Gun Safety
matt chisholm
May 1997

"I used to have this fantasy that someone'd attack us with a gun someday. It'd be on a dark corner, late at night, and we'd be walking home. And maybe he'd demand our money, or try to steal our car. But I'd always straighten myself up and look him (it's always a man) in the eye and say 'You have no power over me. Just because you have a gun doesn't mean that you can tell me what to do.' And I would get this feeling of strength inside me, coming from deep beneath my stomach, taking the power from the man holding the gun.

"But he'd always think I was bluffing, and he'd reach out and grab you around your neck with his other arm, and pull you down into the shadows where he'd be standing. He'd put the barrel of the pistol to your temple and, in a more raspy, scratchy voice than before, angry at having his power questioned, demand once again our car, or our wallets.

"My emotions would scatter like pigeons in the street fleeing an onrushing bus. I'd look at you and see the fear in your eyes and more than anything I'd be afraid of betraying you. But the thought, the feeling in my gut... it'd crystallize again, and I'd say to him, 'I am no fool. If you kill her, it is your fault, not mine. You still can't make me do what you want.'

"And now his thoughts would splinter. And he would look into my eyes and see that I wasn't bluffing, and then that fear... it'd strike him, instead of us. I'd turn to walk away, without waiting for him to lower the gun or release you. But I'd always hear him suddenly let you go, your feet scuffle on the pavement in shock as you regained balance. And then I'd hear his footsteps turning away, slowly at first, and then breaking into a dead run down the damp streets."

The wall of the concrete building and the asphalt reflected the sharp afternoon sun.

"Very chivalric." She squinted at him as they got out of the car.

"Yeah." He looked down at the ground, away from the building. "But who can say what will happen 'til it does, you know? In my mind, I'd always look into your eyes and know you loved me, and know you knew I loved you, and you'd be just as chivalric as me. You'd know, what I meant in my head. You'd know what I was doin'." He followed her quickly through the blue door. Inside were dirty metal elevator doors and a hallway extending to the left and right. The walls were faced with plywood, and the doors painted yellow. He pushed the button on the elevator.

"In your fantasy, did you ever think- was it ever Evan instead of me?"

" I don't think so. I never thought that. He could always, you know, take care of himself. Him an' I, we've seen guns before. We've lived through shit like that. You... you haven't. He didn't need takin' care of."

Their storage compartment was at the end of a long hallway.

"It's this one. Give me the keys." She unlocked the door. Cardboard boxes sealed with clear packing tape were stacked on the floor along the length of the room.

"We can't trust him... I mean we can't trust him to let Evan go. I don't know. We've seen too many movies. I mean, what do we really know about any of this shit? Nothing. What should we do? I mean, we're out, he let us go. We don't have to go back to your house. Going back and he'll... that'll be just like putting us all back in his power again.... Do you know which one it's in?"

"I know it's in here somewhere." She picked some smaller boxes up and put them to the side.

"Whatsit look like?"

"You've seen it before. Remember the vase that was on the table at my house down south? About two and a half feet tall, white with purple flowers. Shaped like these here. But it's bigger than these, too- about like that one. It's still packed, in one of these boxes. Damn I wish I kept this place- less of a mess."

On top of an empty box lay an exacto-blade, a carpet knife, and a roll of tape. They kneeled down and began slicing open the boxes.

"I dunno... for what it's worth, if he hurts Evan, I mean, it's not your fault. Should we not go back? Do you think he'd shoot Evan, before... if we don't come back?" He frowned as he slid an opened box against the wall.

She spilled white packing foam out of one box. The particles rustled as they fell to the floor.

"I mean, at least one of us shouldn't go back." He started to open another box.

"That one's too small. Look in the big ones first."

