Last Day In The Field by Caroline Gordon, 1935
The magic trick:
Never explicitly referencing Aleck’s age or injury during the story’s first half
There is, I will readily admit, a slim chance that I am an idiot. But, assuming that I’m not completely stupid, there is a pretty cool identity disguise thing going on in this story. First of all, we have a woman writer embodying the perspective of an aging male pheasant hunter. Second of all, I just totally made up pheasants. I really have no idea what the men in this story are hunting. “Pheasants” seems pretty reasonable as a guess, though, I have to say. Anyway to follow that point: I’m always impressed when a writer is able to so convincingly represent the opposite gender’s point of view.
My main point, actually, is to note the subterfuge regarding the age of the protagonist. The story starts and you really don’t know. I got through the first half thinking he was still a kid. It plays up one of the story’s central themes. Aleck has a childlike joy for this day of hunting. He literally wishes the day won’t end. Sadly, it does end, and if we are to believe the title, it won’t be repeated. For that one day – and at least half the story for me – hunting made him a kid again. And that’s quite a trick on Gordon’s part.
“You aren’t going to hunt this year, Aleck?” Molly said. “Remember how you stayed awake nights last fall with that pain in your leg.”
In October light frosts came. In the afternoons when I sat on the back porch going over my fishing tackle I marked their progress on the elderberry bushes that were left standing against the stable fence. The lower, spreading branches had turned yellow and were already sinking to the ground but the leaves in the top clusters still stood up stiff and straight.
“Ah-ha, it’ll get you yet!” I said, thinking how frost creeps higher and higher out of the ground each night of fall.