The International Writers Magazine: Pistol Stories
The best thing during summer for Danny O’brian was to drive with his mother to visit his cousins and play cowboys and indians in their farm. The summer when Danny turned six-years-old the ride to the farm had seem endless.
He sat in the back seat of the station wagon impatiently watching silos and corn fields fly past the car window while his mother negotiated patiently traffic congestions, drove up hills, and down slopes, for what seemed endless hours. When finally, she shifted gears into Park, the car jerked to a stop in front of the farm house; Danny jumped out, ran up the gravel driveway, pushed open the front door, scrambled into the parlor-- dodged the sofa where his father sat with his relatives--headed straight to the mantle, grabbed the six-shooter, doubled back to his father, without losing momentum or enthusiasm, he pointed the pistol to his father’s face and squeezed the trigger: Bang! Bang! Bang!
That was forty-years ago.
Danny was born on a bright summer Sunday, July 2nd of 1961 at exactly 7:30 am. He had weighed six pounds four ounces; had all his fingers and toes, and his blue irises were as bright as his father’s. Danny O’brian was destined for great things, his mother had said to her husband who sat at her bedside in the hospital, holding onto the bed-rail and tilting his head to take in the scene. She had felt emboldened by the harsh delivery to predict out loud that her son will change their lives one day: ‘Daniel’ she had said proudly, will change history. She had said these words to her husband as she held the bundled babe close to her bosom, and watched his pinkish mouth latch on to her nourishing breast.
Ten months earlier, Danny’s father had been told by his own father: ‘You are too young to marry,’ with a tone of disappointment and disapproval. In fact, the consensus among all his relatives, had been that he was making a mistake by marrying so young. His own mother had shared this sentiment. She had felt in her heart that her only son was destined for great things. Danny’s father, however, knew it was his duty to marry. He had known in his heart that it was the right thing to do. He had used the word honorable when telling his parents of his intentions to marry. The real reason, of course, was that he had fallen desperately in love.
That November day of 1960, when the newspaper headlines reported an incident involving a man carrying a loaded .25 caliber pistol attempting to reach the open convertible of an unlikely presidential candidate in Chicago, Danny’s father-to-be had made up his mind. He had not waited for the test results from the clinic to ask Danny’s mother-to-be, to marry him. He couldn’t afford a shiny engagement ring so in its stead, and to her amusement, Danny’s father had placed on her ring-finger a single loop of thread he had fashioned from a strand of their favorite blanket; the same blanket they had used at ‘lovers lane’ to cover themselves from the cold winter night. She had said yes before he had even thought to ask.
She had said yes to becoming his bride because she had loved Danny’s father-to-be from the time she saw herself reflected as a distorted little figure in his eyes, when they had first met in school. Since then, she had known that not being a couple, husband and wife, parents to their children, was fiction to both. She had even imagined her husband-to-be as a gentle old man waking beside her, and vividly feeling the palpable warmth of his gaze caressing her face in the morning light. That thought had always given her comfort: the comfort two people feel when they grow old together.
Danny’s mother had always been told that her eyes were her best feature. Her brown pupils were enormous. Their shine reflected a strong sensitivity to all that was alive in the world. In their frailty, they not so much as defined her looks, but exuded her entire personality. The bangs she wore permanently over the forehead of her full moon face made her look like a child. Even after her son had been born she could have been mistaken for an adolescent. Her husband had cherished that endearing look; it inspired in him a need to protect her; but she did not need to be protected, she was strong in character and presence of mind. She was a stay-at-home-mom at a time when most women were joining the workforce. However, she had felt fulfilled by caring for her child, Daniel.
Danny’s father had become a salesman at a time when salesmen still traveled to meet their clients. He drove his light blue Rambler to most places, and traveled alone most all the time. He had bought the car used because it was cheap and a easy to repair. Most times, when returning home from a sales trip, he told stories of the road to his wife at the dinner table. One summer evening after a long trip to the hinterlands--what he called any place that was not within city limits--he sat down to dinner and told his wife of a peculiar incident that had happened while driving on the turnpike:
He had spotted a heaping mound in the middle of the road. It cast a long shadow on the darkening asphalt as the sun sunk below the horizon. He’d slowed the car down to a halt and pulled the silver knob on the dashboard that turned on the headlights. The twin shafts of light pierced through the shadows and revealed a dead doe, probably hit by a car. It lay dead on its side. Dan got out of his car and circled the carcass. He bent down his knees to inspect the brown carcass and saw his reflection in the enormous glassy eyes of the animal. The doe had been dead for only a short time. It was still warm to the touch. When Dan O’brian pushed the brown heap to the side of the road, he felt movement inside the bulging doe’s belly: a fawn wriggled inside, still waiting to be born.
