Although this book exists, I cannot find a picture of it anywhere! So I took a photo of a copy I have. On goodreads.com, there are a few reviews, but no book cover. It’s strange and I don’t know why it is what it is. Anyway, I took tenth place in this competition in 2016!
“The Predicament of Planting Sunflowers: Perspective 1”
By E. Ellis Allen
Most folks in Irvin County, knows his gun, his terrain, and respect for nature. We figure if you know that, there’s nothing else worth knowing. Don’t recall who said it, only it was said, and often.
Long after the murders, reporters, and journalists swarmed our town, asking what we knew, and if we could’ve stopped it. They were met with tight lips and closed doors. The truth was we all knew Whit Magnum. He was one of us.
Whit looked after me every day while my dad worked.
Yellow bus number seven dropped me at the bottom of Cherry Lane, where Whit and his dog, Remy, were waiting.
Remy was a good dog. At church on Sundays, he’d lie at Whit’s feet, snoring under the pew, while Bishop Bates delivered his sermon.
“Hey, there, Latchkey kid,” Whit would say when I got off the bus. “What’dya learn today?”
If it were mathematics or science, Whit’d pull from his shirt pocket Tic-tac’s and shake two orange ones into my hand.
Together, we’d walk and talk going up the road to his house. Cherry Lane meandered a quarter mile up a hill of black trees with spindling branches. Cherry forked twice before ending at Whit’s house, Dove Creek Cabin, with a view of the whole valley down below.
Whit kept a large chicken coop, and on summer days, would task me with gathering eggs and cleaning up after the mean old chickens. One day, while raking out the coop, I heard screeching and saw hens rushing into the corner. A baby chick was being chased and stepped on by the others. They’d place a clawed foot on its back and peck at it with their sharp beaks.
“Stop it!” I swung my rake.
“Hey, now?” Whit opened the gate to the pen.
“Look what they’re doing to ‘em.”
Whit shooed the birds away. He lifted the small chick. The back of its head had been plucked bald and pecked bloody. He placed it on the ground. It wobbled and hopped in a circle, furiously chirping and flapping one of its wings.
“A shame. It was born, wrong. Look, it’s head’s deformed.” Whit picked it up again. “They’ll keep pecking at it ’til its dead.”
“What do we do?”
Whit clucked his tongue. He placed his thumb on one side of the chick’s head and his fingers on the other, and then twisted until it’s sad, wailing chirps stopped.
“Best thing I could’ve done it,” he said, dropping it into the garbage pail. It lay at the bottom in a heap of sawdust. It’s neck stretched out, and its head hanging oddly next to it, its vacant yellow eye open, staring at nothing.
“Come on,” Whit put his arm around me, “let’s go to the field, awhile.”
Whit took Remy and me to stand among the sunflowers. We watched the brown-eyed Susans follow the sun across the sky, bending their heads as if praying while the sun slid down on the opposite side. It was the last day before the harvest, the last day before every flower in the field would be mowed down.
“Better go,” Whit said. “You’re dad’s waiting for us in town.”
“They want to raise taxes, on us.” He whistled and Remy jumped into the truck cab.
We bumped down Main Street, across old potholes and crumbling asphalt. The meeting had already begun. We slid in the row with my dad. My eyes were heavy and dry. I laid my head on my dad’s knee and fell asleep.
I woke to my father and Whit talking in low, angry voices outside on my front porch. “Peterson’s idea isn’t such a bad one.” My dad said.
“Are you outta your mind?” Whit said.
“Listen, we’re all hunters ‘round here. Why shouldn’t we start profiting from it? If Peterson can get city folk to pay for dove meat, why shouldn’t we do it?”
“What about our traditions?” Whit said.
“That’s not the point. Those folks will pay a hundred dollars per one ounce of dove meat. Irvin County could make a fortune.”
“A fortune? Tom, wake up. Ain’t nobody buying dove for a hundred dollars.” Whit said.
“How’d you know? Peterson’s one of ‘em. If he says they’ll pay it, I don’t know why we shouldn’t believe him.” My dad sat down on one of the stairs.
“Everyone knows you need seed crop so birds can eat, a creek, so they can roost and power lines for perching. But you don’t go planting sunflowers to hunt dove. That ain’t right!” Whit spun around and disappeared in the dark.
“Come on, Whit, be reasonable.”
Whit’s pickup revved, and his high beams flipped on. He sped away.
Within days, the whole town was hunting dove for Mr. Peterson. One day, a massive Ford filled with men laughing loudly, slapping their hands on the sides of the truck and causing a ruckus came to town, all of them with a gun strapped to their back.
The day after, Gibbs Mallory was shot dead in the field.
Gibbs was the youngest of the Mallory seven. The Mallory’s had seven boys. Whit used to say they looked like Russian Nesting dolls, each the spit and image of the one before him.
Gibbs Mallory was born wrong though I didn’t know it. I used to talk to him at church. Once, he peed his pants, even though he was old enough to know better.
Whit clucked his tongue, “Pitiful. That boy’s nearly fifteen-years-old and still needs help to go to the toilet.” He watched a Mallory brother lead Gibbs away.
The next thing we knew, Gibbs had been shot in the back of the head. Most thought the rowdies, who’d been making a mess, hunting, drinking and littering the fields since they climbed out of that truck, had killed him. They were questioned but released. Everybody knew the shot to Gibbs had come from a stray and was an accident. Besides, we all felt sorry for the Mallory’s.
At church, a collection was taken in a man’s hat for funeral expenses. Dad and Whit hadn’t made up, but we came late and had to share the pew. Dad passed Whit the hat. Whit shook his head.
“They shouldn’t have given that retard a gun in the first place,” he said. “Too dangerous.” He passed the hat on.
Two weeks later, Mr. Peterson was found shot dead, inside his house. He had gone to the front door, and someone shot him in the chest, knocking him back inside.
No collection hat was sent around for Mr. Peterson. By then, too many hunters had crowded the field, and the doves had flown away, for good.
Since Mr. Peterson’s murder, my dad had grown pale. He stopped sleeping and eating. He’d just look into space, his eyes moving about, in their sockets, like he was figuring clues in a crossword.
“Who’d you think shot ‘em?” My dad and me sat in our kitchen over two bowls of runny oatmeal and dry toast.
“I dunno,” my dad said, unconvincingly.
“Think one of them rowdies, did it?” I asked, watching him close.
“Maybe. Doesn’t make much sense, though.”
“Just doesn’t. Caroline, eat your breakfast.”
It was the first day of school. My dad parked in front of the elementary.
“I don’t want you going to Mr. Magnum’s house after school anymore,” he said.
“Just don’t. Bus number five will drop you in front of the West’s. You can walk home from there.”
It must have been because I wasn’t at the bus stop at the bottom of his hill, that Whit and his dog went back home. Whit tied Remy to the fence post before shooting him in the head. Then Whit called the police and confessed to murdering Gibbs and Mr. Peterson.
Whitney Magnum died eight months after his conviction. His cold body was found swinging from the bars.
He was buried in the cemetery with a slab of granite marking his name, his birth year and the year he died.
Every winter, the hill leading up to Dove Creek Cabin would be thick in snow, and the black tree limbs resembled hands clawing out from underneath. Stoplights were put in, and the bluff was cleared for new houses, and every old memory of what had been was erased.
I asked my dad once, why Whit had killed poor Remy. He was a good dog.
He shrugged, “probably thought it was the best thing he could’ve done for him.”