Little Sure Shot
I’m not war weary — I’m war electric. Been home about three months. Feet adjusted to grassy squish. But I left pieces of me behind: soaked a pint of blood in desert camo, lost steady hands to a Humvee turret, head with CentCom intelligence, heart in Fallujah. When I can sleep, I dance in my dreams: slide and step boots around hidden IED hotspots. The dream always ends with me stuck in quicksand and red plume balloons all around me. Mornings smell like burned oil. I’m in this circus tent at a Tuscaloosa fairground and can smell the black powder smoke. A showdown. Just a show.
She’s putting on a show with a silver revolver in each hand. White cowboy hat, amethyst on her bolo tie, and silver rhinestones down her white leather coat and chaps to match her guns. The guns are big: .357’s. She fires. Two bullets split the air, crack every ear in the tent and then the apple tied to a collie’s head. The barrels smoke, she blows them out with a tongue pushed puff of breath. I stick two fingers to my bottom teeth and whistle, imagine her mouth tastes like bourbon.
“She’s something, Bud,” Frank says, elbow digging my ribs. We’re in the crowd among folding chairs; we’re on our feet; I don’t remember standing.
The woman twirls her guns around her long fingers, painted purple nails. She holsters her left pistol and holds the other below her lips like a microphone. “I’m Miss Annie Oakley and I shoot at things,” she says with a twang, leans deeper into the barrel and everybody gets real quiet. “I shot a cigar off’a Sitting Bull’s lips — he named me Little Sure Shot on account’a that trick.” Now she’s stage-whispering, “Any y’all brave pistoleros out there wanna duel?”
The collie pony-trots to Annie and sits. The dog sizes up the crowd and me. That long faced green-eyed collie is looking at me. I don’t want it looking at me.
“Do it, Bud,” Frank says, another elbow to my ribs. “You shot all kinds of peoples in I-raq, didn’t ya? Killed ‘em even!”
The collie licks Annie’s hand. The dog’s got a black tongue, and Annie’s hand is slick. She looks at me. It’s that kind of look I get from the TV’s evening news, like the news-lady’s in the room with me. And I turn out the lights and we’re alone in the room, me and the news-lady and my Hungry-Man dinner and my George Dickel. She’s talking to me and my hands are moving.
Annie interrupts and my hand fumbles into cold jelly. Then my hand’s in the air and it’s even colder and Frank’s hand is around my wrist.
“Hoo-rah,” Frank says, “Here’s your volunteer!”
Applause all around, cheers too. Well, I better get up there. The ground is grass. I hit steps and climb them onto the stage. I smell gun smoke.
The whole way here, five feet from her and the collie, Annie had her eyes on me and her hands over her holstered pistols, each purple tipped finger floating, ready to draw. I’m unarmed though, she wouldn’t shoot a non-combatant.
Frank and them might still be whistling, but it just got real quiet in my head. Quiet like it hasn’t been in a long time. Annie is walking toward me looking like she’s ready to draw, and it’s so quiet in my head. Quiet enough to write down everything I’m thinking.
“Partner,” Annie says. She looks so pretty. Pretty girl. I want to bite her bolo tie and taste her guns.
She closes the distance, whispers in my ear. “Are you alright?”
I make a fist. Quickly hold the fist to her chin. “Where’d your twang go, Annie Oakley?” A tooth cracks in my clenched teeth. It’s a molar. I lick the tooth. It’s rough and sharp.
Paws on my belly. I look down, and the collie’s got a wooden-handled steel pistol clamped in his fangs and purple-gums jaw. “This gun for me, puppy?” The dog nods and says the gun’s for me, so I take it — it’s so light and feels just right at the end of my arm. I check the sights as the floorboards blur.
“Ten paces!” Annie says.
We’re back to back, but we’re walking apart, and I miss her. I miss her with everything in my revolving cylinder. The only thought I’m thinking is that if I keep walking around this damn earth in a straight line, I’ll eventually come back to her.
I’ve been told the earth is a sphere, which means it’s round.
The collie whispers, “Come on, Bud — it’s almost over.”
I breathe a broken tooth’s chip and choke.
I must be in Baghdad by now.
Andrew Wehmann’s fiction most recently appears in SmokeLong Quarterly. He is a Fiction Editor of Whiskey Island Magazine and teaches Creative Writing at Cleveland State University.
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