This story is by Sheila Burns and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
If I turned around and retraced my steps home, I would likely get back to my house with no problem. The situation I was observing that had stopped me in my tracks would resolve itself without my intervention. It would be neighborhood gossip for weeks, maybe even months . I’d be safe, one of the tellers of the tale, a street-side eye-witness.
Yet I hesitated. I carried my Smith & Wesson with me everywhere, having been permitted for conceal-carry over a year ago. This was the first time I’d ever considered using it; not to pull the trigger, but to let the irate neighbor know he wasn’t the only one with a gun, and that I could pull the trigger if I so chose.
Besides being permitted, I had taken multiple courses in gun use and gone to the range to practice twice a month. I hired one of the firearms instructors that worked there to evaluate my performance and give me tips. The last few visits he had told me, “You’ve got this. Just keep coming back for regular practice.” I felt prepared, yet I had to qualify this particular situation.
I had chosen my revolver as much based on its name “BodyGuard,” as on any of its other characteristics, like its easy recoil. Its laser-sight wouldn’t be of any psychological advantage on this bright spring morning. It was a lightweight handgun purchased specifically for self-defense. The situation I had just come upon didn’t quite meet that standard.
I hadn’t ever thought about using my little gun to defend others, beyond my own family. All my kids were young adults, now on their own. “Home security” for me, a long time single mom, was not about my valueless possessions. I have no need to protect sentimental items; only my own life.
I knew I was calmer than I might have been in the past, better at assessing my environment. I was curious if my gun and training bestowed calm, or if it was the sweet lilting lyrics and soft guitar of Ed Sheeran playing through my earbuds.
The neighbor was at the end of his driveway, holding an assault rifle on some workmen in the street. He was yelling obscenities at them, threatening their lives, claiming his rights to liberty, to his freedom of movement on and off his property. His jaw and neck were tight, and his face red. The lead on the crew tried to reason with him, but neighbor Griggs was holding his ground, the butt of his rifle edged securely into his left shoulder, his right arm extended holding the barrel.
He was slightly turned away from me. I couldn’t see how close his fingers were to his trigger. I stood ten paces away; at such an angle that I seemed to be out of his peripheral vision.
Griggs claimed to be a survivor of several tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. But his ex-wife, my hairdresser, had told me, “That’s one of his many lies. He’s a wannabe soldier.”
He had also often displayed his inability to listen and had a reputation for boundary disputes. I had observed his tendency to be a hothead at a few of the homeowner meetings. He wasn’t a neighbor I wanted to know better. I was glad he lived several blocks away from me.
The workers whom he had his sights on that morning were asphalt pavers. Two weeks prior our property management company had notified everyone in our 200 home complex that some of our streets were going to be repaired that day.
All notices had instructed, “By nine a.m. on Thursday April 20th the pavers will be pouring and spreading fresh asphalt on these following four contiguous streets.” The notices named those streets and included a map. “Those living on those streets, if they intend to go anywhere on that day, need to park in the common lots near the park and entrance from 9 a.m. on the 20th until 9 a.m the 21st. ” The notice warned that any cars in the streets would be towed at owners expense, and vehicles in driveways would be blocked for 24 hours. The notifications also assured that the sidewalks would be accessible.
Griggs had either not read or had forgotten the similar notice posted on the bulletin board at the entry to our community. Unless he hadn’t left our enclave in the past two weeks, the notice was impossible to miss. It was hand written in large, black, block letters with red markings underlining some words.
Or he’d forgotten each of the three email notices that said the exact same thing. Maybe he hadn’t opened any of them. Maybe he didn’t have email. Snail mail required trips to the mail box clusters. I never ran into him there, or rarely anyone else either when I checked my mail box. Our neighborhood was quiet. Most people kept to themselves. Maybe he just didn’t care. Maybe he cared deeply about his image.
I was impressed with the amount of information and considerations that rushed through my brain as I decided to either pull my piece and defend the workers or walk away. Although mentally calm, my heart was beating faster each second, infused with perceptible adrenaline.
While out taking my morning walk I had observed that every street entrance to the four contiguous avenues, one of which I stood in the middle of, were blocked with six heavy orange barrels with orange tape ribboned across them. Hanging from each tape were double-sided signs reading on both sides, “Please excuse any inconveniences caused by our work to re-pave your neighborhood streets. These barriers will be removed promptly between 8:30 and 9 tomorrow morning.”
This scene with Griggs and the pavers definitely qualified as an “inconvenience” on my morning stroll.
By 9:15 a.m there were no cars on any of the named streets. Andrews Asphalt had blocked all the driveways with easily removable plastic orange cones. Some of the blocked driveways included those with cars or trucks in them, like Griggs’ Super Duty red Ford pickup. The workers’ expectations were reasonable; that the residents with vehicles still in their driveways were not going anywhere.
The orange cones in front of Griggs’ house were lying in the street. I assumed he’d kicked them there.
The crew’s foreman irrationally persisted, holding up the notice that had been sent to everyone, trying to speak. But Griggs kept yelling. His slender wiry frame held all five of the workers at bay, his semi-automatic rifle panning back and forth across them as they stood in a semi-circle in the street. Two were beginning to back away to their vehicles at the end of the block.
I turned and began to walk away. Taking a deep breath, I felt confident I had correctly assessed the situation. It was not my problem. I felt relief, happy to turn my back on all aspects of the confrontation.
Before I had taken four strides, I heard the silence when Griggs stopped yelling, immediately broken by six rapid cracks. My entire body whip-lashed and I saw Griggs’ holding his gun in the air. The smell of burnt toast wafted around me. Wisps of smoke were ascending from the tree limbs above his head. He had fired, letting those he saw as invaders know that he was serious about not backing down. All five men were scrambling into their equipment and pickup trucks.
Griggs returned the rifle to his shoulder and six more cracks exploded right over their heads and one grazed the top of an older model green and white pickup.
All my instincts told me to bolt. But I stood frozen momentarily by another panic.
I had just seen my son, on the other side of the melee, standing at the corner, his toddler in the stroller in front of him. Our eyes locked. I had forgotten he was walking over to my house that morning to leave my granddaughter with me and borrow my car.
Frantic truck drivers were backing up around the corner, their engines sounds overwhelming any call I might make to tell my son to run. I saw him flinch, then freeze, having just seen Griggs fire. His only movement was to pull the stroller behind him. I knew he wouldn’t move until he saw me move first.
Ed Sheeran’s album was still playing through my earbuds; his moving “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here,” invaded my skull.
Without another thought, beyond knowing Griggs had not yet seen me, I unholstered my pistol, and released the safety. My hands gripped over my piece. My trigger finger ready, I strode up to Griggs, and shot him in the right side of his head.
His body fell, face down, his legs on the sidewalk, his bleeding head and bulk of his torso in the street. I kicked his legs into the street, and stumbled towards my family. My son and I collapsed together on the curb.