Hunting Seasonby Matthew Scheuermann
As a boy, home was a small townhouse an hour outside of Philadelphia. At the entrance to our community, a sign stood that read Hidden Pines in a bold, refined script. The placard mirrored the homes on Sycamore Drive—white with black shutters, an eastern white pine on the front lawn. Dad said when we first moved, he could see the Milky Way from the backyard. All I saw were trees outside my bedroom window.
Our neighbors were satisfactory, and Dad got along with none of them. As the community grew around us, he sank deeper into the house. “This place used to be quiet,” he’d say as construction vehicles rode past. “Now, it’s like we’re in the city again.”
Dad never spoke much about the old house. “Too many bad memories,” Mom said. He never spoke much about anything, really. For as long as I could remember, Dad was a complainer. When his job was outsourced, he had his gripes to fall back on. But when my sister passed, he growled only about the state of the economy. Complaints were his deities, and he worshipped them daily.
All of the neighbors had two cars, except for the Thompsons. They had three. And we only had one, a rusting Aerostar. Dad never used the driveway and hated to park in the garage. “I park in the driveway and these people will block me in,” he’d say, but Mom and I knew better.
Mr. Thompson parked his Jaguar in the only spot in front of our house, and Dad couldn’t stand it. Its shining black coat was an eyesore, and he fought to eradicate it, speaking to Mr. Thompson, the homeowner association, even the city. But the car never moved.
When he mowed the lawn, Dad pointed the blower at the polished door. When he parked in the street, he nudged the back bumper with the Aerostar. And when he walked by, he cursed at the abomination. But it continued to lurk outside the front window, taunting him.
“That Thompson is a piece of work,” Dad would say over dinner, neglecting his food. “He thinks he can do whatever he wants.”
“Honey,” Mom would say, resting her hand on his, “it’s just a parking spot. Don’t you think you’re blowing this out of proportion?”
But Dad would shake his head. “We work our whole lives to grow old and be comfortable, but everyone just tries to take it away.” Mom would sigh and return to her plate. “That’s our spot, damn it, and I won't let Thompson take it from us.”
And so it went for years. Dad came home from work, complained over dinner, and went to bed grumbling, always about the Jaguar.
But one night, while Hurricane Ben ravaged the east coast and beat against the side of the house, the spot was empty. I called Dad. “I’ll be right home,” he said, fighting to contain himself. I made my way to the front window, keeping an eye out for that awful Jaguar. For minutes, the street was lifeless. The thunder roared and the rain pooled at the bottom of the driveway.
At the corner, Dad’s headlights were dim in the heavy rain, growing bright as he neared the house. At the other end of the street, a pair of high beams shined through the storm, charging. Dad signaled toward the empty spot, waiting for the car to pass.
But the Jaguar slid in front of the house, throwing its high beams on the Aerostar’s windshield. All was silent as the rain pounded against the hoods of the cars.
Mr. Thompson waved at Dad before running into the house. Dad didn’t curse or yell when he pulled into the driveway, his turn signal blinking. He waved me outside while he headed for the garage door.
A step out the door, and I was soaked through. I made my way around the house, confused by the banging sounds from the open garage door. When I rounded the corner, I had to duck under two metal legs. Dad had the ladder hoisted on his shoulder, marching toward the Jaguar.
I thought the ladder was going through the car window, but Dad stopped at the tree at the edge of the lawn.
“Hold this steady,” he yelled, standing the ladder against the thick trunk. He returned to the garage.
Alone, I snapped my head from house to house, ready to run when spotted. The windows of the surrounding homes were empty. At least I hoped they were. My hands shook on the ladder.
Dad emerged with an old carpenter’s saw in hand. His march was steady and his face, determined. Stepping onto the ladder confidently, he climbed rung after rung until he stood over the Jaguar. The ladder shook as he started sawing at one of the tree’s thick branches. I fought to keep him steady, but the winds were too strong.
“Dad!” I called, but he kept sawing. “Dad, please!” But the wind took my voice. My hands slipping on the sides of the ladder, I fought to keep a steady grip. The ladder kept shaking, sinking deeper into the mud. “Dad!”
My voice was lost in the branch’s loud crack. It hurtled toward the Jaguar, throwing pine needles across the lawn before landing on the roof of the car. Dad remained on the ladder, staring down at the scene. Under the heavy branches, the Jaguar’s black coat was scratched and dented, covered in needles.
The Thompsons’ front lights came on. “Dad! C’mon!”
He climbed down and handed me the saw, his eyes wide. He carried the ladder toward the garage and I followed close behind. While he hung the ladder on the wall, I scrambled to find a place to hide the evidence. Burying the saw in an old suitcase, I covered it with boxes, blankets, anything within reach.
Early the next morning, the storm had passed and the neighbors assessed the damage. Pine needles covered the lawns. The eastern white pine stood with a clean-cut branch, and the spot in front of the house was empty. Thompson never addressed it.
As the years passed, Dad always parked in that empty spot. And every night at dinner, he grumbled about the pine needles on the roof of the car.