The Gun

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.

The Lottery

A urine collection bottle shaped just for bedridden men
leans in the bathroom sink, this time
collecting the drip-drip of a broken
faucet, the water bloody with rust.

An over-stuffed blue Lazy-boy,
arms dark where food-dirtied hands
rested while the television blared,
cups stained and frayed towels in its cushions.

On the drop-leaf table next to the chair,
a stiff and yellowed doily lies drunkenly under
a glass serving bowl offering up the remnants
of a last meal of chicken noodle soup.

Also on the table a copy of my mother
and father’s wedding bulletin and a picture
of his father and two other men dressed like 1920’s gangsters.
Numbers and notes doodled on paper scraps.

A lottery ticket, its corner trapped
beneath the soup bowl. Maybe the fruit flies
know if it held a winning number, if my father,
after death, became a winner after all.

What We Found

I didn’t want to go in. That was obvious. Even in less disastrous times than these, the occasion of my father’s death, I never really wanted to enter his house. The smell for one thing. When you first opened the door and the odor of mold hit you in the face, you wanted nothing more than to pull your t-shirt up over your nose and mouth, prevent that smell from entering your body. Or maybe you wanted nothing more than to turn and leave, find sanctuary in your car, your oh-so-clean car, even with the lingering smell of a quick McDonald’s lunch after your long drive. The smell was easy to explain. Numerous years of basement flooding had destroyed the drywall throughout the downstairs rooms.

But it would not be until later that day, when my husband and I, and my brave 70 year old uncle who should not have volunteered to help with this task, descended the wooden stairs that led to the basement from the front door of my father’s rectangle ranch house, that I would realize the extent of the damage. How all of the toys—a baby carriage, a Lite Brite, one of a pair of Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots–, the boxes of school papers, the stacks and stacks of books my mother collected from years of teaching first grade, the antiques she had collected from her travels to Europe before she met my father, had been slowly drowned by the creeping water and nothing ever salvaged.

The bugs were another problem, but you saw those before you even entered the house. The decaying front entry way that I remembered being added to the house when I was 7 or so, was covered with Japanese beetles that looked like harmless ladybugs but were carried their own particular stench if you touched them, daddy longleg spiders having weaved their homes into the corners, and the boxelder bugs, strangely menacing with their black and white armor.

The evidence of rodents was obvious immediately there too. Holes chewed into the walls, causing insulation to seep out like dirty cotton candy. If you were brave enough to enter the house and look, for example, a water glass, you would see more evidence of mice, maybe rats, creeping in and out of cupboards and Tupperware as they perused the kitchen looking for scraps of food amid yellowing boxes of Morton’s salt, Hamburger Helper, and amber bottles of pills long since emptied.

When had he given up? Maybe he had long-since decided that if he couldn’t make things what they once were, keep a material sort of shrine to keep my mother’s memory alive, then he would shut his eyes to the decay and dreams of days when my mother’s collection of tea cups say washed and gleaming on the dining room table, awaiting the women from Ladies’ Aid, but he had time to steal just one more date cookie, the same kind his mother had made when he was a boy coming in from the fields.