March 5, 2013
It’s been ages since I posted on Florilegia, but it’s not because I haven’t been writing. I’ve been working on some serials and short stories, most recently the one I’m going to share with you here.
The story had its origin in discussions I had with my mother following the Newtown shooting, more specifically discussions we had following the NRA’s call to put armed guards in every school. After picking up our Canadian jaws off the floor, we talked over all the implications such a policy would have, and how absurd it was to think that one could tell the good guys from the bad guys before you handed over the guns and put those guys to work “guarding” school children.
I’m distributing this story free of charge under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License, so please feel free to share likewise. I do ask I ask you to please consider donating to an organization, such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns or Americans for Responsible Solutions, who are advocating and lobbying for sensible gun legislation.
December 15, 2012
Sarah padded to the end of the darkened hallway and pushed the door open wider, peered inside her son’s bedroom. It was too dark to make out more than planets suspended in orbit from the mobile she’d bought him when they’d visited the planetarium last August, and the black shape in the corner where the bed was. She tried to listen for his breath, but couldn’t hear anything over the rhythm of her own pulse rushing in her ears. She sighed quietly and flicked the light on. He was there. Her Luke. Sleeping. Breathing. This is silly. Ridiculous, she thought. I’m the mother. He’s five. He should be the one coming to my room in the middle of the night after waking up from a nightmare, not the other way around. Even so, she walked over and stroked his hair, kissed his temple, kissed him again on the cheek. Luke slept on, oblivious. Sarah went back to her room, pausing at Luke’s door to take a last look at the sleeping boy before she shut his light off.
She climbed back into her own bed and huddled under the covers. It was times like these that she wished Luke’s father, Carlos, were still around, even though the wish was vague and fleeting. It was no good wishing for something that brought more shit than sunshine, and Carlos, however decent he was as a parent, was crap as a partner. They’d gotten together young — she’d only been nineteen, he, twenty-two. After the initial year or so of lust-filled romance, they’d come to realize that they had a real compatibility problem. This they tried to work through for the sake of Luke and actually stuck it out for a couple of years. In the end though, they were compelled to part ways, and Sarah was relieved to find she was more stable and reliable on her own.
She sighed and tried to get comfortable. Go back to sleep now, Sarah, she told herself. Luke is fine. He’s safe. Probably dreaming of Santa or the camera he wants for Christmas. But when she closed her eyes, she couldn’t relax in that knowledge. Instead, images bombarded her mind, fragmented impressions of grief-stricken relatives and the faces of the little girls and boys gazing happily out of photos capturing carefree moments in time. And then came the remembered fragments of her nightmare. Dropping Luke off at school. Watching with a sense of dread as he goes in. Panic as a man with an assault rifle comes from nowhere and follows him inside. The sounds of gunfire and screaming and breaking glass and looking for Luke through clouds of dust in piles of rubble, as though the school had been the target of a bombing as well as a shooting. Finding him lifeless and bloody, riddled with bullets.
She felt compelled to check on Luke again, though knowing it wouldn’t accomplish anything useful, she talked herself out of it. She decided she needed to do something to get her mind off the shooting in Newtown, or she’d never get to sleep and would then be more than useless at work tomorrow. She sat up and reached for the TV remote on her night stand, flicking through channels until she found one showing Frasier reruns all night. Perfect. When the television turned off as programmed after ninety minutes, Sarah had finally slipped into a restless slumber.
For the next four or five nights, Sarah had Luke sleep with her and whenever she’d wake up in the night, she’d watch sitcoms until she’d drop off again. During the day, she tried to focus on her job as a hotel front desk clerk — that and staying alert. She’d asked a neighbor to look after Luke on the Monday, fearful that some mentally disturbed copycat would choose his school to shoot up. On Tuesday, she reluctantly sent him back, not wanting to deprive him of the week’s Christmas classroom activities in exchange for assuaging her own anxiety. In the evenings, once Luke had gone to bed, she couldn’t keep herself from watching the news coverage: the traumatized people of Newtown, the memorials built of teddy bears and flowers and angels and Christmas trees, the interfaith vigil, and, of course, the pictures, stories of the victims as funeral after funeral were held.
By the time the bells of Newtown were pealing to commemorate the one week mark since the shooting, the initial horror that had gripped her, the panic that had overwhelmed her, was beginning to subside into something manageable. But now she wanted someone to do something. Sure, the media was talking about bans and passing laws about background checks, but how would that be possible since Congress refused to do anything unless their corporate backers supported them? Even if they did get passed, how would such laws even be of any use? Evil — evil men would find a way, just like this Lanza guy had. He just killed his mother and took her guns. No background check needed there, right?
On Friday evening, after Carlos had picked up Luke for the weekend, Sarah curled up on the couch and flicked on the television. The NRA had made a statement. All week, commentators had speculated: would the NRA finally talk about supporting so-called common sense safety regulations? Now they had their answer and utter astonishment was the result. The brazen refusal of Wayne LaPierre, the NRA spokesman, to endorse the accepted narrative that the Newtown massacre was a wake-up call for the American people to enact some solid gun control legislation was being discussed with incredulity as they replayed his speech over and over.
… they tell every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk … when it comes to the most beloved, innocent, and vulnerable members of the American family — our children — we as a society leave them utterly defenseless, and the monsters and predators of this world know it and exploit it. … It is now time for us to assume responsibility for their safety at school. … The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. … millions of qualified active and retired police; active, reserve and retired military; security professionals; certified firefighters and rescue personnel; and an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained qualified citizens to join with local school officials and police in devising a protection plan for every school. We can deploy them to protect our kids now. I call on Congress today to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school — and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school in January. …
Sarah was surprised at herself. She didn’t like guns, had never wanted to have a gun in the home and became even more opposed to them when she’d gotten pregnant. She’d never hunted in her life and thought it was dumb to want to kill animals for fun. She considered herself to be the last person you’d think would give the time of day to what some NRA gun nut said. His screed against video games was so absurd it was like a parody of itself. And she was aware that he had a profit motive for his position. Yet here she was, siding with the NRA gun nut instead of with all those calling for tougher gun laws. Yes, sure, she’d be okay with the gun show loophole being closed (in fact, with the whole gun show concept being closed), but she didn’t see how it would hurt to also have armed guards protecting her child. It would be no trouble. After all, as the LaPierre guy had pointed out, there were armed guards at banks protecting the money of the one percent. They had armed guards at airports and even armed marshals on planes — why not have police or retired police at every school? Or even allow teachers to be armed? Making sure evil couldn’t triumph. Good guys with guns were exactly what she needed.