Interrupted reveries. The man felt the dust blowing off the shelves of his mind. Little akashic records with their books all overturned. He found himself again sitting, slumped ever so slightly, cradling a revolver in his hands. Old, now. Funny- he’d always assumed that the tools he bought would age much better than he. Instead he saw hairline scratches, a beginning of a pit here or there from those months he had forgotten he’d even owned a piece. And yet there he sat, older really on the inside than out. Tired, from the grind.
“Dad,” the man’s son’s voice rang. Dad looked up, for a time he almost thought he could see his boy’s voice echoing through the falling leaves of the trees. “Dad, what’re you doing?”
“You do that a lot.“
“Yeah I do…”
“Are we gonna shoot now?”
Kiddo looked on passively. Dad wasn’t sure if he was excited or not. Evidently when they said your kid will ape your every movement, they were right. Kiddo had a great poker face, a shame Dad never learned poker for to teach it to him.
“I suppose,” Dad began, caught by an errant thought before catching himself from sinking back into the reveried sea, “that we ought to start at the beginning. Gun safety.”
“This is a revolver. Ain’t got no safety. Well, nothing to write home about anyway. Look here:” Dad lowered his shooting hand and thumbed a small notched switch, “red is dead. Understand?”
Kiddo nodded. “Why red?”
“I like to think it’s ironic humour, but it’s probably because the manufacturer thinks it’s easier to see.”
“I don’t think it is,” Kiddo said.
“Well, red’s faded over time. Y’alright. Flip the switch up, the hammer don’t fire all the way. Don’t ever dry fire these. Ain’t never tried and find out what happens, they say it bends the firing pin.” Dad murmured, “this little guy here,” he added as he pointed to the pin behind the hammerhead.
“This is really boring, dad.”
“That’s what we call tough titties, kiddo. Guns ain’t all bang-bang Injun wars. There’s precautions.” The man nodded his head side to side, “some of which I’ve forgotten. Used to know a guy that memorised some damn list of rules or other. Verbatim. Allow me to paraphrase. Unless you want to kill it, don’t be pointing your gun at anything. None of this funny business with the pointing and the laughing. Men have died for less.” Dad took a breath, “keep your piece aimed down when you reload. And, clean your gun often enough that she don’t rust. Here we go.”
“Can we shoot yet?”
Dad took a breath. “Loading.” He said, “this fires 22lr shells. That’s long rifle. Read somewhere that these are among the first kinds of bullets the Pioneers developed for to replace the powder horn. Or something like that.”
“Black magick, kid, don’t worry about it. Couldn’t tell ya if I wanted to.” Dad chuckled, “22lr bullets…”
“Who’re the Pioneers?” Kiddo asked.
Dad grinned, his poker face effectively dissolved. “Glad you asked.” He tilted his head side to side as he checked his memory banks. “Long time ago things started getting crowded in New England and Virginia and all the other uh-states, so folks started moving out West. Further West anyway.”
Dad smiled, “they carried guns that looked a little bit like this,” he said as he rotated his wrist, causing the revolver to slowly spin in his grip. “They crawled out of our forests and fields and streams and drug themselves all across the map in covered wagons. That’s the first mobile homes, by the way… waaay cooler than the trailer park where that dumbshit from the co-op lives.” Dad chuckled. “The men had their sidearms and their longarms, and they used them to tame the Wild West.”
“How’d they tame it?” Kiddo asked.
“They had to fight off Injun Braves, animals…” Dad shrugged, “real enemy was probably the elements. Hot as hell the further South ya go.” Dad paused, “look here,” he said, pointing to a small spring loaded button, “when your safety’s on you push this tab and pull the loading pin- that’s what holds your cylinder in place.” Dad proceeded to do what he had said, and with the pin removed he tilted the gun so that the cylinder fell into his waiting palm. “Six shooters,” he smiled, “always wanted to be a cowboy growing up.”
Dad reached into his belt pouch and counted out six shells with his fingertips, he held a bullet between his fingertips and gingerly loaded it into the chamber. “Roaming the land, no laws, no government. No goddamn taxes. No peaceful protests. No alien and remission acts.” Another bullet. “None of it.” Another bullet. “A man could live by his wits. And if he didn’t like his neighbour…” Another bullet.
“He’d kill ’em?”
