catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 23 :: 2012.12.21 — 2013.01.03



GUNS WANTED – need money for Christmas?  Tired of gun shops ripping you off?  Call me ###-###-####.  Paying cash!

The click of the receiver echoed off the linoleum of the spare kitchen, a close sound promptly enclosed by the whir of the neighbor’s inflated nylon nativity as it glowed through the slider, warming Wayne’s face in the dusky shadows.  The thought of needing money for Christmas gifts this year raised half of his mouth in a slight smile.

Cal was available to meet him at 7:30, after dinner, in his pole barn, where they’d go back and forth a few times before settling on a price.  Wayne didn’t know him, but he lived just a half mile away, slightly uphill from the road in a familiar white ranch with black trim that Wayne had driven past many times on his way to town. 

As Wayne sat in the darkening room, his attention shifted from the electric hum to the familiar weight of steel on his lap.  He had sat here most days over the past few months, contemplating which way to point the barrel.  He aimed it now, at Joseph’s cartoon face, which swayed comically in the stiff, cold wind.  A storm was coming, they said.  He counted them off slowly, with one eye closed and a finger on the trigger: Mary, a shepherd, three wise men, an angel, two sheep, a cow, the baby Jesus.  He knew it was just kitsch, but still, his conscience tugged the barrel away from the manger and it followed the familiar path to his own temple. 

I am not a good person.

He didn’t say the words out loud, or even articulate them in his mind, but he didn’t have to get specific anymore to be able to feel the truth.  The nativity was glowing so brightly now through the completeness of the dark that he could still see it when he closed his eyes, but the image faded as her face emerged in the center of the halo.


He said her name out loud once, and again, and then she dissolved into the digital numbers of the microwave clock as he lowered his hand and opened his eyes: 7:25. 

Cal had been out in the field all day, so he hadn’t heard the news before he came home and noticed the answering machine blinking with 18 messages.  He knew it didn’t blink faster if you had more messages, but something about the weight of the unusually large number made it seem like the machine was going to explode with urgency.

The first was a reminder from the dentist about his cleaning next week, but the next 16 all contained references to the school shooting.  His sister called, just to let him know.  An angry woman who didn’t identify herself announced that he was a “motherfucker” who was part of the problem and “was he satisfied with himself, that kids are dead and he was profiting from the whole thing?  Asshole!”  There were several potential sellers, but each voice betrayed a heaviness, even through the fuzz of the recording.  An intern from the paper called, telling him that the editor had decided for the sake of sensitivity to pull his classified ad for the rest of the run, and that they’d refund his money in full.  The last message, from a man named Wayne, was the only one besides the dentist that didn’t refer to the day’s events.  He’d dialed this number first.

The local daily, which contained his classified ad, had gone to press too early to have any news of the shooting, so Cal ate leftovers in front of the TV, rather than at the kitchen table.  The story was still emerging, with every news outlet looking to the others for permission to release details like a gaggle of junior high girls searching for social cues, but the basics were on repeat on every channel: a young adult male had gone into an elementary school after killing his mother at home and opened fire on students and teachers before committing suicide.  Twenty children were dead, and six adults.

The report was shifting into another re-cap of the president’s address when Cal saw the headlights swing into bottom end of the long driveway.  He threw on his jacket and boots and headed down the hill toward the barn, tripping motion lights on the way.  The snow had come up suddenly and Cal realized it wouldn’t be a false alarm this time.

It was obvious Wayne wasn’t that familiar with guns and even though Cal could have ripped him off, something about the day’s events, compelled him to pay double what the piece was worth.  Wayne quietly accepted the cash and stood silently for a moment after the exchange.  When Cal finally looked up to meet his gaze, which chilled Cal with the depth of its loneliness, Wayne suddenly left the barn through the side door, got in his car and drove away.

Cal stood in the barn long enough to hear the sound of the engine fade and the several clicks of the motion lights shutting off between him and the house.  He wasn’t worried about finding his way home.  His feet would fall into the familiar path even through the drifts.  But what kept his attention even as the tip of his nose went from cold to painful and the wind howled louder through the seams in the metal was the weight in his hands, heavy with the decision of whether to live, or whether to die.

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