was about to exercise my dominance in a world of powerlessness.
I just didnt know it yet.
So. Who or
what are we trying to kill?
I had to grin at his directness. Were not trying to kill anything.
Well then, who or what are we trying to protect?
My home, hopefully.
Check this out, he said, moving down the glass display counter. He was
a tall, fat man with an unkempt, graying beard. He wore a red flannel
shirt and glasses with liquor-colored lenses. He pulled a shotgun out
of the case and racked it. He said, I dont care if youre
up against a two hundred fifty pound burglar or a fifty pound crackhead,
they hear that and itll send them running for the hills.
He added, And in the event that that dont work, this little puppy
fires enough buckshot to level a football team. Its kind of like
shooting off a cannon. You got to hang on tight.
The subject obviously excited him, and his enthusiasm made him an excellent
salesman. I was in one of the small businesses that littered the roadside
on this particular stretch of U.S. 33 in Goldfield, Indiana, a pawnshop
without a name. The sign outside simply advertised Guns, Jewelry, Tools.
Nearby stood another employee of the shop, a pimply sixteen-year-old,
watching the exchange with translucent lust. And after all, what sixteen-year-old
male doesnt lust after such a potently symbolic object? In two
short years he could buy one of his own.
After a ten-minute background check I left the store with the shotgun
and a box of shells. They had cost me $218.75, cash, after taxes. I
locked the gun in the trunk of my car, placed the ammunition in the
glove box. On a whim I dropped a single shell into my shirt pocket.
God bless America, I said aloud.
The salesmans firm handshake had been the handshake of one man
bonding with another, a meeting of minds, an association of warriors:
war paint, muscle, power. In fact I was about to assert the parameters
of my own manhood. I was about to exercise my dominance in a world of
powerlessness. I just didnt know it yet.
I pulled back onto the road.
It was November and it had been a mild winter so far. It had snowed
twice but snow hadnt taken. The sky was gray, the air smoky. Id
been on my way to pick up my fiancé, Megan, when Id noticed
The idea of buying a gun had occurred to me about a week prior, after
Id watched a talk show about young girls who had been kidnapped
and locked in an old perverts basement. After I saw that talk
show I started thinking about my own infant daughter, Melanie, how I
could protect her in such a world.
The longer I thought about it, the more I became filled with anxiety.
I couldnt let my daughter be turned into a sex slave. I imagined
some creep breaking into our new house when I was at work and kidnapping
her. This idea became a fixation. What could Megan do to stop him? Nothing.
Once I woke from a nightmare on exactly this topic, I knew I had to
do something to restore my peace of mind.
Now the solution was locked in the trunk of my car. I had a sudden surge
of confidence just knowing it was back there. I peered out at the road
in front of me with wary skepticism, with grim, iron realism, like some
legendary lawman of the old West. I felt perfectly comfortable.
In my minds eye I saw the creep from the talk show breaking the
glass in one of our windows in the new house, unlocking the window,
raising it up, climbing into the dark room. A light comes on and he
looks up to find me standing there with my new home security system,
both barrels pointed at his face. And Im smoking a cigarette,
even though Megan doesnt like me smoking indoors.
I guess you broke into the wrong house, buddy, I tell the creep.
By the time I arrived at Megans mothers house I had turned
this scenario over in my mind probably a dozen times. Each time the
creep became more dangerous and I became more heroic. The scenario extended
to what Megans reaction might be, how she would look me in the
eyes with new appreciation. How we would make love, the shotgun leaning
up against the wall in a corner of the room.
I was in a fine mood by the time I pulled into her mothers driveway.
But Megan came out of the house looking dour. She carried the backpack
with all the baby stuff in it, and her mother followed her out with
Melanie in the car seat.
Hello, Mike, her mother said.
Howdy, I said.
Youre late, Megan told me.
I looked at my watch. It was about twenty minutes past my estimated
time of arrival. Megans mom strapped Melanie into the backseat.
Well, good luck, you two, her mom said.
Bye, mom, Megan said.
See you, Mrs. Gregory, I said.
Once we had pulled out onto the road I asked Megan if she was excited.
We were going to our new house, the one we had finally decided on after
two months of searching, to take one last look around and fill out the
Of course I am, she said.
I nodded. Megan had a way of saying things that made me think she was
lying. She had no reason to lie, none that I knew of. But clearly something
was amiss. It could be my lateness or something else. To ask would be
to make the situation ten times worse. Thats how that worked.
Christmas in our new house, I said, grinning.
Well probably be at my grandparents, though, she said.