“What? No! Well, maybe sometimes. But murder is wrong.” Dad loaded another bullet, “the thing that makes a man not an animal is he can control his aggression.” And another bullet. “It takes discipline to be a good man. A man with a hammer looks for nails to pound, I know that’s true. But you can’t always take the easy way out.”
Dad counted out the bullets, 1,2,3,4,5 and… 6. “That makes us no better than the ones that make it easy to want to be a cowboy.”
“What d’ya mean?”
“You give into every impulse, you’re an animal, t’ain’t no coincidence we live in a big friggin’ zoo.”
“I don’t understand,” Kiddo said.
“That’s why we’re here,” Dad said. “Someday you might have to use this. Someday I might have to. What you don’t want is to get to where you look forward to it. Then you’ve lost.”
“Yourself.” Dad shook his head, “oh now look at what you did, you gone and made me get philosophical.”
Dad chuckled, “see here how I’ve cocked the hammer?” He thumbed the hammer, “listen, there’ll be clicks.” Slowly dad pulled his thumb. Kiddo cracked a smile as he heard them. “Pull the hammer back all the way, you hear the four clicks. You’re ready to fire.”
“Now,” Dad said, “lining up your sights. Your uncle Rob taught me this, he was in the army. You see this little u-shaped looking thing? You want the tippy top of the little nub at the end of the barrel to fill that spot. Kapeesh?”
Kiddo nodded. Dad extended his shooting arm, closed and eye and took a breath. “Plug y’ears Kid.” And he fired. He lowered his revolved and leaned forward, squinting, he had hit about four inches from the bullseye.
“If I was a Cowboy, that would’ve been a very wounded brave. Provided he didn’t club me with a tomahawk first.”
“I don’t get it Dad,” Kiddo said. “You’re telling me you’d wanna go across the country in a wagon, but not shoot the gun?”
“The Pioneer didn’t want to have to shoot Chief Runamok,” Dad said, “he did what he had to. It’s a Hallmark of a sick society where we make up motives that don’t fit the bill… The White Man did what he had to, always did upu until around the time I was born. Now here we are, maybe wondering if someday we’re going to have to do things we don’t want to.”
“Like fighting Injun Braves?”
“They won’t be brave, and they probably won’t be injuns.”
“Can’t say, find out if it ever happens.”
Dad took another shot. Two inches. Inside the centre line, close to the heart of the target. “It never changes. Our ancestors weren’t cowboys and they didn’t have revolvers. But they’d a known about powder horns. New England was settled with flintlocks and blunderbusses I think. Real pirate stuff.” Dad shot another round, this one landed some six inches up from the bullseye. “That might’ve been a throat,” he mused. “Hard to steal stereos when you can’t breathe.” He sighed, “but once you settle your homestead, you’re in a nest, in the natural world you’d have to defend it. A man had to be ready in a moment’s notice. It’s why we had Minutemen later.”
“They fought the British, right?”
“Right-o,” Dad said. “Now there’s a difference between defense and offense.” Another shot, “in the natural world.” He took a breath, “but we live in a world governed by lawyers.” The last shot. “Nothing is natural.”
Dad pulled the pin and ejected the chamber. “Don’t touch that until I say,” he said as he walked over to the target. Six shots, clustered around the bullseye, all within six inches of the core, with three close to centre.
“Home is all that’s ever mattered,” he said as he returned to the firing line, “and that’s why this is important, home doesn’t matter to everyone in the same way. There’s all kinds of people who want to take what you have. Just like the Puritans had to fight the French and Injuns and the Pioneers had to fight Injuns and a different kind of nature. And Mexicans, I guess. Don’t know as much border history as I ought to.”
“I thought we don’t have borders anymore,” Kiddo said.
“Not officially,” Dad answered, “but I don’t think the Pilgrims or Pioneers worried about borders. The people they fought didn’t. Open borders are for lawyers. You know where your home is, where it begins and ends. All this yah-yah with lawyers and legalise is claptrap. It’s pissing in the wind; they tell you it’s raining but your shoes are still cold. And wet. And smell bad.” Dad shook his head, “whatever” he grumbled and waved to the gun, “load it.”
Kiddo looked to the revolver, Dad could see his gears turning. Thoughts of adventure and duty playing against each other in his little noggin. Slowly, with hesitation he picked up the revolver chamber and quietly extended his free palm. Dad dropped six shells in that palm and smiled quietly as Kiddo gingerly slid the first into the slot.