I have a lot of guns. Most of them people have given me, and one I stole. Adam bought me a shotgun to hunt grouse and ptarmigan in the mountains, and we would eat the meat carefully, picking out the pellets. The rifle I couldn’t resist taking from the old man who was an evicted hoarder, and I was hired to clean out his basement. It had been under a pile of new shirts with their tags still on them, and I stuffed it with the clothes in a trash bag, carried it out, and put it in my trunk. I never shot deer, so I would lend it to Adam, who sometimes brought home venison that I would cook with carrots and tomatoes in a stew. A friend had given me the handgun. I had been complaining to her about my current job weeding the landscaping for some man who worked for Google, wore silver chains and Hawaiian shirts, and kept trying to touch my shoulder when we talked.
I started taking the handgun with me to the mountains. I practiced with it sometimes after constructing pyramids of beer cans. I was a good shot from shooting birds, actually from playing pool all the time as a kid. Adam said he liked that I had one.
“You have protection now,” he said. He smiled at me and raked his hands through his black, curly hair. “Just don’t shoot me when you get pissed.” He leaned over and tickled my ribs.
“Just don’t piss me off.” I put my fingers in the shape of a gun and aimed for his head.
Adam taught me how to shoot. He grew up hunting in Tennessee, where he said they even hunted squirrels and ate them because they were so poor. We went to the mountains with the shotgun and rifle in September, a perfect, idyllic day with the aspens turning yellow and summer slipping away from the blue sky. We were near the trailhead and tried the shotgun first. I pointed it at a juniper, aimed, and shot it. I came close but didn’t hit the tree. Then he had me try the rifle.
“Watch out for the kick back,” he said. “Brace your feet.”
“Will it hit my eye?” I’m weird about my eyes. Eyes are so delicate, so naked and thin.
“Just hold your arms strong.”
I braced my legs, aimed. The kick back was like a huge shove to my shoulders, and I crumbled back. “Shit, I think I’ll stick to shotguns,” I said.
We started hiking and Adam whistled with the birds. I didn’t shoot again, just carried the rifle, but Adam shot a grouse and a ptarmigan that was already turning white for the winter. We bagged them and when we headed back, Adam kept grabbing my butt and saying “Nice ass.” I would slap his hand away and laugh. Then he pulled me off the trail and pushed me down on a boulder covered in baby green lichen, unzipped my pants, and I grabbed a fistful of his hair and slid down his pants. We fucked fast. I looked up at the clear sky at a magpie careening toward a pine tree and came hard. Afterwards he nuzzled his nose in my neck and I pushed it away, telling him it tickled.
We returned home and plucked the birds, and I kept one of the white feathers and set it on the counter. I saved it and later put it into a vase of irises that Adam had picked for me. Once I had a pet parakeet named Pan a friend moving the New York gave to me, and I trained it to hop on my finger and stand on my shoulder while I cleaned house. It took a while to train him, starting first with a stick, then later my finger. While pulling off the grouse feathers, I thought about Pan and wondered why it was so easy to kill these birds, how I didn’t really feel remorse, and yet I had loved Pan in a kind of maternal way. It didn’t make sense to me, how easy it is to compartmentalize. We grilled the birds and ate the meat that evening, picking out the pellets scattered through their flesh. I liked the grouse best.
We spent that fall shooting birds and deer, and our freezer was so full that we had to borrow room in one from a neighbor for the price of sharing some. The neighbor was a drunk who made it clear that the sausage was the best. I guess he liked the pork to make it fattier. I liked the ground elk the best as hamburgers.
That winter, I got pregnant, and Adam and I were ecstatic. We had been trying for a year. My breasts were swelling and sex was better than ever. Adam started building a crib. Then one day I came home from a house cleaning job and I started having cramps. When I went to the bathroom, a huge clot poured out of me, and I looked at it and hummed a lullaby my mother used to sing about the blurry moon telling you to sleep. I thought maybe I should go to the ER, but I didn’t want to spend the money, and I didn’t want to call Adam while he was working, so I decided I would bury what would have been my baby under our cottonwood tree. I was chewing nicotine gum and I rummaged in the drawer and found cigarettes I’d avoided when I was pregnant and stepped outside and lit one. I smoked a few hits and saved the rest for later. I walked inside and took a bowl and fished the clot out, got my spade. I walked outside and relit the rest of my cigarette, then dug a hole under the cottonwood. It was cold and the earth was hard, but I set my shoulders into it, and the cramps were gone, though I was bleeding now. I leaned over the grave and made the sign of the cross because I had grown up going to church and I’d always loved how it felt to believe your heart was in the middle.
That winter we were in the midst of an arctic freeze and burning through our wood supply too fast. One evening, Adam was drinking whiskey, and I was stoking the fire. Outside it snowed, and because it was so cold, the flakes were light, all the water frozen and freezing gravity out of the equation.
“I just don’t know if I’d be a good dad,” he said. “I think that’s why this is happening. The universe doesn’t want me to be a dad.”
“What do you mean? You’d be a great dad,” I said. “Anyway, the universe doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t give a fuck about the future.” I brushed my belly, my hands hot from the fire. I felt a pang of anger at a God I didn’t believe in.
“My dad was such an asshole.”
“You wouldn’t beat our kid. You don’t beat people.”
Adam leaned over and put his head in his hands. I looked at his curly black hair, how it rumpled soft and messy, and I felt a wave of love. I walked up to him and stroked the back of his head. “We’ll just try again.”
