BY MEGHAN TEAR PLUMMER
There is nothing I could write to deserve this space, but the tree is already dead, and I am not myself today. This is not my story to tell.
Anton Chekhov says a gun introduced in the first act must go off by the third. Here is the gun: it is Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum, and it belongs to a woman I love. I’ll tell you now she held the gun, but he pulled the fucking trigger. That will be in the police report, verbatim.
This happened in Oklahoma, a long time ago. The man, the woman’s father, was drunk often enough that that he became the noun of that adjective. His poison was whiskey. When he opened a new bottle, he threw away its cap, which he called this osaging it. He drank it all at once. When the woman I love was grown with children of her own, she would tell them their grandfather died when she was nine, but the truth is that he became an alcoholic when she was nine, and he died when she was twenty-two. He had one sober period, in between. It was then that he gave her the gun. It was her eighteenth-birthday present, and she keeps the gun in the glove compartment of her Porsche T-top, whose engine she and her brother rebuilt. Her brother is also an alcoholic. At a certain age, she suspected she was an alcoholic, too, so she’d stopped drinking because she didn’t want to know for sure.
Pregnant with her first baby, she answers questions about her family on a form at the doctor’s office, checking “alcoholism” under “father’s medical history.” The form asks whether he is alive, and if not, his cause of death. She writes “alcoholism,” though it was technically a gunshot to the heart. He pulled the fucking trigger, but what she’s still angry about was all the blood.
The drilling company she now works for offers health insurance, which she’s never had. Some weeks after the doctor, some weeks after her father’s death, she goes to the dentist for the first time in her life and leaves with three gold-capped molars. She did not receive an anesthetic for the process. She was afraid of its effect on the baby, though the dentist assured her there wouldn’t be one. She realized the dentist was the first person she’d told about her pregnancy. The first person to know was technically the doctor.
“Sorry to hear about your dad,” the dentist says, waiting, it seems, until her mouth is full of metal and cotton and blood before he does.
“He pulled the fucking trigger,” she tells him, but her words are incomprehensible. The dentist wipes drool from her chin with the corner of her little paper apron and nods sympathetically.
She’d invited her dad to meet her at the quarry to shoot some clay pigeons and bottles she’d collected while walking around the res. She knew he’d bring his whiskey empties, too. She was so excited about her new job in the oil fields that she didn’t think there was any way for him to ruin it for her.
He was drunk when he arrived, of course, though at least he hadn’t driven himself. His buddy Danny Joe waved to her as he pulled his truck away. She watched him head back to town and understood that Danny was a better friend to her father than she’d previously accounted for.
She aimed for a brown bottle with the label peeled off, taking extra time to perfect her stance, which her dad had taught her. He stumbled over and pulled her arm down just as she was about to shoot, she never did figure out why, and they fought over the gun like children do candy, until he pulled the fucking trigger. She swears the protectiveness resultant from her pregnancy is what gave her the strength to keep the gun pointed away from her. It is easier to believe that than to think about how her father was too weak to overpower her.
The gun goes off. She is holding it, but he pulls the fucking trigger. He’s dead before she can even think of going for help. She breathes deeply for the baby.
She’d be mad I told you anything. To hide her story in bookends of my own making and to remain anonymous is the only protection I can afford her. I’ve never shot a gun. My words are not worth a tree. But I could be anyone. I could be anyone who stole her story to tell. I could be he, I could be pulled, I could be the, I could be fucking, I could be the trigger.