Monday, 28 November 2011
THE BULLETS IN THE BAR
Author’s note: Anton Checkov is said to have said, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there." Although this is a short, short story, and not a play divided into three acts, I’ve tried to stick to his advice.
THE BULLETS IN THE BAR
‘My dad gave it to me just before he died.’
Donald was telling a story he’d told many times before. They were in the bar in a small room just off the lounge. He went on, ‘We never knew what it was for. This little space, I mean. But it makes an excellent watering hole.’
‘And Donald did everything himself,’ Jane said. She didn’t know why, but she was showing her husband off to her new friend, Brian. ‘The shelves, the mirrors, the bar counter. And we got the stools at IKEA. Good Swedish bar stools they are. Or is it Norwegian? IKEA, I mean.’ She gave a nervous laugh, ‘Scandinavian anyway. Let’s just say Scandinavian.’
Brian was from their church. Not Donald’s church, her church and Brian’s church. Because Donald didn’t have a church. The idea had never appealed to him.
‘I remember it from when I was a kid,’ Donald went on.
Brian was on edge. It was the first time he’d met Donald, and he was having difficulty following the conversation which seemed to be jumping about from one subject to another.
‘He told me he’d killed dozens of Germans to get it.’
Brian, as he’d been invited to do, was staring at what looked like a rather battle worn antique automatic. It was in it’s own purpose made, glass fronted display case which was set on a wall above the bar. It was definitely the hero of the room.
‘But, if truth be told, I think he bought it. My father never saw action. I was rather disappointed when I found that out. I’d rather have had a hero as a father. What son wouldn’t? He was in Italy though, and later in Germany. During the war, I mean. But he was an army accountant. Never anywhere near the front line.’
‘Interesting. Very interesting.’ Brian realized that this sounded rather lame, so he went on, ‘Does it work?’
‘Yes, I it does actually. Tried it out a few years ago. At Christmas. Hoped the neighbors would think it was a firecracker going off. Not allowed to discharge firearms in an urban area, you see.’
‘Yes. Well, no, I didn’t really. But it’s a good idea. A good law, I mean. But, anyway, it worked OK? The gun, I mean.’
Donald looked at him closely. ‘Yes, it certainly did. As I’ve just said. But I’ve only got two bullets left now. And they’re rather hard to get hold of.’
Donald reached up and pulled a wad of paper out from behind the bottles on the top shelf.
‘Yes. Here they are. The last two. One for Jane and one for her lover.’
For a moment Brian looked quite startled.
‘I’m away on business quite a bit you see,’ Donald explained. ‘And I wouldn’t want any funny business going on behind my back.’
Brian was relieved when Jane walked back into the bar just then. In fact he was very relieved.
Jane could feel the strained atmosphere as soon as she sat down on the IKEA barstool.
Donald was unwrapping the bullets. He handed them to Brian. Brian looked dubiously at the brass and lead items in his palm. Jane tried to break the tension. ‘He’s been regaling you with his tired old joke, I take it? The one about who the two bullets are for?’
‘Well, yes,’ said Brian. ‘I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, but I see the joke now.’
‘It’s no joke,’ said Donald. ‘When she finds a new man, one’s marked for him and the other’s for her.’
‘Oh stop it darling. It’s not even funny. Not any more.’
Brian offered the bullets back.
Donald took them and started wrapping them up again. He reached up and put them on the top shelf.
‘As I said. It’s an unusual caliber, and there are only two left. Did I say that? I think I did. Anyway, you can’t even get them on the Internet. So many rules and regulations. To import ammunition, I mean. And even gun’s illegal anyway, you see. No papers or anything like that. Dad just brought it back home in his kitbag, I suppose. Very lax they were in those days.’
Jane picked up a bowl of olives and offered them to Brian. ‘Donald’s so boring about his dad’s gun, isn’t he?’
Brian looked embarrassed.
‘No, no. He’s not boring me. It’s very interesting really.’
‘Well, let’s get him off the subject, otherwise he’ll go on about guns all night.’
But Donald was not deterred that easily. ‘Ever tried to kill yourself, Brian?’
Brian said nothing. Jane shook her head in disbelief. ‘Please stop this nonsense, Donald.’