I glanced over at her. She didnt look back at me. I couldnt
pinpoint when exactly, but at some point after our relationship became
serious, Megan simply stopped looking at me.
Well, well wake up in our house, I said. You know, Christmas morning.
That whole thing. Maybe itll snow. Should be fun.
She nodded. She could have shrugged instead.
Postpartum depression, I thought. Thats what it is. I glanced
over at her again. Megan was a beautiful blonde, striking even without
any makeup, her hair tied back in a ponytail. Her expression was perfectly
neutral, and looking at her made me feel more at ease.
All the same, I decided this was not the most opportune time to tell
her about the shotgun. I didnt know what shed think of it.
Wed have to go to a shooting range or someplace to learn how to
quickly load and fire. I started thinking about Megan with the shotgun.
That took half the fun out of it.
Maybe Id get her a handgun instead. Then shed have her gun
and Id have mine. Thats what Id do. Id buy her
a handgun and keep the shotgun as my own. She didnt have to know
about the shotgun. It could be my business and not hers.
Yes. The more I thought it over, the more I became convinced that she
would not want the shotgun in the house. Its too dangerous, she
would say. Its an unnecessary risk, we already have a house alarm.
She would belittle the idea, no question about it. It was essentially
lying to keep it a secret, but ignorance is bliss, right? No doubt she
had secrets of her own, hidden information I had no desire to uncover.
So this made us even. Id hide the shotgun in the garage or something.
I glanced over at her again. God, she was beautiful.
A few raindrops had hit the windshield on the drive over. The fog thickened
and traffic slowed. We arrived about forty-five minutes late, but the
real estate agents green BMW was still parked in the driveway
of our new place.
I parked behind the realtors car and looked at the house. It was
an unremarkable starter house: one story, two bedrooms, one bathroom.
It was perfect.
I love this house, I said.
It needs painting, Megan said.
Painting? I said. We hadnt talked about this. The house was blue.
How could she not like blue? Everybody liked blue.
Its a weird color, she said. Who paints a house sky blue, anyway?
The previous owner must have been crazy.
I shook my head. I said, Yeah, I guess we could paint it. What color
did you have in mind?
Yellow, she said.
I didnt understand why she was bringing this up now. One of our
house-hunting criteria had been color: the color of the house, the first
thing you noticed. Why hadnt she said something before? I would
never learn to understand Megans thinking.
But as it so happened, she was right about the previous owner.
We climbed out of the car. Megan unbuckled Melanies car seat while
I stretched my limbs. I was still sore from the five-mile run Id
taken the day before. Id started jogging with Megans sensibilities
in mind. I knew if I stayed in shape our relationship had a much better
chance of survival. But Id spent my college years lazing about,
chain-smoking, drinking and swearing. Now I was in training to become
a family man, and the transition was proving to be punishing beyond
I wanted a beer, a cigarette, and my PlayStation 2.
Could you carry her? Megan said.
I walked around the car and took Melanies car seat. Melanie looked
up at me with that blank-slate baby expression: expectant curiosity
mixed with total ignorance. I envied her at times. She had no concept
of the political struggle that was adult life. She didnt need
to fight for status: she was already an elected baby.
She was also one of the few substantive aspects of my relationship with
Megan, other than sex. I raised the car seat and kissed her on the forehead.
Megan had walked away from the car and stood at the far edge of the
front yard, arms crossed, craning her neck and examining something on
the side of the property. In a low voice I told the baby an age-and
You know that old joke, I said, about the eleven-year-old boy who gets
home from school a little early and finds his mother performing oral
sex on his father.
Melanie stared with incomprehension.
No, I said. Well, the eleven-year-old asks his mother: Is that where
babies come from? And she looks at him and says, No, son, thats
where jewelry comes from.
I grinned at Melanie and she grinned in return.
I said, Well, kiddo, Im giving your mother a house today. A house.
Incomprehension from the kid. I didnt know if I understood the
irony myself. There was plenty of irony to the situation, I was sure
I strolled over to where Megan was standing and joined her in staring
down the side of the yard.
Do you see what I see? Megan said.
I frowned. A tree had been cut down in the yard, and not just any tree.
It was the apple tree that had played a role in our deciding on this
house. We had talked about adding some landscaping and a wrought iron
park bench, turning it into a quaint reading spot, perfect in summer
when it would provide some shade. I had envisioned Megan bringing me
out a tall glass of ice tea as I sat there reading the paper. Which
would have been completely out of character for both of us (I didnt
read the paper and Megan didnt serve drinks), but Id envisioned
it all the same. And now the tree was lying on its side like a wounded
What the fuck happened? I said.
