I walk down the aisle of this stupid town’s only general store and toss a length of thick rope into my cart, wincing when an arrow of fire shoots through my shoulder, again. Under my breath, I curse that stupid college linebacker for the billionth time. I always thought the guys I heard talking about old football injuries ending their careers were just wimps. Well, ten years of dealing with the pain, and dead dreams, had changed my mind.
Taking a deep breath, I head over a few rows to the gun counter and smile at Grover.
He tips his head to me, signaling for me to wait while he helped another customer.
I pour myself a cup of coffee from the pot he always keeps percolating and slowly let it trickle down my throat. Thinking, and trying not to think, at the same time. I size up the rifles lining the wall and wonder what the recoil feels like from one of them. Would it hurt?
“Jeff!” Grover claps my back and I nearly choke. “Sorry, buddy,” he laughs. “What brings you in?”
He quirks an eyebrow, his eyes flicking to my cart.
“For the wife’s .22.”
He leans an elbow on the counter and licks his lips. “Violet still getting into gun stuff?”
I shrug my good shoulder. “She’s a better shot than you’ll ever be, so why shouldn’t she?” I decide not to tell him she bought the gun for her new apartment.
“How are you two doing?” He says.
I take another deep swig, hoping he can’t actually read my mind. He always joked about being psychic when we were kids and now would be a sucky time to find out he’s right. “We’re seeing a therapist. Her idea, but then you should already know that.” I roll my eyes.
He snorts. “Is there anything else I can grab for you? A pink gun to match your wife’s, maybe? That way you two can bond over some targets.”
He turns to go back and unlock the cabinet and I pick up the coffee pot again. “One gun at my house is enough, thanks. How do you get it to taste like this? I never can.”
“Unlike you,” he smirks, “I use water from the faucet instead of the toilet.” He sets the box of ammunition on the counter and tilts his head. “Weren’t you here last week for ammo?”
“Nope, rat poison. But I can see why you might get the two confused, old man.”
“House infested again?”
I shake my head. “Maybe I’ll see you later.” On my way to the front of the store I pull out my I.D and the rest of the cash in my wallet.
The clerk snaps her gum and I cringe.
I flash my license, handing her the cash for my stuff.
I throw on my sunglasses, but not before the sun smashes me over the head like an iron hammer. My eyeballs throb. Throwing the bag into the seat beside me I turn the car east toward home, and away from the light.
The phone begins to ring over the car’s speakers and I spit out the window when Violet’s number lights up the screen on the dash. The car answers automatically before I can hit the cancel button.
“Hi,” I say.
“Where are you, Jeff?”
“I am where I am. Where are you?” I bite my cheek to keep from laughing out loud. I can almost hear the lava pouring out of her ears.
“That’s not an answer, Jeff. Are you coming to today’s session, or not?”
“Do you want me there?”
“Do you want to be here?”
I see the light turn red and glance both directions. The cars are far enough away, I think. I push the gas down and keep going as a horn blares behind me. I wave out my window.
“Jeff, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. What happened to the man I married?”
“He was sentenced to death.”
“That’s not funny, Jeff.”
I tighten my grip on the wheel. “Who’s joking?”
“Her,” her voice catches and I feel my own throat tighten, “her death wasn’t your fault.”
“You asked me what happened to the man I used to be, and I told you. You never accept my answers, so why should I go to the stupid session?” Turning onto my street, I end the call.
I slam the car door hard enough to frighten a family of birds out of the tree in my front yard and their cries echoe through the neighborhood. When they die away, I go into the house. The silence inside these walls opens the pit in my stomach, widening it with every second I’m forced to remember.
At the kitchen table, I throw the bag down beside my gun, pull out my bottle of rum from the cabinet by the fridge, and find my pen and some paper.
The rum burns it’s way to my gut and I revel in the way it drowns the blackness. I sit across from a picture of my sweet angel, her innocent round, blue eyes just like my mom’s stare at me, her grin wide. I begin my ritual once again. Will it work this time?
I take one sip, then another and another until I feel my hold on this world just starting to slip. Closing my eyes, I reach into the bag and wrap my fingers around the first thing my hand touches. The box of bullets.
The copper casings are cold as I slip them, one at a time, into their black parking spaces. I cock the gun, set it aside, and take another drink. How I wish I could just do it, but looking into those joyful eyes, I know she wouldn’t want that. But what she wants, and what I deserve, aren’t the same thing.
My hand shakes and I pick up the pin. “This is for you, baby.”
Slowly, carefully, I write my reasons to live and my reasons to die. Maybe, once again, life will win.
Thank you so much for reading! Have a question you’d like to ask? Leave it in a comment below and I’ll be sure to include it in next week’s character interview.