by Josh Rank
I couldn’t remember where I got the gun. I felt the weight in my palm; cold, foreign, angry. But I couldn’t remember where it came from. In fact, everything seemed like a fever dream. The street was too quiet. The air was too still. My heart was beating too fast. Cars drove by but I couldn’t smell the exhaust and I couldn’t hear the engine. The city felt like everyone had disappeared and the only vehicles still moving were left in neutral at the top of an incline and were simply following the orders of gravity. Well, maybe not everyone. There was at least two people left in the city besides myself, and I could hear the flat slapping of their footsteps coming down the sidewalk toward me. I didn’t know them. I didn’t want to.
Of course, with a moment of thought not clouded by the night, I would have remembered speaking with some friend of a friend of a friend outside of a bar I never actually entered. I didn’t have the money to pay him. I didn’t really believe a text message would get passed so quickly from one person to another until I found myself looking at some sort of handgun wrapped in an old t-shirt. The air that night was cold even though it was summer. I didn’t want the gun, even though I asked for it. I didn’t need the gun, even though I really did. I ended up giving him my driver’s license which displayed my current address and told him to come for the money in a week. I gave him my father’s jacket as a down payment.
It was made of brown leather and squeaked with every movement. Zippers alluded to pockets that didn’t actually exist. It was a nice reminder of who my father was before the cancer had ravaged his body and ultimately left him a blinking skeleton. We sunk most of Sammy’s college fund into keeping him blinking for as long as we could. And then I got the jacket.
I was surprised at how the gun didn’t warm. It was almost like a cup of coffee in that the longer I held it, the colder it got.
He was chuckling. I couldn’t hear the joke. She must have whispered it to him. If it was a first date, it was going very well. If they had been together for a while, they must have had tricks to keep it fresh. Looking down from the summit of a decade of marriage, acting this friendly was rare at best. Rebecca and I had grown to resemble business partners trying to figure out how much labor we needed to cut to pay the electricity bill. I didn’t want to feed my son raw potatoes for dinner so we had to get creative. Hospital bills were an anchor in the middle of the ocean for a modest budget. I stood on the opposite side of the ATM. My legs were exposed but my torso and head were hidden behind the red and blue protuberance from the brick building. Their footsteps grew distinctive and I stepped from my bunker.
She might have screamed. He might have stared at me with the hatred of a million damned souls. It didn’t matter. I held the cold gun in my right hand like the handle of that cold mug of coffee, my finger nowhere near the trigger. It didn’t take long for them to remove their wallets, then their money, then their debit cards. I grabbed the money with my left hand, a mere thirty-four bucks altogether, and waited until they each withdrew the maximum allowed from their account. Unfortunately, ATMs don’t carry hundred dollar bills and I was left with a stack of twenties that made it seem like a small fortune. I wiggled the gun and they ran down the sidewalk in the direction they were already going. I never checked if the gun was loaded.
I couldn’t decide if I should tell Rebecca what I was planning. I knew I would tell her afterwards; transparency was the one tenet or our marriage that remained unimpeachable. I tried to guess what her reaction would be as I walked through the dreamscape city until I found my car two blocks east. Her relief from seeing the money would probably combine with horror at the story but hopefully relent to acceptance once I explained this money would provide another month of rent. I knew it wasn’t a solution but at least it was a temporarily bigger bucket to bail out the sinking boat. Banks had systems in place to absorb small losses like this and those people won’t even have to miss their next date. If anything, the experience of having a gun pointed at their faces would draw them closer together. These justifications worked just fine for me as long as I didn’t read into the implications of what the act alone meant for my position in society, but there was no guarantee Rebecca would accept it.
She sat at the kitchen table when I came home. Sammy was asleep. There was no radio playing. No TV flashing in the corner. She sat quietly as I had many times, playing out scenarios in my mind of ways everything could possibly turn out alright. She glanced up with tired eyes and a forced smirk but didn’t say a word. I mirrored her silence as I started pulling out wads of twenty dollar bills from my pockets. The cold gun remained under the driver’s seat in my car. I kept my eyes on hers as she shifted her gaze from the growing pile on the table and my face. When I was done, I drew in a breath.
She stood from the table, walked around it, and put her arms around me. She sniffled only once and her breath remained steady. “Just remember to get the jacket back.”
Josh Rank graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and has since had stories published in The Missing Slate, The Feathertale Review, Hypertext Magazine,The Oddville Press, The Satirist, Corvus Review, Inwood Indiana, and elsewhere. He currently eats sandwiches in Nashville, TN. More ramblings can be found here.