Another piece that isn’t worth $2500, $1000, or even a set of steak knives.
He could’ve been lighting a cigarette and at first, that’s what I thought he was doing. I had begun going deaf in my ear that winter, so the pop of the bullet leaving the gun, the already muted sound of it hitting my flesh, the squish of its burial, my own gasp or the scream right after, could all have been louder. There are things to be grateful for.
My mother told the reporters that my stepfather wasn’t normally a violent man. A statement that wasn’t true and that they did not believe. “Normally?” they said. “How often was he abnormally violent?” they’d ask right before going to a commercial break.
She never changed the channel, even as they berated her with their clever, legally-advised and subtle accusations. She’d sit resilient through the commercials – her thirty to sixty seconds of reprieve.
In the mornings, she made me breakfast – sausage and eggs, chocolate chip pancakes, biscuits and gravy. I knew these were not her apologies so much as her way of showing me she did not blame me for being involved in my stepdad’s imprisonment. “Grandma’s recipe,” she’d say after I complimented the biscuits, her world suddenly revolving around family and its preservation. Eventually I started getting up before the sun rose, leaving the house before she woke. I tiptoed more out of habit than necessity; she rarely budged before noon from where she was splayed out, her bottom lip loose, mouth open, her frame gaunt except for the pop of a stomach underneath my stepdad’s t-shirts that she’d taken to wearing.
She met my stepdad at a bar years before she left my dad and – she says – years before anything happened between them. He’d spilled a full pint of beer on her and made her buy him another one. She obliged – she tells me, repeating the story when she’s drunk like some old family legend – because of his eyes. “Like dark pools and I, in need of a swim.” She shakes her head when she says this, nudges me with an elbow as though we’ve ceased to be mother and daughter. As though we’re exempt from any parent/child code of conduct. She knew then, she tells me, gripping the pen as she signed the credit card slip for her bill, that it was the beginning of something.
“His nickname was Bukowski,” she says, slurring and spitting, proud of that man as though she’d given birth to him herself. Each time she tells me this story, my shoulder burns.
She forgets her keys in the ignition, forgets my birthday, but she always remembers to talk into my good ear when she recounts that night they met.
“He was an asshole, you know,” I said once.
She slapped me then and, more than the sting, I remember the dullness of not being surprised.
“And he was a damn good writer,” she said.
“Not a bad shot either,” I said when I was out of her reach.