BRING ME MY SHOTGUN
This was the best Christmas present Kevin ever received.
Even better than the Superman costume when he was ten. Though that outfit didn’t survive long. Not once Shaun Peterson got his hands on it.
Avoiding Shaun at school was a skill; one Kevin thought he’d perfected, until that Friday. It was dress-as-you-like day – though Kevin was the only one to turn up in fancy dress. All the others kids simply wore their favourite clothes, having long outgrown the concept of imaginary play. At least in public.
Intrigued by an eruption of noise, a passerby stumbled upon a chanting mob of children in a back street.
‘Hey,’ he yelled.
Spotting an adult in their midst, they scattered – leaving behind a tiny figure, spread-eagled on tarmac in skin-tight red and blue.
‘Oh my God, Kevin,’ said his mother, when he hobbled into the house.
She surveyed the bruises on his face, the blood seeping through the tissue under his nose, and the shredded ‘S’ on the front of his costume.
‘I don’t know who did it,’ said the man. ‘The lad won’t say.’
‘His father died last year. And now this.’
Kevin began to cry; heaving sobs that he’d held in during the fight, and on the way home.
‘I don’t know who it was,’ he lied.
Later, as she wiped away blood and tears with tender hands, she said, ‘Don’t worry – I’ll buy you another costume.’
But, it wasn’t the costume. And it wasn’t the agony of Shaun’s boot, either. It was that face in the crowd; a face he’d loved for over a year.
The image of her prompted him to halt the memory; rewind; recreate it; so that Shaun lay on the floor instead of him.
His boot. Shaun’s ribs.
Donna hadn’t chanted with the rest, but clearly scribed onto the smooth parchment of her freckled skin, was pity. And pencilled in with the pity, was contempt.
He was only relieved she didn’t try to help him.
As the children ran away, he’d watched her departing back. He waited for her to turn around, but she didn’t.
For Kevin, Christmas was a time like any other. Since his mother’s death, he didn’t bother to celebrate, or take days off. He simply carried on at the farm, the same as always.
Despite the cold, he liked winter days. The darkness meant the lights went on early in the farmhouse. The kitchen glowed with warmth and life. It was partly the incandescent light, partly the fire, partly the twinkling tinsel on the Christmas tree – but mainly it was her.
He could hear the chime of her laugh, and it drew him to the window. Though there were a few lines around her eyes now, her skin remained smooth; flecked with freckles. Right now, she was sitting by the Christmas tree, reading; the ghost of a smile haunting her lips.
‘Hey, Clark Kent. Stop spying on my wife.’
Shaun laughed; slapped him on the back. It stung.
‘I wasn’t. I –‘ Kevin floundered for an excuse, but Shaun wasn’t listening.
‘Anyway, I thought superheroes had x-ray vision.’ Shaun blasted out another guffaw. The sound ricocheted in the cobbled courtyard. Kevin smiled, weakly.
Later, after locking the barn, Kevin went to the house to explain he was heading for home. Shaun’s voice thundered through the closed front door.
‘I caught old nutjob again, outside the house.’
‘Oh Shaun, leave him,’ Donna said. ‘He’s harmless.’
‘Time for him to go.’
‘No. He’s got no-one.’
He heard their voices trail away down to the back of the house. After a minute of silence, he rang the bell.
‘I’m off now,’ he said.
He noticed the curve of her stomach. The change, though barely perceptible, was to Kevin – who knew every angle, every crook of her body – as obvious as the difference between night and day.
She caught him looking; rested her hand on her stomach.
‘Come in,’ she said. ‘Christmas Eve drink?’
He looked at her, about to smile, then noticed her expression. The one from years before. It drifted over her face like a shadow; contaminating the blueness of her eyes, and the pink undulations of her lips.
‘No,’ he said, ‘but thanks.’
His fingers grazed hers as he handed back the keys to the barn. Most people wouldn’t register the flinch, but he did.
Deep in the countryside, the arc of the inky sky was as open as liberty. Ahead of him, the road – illuminated by the moon and whorls of stars – led him home to safety. He stopped to watch, to inhale the cold air. As he stood in that moment, he witnessed above a multitude of lights beginning to streak like comets across the sky.
A meteor shower, he thought.
All around, a hail of shimmering stardust fell, landing in clusters, in the grass and on the road. He laid out his palms, overawed by beauty.
When he woke, he knew he was different.
He turned, treading the route he’d navigated earlier, but this time, a lightness commanded his step. Something not experienced since childhood.
He’d been given a gift.
A Christmas gift.
This was far better than the superhero costume.
He remembered the boot. The painful ribs.
But, it didn’t matter. Not anymore.
He was strong now.
He’d tell her. She needed to know.
The meteor shower might be gone, but he’d absorbed its power.
As he walked, he breathed in the freedom of the night sky, the clarity of the future.
‘Shaun. Wake up.’
‘There’s an intruder.’
He sat up in bed, instantly alert.
‘Someone’s in the house.’
Footsteps on the stairs.
In the darkness, he rooted under the bed. The door opened. His hands trembled; his heart pounded; a layer of sweat emerged on his forehead.
Until he found it.
Heavy as certainty, colder than death, he knew it was loaded – he cleaned it regularly, kept it ready. He liked to be prepared; never one for surprises.
Unlocking the safety catch, he aimed at the shadow hovering at the open door.
‘I’ve got a gun,’ he said, ‘Don’t move.’
He could hear heavy breathing. His own; Donna’s.
A floorboard creaked.
Shaun’s heart beat faster.
Slowly, he squeezed the trigger.
The blast of the shot, and Donna’s scream, deafened him in the night-filled room.
Story photo from photoblography