Danny’s mother had been listening wide eyed. She pushed back her chair silently and went to the sink to fill a glass with tap water. She drank a mouthful to clear the knot that had formed in her throat. “What then?” she asked leaning her back on the counter, while still holding the glass in her hand. “A curious thing,” her husband replied, dangling a fork with his fingers, “just as I was done moving the carcass, a doe and its fawn sprang out from some woods at the edge of the highway. Their long shifting shadows glided across the pavement where the dead doe had laid. After a pause, the fawn followed the doe when she scampered back into the woods.”
“I guess life must go on” his wife said, with tears in her eyes.
It had become something of a welcome home ritual for Danny’s father to surprise Danny with a present when he came home from a sales trip. The surprise Danny had wanted most was a sheriff’s outfit complete with hat, shield, and shiny pistol. One rainy night when his father walked through the door, Danny’s blue eyes had sparkled with excitement when he spotted the silvery barrel of a shiny six-shooter sticking out of a brown bag his father had with him. That night, watching episodes of the The Lone Ranger on the television was perfect: Danny sat with legs criss-cross-apple-sauce and eyes frozen to the silver screen, as he waited with anticipation for the two gun-shots the masked avenger fired while his horse galloped furiously on the screen, then giant words “THE LONE RANGER” appeared that filled the entire screen.
Danny’s heart missed a beat when the staccato sound of trumpets opened the show. Before that night, Danny’s gun had consisted of his three tiny fingers curled into the palm of his hand, with his index finger and thumb sticking outward. That same night, his father had pinned the silver five-point-star onto Danny’s night-shirt and loaded fresh caps on the shiny pistol. As soon as the episode ended, Danny and his father circled the sofa several times, then Danny doubled back to his father, without losing momentum or enthusiasm, he pointed the cap pistol to his father’s face and squeezed the trigger: Bang! Bang! Bang! the caps exploded making a crackling sound., his father dropped to the couch clenching his chest gurgling: “you got me pale face,” to the delight of his son.
Everyone who met Danny O’brian remarked how much he looked like his father. All the relatives (on his father’s side) spoiled him with hugs and kisses every summer when he visited the farm. Summer had become Danny’s favorite time of year. On the eve of the trip to the farm he ran from room to room picking up all the necessary accoutrements for the trip. Danny disappeared into closets and come out with arms full of indispensable items, then he tried to cram them into an already brimming suitcase. The O’brian’s had been visiting their relative’s farm in the country religiously every summer for as long as Danny could remember. Of course, Danny didn’t have an awareness of time at his age, only a sense of euphoria that came over him when anticipating the endless days of careless abandon. He waited impatiently for the date of departure: “Is it tomorrow? Is it tomorrow? he pestered his mother until he heard the words ‘start packing.’
All that had seemed like ages ago to Danny O’brian. He is married now and has a daughter. She’s ten. She looks like her father: blue eyes, thick eyebrows ( a feature she’ll resent when she reaches her teen-years) a dimple on her right cheek, more pronounced when she smiles. There are recognizable traces of her mother’s looks on her, but visible only to those who had met her mom. Some had been surprised that her mother’s full moon face and enormous brown pupils had not been passed on to her daughter. Although of course Danielle’s blue eyes did reflect a strong sensitivity to all that was alive in the world. She was Dan’s only child. He adored her. When he looked at his daughter Dan recalled the moment her milky eyes opened for the first time and triggered an endearing sensation in him, like that when you meet a good friend you’ve not seen in a long time.
