The gun, of course, felt awkward in his hand. Everyone but the baby and the man’s five-year old son, who thought it might be a toy, gasped when he brought it in. Except for the television, the room had been quiet for a full half hour, and the argument, which had recently rocked the house, was presumed over. The mother-in-law had continued pealing the potatoes as when he left the room and was still focused on the John Wayne movie in front of her.
“What are you doing with that thing?” his wife asked.
“What is it?” asked the mother-in-law, without moving her eyes. After getting no answer, she tilted her head around. “So you are going to threaten me now? You are stupid.”
He sat down to her right. “No,” he said calmly. “I’m not going to threaten you. I’m going to make your dreams come true.”
“Well, blow your brains out in the yard, so I can watch my show in peace and so your overworked wife won’t have to clean up your mess twice in one day.”
He laughed. The boy’s eyes were wide as if he suddenly were seeing his father in a cartoon. The man said slowly, “No. No. No. I’m not going to blow my brains out. You are.”
The boy said, “Dad, I’m scared.” The mother-in-law rolled her eyes.
“Sorry son,” the father said, tossing the youngster’s light brown hair. The boy sat in front of and to the right of his father, just out of his grandmother’s reach.
“Where did you get that?” his wife asked.
“You remember. I bought it for my mother, for protection. Then she died–”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” the mother-in-law said. “She died. She’s dead. Why won’t you bury the hag? Even in the grave she’s a burden.”
“You shut up about my mother. She was a good–”
“You brought it up. Look, be quiet.”
He got up and walked over to the television. He stood in front of it.
The mother-in-law frowned at him with a hard, violent face. “What is wrong with you? You made your scene. You flashed your toy. Now go away.”
He turned off the television.
“Hey!” they all, seemingly even the baby, yelled.
“You are going to listen to me,” he told her. “You want me dead. You said so just an hour ago. Well, I’m going to give you the chance. You don’t care what effect your actions have on anyone. You just sit there and complain about everything I do, and run down my wife and my children. You even got mad at the baby for crying while your soap was on. Well, here. Here is a gun. Shoot me now, in front of my family.”
“What are you trying to prove?” she asked smugly.
“Only what your peace and quiet have cost my fam–.”
“Yak. Yak. Yak. Will you please shut up?” She picked up the remote and turned the television back on.
He started to turn it off, then reconsidered. He walked up to his mother-in-law. She pointed the potato peeler at him like a finger. “Get away from me.”
He lay the gun in her lap. “Shut me up.” His smile was that of a dangerous man proud of a grand unfolding plan.
There was a moment where their eyes locked. Then the old woman shook her head, disgusted, as if at a man in the streets talking to himself.
His wife said, “Stop this, honey.”
His son said, “Dad?”
He turned to his wife. “Shut up. You asked for this when you moved her in here and made me leave my own mother to die alone.”
She started to protest, but he yelled, “I said ‘Shut up!'” and she held her hand over her mouth as she started crying. The baby’s own crying, all this time unnoticed, seemed now to be in competition with his parents and with John Wayne’s cavalry.
He stood up and backed again towards the television. “Goodbye son,” he said. Spreading his arms he bore his eyes at his mother-in-law. “Well?”
She was pretending to watch the Duke through his body. After a moment, she released an exasperated sigh, and without letting go of the peeler, placed the gun on the small table beside her. “Not today, Mr. Martyr. I don’t have time to dispose of you today. Now if you’d move out of the way.” She looked down at the half-peeled potato in her left hand, the last she was planning to prepare. Then she mumbled, “Probably not even loaded.” She looked up at him as he moved away from the set. “Probably not even real.”
His wife started for the gun, but he got to it first. “It is quite real,” he said with a slow confidence that did not match his movements as he turned toward the set and fired until the Duke had taken every round.
His wife screamed in fright, then relief, then anger. His son ran to a corner, then turned to see his grandmother stand up, dropping the bowl of potatoes on the floor. She kicked over the paper bag in which she had been dropping the limp skins.
Then the boy heard his mother’s faint body fall to the floor as he watched his father’s first and last triumphant expression wilt. The potato peeler stuck out of the man’s neck like a wind up key on a lost and broken toy.
first published in Dogwood Tales Magazine