A million years ago, when I was 28 for the first time, I wrote this short story for a creative writing class I was taking.
“You just can’t find Hops gun oil anymore,” Frank Theterson mumbled to himself while he sat on a lawn chair in his backyard cleaning his handgun. This was the latest in Frank’s collection, a gift from his son, and his current favorite. It was a Smith and Wesson 686, a Combat Masterpiece. Frank had wanted to buy it for himself at the gun show he and his son had recently attended, but he had talked his father out of it. Now Frank knew why.
Frank carefully removed the lower receiver and placed it on a cloth on the grass next to the upper receiver. He oiled the chamber with the generic gun oil he had picked up from Wal-Mart after finishing his security guard shift at Weston Lakes Community the night before. Frank had started working for Wackenhut security a couple of months ago. He was on the third shift, eleven at night until seven in the morning. Frank volunteered for the shift because all of the other guys were married and had families to go home to. Frank lived alone. The long nights didn’t bother him. It gave him an excuse to drink more coffee and stare at the stars.
Frank rubbed the small amount of corrosion off of the chamber. The gun was in pretty good condition; it wasn’t new but it had been taken care of by its previous owner. As Frank rubbed oil on his bun, he reached down into a brown bag of peanuts, with his non-oily left hand, and threw one at the squirrels who lived in his yard. The four squirrels ran over to the peanut, but the smaller one grabbed it and ran with it in his mouth before any of the others could get there. Frank threw three more peanuts over to the hungry animals. He enjoyed having the squirrel family inhabit his tree. He would sometimes just sit in the yard and watch them chase each other or hide the nuts that Frank gave them. They were like pets to him. If he could have told them apart he would have named them all. He called the small one Sumo. The other three were the same size and color; so, Frank just called them the dancers.
Since his wife died two years ago, Frank had been pretty lonely and had become more comfortable outside with the squirrels than inside the house with Helena’s clothes, knick-knacks and the furniture that they had picked out together. They had only been married five years when Frank found her on the floor in the hallway one morning. A heart attack. She was only 54 years-old. Frank always thought he would go first. He was six years older and overweight. Frank never watched what he ate; he enjoyed his baby-back ribs and steak. Helena was the opposite – always exercising and dieting. She started taking herbal diet pills too, Ephedra or something like that. The doctor said the pills probably caused the heart attack. All of Frank’s friends told him that he should sue, but going to court and talking about Helena every day was more than he could stand right now.
Frank raised the gun and aimed at the house to check the sites. The chamber was empty, so he pulled the trigger. His son had just given him the gun the day before and Chuck knew enough about guns to unload a gun before giving it to somebody. Click. If the gun had been loaded Frank would have just blown away the Tinkerbelle wind chime that Helena had bought in Disney World six months before she died. If he had known he was going to lose her, he would have spent the extra money and gotten a room at the Polynesian Resort instead of the Holiday Inn. Helena had always wanted to stay at the Polynesian and go to a luau with Mickey and Minnie; but, Frank just couldn’t see spending over two hundred bucks a night on a place you just slept in. He wished he could go back and let her have the luau.
Frank held the reassembled gun between his knees, by the handle, and polished the barrel with a felt cloth. He rubbed around the trigger, removing his oily fingerprints from when he had been checking the site. The gun was now aimed towards his neighbor’s back yard. There was some oil built up on the trigger, so Frank folded the cloth so it was smaller and scrubbed the trigger. Click. He had pulled the trigger by accident while he was cleaning it. He would have taken out a rose bush that time. Nancy Johnson would have been angry. She loved those roses almost as much as she loved Tom, her husband, or Sergeant, the couple’s German shepherd or her children.
The trigger still felt gritty to Frank, so he grabbed a clean cloth and folded it in quarters. He rubbed it against the trigger as hard as he could. Bang! The gun went off! Shit! Frank had thought for sure it was empty. The gun had kicked back, burning Frank’s inner thighs. “Son of a bitch!” Frank yelled, hearing himself as if he were in a tunnel. His ears felt clogged from the noise of the gun going off. He started thinking about how stupid his son had been not to unload the gun and how stupid Frank himself had been not to check the gun. Damn! Thank God it was a weekday. Frank could have shot one of the kids. He felt very relieved.