“Once we had a dog.” Adam looked down at his hands and paused. “Luna, a scrappy shepherd mix, who hated thunderstorms. She would whine, bark, tear at the furniture, just go crazy every time it stormed. One day I came home and she was gone. My father had drowned her in Judy Lake. He thought it was funny. ‘Damn dog fought me the whole way down,’ he said.”
I sat down next to him and put my hand on his thigh. He’d told me the story before, but not the part of his father thinking it was funny.
Adam leaned back on the couch. “I sometimes dream it’s me he’s drowning. It’s usually dark out, and I feel myself taking a deep breath of water, and I keep sinking, and I feel a huge pressure on my body sinking me further and further.”
I brushed his cheek with a kiss, then got up to chop more wood. It was so cold outside that it didn’t seep into you, didn’t get into your body at all, just covered you with an iciness. Our axe needed sharpening but I wasn’t going to bother Adam about it.
One day the next summer I was pulling the bindweed off the purple delphiniums for the weird guy. He was out of town and hired me to weed and cut the grass. Later I’d be meeting Adam at Home Depot to buy a freezer after he got off work. It was hot, and I was sweating. The gun was at home in my underwear drawer. I was thinking how I would take that class to make it legal to carry, a concealed weapon permit. I’d already been to jail once for a DUI and didn’t want that experience again, so I was careful to keep it home. Bottom line is that cops are just mean, and probation lasts forever—all the drug testing and group alcohol therapy classes, where everyone just bitches about cops or reminisces about all the fun they had drinking. Only good that came out of it is that I met Adam, who was always tired and covered in drywall dust, who sighed with his deep brown eyes and furrowed brow, who pissed off the therapist for covering the chair in white dust.
“I don’t have time to change,” he told her.
She was a gray-haired woman, always wore jeans and black-rimmed glasses. “Can’t you get off work a bit early?”
Adam smirked. “You’re not paying my probation officer or yourself.”
I liked his eyes, the way they stung. And as much as I hated all the drug testing, the squatting over toilets and peeing in plastic cups while the probation officers stood there with their crossed arms, I liked that we both started our relationship sober.
I put away my trowel and threw my dirty gloves in my car and headed out to meet Adam. The sun was still high, and my car was sweltering. I drank my electrolyte drink, cold from all the ice I’d put in it, and drove to Home Depot.
Adam and I were supposed to meet upstairs where they sell freezers. Our old one was broken, and we needed a good freezer for the venison and elk. But I couldn’t find him. I walked up and down the rows of fridges and freezers, my sweaty face reflecting off the shiny gray ones, but I couldn’t find Adam. I sent him a text, “Here, where are you?” but I got no reply.
I was tired, and I didn’t want to buy the freezer without him, so I headed home. The roads were clogged with traffic and when I got to ours, a dead squirrel was on our street and crows were eating it. I had to stop the car because the birds just wouldn’t fly away. I veered around them and they hopped to the side, then returned to the squirrel. The blood smeared on the road reminded me of when I had a motorcycle and how vivid road kill looked when you were on a bike and not in a car. I thought how I liked squirrels, their playfulness and enthusiasm. My little sister had been like that, electric. I had been the serious, brooding one.
By the time I parked, I was angry. Adam did that to me sometimes, just bailed on a plan. He was also chronically late. When I first met him, we would make dinner plans and I would roast the potatoes and grill the chicken and wait for an hour while the meal grew cold, and he would come into the house and not even apologize, not even tell me what he’d been doing. I finally put my foot down, and he got better, but he was still unreliable, and I still didn’t know what he did in those pockets of time when he wasn’t working.
I walked up the driveway, picked up the newspaper, opened the door, and yelled, “Adam!”
The living room had a couple of cans of beer on the side table, and the kitchen table was covered in bills we had yet to pay. I walked down the hallway and into the bedroom to get a pair of jeans and a t-shirt to change into after I showered. I was itchy with dried sweat.
Adam was on the bed, covered in drywall, my handgun next to his hand. I don’t know why, but I leaned over and shook him. All I could think of was that I wanted to wake him up. My mind was all tattered with thoughts of our upcoming trip to Taos, how I could have kept the handgun in my car, how he could have used the rifle anyway, how I wanted a cigarette. I leaned over and stroked his hair, then ran to the bathroom and puked chunks of sandwich and pink electrolyte juice. I got up to call 911 but then I had to throw up again, and I spent at least ten minutes leaning over the toilet and retching till my stomach was empty, and then it just kept going, like there was an earthquake in my gut, and I got scared that it wouldn’t stop. Finally, I took some deep breaths and thought about my mother weeding the garden, tomatoes ripe, and somehow that calmed me down enough to rise, walk to the kitchen, and call 911. I smoked a cigarette and my hands were shaking. I was thinking how we had an agreement not to smoke in the house, and then I thought how I couldn’t afford rent alone.
I sat on my favorite rock that summer outside of Gold Hill, right on the edge of a cliff with an old bristlecone pine bent over from withstanding the wind. A breeze kicked up and I looked at the mountains before me, the pine a deep green that stays green all winter, never giving up.
I opened the bag of ashes and smelled it, then wet my finger and dunked it in the gray dust and smeared it on my tongue. It was gritty with bone and tasted like how fire tastes when it becomes earth, sweet and bitter at the same time. I took a handful and threw it off the cliff, and the wind blew the ashes back into my face. My eyes stung, and as soon as I closed them, the air became still, so still that I knew it was holding me with its invisible hands, teaching me how to breathe.
Image – Pixabay.com