WriterHouse Fiction Contest Runner-Up

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Author Ann Beattie picks Claire Rann's "Aim" as this year's fiction contest runner-up. Photo: Provided by author. Author Ann Beattie picks Claire Rann’s “Aim” as this year’s fiction contest runner-up. Photo: Provided by author.

Aim

By Claire Rann

I see a pale circle of flesh. He is holding me toward the side of her neck, a few inches away. The skin looks tired and freckled. It quivers.

He did not take me out until a few seconds ago. His hand had been curled tightly around my grip in his coat pocket. I’d heard yelling but seen nothing. I was ready.

He’s never used me before. This is the first time he’s taken me out of the house, out of the dark desk drawer where I lay for weeks after he brought me home. A fine layer of dust had settled along my barrel. I didn’t get bored, though. I am used to waiting. And then everything happens so fast.

I’d heard the tiny lock click, seen the silver bar flash and twitch, but I didn’t know for sure he’d be taking me out. As he pulled open the drawer, I caught a glimmer of light. I felt myself being lifted, considered.

His hands felt hot and damp. They shook. He put me down on his desk. I heard a gulp, then the rattle of glass meeting the surface. He slid my magazine out and rummaged through a drawer. I heard him snap in each shell and felt the magazine push back into place. A satisfying weight rested in my grip.

He put me in his pocket, and we walked. The door to the house slammed; the car door shut; the engine rumbled. We drove.

I know what I am made for. I have no illusions about my purpose. Just the sight of me inspires a fearful stillness. Reverence, from some, admiration, even, but always with a hushed undertone. My presence can persuade, force a hand, protect. But really, I am built to kill. To propel a hard hot ball of metal at an alarming rate, one that stops pulses, rupturing the thin barrier between liquid and bone and the rest of the world. It is no great feat to burst this flimsy boundary, but I do it quickly and well. Efficiently.

He’d waited to take me out. We parked, then paced, his fingers rubbing the rough stippling of my grip.

I heard heels clicking along the concrete, and his gait quickened, following the echoing sound.

“Argo,” he yelled. His fingers stopped fidgeting, and he gripped me tightly. “Argo! I need to talk to you.” His voice was unsteady and loud.

The clicks paused.

“Mr. Davidson, I have nothing to say.”

We moved in front of the voice.

“This is bullshit. No one will tell me where Angie’s gone with the kids.”

“The judge made her decision,” she said. “There’s nothing left to do.” The clicking continued, but we moved with her, and again she stopped.

“Those are my kids, goddammit.” His voice grew louder.

“You need to get help, Joel.” She was curt. “Go to AA, start getting your life back together, and request another hearing—”

“That’s bullshit! She can’t do this. You can’t do this.”

Another voice farther away called out, “Mrs. Argo, is there a problem?”

“No, officer, this gentleman was just leaving,” Argo said.

Heavy footsteps started in our direction. “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you…”

That’s when he reached for me. He must have grabbed Argo with his other arm while he aimed me at her neck.

And now here we are.

“You can’t let this happen,” he says, his hand quaking slightly as he speaks. “You can’t let them take my kids away.”

I’d heard them before, two high voices, singing and shouting. Usually far from me. Their feet thrummed up and down the padded stairs. Once, though, a set of small feet pitter-pattered toward my resting place.

“Nate, we’re not supposed to go in Daddy’s office,” said one little voice.

“Stop being such a sissy Mollie,” said the other. “He doesn’t even do anything in here anymore.”

The little hand slid out each drawer in the desk before getting to mine. His fingers jerked the handle over and over, but the silver bar between my dark resting place and the air and light wouldn’t budge. Then I heard Joel’s deep bellow, admonishing the little hands with high voices for playing in his office. They cried and left, but he did not follow. The door shut. He checked my drawer again and again, pulling the handle over and over to feel the bar’s reassuring clink.

The firm voice—not the one at whose neck I stare, but the other, the one who called out before—speaks again. She is closer. Her voice does not waver. “Sir, put the gun down,” she says. She sounds in control. She must also have a gun.

I shift a hair to the right as his head moves to address the cop.

He says, “Stay out of this.”

He corrects me back toward the woman with the shivering skin. His hands become hotter and his breath quicker, each exhale bobbing me slightly up and down.

A jolt forward, and now I am pressed against the brown curls of the woman, who sobs. Flecks of silver and white hide at her roots.

I itch to be used.

His finger barely rests on my trigger. It will take just the tip to decide, the bend of two small knuckles. It all happens so fast. There will be a spark, a flash of burning in my barrel and then all will go black for a nanosecond, and I will see the shiny tip fly and pierce. It will sear a hole where it hits. I’ll hear the casing arc behind me and clink against the ground.

Another shell will already have snapped into place, ready to fulfill its promise. It, too, is dutiful. We do not change our minds like those who control us. Once we are set into motion with the flick of a finger, it has been decided. The mechanics do not change. When called upon, we are unyielding.

