The Glock has one bullet in the chamber and fifteen in the magazine. Roy’s got it cocked and ready. He bets me twenty bucks he can fire all sixteen while the target’s coming at him, but that’s not all. He says: “I’ll alternate – head shot, body shot, head shot, body shot, squeeze out all sixteen, and make fourteen, before the target’s five yards out.”
“You’re an idiot,” I tell him. “You can’t shoot that fast. Nobody can shoot that fast.” I tear the cellophane wrapper off a box of .38’s.
“Fuck you, you want to bet or not?” he asks.
“Sure,” I say. I drop the wrapper into an empty ammo box and I load my .357 for when it’s my turn to shoot. “If you’re gonna be a jerkoff about it, I’ll take your money from you.”
He puts the Glock down on the tray with three of our other pistols, a couple rentals, and about a dozen boxes of ammo. He wipes his hands on the front of his gray hooded sweatshirt. He adjusts his goggles, his earplugs, and his oily old Phillies cap. Then he picks up the gun and aims at the target at the end of the range, twenty-five yards away.
The target’s a life-sized photograph of a mustached terrorist armed with an Uzi. Not that we’re allowed to shoot at moving targets, by the way, but the rangemaster is outside catching a smoke. It’s a slow day here; there are only two or three other guys shooting. And they’re like six lanes away, so we’ve pretty much got the place to ourselves. It’s Tuesday afternoon. That’s one of the decent things about working 3:30-to-midnight at the bubble gum factory: I’m home every day when Jeff and Shelley come home from school; I can stay up late, get wasted, and watch ESPN after Peggy and the kids go to bed without worrying about being late to work the next day; and I can shoot when hardly anybody else is here.
Roy says, “Let her rip.”
I press the green button. The guy with the Uzi comes whizzing at us and Roy fires away. First, he completely forgets to alternate his shots to the head and body. And that was his idea! Second, he misses so many, it’s a joke. I swear three ricochet off the ceiling. Never mind firing at a moving target which it says all over the place you’re not allowed to do. If the rangemaster had seen Roy shoot up the ceiling, we’d be totally fucked. And third, if a guy with an Uzi was coming at Roy in real life, Roy would be dead.
But that’s not why we shoot. That’s not why we come here every week. And when Roy looks at that target, he doesn’t see a terrorist anyway. The twenty bucks won’t even cover the cost of the ammo and targets. But that doesn’t matter. We come here because of something Roy said after the first time we came to this range three months ago: “That felt pretty good, man,” he said. “I guess it beats blowing that motherfucker’s brains out – or my own brains out for that matter.”
And considering what he’d been through, I took him seriously. So I was like, “We should do this again.”
And he goes, “Fuck yeah.”
We used to shoot with my dad at a range near where we grew up. But we stopped on my eighteenth birthday. That was seventeen years ago. That was the last time we shot together until we started coming here – which does not in any way excuse Roy from his shitty aim today.
“You suck,” I tell him.
“You moved it too fast,” he says. Roy fishes a twenty from his wallet.
“It’s a button, retard,” I say, taking the twenty and jamming it in my pocket. “There’s just one speed – there is no faster or slower.”
“No,” he says. “The problem is it picks up speed on its way down.”
“Nah,” I laugh, “the problem is you suck.”
The whole time Roy and I didn’t go shooting, we basically didn’t talk to each other. We didn’t go to each other’s weddings. I didn’t take Roy out and get him drunk when he got his divorce. You know, shit like that. It was crazy, because we’d been best friends since first grade and we lived three blocks from each other, in the same neighborhood where we grew up. I’d run into him at Cricket’s Hoagies or Eagle Hardware or whatever, and it was always like, “Hey, how’s it going? Alright, how’s it going? Take it easy. You too.” It was fucked up, but not saying anything would have been more fucked up. It’s not like we were strangers. You know?
We started talking again four months ago at his son’s funeral. At first I wasn’t even going to go, but Peggy said I should. She said if I didn’t I’d probably regret not going. But if I went, I probably wouldn’t regret going. She was right, as usual.
I felt so bad for Roy. I didn’t know what to say to him at the wake. When I walked in it was intense. Roy was in the kitchen opening a beer. At first we were like, “Hey, how’s it going…” But that was insane because we both knew how it was going. And it was different because it wasn’t just running into each other at Cricket’s. You know? It wasn’t the same old bullshit. “I’m really sorry,” I said. I put out my hand.
Roy grabbed me and hugged me. He started crying. “I’m sorry too, man,” he said. “I’m so sorry.” Then I was crying too. His shoulders shook. For a split second it seemed like he could have been laughing, but I knew he wasn’t. He was crying like he never cried before. Times like that, what can you say? I just held onto him for a while, and we cried together. Then, it being a wake and all, we got ripped as hell.
After that we were best friends again. Up until then I figured I might go the rest of my life without ever getting together with Roy again. The thing of it is: you never know what the fuck is going to happen; and you can take that to the bank.
* * *
On the night of my eighteenth birthday I got in a fight with my girlfriend, Denise Brady. That night my mom and dad took Denise and me out to dinner down in South Philly. So after my parents went to bed, we go down to the basement where I had my bedroom. We were watching MTV. I tried to get Denise either to smoke some weed or give me a blowjob. I don’t remember; maybe both. I was like, “Come on, it’s my birthday!”
And she said, “We have to talk about something serious.” That’s when she told me she was leaving me, going to college in some dumb-ass place in the Midwest.
I was like, “What the fuck!”
And she was like, “I told you. I’m going.”
She told me there was nothing to discuss; her mind was made up. That’s what really got me. She’d made up her mind without even telling me what she was thinking! And she wouldn’t listen to what I had to say. I snapped. I pushed her, and she pushed me back. It got worse and worse, you know? Finally, I got so pissed I hit her; I smacked her in her face.
