Tuesday, March 30, 2010


When she'd placed the old sawed off shotgun in the back seat, she'd only meant to use it to scare him. She laid it down on the seat carefully and hoped no one at her apartment complex had noticed her walking across the parking lot under the half-burned out street lights. She wasn't totally sure, but she was mostly sure that it was illegal to drive around with a loaded shotgun in your backseat. She wished she had something smaller. When she was younger her dad had taken her camping and showed her how to shoot a dainty little hand gun. He was very careful to teach her proper gun safety. "Never touch a gun unless I'm around or it's an emergency," and the like.

"You know where I keep it. If you're ever at home alone and someone tries to break into the house, you know what to do, Junie."

Yes, dad.

She was used to the guns and didn't understand why some people made such a fuss. For as long as she could remember, there had been guns around the house. Nobody ever got killed. You know, the 'ol "Guns don't kill people. People kill people," adage. Of course, there were those one or two isolated incidents-- purely freak accidents. There was the time when she'd woken up in the middle of the night and gone downstairs for a glass of water and there stood her dad in his tighty whities, aiming his pistol at the intruder who had come to rape and pillage his family and home. And then there was the Christmas her dad was showing off his newest gun show purchase to his father-in-law and didn't realize a there was a bullet in the chamber when he aimed it at the floor and pulled the trigger, narrowly missing the left foot of her little sister. But those were isolated incidents. Nobody ever got hurt.

So when she finally moved out on her own, her dad brought over his 1969 Savage single shot breakover shotgun. He figured it was too big for her to hurt herself with if she ever got depressed again like she had last winter, but it was more than big enough to scare off a hoodlum or two, should they get the notion that the pretty single girl in apartment 3A was fair game. He was right.

One afternoon, after she had come home from classes at the community college, two guys had come knocking on her door. She never answered the door if she wasn't expecting company. But they knocked again. She was standing just on the other side of the door, but she stood completely still so they wouldn't hear her move. They started beating on the door and screaming, "We know you're in there!" So she ran to her room, ducked down, reached her arm under the bed, and pulled out the twenty gauge. She slowly walked back into the living room, stopped in front of the door, and pulled back the old metal hammer, just like her dad had shown her. It made a loud crank and then a pop. The boys outside went silent. And then they were gone, just like her dad had said they would be.

"You'll never have to shoot it. Just pull the hammer back. They'll hear that sound, and they'll run off like little girls."

It had worked for her purposes then, but now she was wishing she had something a little smaller. Something less cumbersome she could just wave around in the air. Just so he knew she meant business.

She mindlessly started the car and started the old familiar route to his house. Downtown from the south side. She'd done it a hundred times. Up until recently Joe had still been living with his parents. They were young and she didn't mind it so much. His parents were much more supportive of their relationship than hers. In fact, her parents had only agreed to pay for the apartment if she promised to never see him again. They didn't like the way he had treated her they said. In high school they had forbidden her to see him. They took the car away. They took the phone out of her room. They'd told him if he ever came around their house again, they'd kill him. But Joe's parents seemed to understand their love. Yes, it was young and confused and complicated and abusive sometimes, but it was love. It looked a lot like their own, in fact. And they'd lasted a good twenty years. So they understood the pitfalls of relationships and how messy it could get sometimes, and they'd welcomed Junie into their home with open arms.

Until they came home from church one Sunday to find them both naked in Joe's bedroom upstairs. His dad didn't wait for her to get dressed. He stared at her naked body lying on the bed, and then told her to get out and never come back. Joe's banishment happened thirty minutes later. His dad packed him a bag, threw it out on the front lawn and told him to get the hell out. So he went to stay with friends in a dump downtown in what looked like used to be a decent neighborhood before most of mid-town was abandoned in the sixties. He slept on the couch and kept his clothes piled up on the cigarette-burned and stained orange shag carpet.

Sometimes they'd lock themselves in the musty bathroom and he'd push her up against the door, slide his hand down the front of her pants, and whisper in her ear, "You want me to stop?" But she never did, so he never stopped. And even though they weren't supposed to be doing this sort of thing until they were joined by the bonds of marriage, it didn't matter. At least in her mind, they'd always be connected somehow. But things had become more complicated recently. He'd been fired from yet another job, this time at Home Depot, and she'd taken a pregnancy test in the Walmart bathroom that came up positive. When she'd told him, he'd said they would take care of it. That everything would be okay. They'd figure something out. But he was answering the phone less and less lately. She would drive by his house in the middle of the day and even though he didn't have a job, he would be gone. He had started calling her The Bloodhound. No matter where he was, she would sniff him out. He wasn't easily found and she was hot on his trail. She had to be.

She was becoming more desperate by the day. There was a baby inside her that just couldn't be inside her. Jesus would never forgive her. Neither would her parents. She was feeling more alone now than she had just last year after graduation when he had broken things off with her temporarily so he could "just date around and see" if he wanted to be with anyone else.

She pulled into the cracked driveway of the run-down, used-to-be stark white crumbling house. One of Joe's friends was sitting in a metal folding chair on the concrete front porch smoking a cigarette. She got out of the car.

"He's not here. But then you probably figured that already."

She hadn't. Why else would she be here, genius.

"Where is he? And tell me the truth."

Like there's much chance of that, she thought.

"He's on the north side. He left with a bunch of people to go ride around. That's all I know. Probably won't be back tonight, my guess."

