BY STEPHANIE LANE SUTTON
When I remember you, a bullet synapses in my brain. This is how memory works: a firing from one cortex to the next.
Two years after I left you, you were a tinny voice within a box within a box, a message that almost didn’t leave itself, the hour so odd I knew there was strategy.
You were a nothing. When you said your name, I searched my mind’s ammunition for your face.
Firing squad. Synapses.
Forgetting, an execution.
I want to tell the story of your guns. I search for the law in Iowa. Private residents may not possess automatic firearms. In Des Moines, you put an assault rifle in my arms and told me to shoot.
I squeezed until the gun went papa. My clavicle clacked. My arm bones rattled. Radius. Humerus.
A bullet makes a wound like a rose bloom.
As if I were watering a garden, I held on and I sprayed.
Symmetry to a heartbeat.
You were in love with the girl I was then. When I finished, you pinched the paper target in your fingers: a flat shadow of a figure, lines and numbers measuring an inner aura.
My bullets punched away the X over the figure’s head and heart. What does it mean, I asked. You tallied the score and said, Crack shot.
I looked back at the paper, the person with their middle chewed out, the negative space spread across its entirety.
First-person shooter games make me nauseous. The cure, I’ve heard, is to look at the horizon.
Once, I went off in the woods with my father’s BB gun. Rifled through the dead leaves, found some fifty-year-old cans, stood them up, and knocked them over again.
Fear is the feed of gun manufacturing. A gendered fear is the most profitable: a question of when she will be a target of violence.
Who will it be?
The gun is the answer.
They make pink guns. Deep red. Royal purple. One is festooned with Mother of Pearl.
They make holsters affixed with camo print; kiss marks are tucked with the patterns of bark and leaves.
A canister of lipstick is called a bullet.
I met you in August. Three weeks later, we drove to Iowa to meet your parents, and to practice at the gun range.
It was the weekend of the State Fair. I saw three gigantic pigs named Hogzilla I, II, and III.
Your mother unironically showed me your entire baby photo album. Together, you pored over effigies of your former self.
As a child, you had a translucent wisp of blond that seemed to float. An uncorrected blue gaze, eyes shiny as opals.
You were a handsome teenager, ten years before I met you.
From the kitchen, I looked into the sunken living room.
You rubbed your rifles over and over, a white cloth flagging itself against the barrel.
Your mother beamed. Such a clean boy.
Do you see me?
An arsenal is three or more guns. You had eleven.
They were kept in the basement on their own wire scaffolding shelf.
I let you fuck me on that stone-colored carpeting with the disembodied parts of the rifle spread next to us.
Somewhere, this year, a cop tells a room full of trainees You will never have sex as good as just after you’ve killed a man.
This job comes with few perks.
Take what you can get.
Somewhere, this year, a woman enters a store and asks to buy a gun for self-defense. We can’t sell you a gun, the man behind the counter says, but we can sell you a rifle.
The AR-15 assault rifle and its variants have been used in every American mass shooting since Columbine. You put this gun in my arms and told me to shoot.
It was easy to love. From my hands sprung a rapid swarm of bullets humming like bees. The injection port pumping.
Inside me, a pumping to match.
In Chicago, you kept a Colt .22 in a square platinum case under your bed. I was sitting above it when you said I love you. Then, I know you love me too.
I replied with nothing.
This was the same nothing I give to men who shout down my ass from across the street.
It took us sixteen hours total to drive to and from Des Moines. You picked the music the entire time. When you were in the driver’s seat of my Honda, riding up against the back bumper of the car in front of us, blaring on the horn, I remember thinking I was about to die. In the lane next to us, the driver of a semi stared down at me, scowling, inching his hubcaps toward my door.
Nothing but empty plains, cottonwoods bursting with leaves, and night around us.
On our first date, we sat on the roof of the autoshop next door to your flat. We sipped grenades of Mickey’s. While solving the pictograms in the bottlecaps, we were interrupted by the faint bursts of explosions echoing from a nearby alley.
That one’s a firecracker, you said.
That one’s a gunshot.
The night my best friend, Erick, raped me, I had told him I planned to break up with you. I told him about the Iowa trip, how you expected me to say love, how I forced myself to smile so often it felt like I was cracking my teeth against a heavy stone.
He kissed my cheek and told me he loved me only hours before violating my body in the dark.
I should have told him about the gun range. My crack shot.
I often have dreams of killing Erick in public. I strip him naked. Call him rapist. Shame him for his fat, round back.
People watch. Sometimes they try to stop me and fail.
I take his skull in my hands and smash it against whatever surface is closest: the edge of a table, a concrete curb.
My fingers pull tighter around his curls, squishing between the widening pangea of his fragmented skull.
The morning after the rape, I called you. You took me to the hospital but stayed in the waiting room. You said you had a fear of hospitals.
You said, If I had been there, I might have fought him.
Might meaning maybe.
What came next was a series of no’s you pushed back against.
Once, you fucked my placid body until I sobbed.
Once, I asked you to stop touching me and you refused.
Once, I told you I planned to kill myself and you started crying.
I stayed with you, somehow.
I needed another bed.
While you slept next to me, the wretchedness I felt made me think of the semi-automatic underneath us, pillowed by soft dark sponges in its platinum case.
This was the first gun you introduced to me at the range. The most important for me to know. For protection.
It was the loudest gun.
It hurt my hands.
Each shot spat hot soot onto my fingers.
Some of the bullets made the wood around the target frizz.
Most landed in the paper figure’s middle. Shred the carbon to oblivion.
I pictured the gun in my hands.
My legs over the side of the bed.
Barrel pressing into my forehead.
You sleeping beside me.
In my mind, I played the sound of its firing.
A sonic boom.
Neighbors for blocks, listening
Stephanie Lane Sutton was born in Detroit. Her poetry and prose has recently appeared in Black Warrior Review, Crab Fat Magazine, SWWIM, and the Puritan. She is a co-founding editor of |tap| lit mag and a Michener Fellow at the University of Miami, where she currently serves as Managing Editor of Sinking City. Previously, she lived in Chicago, where she was a teaching artist with After School Matters and a co-facilitator of Surviving the Mic.
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