The Warden

Posted on: November 4, 2014

Sometimes your dad wakes you up way too early, and in that fumbling darkness as you put on your contacts, there is a moment of clarity. After you stick those weird little lenses onto your eyeball there is a second where the world shifts from dream to reality.

Then sometimes that moment ends and you realize that your contacts have been soaking in disinfectant -- not cleaning solution, but rather that old school, hazardous shit. Sometimes panic comes before pain. Sometimes you set your eyeballs on fire.

Your dad comes into the bathroom because he hears the yelling. He finds you in the fetal position, and because nothing could have possibly happened at this moment to warrant such a response from his oldest son, he begins to laugh.

“Son, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”

You want to tell him that the pain is real, but all you seem to manage is, “arrrrrgh, no, eeeeyyyyyyess.”

You hear him walk down the hall and yell back to you in that familiar drawl.

“Well, get the hell up. We’re burnin’ daylight.”

You end up sprawled in the back seat of a maroon suburban with your eyes squeezed shut, trying to think about what it would mean to literally burn daylight. It would probably feel like your eyes right about now.

This is how your trip begins. You’re going duck hunting with your old man.

To embark on this masculine pastime of bird-killing you must wake up very early. The weather will be very cold, and there may even be snow on the ground. You’ll need to wake up early enough to get to the partially frozen pond, don your camouflage waders that look like giant rubber overalls, and set up the decoys in a very particular pattern that changes based on the wind and maybe some other variables; all before the sun comes up. You’ll then hunker down in a camouflage blind, wearing your camouflage coat, hat, gloves, pants, and even long-underwear. You cannot wrap your head around the concept of camouflage underwear. You will then wait. And wait. And wait. You’ll begin to fall asleep from all the waiting and because your eyes hurt from the disinfectant. Your dad will blow a terrible honking noise out of a strange tube-like device that is also camouflaged called a duck call.

You asked your pops if you could bring your Walkman with you, so you could pass the time with the new Smashing Pumpkins cassette Siamese Dream, the one that has the song “Silverfuck” on it. The one that your mom took away because it has the song “Silverfuck” on it, but then you went and bought another copy and now you listen to it in secret and obviously this makes it better.

Ironically enough, the fact that your mom tried to pull a Tipper Gore on your music collection means that of all the cassettes you owned, and all the songs you listened to, the one you remember the most is a song with the amazing title of “Silverfuck.”

“Pops, can I bring my Walkman to listen to music?”


“Pops, can I bring, like, a book or something? To pass the time?”

“Son, we’re going hunting. You’re not going to read a damn book.”

“Pops, can I bring…”


It’s really cold in the blind, and even with all the clothes you’re feeling pretty miserable. Your dad says to shut up, that you’re talking too loud. There are no birds anywhere. Even your dog, the black Labrador named Beauregard, he for whom this rodeo be not his first, even he looks up at you silently teasing, “Sucks, right?”

After more honking and your dad checking his watch, then looking up at the sun, grumbling something under his breath and checking his watch again, finally there is a bird.

You stand up and your dad immediately sits your ass back down.

“The bird!”


The bird does not appreciate your antics, spots the waiting ambush, flies away.

“Goddamnit,” mutters the old man.

Before long, another bird appears on the horizon, making a beeline to your trap. This time you stay put. Dad honks his duck call and the sounds escape the device in jagged, jumpy intervals. You’ve learned that you have to wait for the duck to cup its wings, wait until it slowly begins to drift toward the frozen pond, and then as it’s hanging in the air, as if by a string, you take the shot.


The twelve-gauge recoils against your shoulder as you fire. The duck falls. Beau bounds out of the blind, ripping through the tall grass, his black tail curled up like a shark fin above the reeds.

Your dad is grinning at you, and his blue eyes shine in the sun. The barrel of his shotgun is smoking.

“You fired too?”

“I missed. That was all you.”

You don’t see another bird all morning, but the waiting is somehow now invigorated like its been struck by lightning. Even the silence is electric.

Around noon you begin to pack up your gear. On the way back to your grandparent’s house you sit up front with your dad, and ya’ll listen and sing along to Garth Brooks cassettes. Your dad tells you for the hundredth time how he really wanted to be a game warden, but he wanted a family more, and it was tough to raise a family on a game warden’s salary. You can hear in his voice dreams of a road not taken, one of hunting trailers and lonely, straight roads at dusk. But then he looks at you, and it’s as if the dream was only a passing thought. His voice changes and he tells you that it’s probably for the best that he’s not a game warden.

“If it was my job, if I did it all the time, it wouldn’t be special anymore. It wouldn’t be the same.”

You stop at a little roadside diner to get runny eggs and bacon. Black coffee for your pops. Other hunters dressed in camouflage uniforms populate the diner, and they speak to your dad in what seems like a foreign language.

“Set up near Ponca, out near Vance Riggins’ place.”

“Went out there once with Jim Caldwell.”

“From Enid?”

“Okarche. Didn’t see shit though.”

You get back to the house and the cousins are playing a football game in the front yard; a Christmas tradition. You play all-time quarterback for a bit, then head inside and lounge on the couch, prepping for a nap. The Spurs are on television and your uncle from San Antonio yells at the television as you drift off. Your mom walks by and ruffles your hair.


“My butt itches.”


“Did you have a good time with your father?”

“Yeah. It was cool.”

She smiles and kisses you on the cheek.

“Uh huh. So I guess that means you’ll be getting up and going again tomorrow. I’ll go tell your father.”

The meaning lags behind the words, a case of tape-delayed brain, and then it hits home and panic ensues for the first time since the contact incident.

“No! Jesus, Mom!”

Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

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