THE ADJACENT ROOM
Felt blasé about it, but I’d made a promise. Though more of a commitment, as the word promise hadn’t been said. Without thinking it through, sure, yes, let’s do it had slipped out. And the decision was made. A simple plan to shoot a gun. Practice, familiarize, and experience how it feels to hold, in my hand, a weapon that can kill. The sounds and brilliance. No thoughts other than sure. No hesitation.
“During your next visit then,” Glenna said.
“Sure,” I repeated. “You can count on me.”
And then any further conversation about a gun, her gun, was over. All of the visions I had of her were sweet, velvety red roses. I hadn’t seen my daughter in months. The flight was ho-hum. The rental car too, a gray Kia sedan, blending in with the other highway rats, was nothing short of banal. Though rain had glistened the roadway, I drove eagerly beyond the posted 65-miles per hour speed limit along the Interstate. Haphazardly passing cars, I hurried to see her. The hour drive was an opportunity to plan our agenda. Possibly go to the ocean. Wine tasting. The new restaurant she told me about.
I walked through her front door, hugs and kisses, joyful seeing my daughter so happy in her new home with her new husband. The rain had faded, and hints of sunshine filtered through her massive kitchen window. We sat on the counter sipping merlot, nibbling on Gouda and the French bread she’d made the day before. She looked radiant in an ice-blue silk jumpsuit, strand of pearls draping down her neck. Her nails were crimson, accenting her flawless skin. Details about their future plans to have a baby were filled with zeal. I soaked it up, taking a cleansing breath, beaming with pride.
“Tonight, I thought we’ll go to dinner at that new restaurant,” I said.
“That’s fine, Mom, but we have something to do first.”
“Oh, what is it?”
“Target practice with my new little friend; remember you said you would.”
“It’s become your friend? Yes, well I guess I’m guilty of being forgetful.”
And then like a magician, hubby suddenly appeared as if he’d floated into the kitchen on a magic carpet. He embraced her, gave her a Fred Astaire dip, and after his usual greetings, I chimed in, oh you look wonderful, and so good to see you, and how’s your job at the bank? Then he disappeared, but this time he was like Superman. He fit into the tall, not so dark, and not so handsome category. But he loved my daughter, and was a nice, simple, dependable sort. One of those honey-do-gents. Her list was long. He never complained.
“Get princess, honey, please,” she told him.
“In a jiff, my lovely” he said.
I quickly downed my glass, and poured another. “Salute. Mas para usted?”
“Thanks, but no. I want to keep a clear head for our target practice.”
Not wanting to interfere, or dip into the rationale that had pushed her into gun-ville-mode, I fussed with my hair, broke off a piece of bread, and took another sip. “Great bread, sweetheart. You must give me the recipe.”
Hubby returned moments later, a bit more casual, having killed the suit and bow-tie. He was donning coffee colored corduroy pants and a matching brown turtleneck. His goatee was cropped short, and he wore a diamond stud earring in his right ear. In his hand he carried what appeared to be a black leather men’s purse.
“Wine?” I said, holding up the bottle.
“Gotta keep the focus crystal clear,” he said shaking his head. “And you need to do the same.”
“We’re going into the woods to shoot a gun. No one’s around there, right? What’s to get so shook up about?” I said.
He asked me to join him at the table. Rectangular shaped, hardwood the color of dirt. We sat face-to-face. I leaned back against the wooden chair, ran my finger along the rough edge of the table. He looked at me briefly, and then returned his gaze, and slowly unzipped his mens purse. None other than their princess. Not necessarily what I’d imagined, though I didn’t have time to imagine anything. It was black, dull. He held it as if it was a newborn baby. One hand on the bottom, one hand on top. He lowered his glasses onto the ridge of his nose and looked up at me, “pretty, isn’t she?”
Like a pendulum my eyes darted from my lap, to the speck of dust on the floor, their wedding picture on the coffee table, anywhere but the gun. I expected that any second he’d begin to stroke it. I squeezed my gut, and became silent and numb. Crossed my arms, and tried to relax. Then I began drumming my elbow.
His instructions began. Rules and descriptions of the gun. The clip, butt, barrel, chamber, safety, magazine, trigger. An arsenal of information that I wasn’t the least bit interested in. He continued. Do this and never do that. Make sure it’s unloaded. Please don’t tell me. He was relentless with his impromptu tutorial. Then he slowly moved it over to me. Said I needed to try it. Experience opening it, and looking inside the chamber to ensure it’s unloaded. How to pull the trigger and that it’s hard at first, but it gets easier after the first bullet.