God, Mike, the language! Megan said. The babys right here.
Well, I said, gesturing at the tree. For Chrissake.
I know, she said.
I was a little pissed off. When I got angry, I didnt get angry
about just one thing. I stood in front of Megan and looked her in the
Meg, I said, whats wrong with you?
What are you talking about? she said, looking away. Her tone told me
she didnt want to talk about it, whatever it was.
A few months ago buying a house was all you wanted to talk about. And
today you act like youre starting a prison sentence.
I dont know what youre talking about.
I just told you.
Are we having a fight? she said, taking Melanie and the car seat from
me. Because we dont do that in front of the baby.
Shes a baby, Meg. She doesnt understand.
Youre the baby, she replied.
Oh, now Im the baby, I said.
I tried to think of some applicable riposte. I thought I might say something
about how Megan was always trying to change me, which would tie into
her idea of my being a baby. But then shed latch onto that and
complain that I never changed Melanie, which was true. Then Id
have to argue that, as the breadwinner of the family, I shouldnt
have to participate in domestic tasks. All of this would inevitably
lead to a discussion of our looming divorce. Believe me, that was where
all of our arguments wound up. I decided to stay quiet.
We stood in melancholic silence and stared at the murdered tree. The
only sound was the distant buzz of a chainsaw.
I glanced over at Megan. She didnt look back at me.
The sound intensified as we stood there. I looked around. I was going
to exchange words with whoever it was. Cut down my apple tree, will
ya. Why I oughta...
Megan began walking toward the house and I followed. The front door
opened as we approached and I knew something was up because the chainsaw
sound was coming from inside. We froze as a man stepped out from the
front door, a chainsaw in his hands. He was covered in blood.
Megan turned and looked at me, her eyes open in fear. I beckoned for
her to follow me and we moved away from the house. The man with the
chainsaw pursued us, walking slowly, his eyes staring.
It was like wed walked into a fucking indie horror flick.
Get in the car, I told Megan.
She opened the passenger door and put Melanie in the backseat. The man
with the chainsaw picked up the pace, started running. Without thinking
I dashed to the trunk of the car, unlocked it, and removed the shotgun.
I loaded it with the shell in my shirt pocket and turned. He was most
of the way across the front lawn.
I shot him.
Ears ringing, stomach churning, my face a sickly shade of pale reflected
in the car window, I opened the car door and sat inside.
Call the cops, I said.
I already did, Megan said. She clutched her cell phone in one hand.
Melanie was crying. Megan reached into the backseat and picked her up.
That was fucked up, I remarked.
Is he dead? Megan asked.
Should we check? she said.
Im not going anywhere near him.
Melanie began calming down, staring curiously at my drawn face, her
head resting on Megans shoulder. It occurred to me that Megan
was a pretty good mom, a natural, in fact.
Whered you get the gun?
I bought it earlier today, I said. Before I picked you up.
Were you going to tell me?
Megan looked out the window at the man. He lay on his back, spread-eagle
on the lawn. The chainsaw lay nearby.
Ive been seeing someone else, Megan said.
I hope it wasnt that guy.
Im serious, Mike. Ive been cheating on you.
I hesitated. I said, It doesnt matter.
No, it does. Melanies not yours. I was going to tell you. She
looks just like her real dad. Im sorry, Mike.
I really am sorry.
I climbed out of the car and lit a cigarette. Id left the shotgun
on the roof of the car. I put it back in the trunk. After a while seven
or eight police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck arrived. We accompanied
the police back to the station. I repeated my story about a dozen times
and then waited in an uncomfortable plastic chair while they finished
The detectives had told me the story behind our encounter. The man with
the chainsaw was the former home owner, an RV factory laborer and sometimes
bass player in a local band. He had a drug problem. Hed put the
house on the market after his wife left him, then had taken some bad
crystal meth, something incorrect in the chemical composition of this
particular batch that made him instantly psychotic. Hed purchased
a chainsaw at the local Home Depot and returned to his old house to
cut down the apple tree and murder our real estate agent.
Maybe he thought she was his wife, one detective theorized.
I was tired and the police station was brightly lit. I blinked hard,
shook my head. I looked down at Melanie, who sat in her car seat wide
awake. The cops must have given her some sugar or something. It was
Some fatherly advice, I told the baby. Never marry a bass player.
She stared at me, waited.
You know what they call a bass players wife who knows where her
husband is every night?
A widower, I said.
© Daniel Thant - December 16 2003
Previously Daniel Thant
More fiction in Dreamscapes
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