Fall Hunter

Tom Brady had two hours left to wait at the Dark Brew Coffee House before the girl he’d arranged a date with would arrive. His empty mug woke him to the uneasiness in his muscles. He begged himself to bring it to the counter for another refill to help him wait. Instead, he continued looking down, aware of that unavoidable decision he would make prior to Three O’clock.
In the face of his weakness, he formed his usual scowl that mixed contempt with distrust. Put off by the surroundings he’d found himself in nearly every day, he couldn’t understand why he continued coming back. Why after so much time, he maintained the semi-daily ritual of entering through glass doors, sitting unnoticed by the register, and rereading magazines nobody liked to see him carry. They portrayed the skill of a hunt, and the glory of a woodsman. Part of him wished it wouldn’t occupy every aspect of his interest, but he thought the need too inlaid to change. Photos or articles of dead and stuffed animals served to remind him of his weighty grasp of living. Such a grasp secured the truth he came to know in brutality.
Would-be peers despised his presence, mistook him as some worshipper of savage acts, a carrier of heartless ego. But it was his control. That control was the foundation for what he thought was steady protection. A few had tried to crumble those walls, intrigued by the distance, testing his defense. They brought with them a sense of pity Brady could not stand. He had no problem in making that clear to them, and quickly they’d give up. With each abandonment, his fortress grew more remote. It wouldn’t be long before he accepted his emotions as unchangeable, and his holiest belief the unavoidability of destruction.
He had been going this direction for years, and truly, he thought himself too weak to care. Within him there was a pride to his resignation. Viewed as a flawless safety in identifying his weakness, he managed to defeat everyone, first of all himself. He was desperate for something more, of that much he was certain, but unwilling to sacrifice the security of his loneliness, he was doomed to remain inside the boundaries of a white-walled prison. He was realizing the sublime plan for Tom Brady. And he grew tears at the thought of the boy who became a man over night, and the man who stood forever still while the world around him tore itself apart.
He was in the midst of this conclusion when she interrupted him.
“How can you support such cruelty?” Annabel Black asked of Brady’s fascination with a stuffed and mounted four-point Buck he’d been poring over in the pages of “Hunter’s Quarterly”.
Both saddened and entranced by the animal’s reduced glory at once, he was unable to move his focus from the polish of the page. “I don’t.”
“Then why do you have the magazine?” She asked; not to be phased by his listless response. “If you don’t support it, why do you have the magazine?” Riled, but wholly unafraid, Annabel looked down at the six-foot frame of Brady’s filled out body, shoulders curling in on themselves, hands hidden beneath the table. He stared into the gloss of the magazine’s image, silently begging for its lifelessness to save him from his own surrender.
He looked up at her, rejoining the pain he’d worked so hard to escape.
"I don’t support it,” he said. “But sometimes it makes sense. When nothing else seems right, it reminds me why it doesn’t. And that’s all I’m looking for.”
He saw the hope evident in her approach being brought to the surface. He saw her almond-colored eyes growing larger because of his sincerity.
“Well, I’m glad,” she said with a smile. “I kind of expected something as sad from you.”
Brady nodded at his own notoriety. She embraced a moment of hesitation. An indication of the deeper desire to acquaint with the man she’d seen so sadly self-contained, he could only have loathed companionship. But in that moment of hesitation, that incalculable gap between what’s expected and what’s desired, Brady’s insides begged him to lower the fence he’d so ably constructed for this very reason.
Annabel subtly nodded, preparing to return to her table, once again to rejoin Dylan Thomas in a lonely embrace.
“Wait,” he said. “You should hear how I feel about domesticated animals… I mean that’s really depressing.”
“I’m a dog person,” she said.
“They’re so sad,” replied Brady. “It’s in their eyes. Like the only thing they’re really aware of is that they’re going to die.” He paused. “But I don’t really know, I only ever had an Iguana.”
Annabel had a seat in the chair across from Brady, now more animated than she’d ever seen him; more animated than he himself could remember.
“An Iguana, Really?” she said.
“No. Not really,” said Brady with a playful smile. Annabel ha-ha’d quietly and closed the magazine that lay open between them. Brady brought his hands out from underneath the table and let them rest close to hers.
They discussed matters Brady hadn’t given thought to since graduating from college. Political beliefs, philosophy, science theory, so many things he turned his back on when each was unable to answer the questions he’d felt plaguing him since he understood what the word plagued meant. When they offered him no relevant explanations as to why he had such difficulty with change, he denied their merit, and was left in the wake of his own recalcitrance. This was three years before he’d met Annabel, and in a matter of hours, she convinced him of the possibilities changing his life could afford.
Throughout the night, their knees would touch beneath the table, and it was more contact than he had known in some time. Brady’s look wouldn’t stray from her eyes, and she held his depth for as long as he desired. He couldn’t resist an almost constant, garish grin that Annabel returned with equal earnest. Suddenly, he began to warm up to the fact that maybe the life he’d devoted to remoteness wasn’t worth its numbing reward.
When Dark Brew closed that night, he didn’t want to let her go. He was shocked by his reaction, astounded at the level of connection he wouldn’t allow himself to deny. As they parted, he pleaded with himself to set up another chance to connect. There was so much more about her he wanted to know. And for once, he wasn’t terrified of letting her know about him. He wanted to tell her about himself, about the fear he never felt strong enough to contend with. It was what he hid from the world, out of the sheer terror of making it worse on him.
Before he could form the words, she was talking about Mark.