Frank got up from his lawn chair and brushed off his jeans and grabbed the handkerchief out of his back pocket to wipe the sweat from his forehead. Good thing he hadn’t changed into shorts before going outside, like he usually does; his thighs would have been really burnt then. Frank shook his legs so that his jeans pulled away from his thighs a little. Damn! That hurt, he thought. Frank walked over to the fence separating his yard from the Johnson’s. He wanted to make sure he hadn’t hit a rose of something. The Johnsons weren’t home; like most of Frank’s neighbors, they both worked during the day. Frank also wanted to get the shell. Even though it was empty, he didn’t want the kids to find it. The Johnson kids were still little. Todd was 5 and Mary was 3. Frank didn’t want them to put the shell in their ears or mouth.
Frank looked through the large holes in the chain length fence and looked into the rose bush. “Sergeant!” Frank yelled. The dog was lying under the rose bush. He wasn’t moving. “Sergeant! Get up boy!” Frank yelled. He thought, maybe he was just sleeping and too tired to get up. Then, Frank heard a slight whimper and saw the blood on Sergeant’s neck.
Frank hopped the fence into the Johnson’s back yard. He kneeled next to the rose bush and lifted Sergeant. The dog yelped and tried to nip at Frank’s forearm as he moved him, but the dog was too weak to sink his teeth into Frank. Frank needed to get Sergeant to a vet immediately.
Frank backed his Explorer into the Johnson’s driveway and got out of the SUV quickly. He ran back to the yard and picked up Sergeant. The dog felt like he weighed as much as Helena, about 90 pounds. Frank put Sergeant into the cargo bay on a blanket. He wrapped the blanket around him to keep him comfortable. It was still early in the day, so the SUV was not hot yet, but it was kind of warm outside, even for South Florida. Frank hopped back in the front of the Explorer and looked at Sergeant in the rear-view mirror. “You’re gonna be ok, boy. We’ll get you to a doctor,” Frank told Sergeant as he pulled slowly and gently out of the Johnson’s driveway. Frank drove slowly down the street to prevent Sergeant from moving around much.
They arrived at the vet within a few minutes. It was the same vet that Frank used to take his cats to. He wasn’t sure if the Johnsons brought Sergeant here or not; Frank decided to alter his story a little, just in case. He was so afraid to tell his neighbors that he was responsible for this. They would hate him. The Johnsons didn’t believe that civilians should be able to own guns. Frank and Tom had had many debates over the fence in the evenings. Now this.
Someone was coming out with a Dalmatian on a leash when Frank was carrying Sergeant up to the door. The man held the door and Frank stepped in through the open door and went up to the counter. “This dog has been shot. I found him on the side of the road near my house. He needs help now,” Frank told the woman at the counter. The woman yelled to someone in the office behind her, and this woman ran around and opened a door into an examination room, where a vet was waiting. “Put him down here!” the doctor said, pointing to a gurney. Frank put Sergeant down and patted him on the head.
“You’ll be ok, boy,” he said, and then the doctor wheeled Sergeant away. Tears came to Frank’s eyes, and he sat down on a plastic chair in the exam room and started to cry. He could not believe that he had been stupid enough not to check if the gun was loaded or not. Damn it! What would he tell his neighbors? He couldn’t tell them that he had done this, that he had pointed a gun at their yard and fired it. He just couldn’t do it.
Frank looked down at the blood on his shirt. He still had on his Wackenhut shirt. It seemed like a lot of blood. He hoped they could give Sergeant a transfusion or something. He would donate blood to the dog if it would work. Damn it! How could he have done this? He would do anything for a time traveling Delorean right now. What was he thinking? Playing with guns after working all night — that was smart.
Frank buried his face in his hands and started whispering. “Hey, God. It’s me, Frank. I know you haven’t heard from me since Helena was sick, and I know I’m not a regular church goer and stuff, but you gotta help me out here. Well, just — you gotta help Sergeant. Nancy and Tom love that dog so much, and he’s so good with the kids. Please keep him alive, God. I swear I’ll never touch another gun as long as I live, if you just keep Sergeant alive.”
“Sir?” A woman’s voice interrupted Frank’s prayer. “Sorry to interrupt. I just need you to fill out this information sheet for the dog. Bring it to the front counter when you’re done.” The woman handed Frank a clipboard with a white paper and a pen on a chain attached. She walked out of the room, her shoes squeaking with every step.
Frank got up from his chair and grabbed a couple of tissues from the Kleenex box on the counter behind the examining table. He blew his nose a couple of times and then grabbed another tissue, shoving the used one in his pants pocket. Frank wiped his eyes and looked down at the paper and the blue stick pen that was attached to the clipboard. The alcohol and wet dog smell was getting to him. He looked down at the blood on his shirt, and the combination of the blood and the smell made him gag. He dry heaved into the red biohazard waste can next to the counter.
