David bent down to grab another ice cold beer out of his cooler. Popping the top and watching the frosted fog like mist flow from the bottle, he was happy to finally have a day off from the fire department. His son Chris played in the driveway as David enjoyed the peace and quiet of the afternoon.
Hearing his front door open, David glanced over to see his wife Loretta step out of their trailer home. In a raspy voice from years of smoking, she called out, “Chris, you be good for your daddy while I’m gone to the store.”
“Honey, you need anything else other than hotdogs and beer at the store?”
“Yea, see if they have any sparklers. So me and the boy can have some fun on the fourth of July.”
“You boys always wanna play with fire. Boys,” she said shaking her head with a slight smile. “Be back in a little while.” Loretta blew a kiss goodbye to the both of them.
“I got it momma,” Chris said as his little hand grabbed the kiss from the air, then pulled it down to his mouth. Loretta grinned as she started the car.
David watched her pull away slowly down the drive. He then sat down on the back of his pickup. As the tailgate slowly dropped down with David’s weight a shiny slender object caught his eye as it rolled out onto the ground, which was no surprise to David. His truck was always stacked with odds and ends from different projects he had going on during his days off.
Looking closely at the shiny silver on the asphalt beneath his feet, David realized it was a bullet from his thirty-eight revolver.
“Chris, come here a minute.”
The little boy ran over with his soft blond hair blowing in the wind. “Yes, Daddy.”
David rolled the bullet between his fingers. “You want to see something neat?”
“Yes, Daddy. What is it?” Chris glanced up at his father with his bright blue eyes.
David reached in his tool box and grabbed a Minnie sledgehammer, twenty pounds of driving steel dressed with a short stubby handle. It was a tool when swung by a skilled workman would deliver a driving force. Looking down at the bullet lying on its side, David said, “Chris, you’re going to love this. This is just what we needed on the Fourth of July.”
“I thought Mamma was getting sparklers?”
“She is, little buddy. But this is going to be a special sparkler. One that makes noise. You’ll love it, I promise.”
Chris smiled with glee as he stepped in a little closer to see what his father was going to do. David took another swig of his beer and then set the bottle down. He had to be steady and precise to hit the bullet just right. David swung hard, his sledge slightly missing its mark driving a half round indention in the pavement.
“Daddy, you missed.” His little boy giggled, putting his hands over his mouth to hide his smile.
“Must be this hot Florida sun beatin’ down on me. I’ll get it next time,” David said as he reached for another swallow of beer. He wiped the sweat from his eyes and took aim again. This time he swung even harder, driving the hammer to the ground, and again he missed.
Little Chris really started to giggle. His eyes danced with amusement. His high pitched voice echoed through his cupped hands.
David was puzzled. Man, that bullet looks tiny lying there. It must be the brewskies that are making it so hard to hit.
“Alright, funny boy, this time I’m going to hit it for sure.”
“Okay, Daddy.” Little Chris inched up on his tip-toes and pulled his hands together for a slight clap of encouragement.
David drew back, this time looking steady at the bullet’s slender casing, only thinking of it, imagining the steelhead of the hammer hitting its mark with all of its force. He drove downwards into the shell. Pinching the end into a flatted piece of metal, David had finally hit his mark. Boom--the shell went off with all of its glory, all of its might. A spectacular explosion for his little boy. “Chris what do you think of your paw now?”
David turned to see little Chris lying on the ground. A steady trickle of blood flowed from his temple soaking his soft blond hair red, his blue eyes lifeless as a child’s doll.
“Chris,” David cried out, wishing he could turn back time, wishing he could reverse his actions. David knelt down and felt Chris’s pulse, something he frequently did as a firefighter. Chris’s blood flow was steady but slow. Looking at his only child’s face growing paler by the second he knew what an injury like this meant.
David pulled off his shirt and tied it around Chris’s little head, trying to stop the blood and brain fluid from leaking out. David could feel the displacement of bone in his little boy’s skull. It felt out of round and a little soft to the touch. Pressing the shirt to his son’s ear and turning him slightly to the side David could see the round bull’s-eye pattern of cerebral spinal fluid.