And that last sentence was like a punch to the gut. Where was he staying? And who... Even though she did expect to find him home that night, his friend was right. She did know that something was going on. And she did know that she had to do something about it. She hadn't just spent the last five years of her life trying to make him happy and let him have "space" when he needed it just for him to abandon her when she needed him the most. And that was exactly what he was doing.

She had cried, but that never worked. He yelled at her for crying. She'd tried to reason with him before, but she could never win an argument with him. Logic was a riddle only he had the answer to in this relationship. She'd cheated on him with his best friend once. That got through to him for about a month, and then he just used it as an excuse to cheat more. She had thought the baby would be enough to straighten him out for good, but as it turns out, it was too much. And in this relationship, too much was never quite enough.

So there was the gun. Her last great hope. And after a screaming fight on the phone where he had hung up on her once again because she wouldn't stop asking if he was cheating on her until she got a satisfactory answer, she loaded up the car and headed downtown.

She pulled down the street, about four or five houses down from the old house. She turned the engine off and locked the doors. This was unfamiliar territory. It was 11 p.m. and she was exhausted. Probably from the baby. And probably from the emotional roller coaster her life had been recently. She couldn't stop the tears. She figured it would be okay to let herself cry for three or four minutes. And then she would make herself stop. Except she couldn't. The tears just kept coming. She pounded the gray steering wheel with her fist. And then robotically, like someone else was controlling her motions, she punched herself in the stomach as hard as she could. Over and over and over again. The sharp pain was knocking the breath out of her, but she pounded her fist against her abdomen even harder. After about two minutes her knuckles were getting sore and she stopped. She draped herself over the steering wheel and cried, gasping for air between sobs.

She was alone.

For the next two hours she watched the green digital clock in the dash tick the minutes away. She wasn't leaving. Oh hell no. She would stay there until he came back. And if he didn't come back, she would go hunt him down. She dozed in and out of sleep, and periodically woke herself up to look down the street to see if he had returned to the house. Around 1:15, half-asleep, she heard a car door slam. And she heard laughing. She looked up and saw Joe walking into the house behind a girl. A girl she didn't know. The rickety screen door slammed shut behind them.

She pulled her car, lights off, into the driveway. She got out and walked up to the door, the dry weeds in the sidewalk crunching beneath her feet. He was standing in the middle of the ugly living room surrounded by people drinking Pabst Blue Ribbons and chain smoking Pall Malls. He saw her tear-stained, tired face through the screen.

"Aw, shit," he said.

He was coming out. She turned and walked to the car. She knew he'd be right behind her. And he was.

"What the hell are you doing here? I told you I didn't want to talk to you tonight. Why are you following me around?"

She screamed. It was the only thing she knew to do at that point. "In case you hadn't noticed, I'm carrying your child! And you're just going to leave me out here to fend for myself? Does that slut inside know you got me pregnant?"

"Junie, shut the hell up and leave her out of it. You're gonna have to figure this one out on your own. You're a big girl now. Mommy and daddy aren't always going to be around to bail you out. Why don't you go ask one of your other little boyfriends for help."

And there they were again. At the same old impasse. The one where everything turned out to be her fault. She was the one who had created this whole mess. That summer in 9th grade before they'd even had their first kiss, when she saw him holding hands with another girl, that was her fault. When he got a blow job in the church parking lot from some random girl in youth group, that was her fault too. Now she was pregnant with his child, and she was on her own. This time was no different than any of the others.

He stood in the driveway behind the car yelling at her. But she couldn't make out the words anymore. She'd heard them a thousand times and had no need to actually hear them anymore. They were on a tape that played a million times over and over in her head for the last five years. She opened the car door and leaned over into the back seat to pull out the shotgun. He saw the butt of it as she pulled it out of the car.

"What the hell, Junie. You are one crazy bitch! What do you think you're gonna do with that?" She heard the sarcasm in his voice. He still didn't believe her.

"You don't even know how to use that thing!" He started laughing.

"Put that down before you hurt yourself!" He was holding his stomach in that way he did when he knew he was laughing for an audience.

She focused on his mouth.

From inside she could hear laughter. And someone said, "Oh shit! Junie's got a gun!" More laughter. And singing. "Junie's got a gun... Junie's got a gun..." No one was taking her seriously.

"Seriously, Junie. Put it down." But he was still smiling.

She wondered if it would work this time. She pulled the hammer down. Crank. Pop. It seemed quieter this time than the last time she'd done it. He didn't run off like a little girl.

He stood in the yard smirking. "Bloodhound, you hunt me down. Now you gotta gun. What's next?" He laughed. He smiled. His perfect ivory colored teeth gleamed in the streetlight. Unlike Junie who had braces for four years in high school, he had naturally perfect teeth. And his smile was infectious. He sang.

"Junie's got a gun..."

The shotgun kicked and threw her right shoulder out of its socket. But not before it's single slug went through his right cheekbone and out the back of his head. The pain in her shoulder was intense. Blood dripped from the dead, dry weeds in the front yard. And her stomach was sore.


The Panhandleman said...

Looks like that that trip was a good thing. Very Cool! I was engrossed after the punching... like, "WTF is she doing?!?!, Stop!" Painted a pic in my head.

TableZero said...

So was the shotgun loaded with a slug or double aught buckshot? His head would've disappeared.

Ashly said...

Good note, Ragan. I like slug. I'll revise. But if in your version, you'd like his head to disappear, I'm more than good with that. ;)

tomorrowsmemoriesphotography said...

dang girlfriend... this is awesome! great picture of it all happening!
i want his head to disappear! :D