James Babbs

Some Bright Morning

The gun feels warm. I keep pulling it from the bottom drawer of the desk and holding it in my hand. Wrapped inside a plastic bag. I wrapped the gun in the bag because I didn’t want to see it just lying there exposed. I didn’t want it looking like a dead body every time I opened the drawer. The gun belonged to my father. He was a policeman before I was born. Somewhere I have a photograph of him standing out in the front yard wearing his uniform. I keep looking out the window. The sun’s brightly shining and there are countless birds scattered all over the lawn.

Last night I was at the Grand Palace eating egg rolls. I mixed sweet and sour sauce and hot mustard together. I didn’t go into the restaurant but just sat in the bar eating my egg rolls and drinking some beers. I kept watching this dark-haired waitress and I wanted to get her number. She seemed to smile at me whenever I looked at her. I asked the bartender what he knew about her and he kind of chuckled. He told me I should forget about her. When I asked him why he told me because she had a boyfriend and he was a very large man. I thanked the bartender for the heads-up and ordered another beer.

When I was ready to leave the dark-haired waitress came over to me and slipped me a piece of paper. I opened my hand and looked at the paper. It had a phone number written on it along with the name Iris. I glanced at the bartender but his back was turned and he was mixing someone a drink. I caught up to the waitress and waved the paper at her. I said, hey, I don’t think I want this. I saw the look on her face. I said, I heard you had a boyfriend. Who told you that, she asked me. I told her what the bartender had said. Oh god, she said, he thinks I’m going to go out with him. He keeps asking me but I keep turning him down. I see, I said, then I followed it up with an, okay. I told her thanks and she gave me another smile. This one I quickly snatched away from her and put into my pocket. I wanted to keep it there until I got home. Then, when everything was quiet, I’d pull it out and hold it in my hand and look at it, over and over, again.

***

The gun feels heavy. The light falling through the window hurting my eyes because I had too much to drink last night. The birds screaming in my ears. Last night I called Iris and she told me she had to work but, if I wanted to, I could meet her at the restaurant around eight. When I got there I took a seat at the bar. It was the same bartender and he smiled at me and asked me if I was here for more egg rolls. I told him I was meeting someone and I saw the look in his eyes.

I heard Iris behind me and when I turned to face her she made a point of giving me a big hug and laughing loud enough so that everybody could hear her. She turned to the bartender and gave him a smile. Mike, can I get a margarita, she said. The bartender looked at me. I couldn’t read his face completely but he didn’t seem happy. What about you, he said. I told him, a beer, I guess.

We moved over to one of the tables and Mike, the bartender, brought us our drinks. I said, so where do you want to go. Iris sipped her margarita and looked at me over the rim of her glass. She said, I thought we could just stay here, if that’s alright. I took a drink of my beer. What about Mike, I said. Iris put her hand on my arm and laughed. I glanced over at the bartender. He was behind the bar watching us but trying not to make it look so obvious. When Iris waved him over to order another drink she leaned closer to me and smiled. I didn’t like where this was going so I just decided I was going to get drunk. I ordered two shots and another beer and I told Mike to keep them coming.

Later on I grabbed Iris and pulled her to me giving her a rough kiss. Hey, she said, easy. When Mike brought us more drinks he slammed them down on the table. I threw back the shot and chased it with some beer. Then I jumped up and jerked Iris by the arm trying to make her stand but she broke loose with a pained squeal and slumped back in her chair. I said, Mike, and he turned around. I gave him a big grin. I said, hey, buddy, she’s all yours, and I turned without looking back at them and walked out the door.

I drove around for awhile trying to find something good on the radio. It was a clear night and the air was cool and inviting, especially, if you had some place to go. But if you were alone it was just like all those other nights, struggling against some inner restlessness you could never quite define until your mind and your body, finally, surrendered themselves to sleep. When I pulled into my driveway I turned off the car and just sat there in the darkness and the silence. Felt the waves of warmth rolling through my head and I began to laugh. I laughed as I got out of the car and I kept on laughing as I stumbled my way into the house.

***

The gun feels like a bird fluttering in my hand. Sometimes, when I’m away from home, I think about the gun. I imagine it sleeping in the darkness all alone. The bottom drawer of the desk silent as a tomb. I had cap guns when I was young and I remember the smell of the smoke. The taste of it in my mouth when I absently sucked on the end of the barrel. I remember when my friends and I played with guns. How we made up this rule you had to count to ten whenever you got shot before you could get back up again. It was funny how all day long we kept dying and returning from the dead, over and over, again.

I remember buying rolls of caps. I think there were five rolls to a box and you could get five boxes in one package. Sometimes, instead of loading them in my guns I just rolled the caps out on the sidewalk and used a hammer to hit them. Sometimes, I’d take a whole roll of caps and hit them with the hammer. It made a loud blast that left a ringing in my ears. I remember taking ants crawling past me on the walk and putting them under the caps and blowing their tiny bodies apart. One time I caught this big black ant as it was trying to climb up my arm and when I put it under the caps the explosion blew off its head.

