God Doing Electrical Work
Around midnight, a giant duck came out of nowhere and jumped me while I was lying on an empty tennis court at the park by my house, so I killed it. And when I say giant duck, I mean big for a duck. Not building-sized or anything, but like a goose, or certain dogs. One of those ugly, hissing Muscovies that lurk around ponds and chase your kids. I was watching the sky when it snuck up and stepped on my face. As soon as the duck made contact, I freaked out, punching and kicking as if my life depended on it. Feathers formed a meteor-sized halo around our bodies on the tennis court, and for some reason, I could not stop swinging.
Some nights, the weather is just right for heat lightning—and God damn, if that isn’t one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. First of all, it’s often dry when it happens, and you’ve got this backdrop of massive clouds all bunched up in the sky like curtains, just purple and gray and beetle-black. Then it flickers to life, the pulses of lightning coming alive like gymnasts flying back and forth, catching each other, tossing themselves miles across the airways in mere moments. And it all sounds almost like a whisper, like a quick exhale. Almost nothing.
We used to say lightning was God taking pictures—like he was some paparazzi, hiding behind the clouds and getting snapshot proof of all the good or bad things we did. If that’s the case, then I don’t really know what heat lightning is. It could be his heartbeat. Or pulse.
When the duck stopped breathing, I sat up, feeling disturbed by the eerie night and by the fact that the heat lightning had also stilled. When I was a kid, my dad told me that Muscovy ducks tasted just like Thanksgiving turkey if you cooked them right. He said that about most birds, but still, I was beginning to feel guilty about killing it, so I brought the body home with me and tossed it in the freezer.
My roommate Will woke me up the next morning by kicking the side of my bed. He mostly never came in my room, so this was new.
“Did you put a bird in our freezer?” he said, his voice still not recovered from waking up.
I pulled a pillow over my head because the room was too bright.
“Did you kill it, too?”
“No,” I lied. “I found it dead. I’m gonna cook it for dinner tonight so it doesn’t go to waste. It’ll be a lot of food, so invite whomever. Bring a date. I don’t care.”
Will looked at me for a long while, his face all drawn up as if he was reading a book. I assumed he could see something there that I could not, so I tried to keep still, tried not to disturb him as he read. The sheets probably looked like pages, for all I knew.
“I’m not inviting people over to eat a dead duck you found,” he said finally.
“Their loss,” I replied, but I was slightly disappointed, because in my head, there was going to be a party, and Will was always better than me at inviting people over. Maybe it would just be me eating and eating until I’ve devoured the duck whole—neck, beak, feet, all of it.
Later in the day, I stopped by my parent’s house to go through the attic and see if Dad had a recipe book anywhere. I knew he’d written down a recipe for the duck once, only I couldn’t remember if it was a joke or not. But mom stopped me before I got upstairs.
“It’s too soon to be going through all his stuff, don’t you think?” she said.
“Well, no. Not really, I guess.”
“Did you see the heat lightning last night?”
“Uh, huh,” I said.
“God doing electrical work, that’s what we used to call it.”
“Did dad keep a recipe book?” I asked. “Or, did he have one for Thanksgiving duck anywhere?”
“We never ate duck for Thanksgiving,” she told me. “Only turkey.”
“Oh, right,” I said, and I left her there, stopped by the grocery store on the way home to pick up some potatoes and cranberry sauce.
It took me a long time to pluck the creature because of its massive size. And because I could not stop feeling guilty with it lying there on the countertop, I had to tuck away its ugly head to prevent it from looking at me. It was dead, and that was that. But still, the process was nauseating and bloodier than I expected. When it was finally in the oven, I collapsed onto the couch, nearly ready to fall asleep, when Will came home and yelled at me for leaving greasy smudges all over the cushions, telling me I should go take a shower.
“Okay, okay,” I said, but I went outside instead and watched the pinkening sunset. There were a few clouds, but no lightning. Since leaving my family’s house, something had been bugging me about the place. It smelled different somehow, different in a way I really couldn’t put my finger on. I decided I would call tomorrow about the gas pipes to make sure there was no leak or anything like that. To think I had half a mind to move back in with my mom lately, but it would be better if I just helped out in other ways, like getting people to fix the plumbing and invite her over for occasional meals.
As the sky turned to night, and pulsing flashes began lighting up the clouds, I noticed a paddling of Muscovies gathering down the street, so I fled back inside, where the whole house was beginning to smell like Thanksgiving, and locked the door behind me.
Joey Hedger is author of the chapbook In the Line of a Hurricane, We Wait (Red Bird) and has stories published or forthcoming in Complete Sentence, Posit, and Flyway Journal. You can find him at joeyhedger.com
© Variant Literature Inc 2021