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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Head

Category: Issue 5, Short Story Winners

Head

The guy came raging through the door. I shot him in the head. I drew the gun from behind the counter and I shot him in the head.

I’m sitting on the thin crust of a mattress in my cell. I’ve just finished walking: twenty thousand steps, up and down, up and down. The guards watch me through the letterbox half way up the door. They think I’ve lost it; that I’ve gone crazy. They don’t get many like me in here—that’s why they can’t help themselves. I’m a curiosity. Yes, they think I’m crazy, walking up and down all day, but how else am I supposed to fill in the time?

“You shot him in the head,” the sergeant said to me.

I did. I shot him in the head. I’d cradled that gun in my fingers what seemed a million times, but when I finally pulled the trigger it was over in a second. The guy was on the floor and the bullet clean through his skull.  There wasn’t as much blood as I’d been expecting.

I watched him for almost an hour before calling the police. And all the time, I was still holding that gun, as if I thought I might not have finished him off first time round. Of course, I had. It wasn’t like the movies; there were no second chances.

At six they pass my food through the letterbox. A face stares through the gap before they slide the flap shut. I examine my meal: spaghetti, meat sauce, a bread roll, an apple. I take my time, wrapping each string of pasta around my plastic fork carefully, starting again if I get it wrong. The bread is stale, but I guard it preciously. I break it over my plate so I don’t lose any crumbs.

My lawyer thinks I should play for sympathy. He wants me to perform for the crowds: cry, plead, act out the helpless victim. He says I’ve been all over the papers.

“You can’t have been aiming right,” he says, over and over.  He tells me about the years of training it would take to be able to shoot a moving target in the head.  He tells me it must have been an accident, and how scared I must have been, how much my arms must have been shaking when the guy came raging through the placeā€¦

I finish my meal and knock on the door. The flap opens and I push the tray back through; the flap closes, the catch clicks into place. For a while I lie on the bed, but the lights won’t go off for another hour.  I move over to the chair in the other corner of the room. I examine the marks on the wall opposite, the small depressions and protrusions, letting them form a pattern in my mind. It becomes like an illusion: they start swimming in front of me, and I realize I’m getting dizzy, and nauseous from the starchiness of the pasta. I close my eyes. For a time, I can see a fierce orange light against the blackness, as if it’s stamped onto the inside of my eyelids. It dances, but slowly it fades; eventually there’s only darkness left.

It was the late shift at the shop when it happened. I’d been working there for two years and so I knew the risks. Mostly they were just after the spirits, but cash robberies weren’t uncommon. Last autumn, one of them beat me half to death with a baseball bat before raiding the place. The night they tried it again though, I was standing behind the counter, running my fingers over the smooth metal cylinder of the gun. It was nearly closing time. My lawyer says the real crime is the owner making women work the nightshifts alone. I shrug my shoulders when he tells me this. I needed the money and where else was I going to get it?

Now I picture the sergeant. He smiles a lot when he interviews me. I can see his crooked teeth, his gold fillings. He spits when he speaks.  When he gets close, leaning across the interview desk, I can feel his breath, hot and stale. “You shot him in the head,” he explains. “The head.”

Head. What he means is, you meant to kill him. You weren’t just defending yourself. You probably weren’t even afraid. You raised the gun and you aimed for his head and you shot…him…dead.

The sergeant’s right. I hadn’t planned it, but when the guy came raging through the door, it was as if I’d been waiting for him. And a strange calmness came over me, and I was almost watching myself from somewhere else as I brought my arm up above the counter. I bought the gun the week they released me from hospital. I just wasn’t expecting the chance to use it so soon.

I allow my body to slide down the seat. Its surface is worn and smooth. Now I’m lying with my back on the cold stone floor, running my hand over the narrow hollow on the left side of my skull. A softness where bone should be, where the bone was shattered when the last guy came raging through the place. And I think to myself, I would do it again.

Yes, I think of my lawyer, pushing me to beg for mercy, to say it was all an accident, as if that could change that it happened, as if it could make me sorry that it did.  I think of the way the sergeant looks at me, sure that before long I’ll crack, that I’ll be on my knees, pleading and promising anything.  And I think about the people reading about me in their papers and tuning in to the TV news, eager to get their money’s worth. They’re all going to be disappointed. They’re going to be disappointed even though, actually, it is like in the movies. It’s just this movie was over by the time they arrived. The screen’s gone blank already, so sooner or later they’ll be ditching their popcorn, heading home, forgetting all about it. Because I shot him in the head and now that man is dead.

It’s ten o’clock. Lights out.

[End]

Posted by Andrew on 01/02 at 02:24 PM | Permalink
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