After that, Denise bolted. She ran upstairs and out. She ran three blocks, all the way to Roy’s house – not for Roy, but for Roy’s sister Liz who was Denise’s best friend.
Roy answered the door. He took one look at Denise’s bruised face and he knew I did it. I mean, he knew Denise had been over my house, and it’s not like girls got mugged in our neighborhood. And the thing of it for Roy was his dad didn’t live with the family anymore on account of beating the crap out of Roy’s mom. That situation had gotten way out of hand before the old man finally left. Once he put Roy’s mom in the hospital. And more than once social services showed up at their house.
So that night, on my eighteenth birthday, when Roy saw Denise all banged up, it’s like Peggy says: that must have pushed his button, because he flipped the fuck out.
After I hit Denise and she ran away, I stole a bottle of vodka from my parents. I went down to the basement and drank about a quarter of it. Denise and I had been going together since tenth grade. Here it was the end of twelfth; we were supposed to go to community college together, and bam! She dumps this on me. I was supposed to take business classes at community. We were supposed to move to this place on Lake Michigan – she had family there. I was going to save up and buy a fishing boat, be a charter captain, take people out fishing for lake trout and salmon and shit. We had it planned.
I sat in bed drinking the vodka, thinking about Denise, and feeling like crap. I cried like a baby for about an hour, and I guess I fell asleep.
When I woke up it was dark. I was on my back; my forehead felt cold, like someone was holding an ice cube against it. Then my eyes adjusted and I saw somebody standing over my bed, pointing at me. Jesus fucking Christ! A gun! A burglar! No. It was Roy, holding a .38 revolver to my forehead. I tried to say something, but nothing came out. I thought I was going to throw up. I looked up at him. I moved my lips; I could hear my teeth chatter. But I was so freaked out I swear I couldn’t even talk!
Roy goes, “Close your eyes.”
He shouted, “Close your fucking eyes!”
I thought, this is it – Roy’s fucking crazy and this is how I am going to die. I scrunched my eyes closed. There was nothing; just dead silence.
“Please don’t kill me,” I managed to say. I couldn’t breathe.
“Three…” said Roy.
“ Roy, please, man, I don’t want to die…Please, don’t…!”
“Shut up!” he said. And then he said, “Two…” and then he said, “One…”
Then there’s nothing, except for me shivering and slobbering like an idiot. And finally, Roy goes, “If you ever lay a hand on her again, you’d better never fucking fall asleep.”
I didn’t hear him leave. But when I opened my eyes he was gone. I ran up the basement steps and opened the kitchen window in the back of the house. Roy was two houses down, almost at the end of the alley. I grabbed an empty beer bottle from the kitchen counter and threw it out the window at him. It missed him and smashed against the Fitzgerald’s garage door. “Motherfucker!” I yelled into the darkness. By then Roy was gone. I know I shouldn’t have hit Denise. After that night, I never hit anyone again – never even spanked my kids. So it’s not like some good didn’t come out of it. And like Peggy says, it wasn’t really me he was pointing his gun at. But at the time – and for a long time after – it was like, what the fuck was that about?
* * *
I never saw Denise again. Before the next Christmas break her dad died and her family moved to the Midwest, where her mom was from. Community college sucked. I dropped out after the first semester and got a job at the bubble gum factory. It’s pretty decent, good benefits and that’s where I met Peggy. She worked there summers and Christmas breaks while she got her teaching degree.
Roy and I pretty much avoided each other until I heard about his son. That poor kid got run over by some dumb-ass drunk driver out on Route 1 where he lived with his mom and her new husband. For the first couple weeks after the accident, Roy was on some heavy-duty drugs to help him keep his shit together. Even then, just about all he could talk about was killing the guy who killed his son. And when he wasn’t talking about that he’d talk about “just fucking ending everything, everything…” Roy’s mom told me her brother was going to take Roy’s guns out of the house. That definitely sounded like a good idea. I told her I’d keep an eye on Roy.
A couple weeks later, when we started talking about the old days, about the old shooting range, and Roy said he wanted to try out the new range, I figured it would be good for him to blow off some steam, you know?
* * *
I load the .357 magnum with .38 bullets, because the .357 ammo has way too much kick for a little guy like me. Hell, Roy’s already done enough damage to the ceiling of this place for one day. And besides, the rangemaster’s back in his booth, so we can’t do any more stupid shit. I tape up a new target – a standard bull’s eye – and move it out 15 yards. I raise the pistol, set my sites on the bull’s eye, take a deep breath, let it out slow, squeeze the trigger, and blast a nice big hole, right through the middle of the target.
“Good shot,” says Roy.
I answer with five more rounds – BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! – emptying the revolver.
Now the range is silent. It’s that buzz in your head after there’s noise – guns, jack hammers, packing machines or whatever. You hear it even after it stops. You feel it against your eyelids and your temples.
The guys in the other lane pack up their stuff. The rangemaster flips through the Daily News. Roy wipes his Glock with an oily rag, and I reload my .357.Louis Greenstein’s one-act plays, Smoke, Interview with a Scapegoat and The Convert, have been produced many times in the U.S. and abroad. Louis is the co-author of With Albert Einstein, a one-man show about the life of the great scientist, which has enjoyed critical and popular success at the Walnut Street Theater, Princeton University, and schools and science museums. Louis is the recipient of a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts playwriting fellowship. His fiction and haiku have appeared in Muse Apprentice Guild and Dream Forge. Currently, he is working on a new novel. Louis lives in Lower Merion with his wife Catherine and their children, Raven, Hannah, and Sam.