There, tucked away in the back of the drawer, partially hidden by a big, half-eaten bar of Hershey’s chocolate in a torn brown wrapper, is the gun that caused the accident. It doesn’t look particularly malevolent. I’m not afraid that it might suddenly rear up on its barrel and point itself toward me, or that there will be an inexplicable and deadly explosion of bullets – but still, I am stunned. If you had been standing next to me, you would have heard me inhale sharply, like a swimmer just before diving off the block.
But then again, if you had been here – if I’d seen you or felt you – I never would have gotten past the door today in the first place.
It’s been twelve years since I last crept into this same room, opened that same drawer, driven by that same craving for chocolate. I suppose I felt that, after all this time, the room had been exorcised of its ghosts, ghosts who’d long ago given up waiting for me to return. And I guess I also felt, as a sophisticated sophomore in college living in a faraway state, that it was high time I put my dread of ghosts behind me, and that there was really nothing to fear from opening the door to my mother’s bedroom and tiptoeing across the pale green carpet to the antique pine bedside table with its three stubborn drawers and opening the second drawer – which gave a resistant creak as I tugged, same as it did that on that day all those years ago – and looking inside for that big bar of chocolate in the torn brown wrapper that my mother, who had an insatiable sweet tooth, reliably kept there.
The gun lies dozing inside the drawer, its barrel tucked under the brown wrapper like a head under a coverlet, just like we found it on that sparkling June afternoon, a day so clear and filled with the promise of all the treats of summer still to come that you and I, giddy at being sprung from the chalky confines of classrooms and eager to take great gulps of our newfound freedom, dared to breech the sanctity of our mother’s bedroom in search of hidden sweets. And as I stand there looking at the gun, my heart thudding, a wave of dizziness washing over me, I can almost smell the grass stains on your knees and feel your warm breath on my bare arm as you reach past me, past the gun, and pluck the Hershey-stamped prize from inside.
Why had she kept it? And so close to where, each night, she laid down her own, greying head, its face etched with soft furrows from the rivers of tears shed since your death? For her own protection, perhaps? And that of her family? But the gun that caused the accident had offered no protection that day, none at all. The fact that I am here, and you are not, is proof of that.
My first instinct, once the dizziness passes, is to shut the drawer and run out of the room. It made me sick, seeing the gun again, brought to mind what had happened and how. No, that’s not quite accurate. When I saw the gun I felt sick, but it was the kind of sick you feel when you’re in a car and you pass an ambulance on the highway next to an overturned car, and you see out of the corner of your eye something lying on the road between the car and the ambulance, and it’s probably nothing, but it might be something and so just thinking about what it could be makes you feel sick, and you turn your head away quickly, just in case. I turn my mind away from that day, the images and the sounds and the voices, like I would have turned my head away at the sight of a car accident, at something that had happened to someone else, an unfortunate stranger, instead of me. Instead of you.
What do you think? That I really wanted that chocolate so badly that I would retrace those steps, replay those actions, so blithely, so invincibly? Or, do you think there was something else going on here, a motivation that had absolutely nothing to do with hunger, or at least that kind of hunger? For isn’t curiosity a kind of hunger – an insatiable need to fulfill a desire, even those (particularly those) you know you should suppress, even when you know there are some things about which it is best to remain incurious? Curiosity killed the cat, killed the cat, killed…
I’m not thinking of chocolate anymore at this point. I’m looking at the gun – which looks much smaller than it did twelve years ago – and wondering what it would be like to hold it again.
So of course, I pick it up, easing it out from under the brown-wrappered candy bar, feel the slight heft of it in my hand, note its polished wood grip, the dull black sheen of its barrel, the alluring curve of its trigger. Is it loaded? I don’t even check.
Ah – here you are, finally: I can feel you standing right next to me, see your eight year-old chocolate-smeared mouth, hear your voice, excited, but pitched low (because we know this is wrong, forbidden, but still, so irresistible, such a find, a treasure!) and – Shhhhh! Quiet!
ME (picking up the gun and swinging around): Stick ‘em up, cowboy! I’m the sheriff in these parts and you ain’t welcome here!
YOU: Hah! YOU stick ‘em up! How come you get to be the sheriff? Why do you ALWAYS get to be the sheriff – lemme see that
ME: No, wait a minute, I just want to…
Please don’t look at me like that, your chocolatey mouth suddenly gaping in a wide O of surprise, your blue eyes gone vast and suddenly flat as you fly backwards and down onto the pale green carpet, one hand groping for the singed and shockingly red, brimming hole in your chest, the other still clutching the empty brown wrapper. Please, just get up, and we’ll clean everything up like nothing happened and I’ll put the gun away and close the drawer and we’ll creep out the door and, like winding a film backwards, we’ll go back to that time and place when you were eight and I was ten, and all we wanted was to steal some chocolate from our mother’s bedside table, but instead I led you outside where we played cowboys and Indians till the cicadas began their evening song and we heard our mother’s call to dinner; when the whole of that summer – the days at the beach, the visit to Grandpa’s farm, the long evenings playing stickball in the street – still lay ahead, waiting to unfurl like a flag on the fourth of July. Please.
The gun is warm in my hand. I can hear your voice more clearly now, whispering into my ear now. I’m so glad you came back, you say. Don’t leave me. Stay. I turn the gun slowly toward myself, nestle the barrel right against my chest, next to my live, steadily beating heart. I pull the trigger. And hear –just a click, nothing more. I’m so sorry, I say to you. Not today. But soon, I think. Wait for me.
Cindy has worked as a writer throughout her professional business career. Over the last several years she’s turned her attention to writing fiction; her short stories have appeared in Abstract Jam, The Literary Hatchet, The Big Jewel, The Apeiron Review and Funny in Five Hundred.
Image by Debbie Berk