The Steer

The uncles  and great-uncles   congregate around  the long stock trailer,  shit splattered,
dried shit caked to the wooden floor.  They rest their hands on the trailer,  knuckles dry
and swollen from labor,   fingers curled around the painted metal.  Only one steer in the
trailer, led out from the back, hooves making the metal bars ring.  They draw it out by a
rope and talk about who will do it,  are nearly decided when the white man steps out of
the  house.  They look  at each other.  He could do it,  they  say.  The man  smiles,  says
nothing,  nods his  head  when  asked,  the only  hesitation  when  they  hand  him  the
sledgehammer,  a flicker of clouds  in his blue eyes.  Two uncles, brothers, hold the cow
with rope. The man looks at the cow, feels the eyes on him, hefts the hammer.  The first
blow comes  from the  man’s shoulders,  is solid but  the cow just nods and blinks.  The
second,  harder,  the cow lows,  tugs the rope.  Now the man works,  rising and pivoting
with the hammer head swinging low to his heels,  then up arcing,  torso twisting, knees
bent,  the metal in  a long curve,  hammer face flashing  in the midday sun  and landing
between the steer’s eyes,  meaty crack  shuddering  through the  toes,  stagger  and low,
foam and  mucus in its nose and mouth.  Blow four,  the animal buckles and falls under
the hammer’s malice.  The man, winding up, dropping the hammer  behind his back for
another,  arms straight and  loose,  free in  their  sockets,  stutters in his  motion,  loses
power and, newly unbalanced, he, too, staggers. The cow’s last breath and tremble in its
neck.  Sweat on the man’s brow.  The uncles kneel to the cow for the rope, undo it, loop
it  around their  hands and  elbows.  Blood from  the cow’s  mouth.  The man  does not
smile.  One  brother  makes  a joke,  claps  the  white  man on  the  back,  squeezes  his
shoulder. The man with the light eyes turns the hammer head in his hand, finds a nick
there. I’m sorry, he says, and walks to the tool shed.  That’s where we find the man, at a
belt sander shining the hammer face, sparks flickering and dying against the leather of
his boots.