I felt like a lone monk. Tongue tied, fixated on the gun. Glenna had gone to get ready, and from the top of the stairs yelled that it was time to go. As if he were about to play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, hubby reached over and picked up princess, conducted a quick survey, blew away any particles of dust, and carefully placed her back inside the case. And then he looked up at me with scorn in his eyes, “We’re going to an indoor shooting range.”
“Yes, but I thought…”
“You clearly thought wrong. Five minutes if you need to freshen up.” He pushed himself away from the table, stood up, gently picked up princess, and pressed his elbow against the wall switch, turning off the light.
The drive was long. The weather was tepid. The kind where you throw a jacket in the back seat just in case. The sun descended as we drove along a sleepy country road. I had no idea where we were. Didn’t care. Hoped the place was closed.
It was open. I walked like a sloth. My open-toed sandals crunched into the pebbles along the path. I kicked up a few as we made our way. The doorknob was an old Colt 45. Hubby held the door open for Glenna and me. I lumbered through the doorway. They went about their business in this Godforsaken gun hole, and I froze, stunned to see a complete gun store. All of the clerks were wearing leather holsters, their guns stuffed inside, strapped around their waste. For the world to see. No hiding game. No game at all. Guns of all different shapes, sizes; ammunition, goggles, ear muffs, targets…
They required me to sign in. Prove who I was. That I was not a threat. And that I must watch a video on safety. The target practice was through the adjacent door. There’s a lot of noise when the guns are shot. Make sure that I put in the ear plugs before the muffs. And that there were two more adjacent doors that I’d go through to get to my area of target practice. Where I can point the gun, keep both eyes open, focus on the target, hold the gun with both hands, arms outstretched, and aim. Bang-bang.
The mute monk behavior continued, even while the clerk, whose bald head was the shape of a donkey’s skull, explained that guns are a sport enjoyed by so many, and that there are competitions, and I should go watch the video so that I can go through those adjacent doors and pull the trigger, and shoot Osama Bin Laden, the target of choice.
I forced the clerk into eye contact with me. I needed a comrade and he was decidedly going to be my friend-of-choice. He had a lazy eye, and I followed which ever eye was on me. He shot me a half-shit smile.
I concluded he was married. Wore a silver embossed ring. I tried not to stare at it. Glanced down at my own. Checked out his holster again. It was cinched tight below his sumo wrestler belly. He could shoot me with his gun. Pull it out anytime he wanted. Point and shoot. Probably wore it when he was fucking his wife.
Could he fake his orgasm and cum with her because he couldn’t think about her or cumming or anything else other than his loyal tethered gun?
“Yes?” the clerk quickly responded.
“I was wondering…
“I’ll try to answer your question.”
“I mean, I know it’s none of my business, and of course I don’t know you, but, that is, when you and…you and your…”
“Look, ask me anything. I know this is new, so I’ll explain whatever you want to know.”
“Well, you see, I’m sorry to even begin to…”
Sorry: an unfulfilled segue. I’m sorry we have to get a divorce. I’m sorry I can’t marry you. I’m sorry I forgot to pick up the cleaning. I’m sorry but I quit. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner that I won’t attend your performance. I’m sorry to have to tell you but I watched you cheat on your exam.
“Sorry,” I echoed, “actually I’m not.”
The other half of his shit-smile slithered out. His gaze didn’t waiver; mine finally did. He reached down and thumbed his holster, then grabbed the lone toothpick that lay on the glass counter, and picked at something between his teeth. I stroked my wedding ring with my thumb. An octagon shaped poster was on the wall behind him, with lettering encased inside a red background. Each letter was formatted with bullets: I thought I was happy until I owned a gun.
I adjusted my shoulder strap, re-zipped my purse, and navigated through the maze of display counters over to the far end of the store. The video played. The red leather couch was ample, comfortable enough. I reached down and removed a pebble that was lodged between my toes. Then I flicked it into mid-air. Watched it land on the wooden floor directly in front of the clerk’s display case. He palmed his gun. I looked away when he caught my stare. Attempting to watch the video was futile. Without warning I was transfixed by a divine light, so bright was this light that I had to shield my eyes. I watched it dance on my hands, my lap, and sandals. And then a voice like an erupted volcano deep inside my gut screamed, beating drums, questioning me, what are you doing here? I told the voice that I’d made a commitment, and said I would. The voice responded you have the right to change your mind.
Carole Taub grew up in Los Angeles, and later moved to New York City fulfilling a dream; in-between, Taub garnered an education. Taub’s stories have been published both online and hard-copy, including New Orleans Review, Artzar, Santa Fe New Mexican, Black Warrior Review, and Fault Zone, among others. Currently living in Santa Cruz, Taub is working on a novel.