Pumps of the Daisy
by Patrick J Crowley
Jesse and Ian wanted the BB gun.
Enough with the Playstation. Enough with the television. Enough with the indoor idleness. The two brothers wanted the gun and they wanted the ammunition and they wanted to shoot shoot shoot.
“We can shoot the old tractors,” Ian said.
“We can shoot some glass bottles,” Jesse added.
The problem was that the BB gun was in their parents’ closet, tucked in the corner next to a compound bow. The rifle was off-limits currently, thanks to some less-than-careful shooting behind the house earlier that summer.
The two brothers appeared unoccupied, merely taking up space in the living room, waiting. Finally, their mother left, driving to the store, or somewhere, she didn’t say. Then their father fell asleep in his plush, oversized reclining chair. The large, bearded man’s jaw fell agape, his throat croaking with gasping snores. One of two channels the household received on the antenna blared through the worn speaker of the television, loud enough to compensate for their father’s diminished hearing. Jesse looked at Ian, their eyes met. Ian glanced at their father, then lightly nodded. They stood up and walked to the master bedroom without a sound. Ian pulled at the closet door and it rolled on its track, grinding and creaking. The boys winced. Jesse reached in and pulled out the gun, a beat up old Daisy air rifle handed down from some older cousin.
The two boys, casual and calm, descended to the basement to fill up on pellets. They exited to the front yard and were free, smiling and jogging in the warm grass. They circled around the house and climbed the back hill into the woods. Their father had stashed four or five old rotting cars up there, plus a half dozen dead lawn tractors, heaps of hardware, building materials, animal cages, used cat litter and other refuse. The miniature landfill was the two boys’ playground. It was like some old city they could run to, gun in hand, to keep the peace, to defend against all the imaginary invaders.
Ian aggressively pumped the rifle and shot at one of the tractors. It was a deeply satisfying noise to the boys, the quick ping of metal on metal, a brief echo, a hollow reverberation. Ian handed over the gun. Jesse tried to top his one-year-older brother’s 10 pumps, fell short, and narrowly missed an old plastic water bottle attached to the rabbit cage.
In turns, the brothers unloaded their pellets all over the messy sanctuary. They challenged one another with new tests of aim. That mirror. That pine cone hanging just above the Suburban. That old plate in the brush pile—a nice little bullseye to practice on. By now they had started to develop decent aim with the little rifle and liked to think they were becoming “good shots.”
“OK, one more,” Ian said to Jesse, who held the rifle against his shoulder. “Middle of the steering wheel, the blue lawn mower.”
Jesse raised the rifle and aimed. He breathed out, knew he had the shot, and pulled the trigger.
“You forgot to pump, ya dummy!” Ian said.
Jesses pumped just once in anger, extended the rifle out with one arm and pulled the trigger. The BB practically rolled out and hit the ground 10 feet in front of him. Jesse and Ian laughed, then carried on shooting the rifle underpowered for a while.
“I bet you could do just one pump and hit me and it wouldn’t even hurt,” Ian said. The sun was close to setting and the boys knew their time was nearly up.
“I’m not gonna do that,” Jesse said.
“Oh c’mon. You saw those shots, it’s wicked slow. It’ll be funny.”
Jesse stood in the reddening twilight, facing his brother, holding the gun. “Alright here it goes.” Jesse pumped just once. He raised the rifle to Ian, aiming for the abdomen, to the side a bit. He thought he looked too aggressive staring down the sight, like he was hunting his dear brother. He lowered the gun down half a foot, holding it more to the side of his shoulder. Then he shot his brother.
It hit Ian with a smack and he instantly drew in a sharp breath through the sides of his mouth, wincing and squinting. “Ah…shit. Ah…”
Jesse could say nothing. His eyes grew, his jaw lowered. He dropped the stupid old BB gun on the ground and ran to his brother.
Ian looked down and pulled up his shirt, revealing a growing bruise. A welt.
“Is it bad?” Jesse asked.
“I don’t think so. It felt like a really bad bee sting. There’s gonna be a mark.”
