Tony Woodlief | Author

Gentle Monster-Killer

As I step out the door with Eli Saturday for our weekly trip to his violin instructor, he has his little violin case slung over one shoulder, and his sighted underlever cocking cowboy rifle over the other. In his hands he clutches an apple and a granola bar. He sits directly behind me in my truck. He crunches his apple and his granola bar.

We are comfortable with each other, Eli and me. Sometimes on these drives he has a lot to say, other times he is quiet. Today he is content to crunch and swallow, crunch and swallow. I am content to listen to him. I don’t understand the feeling of completeness that washes over me when I hear my children eat, or when I lean over them in their sleep and listen to them breathe.

We are waiting at a stoplight now, at a busy intersection, and suddenly Eli stops crunching. I hear him pick up his rifle, cock it, and fire. One shot: clack. He puts the rifle down. He resumes crunching.

“What did you shoot, little man?”


“Oh.” I look to our right and see an advertisement for the Halloween stores that are ubiquitous in low-rent storefront space this time of year. He just took out their giant poster of a mournful Frankenstein’s monster. I think the monster probably appreciated it.

“You just needed the one shot?”

“Yep.” crunch crunch crunch

We drive on our way. Eli is an observant boy. I suspect he saw that poster the last time we drove this way, and made a mental note to bring his shooting iron next time. And that’s the thing about Eli — there’s no bluster beforehand, no bragging afterward; he just brings his rifle, takes one shot to get the job done, and goes back to his apple, gentle as ever.

As I drive, I think about how I want to be like Eli when I grow up. I pray that I don’t undo whatever it is that has knit him together so tenderhearted and relentless all at once. I wonder what the world would be like, were more men like that.

On Key

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