"Ohokay." He set several smaller boxes out of the way. He moved them quickly but was careful not to break the porcelain inside. "I mean, I can't not go back. I couldn't do that. When the moment came, I couldn't say that it didn't matter to me... that I knew if he shot Evan that it would be just his fault. His action not mine. I mean, that's true, but if I have the power to take it... to save his life, then why not. What is this? A stupid piece of clay. A thing. What should that matter against Evan's life? It seems so selfish to deny it... even if you deny it because... because you don't want to face that threat... give him that power. Shit. What kind of fool am I... I mean, to...."

A white rim showed above the foam.

"Is that it?" She craned her neck to see what was in the box he had just opened.

"No... 's too big. Some bowl. It is here, right?" He absentmindedly closed the flap and slid the box out of the way. "I mean, you're sure it's not back at your house?"

"Yeah- I- It has to be- because I kept all this stuff together."


She silently kept opening boxes.

"I don't know. It all happened so fast. How did he find out who we were or where? I mean, we weren't just a random target. He must've known you had this vase. And he probably watched us... your house... until there was more than one person around... so he could do this... hold someone hostage."

"Makes sense."

"And then me and Evan came over...." He began to separate another strip of tape. "Once he saw us, he must have figured how he'd do it... he broke in to your house... and he put his arm around Evan's neck and the gun to his temple."

"Did you have that thought- that he couldn't threaten you?"

"I looked up... and for a moment I was reeling, tryin' to figure out what was going on."

"Yeah." She reached for another box.

"Then I looked at the side of the gun... I thought... maybe if I could see the safety switch... It was this little metal prism- maybe three eighths of an inch long and an eighth high, sticking out there on the side."

"Could you tell?"

"Naw. I mean... there weren't any words there. I could even see the scratch marks where..." He looked absentmindedly through the wall of the dim storage locker. "I could see the switch had been moved up vertical, these little shiny lines on the greasy black metal. But there weren't any words like 'safety' or 'off' or anything."

"Mmhm." She moved an opened box to the side and slid another one in front of her.

"And I just stared at it, trying to figure out if the safety was on or not. I wanted to... I mean, I've always been against guns so much... I never thought that it'd matter someday whether I could tell if a safety was on or off."

"Doesn't- doesn't matter now."

He cut the tape on another box, placed his hands on either flap. He paused and looked back up at the walls. "Uh... hey. This looks right." He pulled out a tall porcelain vase. It was an antique. Purple flowers under smooth white glaze wrapped around and bloomed just below the flared top.

"Yeah- that's it. Thank god."

"Let's get out of here." He didn't have the time to stop and admire the vase. He put it back in the box and picked the box up under his arm.

"Do you think- do you think he'll let Evan go?" She slid a box out of the doorway with her foot.

"I don't know. I don't know. I mean... I was looking at the safety switch and I thought, 'He has no power over me... just because he's got a gun.' And I searched for that feeling I always had in my stomach when I had that fantasy. I mean... Evan would know, wouldn't he? He'd understand what I was saying, same as you would, right? I looked into his eyes and I saw they were watering and I tried to see if he would understand. But I kept thinking about that safety switch and those shiny semicircles on the side of the gun. I couldn't tell. And all I could think was, 'I wish I knew. I wish I knew.' "

She just stared.

"We don't both have to go back, you know." He studied the stains on the concrete in front of the door. "I mean, he's been my friend for longer. You... you shouldn't go back. I'll take this. He will let Evan go. He.... "

"No- I- I don't know." She fumbled with the padlock on the door.

"I know whatchour'e thinking. There's nothing wrong with that. Evan won't be hurt. He would understand. Look, you stay here... or go get the police... or something. Just not go back. If we both go back... if I go, at least one of us...."

"I- okay. Okay." She stopped in the hallway at the top of the stairs. The building was silent, except for the fluorescent light that was buzzing overhead, about to burn out.

"Look, we're gonna be fine. I'm 'onna go back, give him the vase, and he's going to let Evan and me go. And as soon as he does I'm 'onna call the police and drive back out here and get you. We're all going to be fine." They looked each other in the eye for the first time since they had arrived.


"I... "

"I know. I know. Now go."