My God, what have I done.
David had seen this bull’s-eye pattern before in the twisted metal wrecks he had cut people out of on the highways. He knew firsthand this never ended well for the people he had struggled to save in the past. He knew firsthand the lucky ones died en route to the hospital. The unlucky ones live on in some nursing home drooling and moaning in pain. Some were trapped in a coma, waiting for the day to end. Now, he had to call the very people he worked with everyday, the firefighters he saved peoples’ lives with, ran into burning buildings with, gave safety lectures at elementary schools with. After making the call with his shaking hand and quivering voice, David held young Chris in his arms.
God forgive me, for what I’ve done and what I have to do.
David went to the cab of his truck. Reaching inside, he grabbed his paramedic bag and opened it. Moments later, he pushed a syringe needle into the femoral artery of young Chris’s leg.
Filling the boy’s small blue vein with epinephrine, David sobbed, “I’m sorry Chris. I’m not going to let you suffer a lifetime of misery.”
David knew the drug would stop his son’s heart, but he also knew this would be the first drug the paramedics would put in his system thinking it would bring his little heartbeat back. David knew this would stop it beating for good and would be untraceable in the autopsies. After hiding the syringe, he held Chris in his arms while the sirens drew nearer.
Then came the sound that made David cringe. It was Loretta pulling in the drive with her rust stained Buick Regal.
Stepping out of the car she began to scream. “David, what is going on? Chris. Chris. Chrisssss! What’s wrong with my baby?”
“I’m sorry Loretta. It was an accident. I was trying to show Chris something cool for the Fourth Of July. I hit an old bullet with my hammer thinking it would be like a fire cracker. Oh, God, what have I done?”
“You’ve killed our child, that’s what you’ve done. What the hell were you thinking? I should have never went to the store and left him alone with you.”
“I’m sorry baby,” David said in a pleading voice.
“Don’t baby me. You’re nothing but a worthless drunk. Now hand me my child.”
Loretta took Chris’s lifeless body into her arms. By the time the paramedics arrived, and she handed Chris over to them, her shirt was soaked in blood and tears. Her voice was nothing more than a whisper after all the screaming and crying she did begging the paramedics to bring her little boy back.
As the ambulance drove away with his son’s lifeless body, David could see all of the disappointed looks from his fellow firefighters faces. Their expressionless stares needed no explanation.
After everyone had cleared out David made his way to Loretta. He slowly put his arm around his still shaking wife. She quickly shook off his touch.
“Don’t touch me David. DON’T TOUCH ME!”
“It was an accident, Loretta.”
Loretta turned and walked over to her car.
“Where you going Loretta?”
“Away from here, away from you.”
David watched for a long moment Loretta’s car disappear into the distance.
It all seemed like a bad dream, one that would never go away but would replay day after day in David’s mind. As he gazed upon the bloodstained driveway, now empty, he thought about all the reminders of this nightmare he would have to encounter. The half round indentions pressed into the asphalt from his hammer missing its mark; Chris’ toys that were all over the yard, that would have to be boxed up never to be played with by his son again. Then his thought drifted to Chris having to be boxed up and put in the ground.
Oh God what have I done?
David made his way to the cab of his pickup and climbed in, reaching up on the dash he grabbed a cigarette from his pack of smokes. After flaming its end and taking a long drag, he realized his life was through as he knew it. His marriage was through and he would never be able to face his coworkers again without the constant reminder of his tragic mistake. But worst of all, his son was gone by his hands, and that was just too much to bare.
As the afternoon drifted into darkness, David, still sitting in his truck, looked into the night’s sky now filled with fireworks and celebration. David smoked one last cigarette and then popped open his glove box to retrieve his 38 revolver. He stepped out of the cab and slowly made his way to the waterfront that bordered his home.
My God, I’ve got to go where I don’t think I can.
As he gripped his revolver tightly David drew back then slung his gun far into the lake. After a few moments of watching the ripples of water brush the shore softly David turned and started to walk back to his home. He knew somehow he had to pick up the pieces and start again. His nightmare of loss was over but his long rough road of recovery had just begun.
Published at The Fringe Magazine May 6, 2011