My cell phone has a feature called Glance. The time, 23:30, and the latest New York Times headline in all caps, “STUNNING UPSET …” glows in dusky blue and silver from the dark screen beside my bed. I close my eyes and hope the next time I peak the news is different; that time has stopped so intellect can catch up with action. This can’t be the America I call home.
The shaky voice comes in garbled pieces through the school’s intercom system. Our celebrity President has been shot. The Press Secretary, standing beside him, has taken a bullet in the head. Two other law enforcement officers are hit as well, their roles to protect reducing them to catcher’s mitts for the spray of bullets. The news says the First Lady is okay; no one knows if the President will survive. The Vice President is being whisked back to D.C. in Air Force One.
I look into and around the long silver double barrels pointed at me as I plead for my best friend’s life. My neighbor – a word I have misjudged as synonymous with close kindness – is not budging her position. It’s a standoff between a burly woman with a shotgun and a child. Rascal means no harm to any of the sheep in the pasture. She’s a pup. She only stirs them up; nothing more. She has no predator instincts; her breed has been watered down by generations of inbreeding. She’s my teddy bear at night; my playmate by day.
Finding humor in the most tumultuous of moments, sucking air through the good lung that the bullet has not collapsed, the President finds his winning sense of humor – some amazing auto response to be studied for decades by researchers - and wields it to assure his First Lady as he recounts to her that he “should have ducked.”
America has a plan, even for the moments that embody the strictest tests of its democratic system. At 4:14 p.m. the Secretary of State in a voice consumed with emotion, tells reporters and assures citizens that the Administration's ''crisis management'' plan is in effect.
I will stand between the gun and Rascal until something happens. I pull her close to my legs, never taking my eyes away from the barrels. I hear the cocking, and her harsh hushed guttural whisper informing me Rascal has trespassed for the last time. I think I should be afraid at this moment but I cannot bring my mind to comprehend that an adult human is threatening a little girl’s life with a gun larger than she is because a six-month-old puppy occasionally wanders into her pasture next door and gives the sheep some unappreciated exercise or that the idea of explaining a child’s death would be no problem because both she, and her dog, are trespassers.
Rascal slips away and darts beyond my arm’s reach and the explosion cleans all sounds out of my ears. Warm red liquid splatters in a pattern on my bare arms and I taste the acid tinge in my open screaming mouth as she collapses ten feet from me.
I die as I hold her, my knees pressed into the grass now soaked with her life. She is lifting her head backward against my arm to gasp her last two breaths and I feel the blood left inside her slow to a crawl in her veins leaving the skin beneath her matted fur stiff and unforgiving. Her eyes roll back and with her last effort in this brief lifetime she lifts her front left paw onto my leg; smooth leathery paw pad pressed against the flesh of my thigh, the position we tuck into in bed each night.
I see Jane’s rawhide steel-toed worn work boots standing her ground. I read the etched Smith & Wesson on the barrels now resting upon the same grass supporting the collapsed pile that is my puppy and me. I swallow Rascal’s blood and my tears together and wonder if the President is still alive and if he will see a gun in his mind’s eye forever, too, if he survives.
I will not return the vicious atrocity with fear. Jane will forever remember the little girl’s clear eyes staring up into her weathered face asking if any possession – land, fences, barns, house – if any sense of superiority, rightness, sovereignty - is worth the violence, inquiring if there is no other response for an intelligent being to consider first, wondering why an adult can’t trust her voice enough to have a reasonable conversation airing her concerns, why she feels no remorse for stealing the hearing from a child’s left ear with a shotgun, and how she will sleep peacefully each night for the remainder of her life having quieted forever the barking puppy - the pieces of her little body strewn across the ground the memory a child of ten will carry with her every day, the scorching tears she sheds night after night as she reaches for her teddy bear who isn’t there refusing to allow the memory to fade, no matter how much she works to forget it.
Reading, Lit Crawl San Francisco
Make Out Room, 2017