‘Well, in case you ever try, the only other thing I know about a gun is to do with suicide. We had a friend who was a neurosurgeon. Before he died. Of AIDS. Poor bugger. No pun intended. Anyway he told me that if you ever wanted to commit suicide, be sure not to do it like this.’ Donald made his hand into the shape of a pistol and placed his index finger against his temple. ‘This way is only for the movies, apparently. The bullet goes straight through both eyes and completely misses your brain. Which is what you want to hit if you want to kill yourself. My friend said he often got attempted suicides who had failed because they’d fired the gun into the wrong part of their heads. They wound up completely blind, but not dead. So don’t forget. Put the gun in your mouth. Don’t fire it at your temple.’
‘Who the hell’s he?’ Donald asked bluntly when Brian had gone.
He’s just a friend. He goes to my church. I’ve never said anything about him because of your attitude. But we see a lot of each other on the church charity committee. We get on well together. As colleagues, I mean. Kindred spirits, I suppose.’
‘Oh, I see. Just a Holy Joe? Just a platonic relationship. Nothing compromising? Well, as long as it stays that way.’
‘Donald! Don’t be so disparaging. If he’s Holy Joe, then so am I.’
‘I know what you are. We’ve been married for thirty years. If I didn’t know what mumbo jumbo you believed there would be something wrong, wouldn’t there?’
Jane tossed her head in anger and walked away.
‘What did you bring him around here for?’ he called after. ‘And what do you mean, a lot of each other?’
‘Oh, Donald, why are you being so difficult? I’m not having an affair with him. Or anything like that.’
‘I’m very pleased to hear that, darling. Let’s hope that doesn’t change. Remember the preacher in The Grapes of Wrath. He always wound up screwing one of the congregation in a ditch outside the church. Just after he’d finished preaching to them.’ But Jane was too far away to hear what Donald was saying.
Six months later, Donald came back early from a business trip. He parked the car a block away from the house. He walked home in the warm summer night. It was after midnight. He saw a shiny black car parked outside the house. But it could have been anybodies.
Their old dog came out to meet him. She knew who it was and didn’t make a sound. He pointed at her kennel and she obediently slunk off. He heard her settling down again. He smiled.
Donald unlocked the back door and went inside. He didn’t put the light on. He went to the bar and opened the display case that showed off the gun. He felt behind the bottles for the bullets.
Donald poured himself a stiff scotch. He drank it neat, enjoying the taste as the fumes filled his mouth and nostrils.
Donald went quietly to the main bedroom. It was empty.
‘Well at least they had the good grace to use another bed,’ he said to himself.
He went upstairs. That’s where the guest’s bedroom was.
Donald stopped and listened at the door. He heard the sound of the mattress moving. He heard Jane making muffled cries in her throat. He’d heard these many times before. Whenever they’d made love. He knew she was enjoying the sex.
Donald put on the light and walked into the bedroom. Brian was on top of Jane. He stopped moving, but stayed where he was. He didn’t look round. Jane moved her head away from under Brian’s shoulder and stared at Donald.
Donald walked over to the bed. The bedclothes had been pushed onto the floor. Brian had rolled off Jane. Donald was startled by their middle-aged nakedness. He found it confronting in the bright overhead light. Donald had always thought nudity should be banned for people over twenty-five or so.
He looked down at them. Brian was trying to hide his glistening erection with his hands. Jane just lay there staring back at him. He saw that her pubic hair had recently been trimmed. He saw, as he had so many times before that some of the hairs were starting to lighten. Jane had a hard to define expression on her face. But it soon contorted into fear.
Donald took the German gun out of his pocket.
‘Donald, look, I’m sorry,’ Brian was having difficulty talking. ‘Donald, take it easy. Please. Let’s talk about this.’
Jane added, ‘Please darling, don’t do anything silly.’
Donald had the bullets in his hand. He pulled out the gun’s magazine and inserted the bullets. He pushed it back into the handle.
‘You cunt,’ he said. Jane wasn’t sure whether he meant her or Brian.
Brian started to get up.
‘Hold on mate. Don’t do anything rash. Please. I promise you it won’t happen again. I swear. I’ll make it up to you. Somehow.’
Donald looked down at them. Then he put the barrel of the gun in his mouth. He felt the front sight dig into his soft palette. Then he pulled the trigger.
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