, he'd begun to understand his father a littel better, and himself, too, but he'd known he couldn't immediately stop being the way he had been for so long, the way that was making everybody so uncomfortable. He'd known he'd have to go on for a while longer and see the thing through. He'd have to go along with his father. He'd known all this very clearly, because his father had suddenly stopped being a certain way--the way everybody believed a father ought to be--and Mayo had known it was going to be necessary for him to stop being a certain way, too--the way he had believed he had to be.

In the kitchen, almost asleep from weariness, he decided he'd tell his father exactly what he'd done, but he'd wait awhile first, maybe ten years.

He'd had a devil of a time finding out how the gun worked, and he hadn't been able to hitch a ride at all, so he'd walked and run six miles to the countryside around Clovis, and there he'd loaded the gun and aimed it at a blackbird in a tree leaning over Clovis Creek and pressed the trigger.

The kick had knocked him down, and he had missed the bird by a mile. He'd had to walk a long way through tall, dry grass and shrubs for something else to shoot at, but all it was was another blackbird, and again the kick had knocked him down, and he'd missed it by a mile.

It was getting dark fast by then, and there didn't seem to be anything alive around at all, so he began to shoot the gun just to get used to it. Pretty soon he could shoot it and not get knocked down. He kept shooting and walking, and finally it was dark, and it seemed he was lost. He stumbled over a hidden rock and fell and shot the gun by accident and got a lot of dirt in his eyes. He got up and almost cried, but he managed not to, and then he found a road, but he had no idea where it went or which direction to take. He was scratched and sore all over and not very happy about the way he'd shot the gun by accident. He was scared, too, and he said a pryaer a minute and meant every word of what he said. And he understood for the first time in his life why people liked to go to church.

And pretty soon he felt so tired and small and lost and hopeless and foolish that he could barely keep from crying, and he said, "Please don't let me cry."

He walked a long time, and then far down the road he saw a small light, and he began to walk faster. It was a country store with a gasoline pump out front and a new pickup truck beside the pump. Inside the store was the driver of the truck and the storekeeper, and he saw that it was 20 minutes to 12. The storekeeper was an old man who ws sitting on a box talking to the driver of the truck, who was about as old as the boy's father.

He saw the younger man wink at the older one, and he thanked God for both of them, and for the wink, too, because he didn't think people who could wink could be unfriendly.

He told them exactly what he had done, and why, and the men looked at him and at each other until he was all through talking. They both examined the brand-new gun, too. Then the storekeeper handed the gun back to the boy and said to the younger man, "I'll be much obliged to you, Ed, if you'll get this man home in our truck."

They were a father and a son too, apparently, and good friends, besides. Mayo Maloney admired them very much, and on account of them, he began to like people in general too.

"Not at all," the younger man said.

"And I'd like to think we might rustle up a couple of pheasant for him to take home, too."

"That might not be easy to do this hour of the night," the younger man said, "but we could try."

"Isn't there an all-night Chinese restaurant in town that serves pheasant in and out of season?" the old man asked. "Commercial pheasant, that is?"

"It certainly is worth looking into," the younger man said.

The younger man drove all the way to town in silence, and when the boy saw familiar places, he thought in prayer again, saying, I certainly don't deserve this, and I'm never going to forget it.

The truck crossed the Southern Pacific tracks to Chinatown, and the driver parked in front of Willie Fong's, which was open, although nobobdy was eating inside. The driver stepped out of the truck and went into the restaurant, and the boy saw him talk to a waiter. The waiter disappeared and soon came back with a man in a business suit. This man and the driver of the truck talked a moment, and then they both diasppeared into the back of the restaurant. After a few minutes the driver of the truck came back, and he was holding something that was wrapped in newspaper. He came out of the restaurant and got back into the truck, and they drove off again.

"How's your father?" the man asked suddenly.

"He's fine," Mayo managed to say.

"I mean," the man said, "you are Mike Maloney's boy, aren't you?"

"Yes, I am," Mayo Maloney said.

"I thought you were," the man said. "You look alike and have a lot in common. You don't have to tell me where you live. I know where it is. And I know you want to know who I am, but don't you think it would be better if I didn't tell you? I've had dealings with your father, and he lent me some money once when I needed it badly and we both wereen't sure I'd ever be able to pay him back. So it's all right. I mean, nobody's going to know anything about this from me."

"Did they have any pheasants?" the boy asked.

"Oh, yes," the man said. "I'm sorry I forgot to tell you. They're in that newspaper. Just throw the paper out the window."

The boy removed the paper from around the birds and looked at them. They were just about the most wonderful-looking things in the whole world.

"Do they have any shot in them?" he asked. "Because they ought to.c

"No, I'm afraid they don't," the driver said, "but we'll drive out here a little where it's quiet and we won't disturb too many sleeping farmers, and between the two of us we'll get some shot into them. You can do the shooting, if you like."

"I might spoil them," the boy said.

"I'll be glad to attend to it, then," the driver said.

They drove along in silence a few minutes, and then the truck turned into a lonely road and stopped. The driver got out and placed the two birds on some grass by the side of the road in the light of the truck's lights about 20 yards off. Then he took the gun, examined it, aimed, fired once, unloaded the gun, fetched the birds, got back into the truck, and they drove off again.

"They're just right now," he said.

"Thanks," the boy said.

When the truck got into his neighborhood, Mayo asked, "Could I get off a couple of blocks from my house, so nobody will see this truck accidentally?"

"Yes, that's a good idea," the driver said.

The truck stopped. The boy carefully nested the two birds in his left arm, then got out, and the driver helped him get the gun slung over his right arm.

"I never expected anything like this to happen," the boy said.

"No, I suppose not," the man said. "I never expected to find a man like your father when I needed him, either, but I guess things like that happen just the same. Well, good night."

"Good night," the boy said.

The man got into the truck and drove off, and the boy hurried home and into the house.

When Mike Maloney got back from walking Archie Cannon home, he was surprised to find the boy asleep on his folded arms at the kitchen table. He shook the boy gently, and Mayo Maloney sat up with a start, his eyes bloodshot and his ears red.

"You better get to bed," Mike said.

"I didn't want to go," the boy said, "until you got back, so I could thank you for the gun."

"That wasn't necessary," the man said. "That wasn't necessary at all."

The boy got up and barely managed to drag himself out of the room without falling.

Alone now, the father picked up the birds, examined them, and smiled, because he knew whatever was behind their presence in the house was certainly something as handsome as the birds themselves.
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Title Annotation:short story
Author:Saroyan, William
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1986
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