The boys go out for groceries but come home with matching rifles.
“Antiques,” Sonny tells me once Ivan has disappeared behind his own apartment door, the one next to ours. He shares the space with my friend Allison, who I’ve known since second grade. Sonny and I set them up, though God knows I wish we hadn’t. Allison is going to be a brilliant environmental lawyer. Ivan works mall security, sprays string cheese onto pickles and calls it dinner.
Sonny lays the long black case on our sofa and unfastens the latches. As the case falls open, I avert my eyes like the gun might go off if I look at it too closely, but it just lies there, snug and harmless as a limp dick. The wooden stock is a dull ochre color, chipped in places. Sonny starts rattling off its history – it’s a century old, something the British military used in India – the kind of nerdy trivia he knows will make me hate it less. I hate that it works. More like a treasure, really, than a weapon, not like his new Remington or the bulky black pistols or even his grandfather’s revolver.
I keep a list (a real one, in a Word file on my laptop) of all the things that Sonny loves more than he loves me. Industrial music, and probably bluegrass. The blue tartan kilt he sewed himself. Every member of his family. At least four of his friends, Ivan among them. The Second Amendment outranks them all.
“I know I said no more guns for a while, but this was too good a deal to pass up. They were going for five hundred apiece, but Robinette said he’d come down to eight-fifty total for the pair.”
It’s not like we don’t have the money, and anyway, Sonny’s the one working full time. But he did just buy the Remington. I say as much. I can’t help myself.
“Jesus fuck, Maggie!”
He slams the case shut so hard that one of the metal latches pops out of place. Instantly his anger dissolves into a high-pitched giggle. The laugh should sound absurd coming out of a face that’s eighty percent beard, out of a man that weighs two-fifty on a lean day, but instead it sounds maniacal, the laugh of a Batman villain.
Last week Ivan put his fist through his and Allison’s bathroom wall. He’d been on the phone with his dad, who’d made a joke at Ivan’s expense.
Sonny’s father, thank God, is dead.
When I was seventeen, I made up my mind to fall in love with Allison. I wanted to find out whether a girl could break my heart the same way a boy could.
I got to work right away. I made her mixtapes with handwritten liner notes. I slept beside her every weekend I could manage. I memorized her scent, her schedule, every word of every compliment she paid me.
“I’ll always love you,” she texted once she’d finally cottoned on. “Just not the way you want me to.”
Alone in my bedroom, I X-Acto-knifed her name into my right forearm. It felt like blood magic. In the morning, mortified, I vowed to wear long sleeves until each letter scabbed and faded and the spell was broken. The A never quite went away; in summer the scar tissue still gleams against my brown skin like an inlaid jewel.
These days our bedrooms share a common wall. Sometimes while Sonny’s fucking me, I can hear Allison and Ivan going at it, too. Ivan moans, and then Sonny moans louder, thrusts harder, then Ivan ups the ante, and I brace for impact. Allison never makes a sound.
I imagine reaching back to push my fingers through the brittle drywall that separates us, taking her hand in mine. I’d trace X’s and O’s into her palm until she fell asleep, if she’d allow it. This is all I want from her anymore.
She comes over one Saturday afternoon, after the boys leave for the gun range. We make sweet tea and trade secrets.
“When Sonny was a teenager, his mother offered to teach him to French kiss.”
“Ivan can’t get hard without stroking himself and twisting my nipple like a radio dial.”
“Sonny and his ex used to belong to a vampire coven.”
“Ivan’s ex just got an abortion. I’m pretty sure it was his.”
“I don’t believe Sonny when he says he told his mother no.”
They return in the early evening, gun cases slung over their shoulders, T-shirts damp with sweat. We serve them dinner. They don’t see how we are emptied out, how much space we’ve made for them to fill up again.
On the first warm day of spring, I ask Sonny if he’ll keep the guns someplace other than our bedroom closet. It’s a question I’ve been working up to for months. Today’s sunshine has made me brave, but the moment the words leave my lips, I can see that I should’ve waited for summer.
When he demands my reasons, although I hadn’t planned on it, hadn’t even thought about it until this moment, I tell him about Caleb McAllister, who killed himself by accident when Allison and I were in high school. Caleb had gone out to shoot squirrels off his back porch one morning before class and, after, set the gun off while cleaning it.
“Bullshit,” Sonny says. “That’s pretty much impossible, unless you’re a fucking moron. Either that, or he did it on purpose.”
I’ve considered that, too.
“I just don’t feel safe.”
Sonny rolls his eyes and fingers the grip of the Glock holstered under his open shirt. “When do you ever?”