Why the Deeds of Men

Justin Lawrence Daugherty

Justin Lawrence Daugherty

Aaron Burr looked to the woman. He loved her. He wanted her to know this. He would show her: this is how you track a wolf, this is how you kill it, this is how you honor the dead. Josefina, this is how I love you. He killed a founding father, but that was not for her. A bullet in Hamilton’s abdomen, tearing through his liver and spine. The blood of Hamilton on the ground, in the earth, spilled for the world to see.

He fled west into the Ohio Valley, a west then still wild, and farther west still. He hunted the land for animals unknown to folks in cities. He hunted the great bison and mounted their heads in halls. He blasted eagles and hawks from the skies, their bodies spiraling to the ground. When he met Josefina, washing a child in a river, he knew then he would prove to her his worth, his character, his love. He presented her with the keratin-hardened tails of rattlesnakes, the antlers of deer, the scalps of natives, the heart of a grizzly.

I have brought these for you to prove my love, he would say, and each time, holding these gifts, Josefina would shake her head, turning him away, she a traveler from another place and another language, turning him away because she could not understand his words.

And, still, Hamilton haunted him. And, still, Josefina shook her head, mended her clothes and cooked her meals and bathed the child in the river and, still, Aaron Burr tried to prove his love.

And, east, on his borrowed lands, starving and ravenous men plotted an insurrection, awaiting his return, a motley army of rotting teeth and gnarled knuckles and caterpillar scars and broken bones. And, Burr sent word of his expedition, of the wolf hunt, but not of what he really wanted: Josefina. The men sent back word that they were ready to show the politicians their blades sharpened to slice through anything, their guns and swords, their hollow eyes, their revolutionary hearts. And, Burr sent word, wait, wait, we will have our glory soon. And, the men waited.

He stalked the desert searching for the wolves, once made delirious and psychotic by a rattlesnake bite, the hemotoxic venom causing him to howl to the wolves who would not call back, and he floated through fledgling, makeshift towns as a wraith, the venom making him cluck his tongue and flail his arms and talk to Hamilton. Why weren’t we better men? He’d ask. Why weren’t we better, why were we meant for this? And, witnesses told legends of this man, of Burr, roaming the desert, plotting revolution. Word building in the east of Burr’s machinations, of his overthrow plot. And, still, Burr hunted the wolf in the desert, Josefina’s heart the only thing he coveted.

And, his men wrote letters asking for instructions and they grew emaciated and left their starved, dead brethren in the streets for the dogs and cats, and some stole away pieces of the flesh left behind for their own sustenance. And, they waited.

Burr combed the desert at night, shivering in the dark, conversing with cacti and scorpions, thirsty, stabbing cacti and drinking, hunting. He would write daily in journals of sightings of ghosts and devils in the desert, but not one glimpse of a wolf and, at night, he would burn the evidence of these writings.

Burr, growing weak and hungry and lonely in the desert, awaited the wolf. And, his men back east, grew sick and mutinous. And, the politicians farther east still waited for him to return, their accusations of treason crumpled in their hands. And, Josefina, alone, never wondered of Burr, of his desire of the wolf, having no memory of him save for the images of his person covered in the viscera of the dead, of a mad man bringing her hearts and bones and snake fangs. Of the scalps and hides and feathers and trinkets. Of the gifts. Never once did she think of love. Never once did she understand his words or gifts. Never once did she understand him when he said, They will call this treason, they will call for my head. She would retreat from him – even when he finally tracked and killed and made a cloak of the wolf’s hide and wore its head atop his own and drank its blood – his hands reaching for hers, and, still, she would not understand when, the tips of his fingers, stained, gracing hers, him saying, who can know why men do what they do?


Justin Lawrence Daugherty is the 2012 Gigantic Sequins Flash Fiction Contest winner. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Normal School, Barrelhouse, Bluestem, Midwestern Gothic, HOUSEFIRE, and elsewhere. He manages the new lit mag, Sundog Lit.

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