The best weapon for little hands is probably the Kimber Solo, if you’re looking for conceal-carry. You’ve got your three L’ s to think about, when you’re training a child– you need a weapon that’s lightweight, low-recoil, and low trigger-pull, because if you can’t get your shot fired off, all the training in the world is for nothing. Mike Clark lets us shoot when the range is cold; it’s against code but I taught Mike geography in the seventh grade more than twenty years ago. I don’t think he’d dare say no to me now.
Marty’s got to climb on a stool to sight her weapon, and it’s the cutest thing you ever saw. It takes both her hands and mine beneath to steady the Kimber, but she’s got the hang of it. We like to fire off three or four mags and then take a break and sit on a blanket with our sandwiches. It’s pretty on the range, and the air is fresh and clean. We sit with our backs to the building and look out into the forest, enjoying the outdoors and knowing we are safe together, Marty’s Kimber and my .38 special Colt Diamondback side by side on the checkered blanket, within easy reach for us both, since Marty shows signs of turning out leftie. She catches a ball leftie and usually fires leftie, too, but she buttons her little doll dresses with her right hand, and switches back and forth to color, so we’re not sure.
Audra and Tom are having a rough time, still, so Marty stays most nights with me. She’s wonderful company and we enjoy the same things; our television stories, the comfort of a big warm quilt on a cold evening, fixing supper together in my kitchen and washing the dishes after, me at the sink and Marty scraping our plates for the dogs. I might spoil Marty some, but that’s a grandmother’s prerogative. You knock yourself out to raise your children; with grandkids, you should get to enjoy the fun, and I do. Last Tuesday Audra called and said they were coming over for Marty, but I told her we had practice on the range, so she could come late in the afternoon. I knew that by mid-afternoon Tom would be on shift and Audra would be too tipsy to drive over, so we were safe.
Little as she is, Marty isn’t a pure novice; she’s been after her brother’s Savage Rascal from the age of three. But the Rascal’s a single shot rifle you use to teach them to focus; with just one round, it’s all about aim. I fought like a tiger not to let Jeff have that Rascal. Tom made it a present from Santa, and I thought that was awful, even though Jeff just wanted to shoot at cans.
I hated the idea of Jeff with a gun in his hands, but we grow and change as life teaches us. Once I grew accustomed to the idea of Jeff having a firearm, I told him it would be okay to shoot birds from the stoop so long as he only went for crows, not songbirds. But gentleness is bred down deep in the bone; Jeff never wanted to hurt anything, not even a worm, though he’d fish with me if I’d bait the hook. I remember he cried once; he was a little guy, not yet six, I reckon, and Marty must have been three. We’d hooked a trout off the end of the pier and the hook went up into its eye – that’s not uncommon and I don’t guess it hurts the fish a lot, but there was the hook sticking right through the staring round eye, and Jeff started to cry and he hid his face while I worked the hook out. Marty just stood there and watched, solemn. Interested. She’s tougher than Jeff, but just as sweet in every regard.
Little guns snap, there’s no getting around that, but the Kimber is softer than you’d expect and it packs some power. I like to put up fun targets for Marty, zombies and such, or that silly looking man with the striped shirt and the bandit mask. But I must be sure that Marty knows what we are doing together, why we practice keeping safe, and what a real monster will look like when he comes. Not like a middle-aged man in a striped shirt, probably. Not like a zombie.
Jeff was the last of the second-graders to be found; he was in the cloakroom with one boot on and one off. He had a Mexican coin in his pocket I’d given him for Show and Tell, and a candy cane half eaten, tucked carefully in its wrapper. They couldn’t find him at first because Mrs. Kester was on top of him with her arm curled around his shoulder, her palm against his hair. I think about that, how right to the end Jeff knew that someone was trying to protect him. I pray for Mrs. Kester every night.
We waited at the fire station, while the firefighters brought the children in one by one. One by one the fathers and mothers cried out, or sighed, or just rose silently, to pick up their child in their arms or sink to their knees and give thanks. It was like a perfect dance, one small boy or girl for each waiting family. Then no more children, but so many families left over. We looked anywhere but at one another. We looked at our own clasped hands and pretended to be still waiting.
When we get to the range, I staple our targets while Marty lays out our weapons. We have to hurry because the range will open in an hour. Mike looks nervous already. Today we’re taking out zombies, and Marty grins. She is about to lose her first tooth, and her smile is a little lopsided. Soon I will have to tell her what the monsters really look like, so she will be ready when they come. It would be easy to miss them, because they look like ordinary lonely boys. They look like angels. They look like Jeff might have looked if he’d grown to be almost, not quite, a man.
Printed with permission from Anna Scotti, copyrighted by Anna Scotti @ 2015. This piece, winner of the Spring 2015 Orlando Prize for Short Fiction and selected by Finalist Judge Aimee Liu, originally appeared in Issue No. 18 of the Los Angeles Review.