This story is by Valorie Clark and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Andrew stared at it. He breathed in, and out. In, and out. Hold it for five seconds then release. Count up and then back down.
Would his father have gotten rid of it, Andrew wondered, if he knew that someday Andrew would find himself there, then, thinking how easy it would be to put it in his mouth and pull the trigger? Would he have still kept it?
It hadn’t been taken out of its case since his father had died three years before. Heart attack, sudden. The doctor had told him to stop having bacon with every meal, but his father had cited the Gulf War and all the times he had narrowly escaped death. He was going to live a little now. Well, then.
The handgun was old, practically an antique. A Remington Smoot, owned by his father in his youth in Texas, inherited from a grandfather before him. It had a dull shine to it, the kind that came from years of use, from the grip of a hand on metal. He thought of the times it had been fired, wondered if there was still gunpowder left over from the last time his father had gone to the gun range.
“It’s good to keep up old skills,” he’d shrug when Andrew asked why. Why did he need a gun in suburban Texas? It wasn’t even a hunting rifle; it was useless. The neighborhood Andrew had grown up in had been calm, boring even. The worst crime that had been reported during his whole childhood was a domestic disturbance. What, exactly, was the point of keeping a handgun around?
Andrew wasn’t sure why he’d kept it. It was silly—Andrew looked in the mirror and saw his father looking back. Same eyes, same nose. But Andrew couldn’t hold his own face in his hands, he couldn’t stare at himself in the mirror all day. The gun he could hold. The gun tethered him to afternoons at the range with Dad.
The dull throb near his sternum intensified. He breathed in, and out. In, and out. One, two, three, four, five. Five, four, three, two, one.
He picked the gun up, turned it over in his hand. It felt foreign. And it weighed more than he would have thought, given its size. He had learned to shoot as a teen; his father had insisted. But he hadn’t fired a gun since he’d gone off to college, more than ten years before. Hadn’t needed to. He had lived in safe communities, with neighbors who waved. The barks of golden retrievers were the most dangerous things on his block. Why, exactly, had he kept it? Had he known, even then, that he’d end up here?
“I think you need to see someone,” Angela had said. “I’m worried about you. It’s been a year, Andrew.” He had been worried too, a little, but none of his friends had lost their parents yet so he didn’t know what was normal. How long was someone supposed to grieve? How long until they could get out of bed without feeling crushed by the pain of who they had lost?
So Angela had worried, sure. But not enough to not sleep with their son’s P.E. teacher. Not enough to stay. Not enough to call.
Next to the gun was a business card. Mia Warren: A grief counselor. It had been one of the last things Angela had given him before she moved out. She’d let him keep the house, the tv, and the business card. But the sound of the tv wasn’t enough to fill the house like the sounds of their family had, and he felt like he was walking through a ghost town, one of his own making. He often lurked at the doorway to his father’s room, where he’d stayed as he remodeled his own home across town. The door to the room Andrew had shared with Angela he kept closed. He kept his son’s room clean, but Justin hardly stayed the night anymore. Andrew mostly slept on the couch, drank until he convinced himself that he was only alone because no one else fit on the couch with him.
The clock struck nine. Nine am, but it could have been midnight for all he knew, sitting in the dark kitchen and sealed off the rest of the world like he was. How long had he been sitting there, curtains shut and lights off? A few hours at least. He’d lost his job a few months before, yet still got up early. With nowhere to go he drifted from room to room, feeling more and more like a ghost himself.
To be honest, Andrew thought he was way beyond Dr. Warren’s reach.
Something buzzed, echoing in the empty kitchen. It took him a minute to realize it was his phone, someone sending him a text. It so rarely rang anymore. It was Jordan; Andrew sort of remembered asking him if he wanted to get a beer after work.
Can’t come out tonight, sorry man. Maybe next week?
He didn’t respond, but put the phone down and looked at the card again. And the gun. Draw a card; draw your weapons. Maybe no one would even notice. Was that good? It didn’t feel good. But then it would be easy on them too because they wouldn’t have to worry or anything. That would be good. His father had tried to teach him to do good, is this how that worked?
Angela wanted him to call, that’s why she had given him the card. He knew, somewhere in the back of his mind, that it was the right thing to do. To call, to go to someone. But how? How was a stranger supposed to help? And he was so tired. So tired of trying, of losing. She’d never asked again, after giving it to him. Maybe she didn’t care if he didn’t go anymore. Maybe she’d tell him to choose the gun too. It seemed to reasonable, now. It felt so much easier.
His Uncle Phil, his Dad’s brother, had drank himself to death. Andrew’s father had said it had started after the car accident that had ended his football career before it had really started. They had convinced him to see a therapist—it hadn’t worked. Therapy didn’t work. But then, that was the 70s. Maybe it would be different now.
He held the card, spun it between his fingers. Why had Angela picked this card, this therapist? Pick a card, any card. It was white, with a green tree embossed on it. Maybe Dr. Warren thought that made people feel better, trees. Trees grew for ages, and were strong. They died and were reborn every season. There was symbolism there, for grief counseling. Maybe she had thought about that.
Or maybe she just liked trees.
There was a big tree near his father’s grave. Andrew tried not to think about how it got its nourishment, about what in the soil had enabled it to grow so big. But when he did, he mostly wondered if his father would have been okay with that, with feeding a tree, with giving his body to nature. He hadn’t wanted to give it to science—science hadn’t saved Andrew’s grandmother. But God, nature…Andrew’s father had relied on those things.
Another buzz. Maybe Jordan was available after all.
No: Angela. What could she want? A flicker of hope flamed and died immediately in his chest. Angela had someone else, was pregnant again. She’d always wanted more kids, but Andrew had always been content with Justin, just Justin.
Don’t forget Justin’s little league game tomorrow night.
He hadn’t forgotten. Except maybe he had, a little.
You’ll be there, right? You missed last time. He’s been asking for you.
Andrew didn’t remember that there had been a last time that he’d missed. He couldn’t remember when the season had started. It felt like it had been months since the last game, the last practice. But, reflecting on the dates, he realized it had only been ten days. But they’d felt so long, so exhausting. What had he even done during them?
When Andrew had played soccer, his father had never missed a single game. He had driven him to every practice, rain or shine, in sickness and in health. A lump so large Andrew could have choked on it formed in his throat. He missed his father so desperately, but how could he set Justin up for the same pain? He was only twelve, he wouldn’t understand. How would Angela explain it to him?
Yeah, I’ll be there. Of course. Starts at 6?
A couple tears ran down his cheeks. He pushed the gun away and picked up the card. One, two, three, four five. He dialed.
“Yes, hello, my name is Andrew Beady. I’m calling for Doctor Mia Warren. Yes, I’d like to schedule an appointment, for as soon as possible.”