I never felt like I was a terrible person for doing this. I never thought I was doing anything wrong. I remember all the summer evenings, when it would start to get dark, and we would run around catching lightning bugs. I don’t know what we wanted them for. I guess we thought there was something magical about their blinking lights. Maybe we longed for something bright like that shining from inside our own bodies. I don’t know. Some people liked to kill them and smear the light across your arm. The pieces of light sticking to you, glowing on your skin, but only for a moment. Sometimes, we caught the lightning bugs and put them in glass jars. We always made sure we poked holes in the lids. We stuck pieces of grass in there and, sometimes, leaves, thinking that’s what they wanted. But the next morning we always found them dead, lying in the bottom of the jar, their lights no longer shining.

***

The gun feels sticky against my skin. I can sense the gun’s desperation and that’s why it keeps trying to cling to me. I keep moving it back and forth from one hand to the other but it doesn’t seem to help. Sometimes, the gun spends endless days inside the drawer waiting for me to return. The gun waiting for me to bring it out into the light, again. Sometimes, the gun catches the light just right and the metal of the gun seems to shine. I often wonder how the gun feels having to wait for so long. Does the gun ever get afraid and think I’m not coming back at all? I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything at all. I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for something good to happen.

Sometimes, I like to pretend I’m a lone gunman taking a group of people hostage. I find myself in the middle of some big city, suddenly, robbing a bank. I’m waving the gun in the air and telling everyone to get down on the floor. I keep screaming at them and telling them to move faster. It’s like something from out of a movie and when one guy tries to move I hit him in the face with the gun. The blood runs out of his nose and covers the floor. I can hear some of the women crying. I tell them, it’s going to be alright, as long as they do what I say, no one will get hurt. I listen to the sounds of their breathing and I know they’re afraid.

When you hold a gun in your hand you can make people do things they wouldn’t normally do. And I wonder how it feels having someone stick a gun in your face and not knowing whether you’re going to live or die. Sometimes, fear can make you collapse or it can spur you on to do something great. I’m trying to recall some moment in my life when I felt the most afraid but nothing comes to mind. Then, the birds start chirping, louder and louder, right outside my window. And I wonder if there’s any way for me to tell from the sounds they’re making whether or not they’re happy or sad.

Sometimes, when I go to bed at night I hold a pillow close to me like I’m holding the body of my lover. And I float there in the darkness thinking about other places and times. But when I move, again, my lover disappears and it’s only a pillow I’m holding. And I toss the pillow away and rollover, turning, my back on it, before trying to fall into sleep. And I hear the radio playing jazz, softly, in the dark, above my head.

There have often been times when I was convinced there must be something wrong with me because I had no other explanation for the way my life was going. Now, it doesn’t seem to matter so much anymore. I guess you just get older and things no longer seem as important as they once were. Or, maybe, something inside you, finally, decides to quit struggling after so many years of futility and it crawls softly in to some dark corner where it can curl up and die.

***

The gun feels nothing. I know it doesn’t care whether I live or I die. I lift up the gun and hold it loosely in my hand. I shiver and the sun comes through the window trying to make me warm. I see the bullets in the bottom of the drawer. I don’t remember when I put them there but, now, when I pull the drawer open they roll around bouncing against one another. Sometimes, I see colors and I don’t know whether they’re inside my head or just floating in the air in front of my eyes. Pieces of red and blue and, sometimes, yellow and green. I have no idea what any of them mean. Maybe they were some kind of warning arriving much too late.

Sometimes, I think about what would’ve happened if I had gotten everything I wanted. Would that have really been such a good thing? And I wonder, sometimes, how long it takes before something starts to make sense. Maybe for some people it never does. And I think about my father working hard his entire life and, in the end, what did he have to show for it? His heart wearing out and, finally, giving up. He died, one morning, in his sleep.

I gaze out the window on a Sunday morning and witness two blackbirds fighting. I watch them as they tumble through the air all tangled together before hitting the ground and separating. They rush toward each other then a noise frightens them and they disappear into the sky. I open the chamber of the gun and touch it with my fingers. I spin it around, slowly, a couple of times before picking the bullets up, one by one, and slipping them, silently, inside.

The phone starts ringing. The phone’s in the bedroom so I can’t look at the caller ID and see who’s calling me. But I don’t feel like talking to anyone, anyway. After the fourth ring it stops and, I know, the answering machine’s picking it up. The answering machine’s down in the basement too far away for me to hear whether or not the person calling leaves me a message. I look out the window again and, this time, I see a robin standing in the grass close to the house. There’s a worm hanging from its beak struggling to get free but it’s too late. As I watch the robin cocks its head as if it’s listening to something. It waits there for just a moment and I wonder what it is the robin, finally, hears before deciding to fly away.

THE END

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