The kids unearthed the gun on an ordinary Thursday. Digging in the sand with their feet and hands like little crabs with toes calloused from a summer spent barefoot at the lake, they hit pay dirt. The gun revealed itself shyly. The intricate designs of the barrel emerged first, and the oldest child dusted away the dirt with eager fingers. This was no delicate dig but an urgent uncovering, a need waiting to be satisfied. They used plastic shovels to scrape around the edges, and more silver became exposed with each swipe.
The barrel of the cap gun was broken, half the tip eroded away either by time, sand, or rough twentieth-century play. The design imprinted on the silver barrel read, Buffalo Bill, and the parents could only deduce that the gun was old and the children who played with it had been children when they were children. The youngest boy loved the gun. He had never been allowed a gun to play with, but this toy was different. This was a relic, his mother said, and somehow that made all the difference. He could cock the lever, pull the trigger, point the gun at his big sister and not get yelled at once.
The gun was unlike anything he saw in his cartoons: laser weaponry that decimated whole planets. This gun was heavy and metal and old. Being nine, old was something to be behold. His mother, his grandmother, they were old. His sister, she wanted to be old. The villains in his cartoons were mostly old. And ugly. But not this gun. This gun despite it’s broken barrel and useless trigger was beautiful, so he held it in his palm when he could, and he hid it in his plastic fishing box below the few lures and weights his father allowed him to call his when he was called in for dinner.
By the end of the summer, he will have forgotten about the gun. At some point he will have quickly put it down on a shelf in the shed he’d been investigating to run down the dock toward his father’s boat and the opportunity to go fishing across the lake. Maybe he’d catch a big one. When his grandfather dies, and his grandmother, who can no longer navigate the many stairs from house to lake, sells and moves into a home where women in colorful smocks and hard-soled clogs will help her dress and clean, he will find the gun again. His sister won’t remember having ever played with it, even says she didn’t remember where it had come from, but he doesn’t believe her.
The gun will be smaller than he remembers. At fifteen, he goes hunting with his father, has just graduated from using a .22 to a rifle, though he prefers a bow. More challenge, and somehow more honest. The gun’s barrel is in his palm, he pulls back the lever, and pulls the trigger. The gun lets off a resonant but purposeless click echoing in the now emptied shed. He knows then that he will toss the gun into the rented garbage bin now parked between the shed and the house as he walks away. But he wishes for a moment he might bury it, bury it in the hard, hard dirt below the sand, so he can stumble upon it again as when he digs his calloused toes into the cool sand.