“She wondered what a Lady would have needed a gun for and then decided she probably knew. ”
She thought carefully for a moment before choosing a gun. The faded red velvet lining of the box somehow made them both more dramatic and beautiful than it would have if it still retained its original scarlet, valentine hue. She knew he preferred the one with the black handle so her first instinct was to avoid it. As if touching it would some how alert him to her presence. When he’d first shown her the twin pistols he’d dismissed the mother-of-pearl stock as a “Lady’s gun” even though they were identical in size, weight and shape. She wondered what a Lady would have needed a gun for and then decided she probably knew.
She was relieved that she wasn’t afraid of them anymore. Having decided she wrapped her fingers firmly around the gun and then closed the box and hid it where she’d found it. She could never be sure that he didn’t use hairs or other invisible means to make sure drawers stayed shut. She’d found a few over the years and had been grateful that her blonde hair was fair enough to pass for his white more than once. He was more complacent these days or was too distracted to pay much attention to her. Maybe the sheer isolation of her situation made him believe she was incapable of trouble. She hoped so.
Backing into the hallway so that she could run to her room if she heard the front door knob rattle, she held the gun up to the light of the open window to check on the bullet chamber. It was full as she’d expected and she was relieved that she wouldn’t also have to go snooping for bullets. Already warm in her hands, the barrel and handle shone more like jewelry than death. The sun darkened through the window and she hears thunder rolling in the distance. The afternoon monsoon is on its way and the moment passes her. The gun now dull metal in her hands. She runs down the hallway to her bedroom and she circles the bed before hiding the gun under the mattress on the side of the bed farthest from the door. She is terrified and giddy and crosses over the threshold without feeling it.. She will look back for decades at this moment, at this choice and every time it will make her stronger. She is aware of simply not caring how this ends, only that it does now.
She will never know if the gun is what made the difference. If he noticed it missing or noticed something different in her. Maybe it’s because she is almost thirteen and he is the one who changes but whatever the cause he stops coming into her room at night. She waits in the dark with white knuckles gripping just beneath the edge of the mattress. She is ready and determined to do whatever she has to but he doesn’t come.
She felt a reassuring calmness spread through her. A new feeling she would have many more times throughout her life. It was the confidence of having made the right choice while bracing herself to act on it.
She reached the top of the stairs, pushed through the door and walked over to where she knew she would find it. It was heavy but modern at least and she double-checked the safety before going back downstairs.
The boy had shown up a few weeks ago. Snarling, on his bike, he chased kids throughout the complex and bruises and raw skin were the reward if he caught you. A few days ago he’d caught her best friend on the tennis court and had shoved her faced roughly into the ground. Her friend’s older brother saw the whole thing but did nothing and her heart felt heavy that someone big enough and old enough to stop this was too afraid to do anything.
No one would ever ask but she felt tired of this. Bullies were something she knew and they never stopped on their own.
He was still outside her house–gloating over the child next door and refusing to move body or bicycle from the stairs. He grinned at her return until he saw the dark grey shape in her hand. She really liked it when he stopped grinning.
“Go away now.” Her voice was much calmer than she had hoped. “Never come back here.”
“Shit! Put that away!”
He was already backing up, pulling his bicycle behind him. “Leave.”
The gun is as steady as her voice and she thinks she can see his eyes watering. This is fantastic. She suddenly didn’t care anymore what trouble would follow this.
She would take crazy if it meant that he was the one who was afraid this time.
“Don’t come back to find out.”
She can see the word bitch halt and tremble on his lips. He’s too scared to let it tumble into the air. She doesn’t lower the barrel until he is gone and only then does she see the same light now shining in her heart on the faces of the two smaller kids from next door.
“He won’t come back.” She tells them. And he doesn’t.
The first time she goes to a gun range is on a late morning near the end of the short Washington summer. There is no one else there, just a few empty beer cans lined up at the end of a shale gravel pit and a few hopping ravens near a garbage can. The ravens scatter when the dusty flatbed pulls into lot.
They have been arguing all morning and she knows she’s lost this round but keeps hoping that something will happen to interrupt his plans. She watches as he pulls two rifles from the gun rack in the back seat of the pickup. Her heart is pounding as he leans them on the fender and then walks to the end of the field to arrange the cans the way he wants them. She thinks briefly that she could pick one of the rifles up and shoot him with it, end this all here. But she doesn’t know if she can hit him and then what? She will have still had to shoot one. Her mouth tastes like pennies.
Then he’s back. “Can you see those ok?”
She wonders if he’s crazy. “Sure.”
He unloads and reloads the first rifle for her, talking as he goes. He reminds her of the kickback even though she remembers perfectly well the day he came home from bird hunting with a large gash on his nose because he had forgotten that one time. Even her mother had giggled. He holds the rifle up to the inside of his left shoulder and mimes shooting at the cans. “Just like that.”
He holds out the rifle to her. The dark opal ring on his hand glitters.
For some reason fear skips over some invisible line and suddenly she is angry. She hates this. She hates not wanting to touch his guns and not being given any choice. He must be out of his mind to teach her to do this. Why does he think she won’t use the knowledge against him? Why does he think either of them will still be safe if she knows how to do this? Like the times he pulls the truck onto an abandoned logging road and tells her they won’t go home if she won’t get behind the wheel. They have changed homes enough times that he might be telling the truth this time but still she is so afraid that her teeth chatter and she pulls her school backpack into the driver’s seat and sits on top of it so that she will be able to see over the dash better. She thought that nothing could scare her more than trying to control the truck and then this morning she finds out she is expected to take up shooting. She hates him.
She glares at him and grabs the other rifle. Not the one he wants her to take but the newer one still leaning against the truck. It is warm in her cold hands, the opposite of what she expected. She lifts it heavy to her shoulder and closes one eye while she tries to make herself steadier. She wants to close both eyes. Instead she breathes in and she fires. The sound is worse than she expects and her ears are ringing even though she can still hear the last few echoes of the shot in the distance. There is a hiss behind one of the cans as the bullet buries itself in the shale hillside. She fires again The middle can makes a thok sound and falls over. She can hear him start to congratulate her but she keeps firing until all 8 rounds are spent and five of the cans are knocked down. Her shoulder is sore like it’s been punched a few times in the same spot and she rolls it around to try to get some of the sting out. She leans the rifle up against the truck again and climbs into the cab and shuts the door. She can still smell the sulphur in the hot air. She doesn’t watch as he gathers up the shells and puts the guns back in the rack. Instead she runs her fingernail through the dust on the window sill of the truck and turns over the feeling of having won something though she can’t say exactly what it was.
Amber Finn is an urban farmer with culinary training. After spending the ‘90s in Portland as a prototypical pierced and tattooed lesbian barista, she packed up her wife and two children to return to her homeland of British Columbia. She lives on the edge of the Salish Sea amid many progressives who value sustainability but still manages to find people who piss her off. When she’s not herding chickens, she is increasingly active in local politics.