Go Get the Gun | By Jim Peterson
“Go get the gun,” Martha said.
I put down the book I was reading. “What?” I said.
“The gun! Go get it. Hurry!”
I looked around the living room. Everything was quiet. I looked at my wife sitting in her favorite recliner with her favorite lamp bestowing light to the pages of a book by her favorite author. She was looking at me with big eyes over the top of the book.
“Well,” she said, “what are you waiting for?”
“But I don’t hear anything,” I said.
“Are you going to let the fact that you are deaf keep you from protecting me?” she said.
“I’m not deaf, Martha. I’m hearing you just fine, for example.”
“Well, something must be wrong with you,” she said.
“I’m not going to grab the gun every time you imagine a bad guy is trying to break in.”
“I’m not imagining. I heard something.”
“It’s those books you read,” I said, “with all those deranged killers. That stuff gets into your head, Martha, and makes you paranoid.”
She just glared at me. After a moment or two, she lifted her book again. At last, peace was restored. Sometimes I just had to reason with Martha. After thirty years of marriage, I had learned that reason usually won the day.
I looked out the window just beyond where Martha was sitting. It was pitch black out there. I could hear the wind blowing in the nearby trees. That must have been what Martha heard. That must also explain why the street lights were out, though I admit that absence of light was a bit strange. I sighed and went back to reading my own book.
I was getting into a good part when Martha said, “I want a divorce.”
I looked at her and she was glaring at me again. This time her eyes were narrow and hard. “Martha,” I said, “We’ve been together for thirty years. You do not want a divorce.”
“Yes, I do,” she said, “you don’t take care of me any more. You don’t believe anything I say. You always have to be right. You don’t even protect me anymore. A rapist could come through that door, and you would just let him have me!”
“That’s a terrible thing to say,” I said, “and you know it isn’t true. I would gladly die for you if that’s what is called for.”
“Prove it,” she said.
“What?” I said, “you want me to die?”
“No, I want you to go get that gun and make sure no one is trying to break in. I’m really frightened. Can’t you tell?”
I took off my reading glasses and put on my far-sighted glasses. She came into better focus. Yes, I could now see that she was trembling. Her eyes were glassy with fear. “But Martha,” I said, “it’s dangerous to run around with a loaded gun unless you really need it,” I said.
“If you don’t get the gun, then I want that divorce. I’m tired of being so scared all the time.”
“When are you afraid?” I asked.
“All the time!” she shouted. “I tell you and you ignore me. I’m tired of it.”
“I can’t believe you would leave me because I don’t carry a gun around all the time,” I said.
“There are other reasons,” she said. “Do you want me to list them for you?”
I thought about that—my balding head, my thickening middle, my two glasses of whiskey every night, my cousin James who was always stopping by and staying for a week. Then I thought about Martha’s blueberry pie, her beef stew, the long walks we took together, her warm body in the bed, her IRA that had grown substantially over the years.
I decided to get up and go get the gun. Just then, I heard a crashing sound. Martha screamed but remained in her chair, holding her book against her chest as if it would protect her. I proceeded back to the bedroom where I had hidden the gun and a box of bullets buried under some of my shirts in a drawer. Martha had followed me so closely I thought we had become one four-legged creature. I could feel her breath on my neck, her voice in my ear. I carefully loaded the 38’s into chambers of the revolver and snapped it shut.
Shaking, Martha gripped my arm like she might try to tear it off. As one, we slowly trundled up the hallway. We checked and secured the front door, the back door, and the side door. There was one more door, in the basement. We heard another crash, and it was definitely coming from down there. We slowly made our four-legged way down the stairs. I flipped the light switch, but the basement light had apparently burned out. Martha pulled out her cell phone and turned on its light. Everything appeared in order: the pool table, the futon, the table and chairs.
We made our way over to the door that opened onto a patio. Martha pressed her phone to a window pane in the door, and outside we saw something on the patio thrashing. I stared and stared, trying to bring it into focus. And then I saw it. A badly wounded deer trying to stand up in a slippery pool of its own blood. It had been trying to get into our house. But why? I turned the lock and opened the door.
“Be careful,” Martha said in my ear.
I carefully pushed open the screen door. Martha remembered the patio light, switched it on, and light flooded the scene. It was a doe, and her eyes were big, black circles. She thrashed, but she couldn’t get up. One of her front legs was twisted and obviously broken. She was bleeding from a hole in her shoulder. The anguished guttural of fear broke from her throat. I didn’t hesitate. I walked up close to her, raised my gun, and shot her once in the head. The blast carried its message across the neighborhood. She dropped to the patio bricks immediately, spasm’d a time or two, and died.
A thin trail of white smoke flowed out of her body and drifted into the trees. I had been present at other deaths, but I’d never seen anything like that before. Somewhere in the nearby woods, a hunter was probably looking for her. The wind was worse than I had realized, throwing the heads of trees around like crazed toys.
“I’m so glad you had the gun,” Martha said behind me. “It was suffering terribly,” she said.
I turned to her. She was crying.
“I don’t want to divorce you,” she said.
I didn’t want to divorce her either, and said so. I realized I was crying too, trembling with a fear I couldn’t name. We held on to each other for a while. Then we went back inside, leaving the deer in darkness.
I unloaded the gun and left it on the table. It could take care of itself for the rest of the night. Martha and I took care of each other.
About the Author:
Jim Peterson has published a novel and seven poetry collections, most recently The Horse Who Bears Me Away from Red Hen Press. His collection of short stories, The Sadness of Whirlwinds, will be published by Red Hen late in 2021. The two stories of his in The Good Life Review will be included in that collection. He retired as Coordinator of Creative Writing at Randolph College in 2013 and remains on the faculty of the University of Nebraska-Omaha MFA Program in Creative Writing. He lives with his charismatic Corgi, Mama Kilya, in Lynchburg, Virginia.