It hadn’t been long after Danielle’s tenth birthday when she and her father, as usual, had been sharing breakfast on a Sunday morning: flapjacks, bacon and the Sunday paper. The front page of that Sunday, July 2005, showed the photographs of four strangers with smiling faces under the headline: ‘FOUR LIVES LOST’ the headline was the only element they had in common. Daniel O’brian had not felt well equipped, mentally or emotionally, to explain to his daughter about the four murdered people whose faces appeared on the cover of the paper. His efforts to explain the complexities of the world to his daughter came out as platitudes. He had even said: “sometimes people are in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Which was in fact what had happened to those four victims, according to the newspaper account. The four strangers, the article noted, had arrived at different times for varying reasons when the desperate gunman robbing the store at gun point had opened fire, killing all four bystanders.
That Sunday morning Dan had only managed to echo the explanation his mother had given him when his own wife, Danielle’s mother, had died of cancer a few years after their daughter had been born: “When we’re born,” he said, “nobody guarantees us that we’ll live forever. Nobody tells us how long we will live, or when we will die. When we‘re born, we’re not given any guarantees. That’s why you must be sure to live a meaningful life every day: because you don’t know when you will die. There are no guarantees,” he added, without losing his rhythm. Then continued, “If you fear dying, you will spend your entire life afraid; and you’d have wasted whatever time you could have spent striving to lead a meaningful life.”
After a silent pause, Dan’s daughter remarked: “Wow, that was deep,” and climbed the stairway to her bedroom, slowly, pondering thoughts meandering in her mind.
It’d happened on a similar hot Sunday morning on July 2006. Dan O’brian’s daughter had come running down the steps from her bedroom to announce to her father, unexpectedly: “I’d like to hold a gun sometime, you know, just hold it in my hands to see what it feels like.” She had said it without losing momentum or enthusiasm. Daniel O’brian had been startled by his daughter’s request. He did not know how to respond, nor did he want to know why suddenly his daughter felt the need to touch a firearm. He’d heard his daughter talk about how kids in school shared stories of hunting with their dads. Of video games that kept a score by shooting up the bad guys. Of laser tag, and paint ball wars as birthday themes she’d been invited to. He had not expected, however, to hear this from his daughter. Dan had instinctively wanted to say “No, you can’t,’ in reply to her impetuous request. Instead, he felt the need to drive his point as a lesson into her heart, by telling her the real reason why he’d never agree to her request. He spoke with a low tone in his voice as his daughter stood on at mid-staircase holding on to the railing.
“I must have been five, or six,” he began.
She stood quietly, not knowing what to expect.
“My parents, used to send us to the country for the summer,” Dan spoke with confidence in his voice. “It was a magical time,” he said, looking up at his daughter as he approached the staircase. “My mother and I drove together to meet my dad, your grandfather,” he pointed out as he got close enough to place his hand on the banister next to hers, without making contact. “My Dad drove up before us, you know, to prepare things.” Dan was trying to make eye contact with Danielle to keep her attention. He leaned forward as he continued talking. “One day,” he said, “I don’t remember exactly when, but it was always summer, we drove up to the farm, my mom and me; she parked our station wagon at the main house. I jumped out of the car, my short legs were moving fast on the gravel driveway. When I reached the house I pushed open a large door and ran into a smallish room where all the adults had been sitting. I saw my father sitting next to the mantel. I ran faster when I saw my uncle’s pistol on the mantle next to my father’s chair. It was so much shinier than my plastic gun. I sped between the adults and grabbed the shiny pistol with both hands, lifted it, and before anyone could stop me I aimed it at my father, and squeezed the trigger, bang! bang! bang!"
Danielle’s face lost all expression. Only her blue eyes reflected a quick sadness that spoke louder than any words. Daniel moved closer to his daughter until his chest pressed against the railing. He had sensed her disappointment. He glided his hand on the railing to touch hers, but she jerked away instinctively, as if coiling back to fend off a snake bite. Daniel saw himself reflected in Danielle’s glistening eyes. He recognized the look. He’d seen it before in Danielle’s mother’s eyes, years ago, when recalling the incident of the fawn trapped inside its dead mother’s womb. Without further hesitation, he finished his tale: “had the gun been loaded with bullets instead of blanks” he said “I would have killed my father.”
Danielle’s face relaxed. She had been tapping her bare foot impatiently against the wooden steps as she listened to her father’s tale. She stopped, climbed down to the landing, leaned over the banister, and pressed her lips on Danny O’brian’s cheek.
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© O Jiminez August 2011
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