Uncle Jimmy's Shotgun

I pushed blindly into the bedroom, if you could call it that, scattering the musky husks of empty beer cans with every bleary misstep. The bed loomed up at me from one spartan corner, bare and lumpy old mattress scattered with yellowed and dog-eared copies of dirtbike magazines I’d dug out of a crate somewhere in the basement. Basement, hah. Even that wasn’t much more than a narrow mud-floored crawlspace where the walls were still bare, full of naked stud boards that showed everywhere but where I’d put up a decade-old centerfold of Miss October to cover the hole I’d punched in the rotten fiberboard that same month, that same year. At least up here in the house proper the previous owner had the where-with-all about him to put in drywall and a coat of white paint, though the job was so amateur it looked like someone had given the can and brush to a retard and locked the door for a day. Every inch of it was rough, ridged with crumbling paint lined up in shaky brush marks that dropped along the length of the walls like drunken snail trails, merging and meandering across one another in the few places where someone had probably taken a break from their chaw just long enough to point and say: “missed a spot.” Later, sometime between when the mess had dried and when Grandma Helen had picked up the property, someone had taken one of those wide-tip sharpies to the wall and scrawled the words “Hey Cowboy” in a hand so fine it bordered on elegant. I ain’t never had the heart to scrub it off in all the days since I’d seen it, never had the patience I’d need to repaint the whole damn room.

Meds. That’s what I needed. My eyes moved sluggishly to the left, glancing across the messy dresser, the loose shotgun casings and the edge-worn copy of a farmer’s almanac from the fifties that crouched among piles of mud-hardened socks mingling with clean ones still stiff off the clothesline. There was aspirin in the drawer, third down and on the left, just beneath the collection of hood ornaments I’d found in Uncle Jimmy’s room, each one palmed and pocketed from some rich tourists’ fancy car. He always had a few choice words for rich folk, thought they was all cheaters and sinners, laying about like royalty with pretty girls to feed them big purple grapes while a good honest man had to scratch and suffer in the dirt to make himself a living. That was Uncle Jimmy. I had a whole slew of reasons for trying not to think about him any more than I absolutely had to. Yeah. Lots of reasons.

The drawer rattled as I yanked it open, glass bottle from Grandma Helen’s expired aspirin stash in plain sight, half-empty, the pills so old half had turned to powder. I twisted the tin lid, grabbed a quick handful and swallowed the chalky mess dry, choking as half of it stuck in my throat, a hard wad that stung against every breath, took half a minute and a lot of coughing to work free before I could force it back down with a quick swig of whiskey from the jug I kept by the bed.

Bed. That’s what I really needed. A quick place to lay down until I could convince my head to stop spinning. I started to clear the old magazines away, but my hands wouldn’t keep up, wouldn’t work right. I couldn’t focus. All that cheap beer I’d put away since I’d crawled out of bed had put me off a little, had...

...the ground rose up toward me fast as lightning– I heard the solid, meaty thunk of my collapse and only felt it later, too wrapped up in the flash of darkness that flickered across my eyes for a split second to notice anything but how brown the grain on the plywood floor was. I don’t know how long I laid there for– it felt like a lifetime, as long as the pause that creeps by whenever you hesitate with your finger on the trigger of a gun, wrestling with yourself while the guy on the other end just stares, dumbstruck. I ground the heels of my palms into my eyes to get rid of the thought, then rolled over and suddenly found myself face to face with the last thing I wanted to see at that moment, the most blatant reminder of the part of my past I’d been drinking to try to forget.

Uncle Jimmy’s Shotgun.

I’d put it under the bed so I didn’t have to look at it while it rusted away into silent oblivion, didn’t have to be reminded of what I’d done with it. The breech was still cracked and empty, unused since that day, that cold October day a decade past when Uncle Jimmy had come home in a passion, swaggering drunk with his cheap grinder-sharpened knife pulled, convinced Grandma Helen was some filthy incarnation of the devil it was his holy duty to dispose of. I’d tried to reason with him there in the doorway, nearly got a face full of crude razor for my effort, so I’d done the only other thing I could think of to do at the time– I fetched the shotgun.

“Darrell!” He’d yelled, but I wasn’t listening. I’d been cut too many times by Uncle Jimmy, had too many cigarettes put out on my arms. It took me five whole seconds to cover the distance between the front door and Uncle Jimmy’s bedroom. I knew right where he kept the gun– at the head of the bed, tucked up in the springs of his ratty old mattress. Five more seconds and I was back in the livingroom, catching his attention with a shout before he could cross to the back of the house and into Grandma Helen’s half. I still remember the look on his face as I’d turned those two rusty barrels on him, warned him not to take another step.

But it didn’t take long for slack-jawed shock to turn to anger. I warned him again as he took a step toward me, but this time he didn’t listen, and the next step he’d taken had been his last.

Burying a man ain’t no easy task, not least when he’s your uncle and your Grandma’s bawling her eyes out not two feet from you the whole time you’re digging. It took six hours to make that hole, another hour to fetch the body and plant it, not to mention the time it takes to pick up all the little bits of shot and other leavings of something like that which end up spread all across the floor like crumbs from some messy dinner. By the time the lawman came looking for Jimmy with some warrant for breaking and entering, there was nothing left to find– he’d been reported missing, probably at large, with sheriff Bird figuring the old drunk had probably just run-off, maybe even skipped the country.

But the shotgun under my bed could testify to another story. Just it and me. Grandma Helen’s gone now too, a clot in her brain, they say, but that’s okay. She went in her sleep, real calm and quiet like. Some folk think I must be lonely all by myself up on the mountain, but it ain’t all that bad. In a way, I’ve still got Uncle Jimmy to talk to, and he’s a mite bit friendlier now that he’s in the dirt, waiting for his rapture and his apocalypse under a poppy patch in the backyard, just ten paces from Grandma Helen’s gnarled old apple tree.


Mike said...

I love how this story goes from the standpoint of observing a staggering drunk to mourning a fallen, unrecognized hero who had saved his grandmother from cruel torture, all in the space of a dozen or so paragraphs. Well done!

Curtis Moore said...

Nicely done Earl.

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