Annabel told Brady that she’d met him a few months before; and that while she wasn’t sure about what they wanted from each other, she was certain he and Brady would get along as friends.
“Yeah, famously, I’m sure,” he said with a sting that wasn’t intentional.
“I just thought you should know, before you--” she stopped. “And I don’t even know. It’s just… we know each other.”
He fought back the urge to abandon her. He hung on to that faint chance they had of truly finding each other like it was his last shot at bravery. It was enough to keep Brady from giving up, at least for a little while. He would say it was fine, and ask her for another night. All the while he kept in mind the haunting connotations of what exactly ‘we know each other’ means.

He sat at Dark Brew staring at an empty mug, waiting for a girl he thought could tear him away from his stillness. Deep inside him he knew it could not be the case. He recalled the memory of his father, and knew Annabel could never understand. No one could. To even make an attempt would only remind him of the pain he had the power to dull if only he continues to reject the world around him. He stared into the empty mug, pushed it across the table, and walked out of the shop. If she saw him again at the coffee house he would make sure to be short, and snide; he had a gift for showing people the door, and would fake pleasure in telling her he was no longer interested.
As he left Dark Brew he knew exactly what to do. He would walk the few blocks to Barnes & Noble to buy the latest issues of his hunting magazines, the objects that washed away the risk Brady saw in uncertainty. He hated their reaffirmation of his debilitating solitude, but it was all that he could count on. Rejection of everything was what granted him his safety, and for Brady, that safety counted most.
He pushed in the giant glass door that marked the bookstore’s entrance. At the magazine rack labeled “outdoors” he gazed across the unfeeling eyes of hunters as they stood around their prizes. How he hated them. How much they reminded him of his own misery, and how no matter what he thought, nothing inside him could change for the better. He saw it only a moment after looking. Spread across the cover of “Fall Hunter”, there was the weathered figure of a man in a room filled with mounted animals, his eyes grown weary after a life spent devoted to death. His sullen face looked out from the glossy cover, communicating a truly profound guilt. Not for all the life he had taken, but for his own that was wasted. He stood in front of his rewards, and presented only a gap where pride should have lived. The man had beaten everyone, and bitterness was his prize. Distance from humanity was what gave this hunter such a showroom, but the showroom was what sliced him down the middle. He looked two parts now, one in control of his own decisions, and the other, their servant. His soul was stuck between them, attached to neither, a part of nothing. The choice the man had made was to remain there, unwilling to change what he became. And now, the man’s detachment seemed all that there was to protect him from the sadness of his life. Inside his stern and pitiless look, Brady saw distrust for the whole human race. Brady saw himself.
A genuine fear rushed through him, for in that moment he might have forever stayed the same. He saw his life before him, and what he’d gained and lost. He at once saw the memory of his father, Ryan Brady. It was a memory he had tried so long to bury, but now it struck him in a way impossible to ignore. Brady saw his father, laying dead on the soft dirt of a forest. It was their first hunting trip together, and Brady knew, it must have been his fault. It tore him to pieces each time he remembered, ashamed that it happened, ashamed of his reaction, ashamed of himself. But something inside him had changed. His myopic view of the past was diminishing. He began to see the world in front of him, and the static resolution of every situation’s predictable security. It wasn’t possible. Not for him; not for Thomas Brady. He’d allowed his soul to shrink to the point of invisibility, to where he was nothing more than a shell, hardened by cynicism and removed from the world he had once adored. He was more than that. He was always more than that.
Dropping the magazine to the ground, he turned on his heels and ran back to his meeting with Annabel. As he ran, he felt a freedom from the crushing weight his self had strangled him with for so long. He was running from a life that would not catch up with him. At his back there was the past, and he’d spent long enough in its deadening grip; in front of him there was potential, danger, truth. He felt in his muscles a joy he could not remember, his heart pumping through him the beauty of epiphany. All at once he was made aware of how wrong he was, why he’d done it, and how it could be changed. He was running to Annabel.
He yanked open the door of the coffee shop and saw her waiting. He crossed the length of the floor to where she sat and plopped down in the chair opposite, not giving a thought to his winded and sweaty presence.
“Jesus,” she said. “Are you okay? I thought you stood me up.”
“Annabel, listen to me.” He paused only a moment to catch his breath. In her arched eyebrows he saw a trust he at once admired. “I--” He started. “I-- I lied when I told you my father was a lawyer. He’s not. He died. He dropped dead of a heart attack on our first hunting trip together. It just gave out, he gave out. I don’t tell people that. Ever. But I told you because I want you to know. Because I can see you helping to save me from myself. I want to know you, Annabel. I want to know you.”
She winced at the revelation. “Brady, I’m sorry. I... Last night I told Mark about you. It was what he needed to get serious about us.” Brady felt what was distinctly similar to a punch in the stomach, but nothing could dull his surge of emotion. “Jesus, I’m really sorry, Brady. I mean, it doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends.”
Brady looked across the table with eyes that asked nothing more than understanding. He could for once, begin to understand himself. He saw the past he was prepared to move on from and expected to see the future as securely, but couldn’t. What lay ahead was unclear, it was unknown. And that’s what came to change him. The future’s unpredictability was what would inspire him, not Annabel, not a picture on a magazine, but the promise of a future he would admit was beyond his control.
He looked up at Annabel. Her expression was that of awaiting some explosive rebuff that would have ended her time at the Dark Brew coffee house.
“No, it doesn’t,” he said with a smile. “I realized what there’s no getting around.” She looked at him with those eyes, warm enough to melt a hunter.
“I want to know you.”