Jesse felt like crying, if only for the proximity of disaster. One or two more pumps of the Daisy and skin would have been broken and there’s no hiding that little detail from the parents. That confession…Jesse couldn’t think of that. “I…I’m sorry. I never shoulda did it,” he said.
“No, I told you to. And it’s not so bad. It hurt worse than I thought it would, but it’s not so bad,” Ian said. He inhaled another swift breath of air again.
It was quickly turning dark, but their mother was still gone, and surely father would still be sleeping in front of the loud television. The boys replaced the gun, then sat down in the living room.
The large man stirred. “Oh. Hey. Whatcha been up to?” he said when he saw his two sons.
“Just playin’ ” Ian said. “Climbin’ trees.”
“Well, be careful,” their old man said, then closed his eyes again.
The brothers took a little break after that. They didn’t speak of the gun for weeks. Ian had to let his nasty bruise heal and it took considerable effort to make sure the parents never saw him without a shirt. He took to claiming he was “afraid of sunburns” and wore shirts while at family swimming outings at Halfmoon Pond.
School started up again and the boys found themselves alone many afternoons. The shootings commenced, this time Jesse and Ian knew not to shoot one another.
Jesse thought of the gun one afternoon when he found himself totally alone after school in the early autumn. His mother had come home from work early to bring Ian to the dentist. The old man was at work until 5 or 6, unless there was one of his overtime shifts, then he’d be gone until late into the night.
So, for a while, Jesse ran around outside, firing the air rifle at trees and stonewalls and the junk in the back woods. He practiced his longer-distance shots and felt a rush of fulfillment when he hit his target. It was the noises that he wanted: the dull flick against the bark of a thick tree, the ringing bell of a strike on aluminum or rusty steel, the sharp crack of an old, discarded window pane breaking apart.
The Daisy resting on his shoulder, Jesse marched through the forest, visiting an old stone foundation and shooting at some old broken pottery stuck in the mud. From that former homestead there was a barely discernible abandoned road that led up a hill. Jesse followed it through, feeling grown and relishing a new confidence. This was his land and he wasn’t scared. He stumbled upon a hunter’s tree stand, camouflaged well and mounted in a thick pine tree. It was a curious sight, since Jesse knew that it didn’t belong to his father, who had given up hunting years ago. Jesse couldn’t resist. He always did like climbing things, so up he went, using the crude ladder to get onto the platform above.
From the height he surveyed the forest around him, bracing himself by wrapping a hand around a branch. Everything was starting to gain that rustic color of autumn. He was looking for his next challenge when he spotted the bird: a Robin, perched on a low branch of a tree, waiting, unmoving, but far. Jesse wasn’t sure he even wanted to aim in its direction, wasn’t sure he was ready to feel that, but the longer it didn’t move from that branch, the more he wanted to prove to himself—and his brother, later—that he could hit it. Silent as he could manage on the old gun, he pumped. The more he pushed on that lever, the louder the action seemed to be, so Jesse was surprised that the Robin never moved. At one point, its head turned, but on the low branch it remained.
The gun sufficiently primed and pressurized, Jesse raised up and stared down the sight with his left eye. Then he waited. He waited for a noise to scare off the bird, waited for the little robin to see that some kid with a gun was threatening it. Jesse waited, then knew he had his shot. He pulled back the trigger and watched the bird fall into the forest underbrush.
Oh God, he thought. Jesse didn’t like the noise this time. It was almost inaudible, but he did hear the bird’s body fall into the brush and that was a more terrible noise than the smack against his brother’s belly. Nevertheless, Jesse needed to go look at the bird, not to appreciate it as an accomplishment, but to simply see it. To see what he had done.
He rushed down the ladder onto the ground and strode quickly to the area where the bird was. He found the branch and looked down around his feet. He saw it. The Robin lay on a bed of dry leaves, still alive, seeming to gasp. Its beak opened and closed slowly, its dark eyes searching. Jesse’s regret turned to a sickening, haunting shock. He looked down at the bird, tears welling in his eyes, pumped the gun, and shot it again.
© 2014 Patrick J Crowley. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction.