Chuck Wendig has thrown down another flash fiction gauntlet, something about guns, and I will take it up, semi successfully, with this story, "Ballad of a Well Known Gun".
Everyone was so polite, that was the thing. If someone would just break character, stand up from their desk and just yell at me, "Listen, you broke-ass motherfucker. You're too poor to get this miracle drug that might save your wife's life. So just sit down, and shut up, and call hospice, because the love of your life, the only person you've ever really cared about besides yourself, is about to die, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it!", if someone said that, maybe throwing a pen for emphasis, that would make the whole thing easier to take. But nobody ever did that, it was always, "We're very sorry," and "We wish we could help," and "Maybe you could consider," but it was always something we had already considered. Too poor for government help, too rich for anyone else to help. We went through the regular treatment, and then still the shaking heads, the "I'm sorry," the "things aren't improving the way we had hoped," all the bullshit euphemisms they use. They told us about this new pill, but that was a series of more stone walls, more gentle apologies- you're too sick for the trial, there's no room, we can't get you in, we wish we could help. "You can pay for it yourself," they say, but they have no idea how much it is. It's like window shopping at the Jaguar dealer- what's the point, when you know you can't afford it. The failure gnawed at me when I sat on the end of our bed, legs aching from hours on my feet. I felt like less of a man, because my darling Mary needed something, and I couldn't provide it. It killed me. She would try to comfort me, Mary would- running her hand down my arm, telling me it would be OK, that we would find a way, that she would be OK. I knew she was lying, and she knew she was lying, but she just kept saying it, like saying it again would make it true. I was losing Mary, and it terrified me, and it made me angry.
So I decided I would do it. I would find a place, and I would call and ask them if they had any of the drug, and then I'd take Daddy's old shotgun, the menacing one that still gleamed with gun oil from the last time he cleaned it right before he died, and I'd march in there, wearing a Raiders cap and one of Mary's nylons over my face, and I'd just march right up to the druggist, some fat guy with a beard, and I'd tell him to hand the stuff over. It was simple. I would wait until 8:45, almost closing time, when people are tired, slow, and sloppy. I stood there looking at the calming walnut grain of my father's shotgun in the closet. It belonged above the fireplace at a mountain lodge. From the time I was 8, he made sure I knew how to clean it and load it, removing any mystery and romance from it so I would think about it just like it was any other tool. I looked down at it, the polished wood, the metal where the mechanism was, then the long, smooth barrels. A precision instrument, one that could knock down a bird, or a deer. It probably couldn't stop a bear, but it might give it something to think about. It went against everything I was taught, using this beautiful, precision instrument to instill fear. My father always taught me, no matter how sure you were that it was empty, that you never point it at another person for any reason. It was meant for animals, or targets, or just for decoration- not as a threat. It was too smooth, too elegant to be used for something so base and ugly. It wasn't loaded, but nobody else would know that. I wouldn't hurt anyone. All they would know was that I was there to rob them, to take something that didn't belong to me because I had a gun and could force them to. I didn't want to do it. But if there was any other way to keep Mary alive, I would. The gun was in the closet, the reflected street light shining off the barrels, resting there like a threat and a promise. I sighed. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.