That night in the office, after the little voices had left, after he’d satisfied himself that my drawer hadn’t been opened, another, deeper voice entered.

“Joel,” she said. “What the hell is going on?” The door shut.

“The kids were messing around in my office.”

“They’re five years old. Don’t scream at them.”

“You baby them.” Another drawer slid out, and I heard a bottle clatter against the desktop.

“There’s something else,” she said. Papers slid across the surface above. “What exactly did you charge at Kankakee Arms and Ammo?”

Outside, Argo breathes faster, exhaling in sharp spurts. “Joel, please,” she says, nearly panting through each wet quick breath. “Please don’t do this.”

From this distance, if he used me, her head would shatter. It would cover us both in blood and brain and sharp splinters of skull. The blast would force them apart.

The anticipation is getting to me.

“Joel,” the cop says, “think about what you’re doing. Think about your family.”

“Who do you think you are, opening my mail?” The floor creaked as Joel stood. “You have no right, you—”

“When I’m the one supporting us, then, yes, I do have the right. How could you spend that kind of money right now? Without a job, with a mortgage—”

“I know that!” he said. “God knows, I know. After that last interview, after I’d driven to the middle of nowhere and sat there for hours with a bunch of kids in their dads’ suits, they have the nerve to tell me I’m overqualified for the position, but thanks for coming. I needed to let off some steam.”

“You didn’t tell me that.”

“Why would I tell you? So you can explain to me how I fucked it all up again?” Liquid swished as he took another gulp from the bottle. “I saw the range on the drive home and shot a few rounds. I figured it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have around the house. For protection.”

“You can’t just bring a weapon into our home without saying anything to me. We have two small children, Joel, we―”

“I’m so tired of your lectures.” Joel’s voice vibrated the desk. “You have no idea what you’re doing to me.”

“Do you know what you’re doing to us?” Angie said. “You sit around the house all day in your pajamas, drinking in your office, spending money we don’t have, and now you go out and buy a gun―”

I heard him step to the side of the desk, and then glass shattered against the wall.

“Shut the fuck up, Angie,” he yells. “Just shut up.”

More objects clattered against the wall and then against the floor. Glass, metal, many different thuds.

“What the fuck are you doing?” she said. “Stop tearing your office apart. You’re acting like a child.”

Slam. Slam. Slam.

“Get off my fucking back,” he said.

His grip tightens.

“You’re making me do this,” he says. “You’re letting Angie and the judge take them.”

“No one is taking your kids away, Joel,” the cop says. “Put down the gun, let Mrs. Argo go, and let’s talk about this.”

“I’m done talking,” he says. “Nobody listens. I make one mistake, and all of a sudden I’m unfit.

He presses me further into her as he speaks.

She whimpers. “Please, you’re hurting me.”

That night, the little voice hadn’t whimpered. She’d wailed.

Through the ricocheting slams and thuds, the deeper voices yelling, I heard the door creak open.

“Mommy, Mommy,” said a high-pitched voice moving across the room.

Then I heard a different kind of thud, the sound of a hard object hitting something softer than the wall or the floor. The little voice wailed. Everything else stopped.

“Oh, sweetie, oh God, you’re bleeding,” she said. Then, more sharply, “Get the fuck away from us, Joel, don’t touch us.”

That was weeks ago, long before he finally took me out.

Now, his hand loosens slightly with Argo’s cry, but he keeps me pressed to her temple.

“You can make this stop,” he says. “You can tell Angie not to take them away. She listens to you. You know I’m not a bad guy. You know Angie is too angry to see. She’s not thinking about the kids. They need me.”

He no longer sounds like he wants to hurt her. He does not want to use me to do what I am made for. I will wait once again, gathering dust in the darkness.

“That’s a tough situation, Joel,” the cop says. “We can work this out, but you need to give me the gun.”

“Shut the fuck up,” he says. “Mrs. Argo, please, you have to help me. You have to make her see what’s she’s doing.”

His hand trembles.

“They’re afraid of you,” Argo whispers. “Mollie, Nate, even Angie… they’re all so scared.”

“No, no, Angie exaggerates—”

“Mollie still has nightmares,” she says. “She won’t leave Angie’s side, she hardly sleeps… they’re broken, Joel.”

His grip loosens. I am hardly pressed against her any more.

“I’m sorry,” he says. His voice splinters. “I didn’t mean to… ” He lets the sentence hang, half-finished. A hot wet drop falls along my spine.

“Tell them I’m sorry.”

I am swung violently upward. I see the stubbled skin of his neck, the lump of his throat for a split second before

BANG

and I fall. The casing rushes away and clinks against the concrete.

I land and bounce with a clatter seconds before his body meets the ground opposite me in a tired slumping collapse.

It is not what I expected, but I am satisfied. I have served my purpose.

Photo: Provided by author

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