Monday, November 18, 2013

A Gun for Christmas
by Alex Call

You know how kids want things. I want it. I want it. I’ll dream and plot until I have it. I've got to have it!

 A BB gun. I forget which one of my friends had one already, maybe Jack, maybe Taylor. It wasn’t something that we had in our house. Guns were outside our family experience, something other kids might have gotten from their dads. My dad didn’t involve himself in my kid world much. He also didn't hunt.

So I hit up my mom, the real power in the house, for it.  She recited the oft-repeated family tale of Uncle Whosit, who pleaded with his Victorian-era parents for one and thought his dream was coming true when he saw the long, cylindrical package on the top shelf of the closet where the Christmas presents were hidden. But it turned out to be an umbrella. Not a proper gift for an eleven–year-old boy (like me) at all, no, not at all! Uncle Whosit didn’t get one but I was going to; my mom finally gave in and told me so. And now Christmas was almost here.

You wouldn’t think that Daisy would be the name of a gun maker. Too girlie. Maybe Frontier or Trailblazer or something German sounding like Schotz or Fokker, a manly sounding name for a man’s weapon. But Daisy it was, because they made BB guns. I didn’t want the western-style lever action like Jack’s, even though it was the U.S. Cavalry model from the movies, it wasn’t powerful enough. I had my heart set on a pump-action. I eyeballed one on display at Santa’s Toys for months. I practically wore off the paint on the barrel just looking at it.

“You have to be safe!” My mom insisted, “or you can’t have it. I won’t have anyone’s eyes getting shot out!” Why was it always the eyes? “Don’t throw rocks; you’ll put someone’s eye out!” But throwing rock-hard apples was fine. My older brother’s friends pelted my little posse mercilessly and no one lost an eye, or even got hit. 

Mom, I promise I’ll be careful! I promise! I promise!

I don’t know what I was planning on shooting with my Daisy; I hadn’t gotten that far yet. I simply needed to get one, against all parental odds. And so I did get to unwrap a long cylindrical package Christmas morning and there it was: a shiny pump- action Daisy, my own gun! . I filled it with shiny copper BB’s from the BB tube. I think it held fifty or so. I clacked the pump, shockn- chockn, and she was loaded. It was time for me and Daisy to meet our destiny.

Daisy was suddenly heavier, pregnant, alive. Alive in my hands. Once loaded, she had to be fired. And I knew in that moment that what I had to do with this BB gun was the forbidden. I had to shoot birds. Oh, I think I started by taking some shots across the gully at the old barn. I could track the flight of the BB: a copper arc that fell off fast after fifty feet. I could hit things. I’ve always had a good eye.

Above my head were the crabapple trees of the orchard. Even in December in Northern California there are robins and other birds around.  I craned my neck and looked up and saw them flitting about. A bird would light on a branch and just sit there for a few moments. I had only to be quiet and calm.

Holy shit, I shot one and it fell down at the base of the tree. It was dead. What did I feel when I shot that first one? Probably a secret, guilty pride. I was a good shot! I think I scuffed the ground with my shoe and piled some leaves over the bird’s little soft body. I didn’t tell my mom, that’s for sure.

As the days went by one bird became another and another. Dang, I was good. I could see how to aim slightly above the birds so that my BB would hit home. I stalked that little orchard for the next few weeks, taking one, two, even three birds at a time: robins and whatever else. A flutter of feathers lifeless on the ground; kick the body into the tall grass. I felt a little bad about killing them, but the thrill of the hunt covered that up. That's what hunting is all about: taking the shot; afterwards is just a corpse to dispose of.

It became too easy. The little birdies didn’t wise up; I could plug them with little effort. I felt bad about it. I took to shooting them across the gully, a more challenging shot. I felt worse with each new kill now; I knew it was all but finished for me and my daisy, and it was only January!

Dang, I had really wanted that gun.

One day after school I took to my solitary orchard, Daisy in hand. I might have shot one. I didn’t like it seeing the bird dead. Kick in down into gully. There was a movement in the top branches of Big Tree. I raised my weapon slowly. There hovering was a hummingbird. I think I said don’t do it, but I did. A fine shot of a moving target. I hit it in the head and it fell through the branches right at my feet. I had smashed its little pointy beak. It was still alive. But it wouldn’t make it; its beak was shattered by my BB. Its colors were beautiful, iridescent green and red, I think. Its wings buzzed as it struggled. I pumped again, put the muzzle right to its head, and squeezed. I kicked it twenty feet into some bushes.

I can’t remember who I gave the gun to. Lucky guy. My score was Alex 54, birds 0. I took up guitar that year and also became a half-decent baseball player. A year later I had a girlfriend. I now knew what guns were for. They were not some romantic icon that make's a man; I knew guns were only made to kill. I now knew what it was to hunt, to kill a living being. I never picked up a gun again.

I really wanted that gun.

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