Frank sat back down and wiped his face with another tissue. There was cold sweat all over his face, in his hair and on his arms. He felt chilled, like he was sick. Frank picked up the clipboard and filled out the form quickly so he could go home. He put his name address and phone number. He wanted to have the chance to talk to Nancy and Tom about the accident before they talk to anyone from the vet’s office.
Frank got up from the plastic chair, holding the clipboard with the pen dangling from it. He could feel the air from the ceiling vent blowing on the back of his sweaty shirt and through his moist hair. He still felt shaky and queasy, but he knew he had to check on Sergeant’s progress and he had to get home to tell Nancy and Tom where their dog was.
After hearing that Sergeant was out of surgery and would probably make a full recovery, Frank headed home. As soon as he got into the house, Frank unbuttoned his bloody Wackenhut work shirt, took it off and threw it in the kitchen trash. He put his blood stained undershirt in the garbage too. Next, he grabbed two large black trash bags and went into the guest room. He opened the closet door and grabbed his five handguns, making sure each was unloaded before tossing them all into the trash bag. He tied the bag and put it next to the door. Frank then opened the other trash bag and grabbed his pile of Gun and Ammo and threw them into the bag, too. He grabbed all of his Wackenhut shirts from the closet and threw them in the bag. He even grabbed the one shirt he had in the hamper and tossed that in as well. Frank took off his blue, stained work pants and threw them in, along with the pants from the closet and hamper. Then, he tied the handle ties and placed the bag next to the door, with the other bag. He stopped to look at his wedding picture. Then he grabbed both bags and carried them out of the room to place them in the garage. He put the bag of guns next to the garage door and put the other bag in the trash bin. If Helena were still here he never would have taken a night job or gotten so interested in guns. He would have been working during the day or traveling with her. They had loved to travel.
After throwing the trash bags away, Frank took a shower. He stepped into the shower and turned the water on as hot as he could stand it. Steam filled the bathroom within minutes. Frank grabbed the bar of Irish Spring and lathered his whole body, including his hair, with the green soap. He stood under the hot water until his pale skin was red. He let the water beat his scalp, listening to the pulsating sound with his eyes closed.
When he got out of the shower it was 2:30. Nancy, a school librarian, should be home soon. Tom, a bus driver, got home shortly after her. Frank Figure 3:30 would be a good time to go over and let them know what happened. Frank got dressed and called the veterinarian’s office to check on Sergeant.
After keeping Frank on hold for a few minutes, the receptionist told him that Sergeant was awake and doing well. The bullet did not hit his jugular vein and just went through some fatty tissue and muscle. Sergeant would be sore for a while but he would be ok. Frank was lucky. It could have been so much worse. He had to get rid of those guns. He had heard that the police station would accept them, so he carried the bag out to his truck and put it in the cab. Frank locked the truck door and was about to walk back inside the house when Nancy pulled in to the driveways with Tom right behind her.
Frank walked over to their driveway, being careful not to step on a row of new gardenia plants Nancy had just planted the week before. He folded his arms in front of himself as he approached Nancy’s car, and looked down at his black sneakers.
Nancy got out of her white Ford Focus with her purse and lunch bag in her hand, and walked to the back door to get the kids out. They were in the back seat, smiling at Frank. “Hey, Frank! You’re up early. What’s the occasion?” Nancy always kidded Frank about his odd schedule.
Frank looked up from his shoes to Nancy’s smiling face. “Nancy, I’m afraid there’s been an accident. Sergeant..”
Nancy dropped her bags on the hood of her car and said, “What happened to Sergeant? Oh my God! Is he ok? SERGEANT!!!”
“What’s going on?” Tom said, standing next to Nancy.
“Sergeant’s at the vet’s office. He was shot but now he’s—“
“Shot!! What! Where’s our dog?” Tom demanded.
“Up the street at Coral Springs Animal Hospital. He’s going to be ok.”
Nancy and Tom were in Nancy’s car before Frank finished his last sentence. Frank stood in the driveway for a few minutes and thought about how his oversight had caused so much pain and stress. He walked around the gardenia plants to his own driveway and walked into his house. He sat down on the couch, picked up the phone and called Wackenhut to let them know that he would not be in that night, or ever. Maybe he’d get a job at the grocery store.