Paula sat on the picnic table waiting for her cousin, Marcus, to arrive. She was so nervous that she couldn’t make her leg stop shaking. Standing to leave, she saw Marcus pull into the parking lot and instead made her way to his car. She slipped into the passenger seat.
“What took you so long?” she asked.
“Why are you in such a hurry?” Marcus replied. “Paula, I don’t think I should sell you this gun.”
“Don’t. I can go somewhere else.” Paula reached for the door handle.
Marcus reached out to grab her arm. “Wait a minute. Maybe you could tell me why you need it.”
Paula thought back to the previous week when Karin, her twin sister, had informed their parents that she was moving out. Their father was drunk and bellowing about the meat being overcooked when Karin told him about her plans to move in with a friend. She barely had the words out of her mouth when he stood, slamming his fist down on the table, and declared that she would not leave their apartment.
“Pa-pa,” Karin began, “I need to be closer to the college so I can spend more time studying and less time on the bus.”
“No! I will not have you living away from home!” His face was red and his hands trembled.
Their mother tried to speak up and was silenced her with a back-handed slap to the face.
“Don’t treat her like that!” Karin was almost as angry as their father now “She should be able to have her say. Everything isn’t about you, Pa-pa.”
Karin stormed off to their room and Paula tried to reason with her father. She followed him down the hall, a sense of urgency engulfing her. Their bedroom door was closed, which immediately angered their father. He turned the knob, but found it locked.
“Open this door!” their father yelled. “I will break it down, Karin!”
With a few strong kicks, the door gave way and their father entered the girls’ bedroom just as Karin was ducking her head to go out the window onto the fire escape.
Their father was on the landing just as Karin started down the stairs. Paula watched helplessly as he grabbed Karin’s arm and tried to pull her back up to the landing. Karin tried to pull away and lost her balance. She tumbled backwards, flipping over the railing of the third floor landing, falling—
“Paula! Did you hear me?” Marcus snapped his fingers in front of her face.
“Are you okay?”
Paula shook her head, reminding herself that she wasn’t on the fire escape. She took the gun from Marcus, turning it over on her palm. “Show me how to load it.”
Marcus showed her how to load the gun, how to work the safety, how to aim and talked her through firing the weapon.
“Paula, you need to come with me to the firing range, let me show you how to shoot. What will you do if someone takes it away from you?”
Paula made sure the safety was on and tucked the gun into her coat pocket. She handed Marcus $300 and opened the car door. “Don’t worry, Marcus. I won’t have any trouble firing it.”
As she walked home, images flashed through Paula’s mind.
Karin’s smile as she teased Paula about a boy at school.
Her terrifying slow motion fall from the fire escape.
The flashing blue lights of the ambulance.
The blood on Karin’s face and her wide-staring eyes.
Their father’s triumphant smile when no charges were filed against him.
When Paula arrived home, she went to her room to hang up her coat and tuck the gun underneath her pillow. She took a deep breath and returned to the kitchen to help her mother cook dinner.
An hour later her father arrived home, stumbling over his own feet and mumbling to himself. He made his way to the kitchen and stood over them while they worked, criticizing everything they did. By the time they all sat down at the kitchen table, Paula was on edge. Her father continued to rant. Finally, he drove the tip of his knife into the table top to emphasize a point and Paula could take no more. She got up from the table and fled to her room, her father following on her heels. It felt like de-ja-vu.
“Where are you going, Paula? Come back and finish your dinner!” her father demanded.
She pulled the gun from underneath her pillow, then felt his hands on her shoulders, turning her around. He gripped her so tightly she was certain she would have bruises. He began to shake her, then stopped in confusion. He felt intense pressure in his abdomen and looked down to see that Paula had pressed the muzzle of the gun into his gut, tilted slightly upwards, and pulled the trigger. The bullet struck his heart, stilling its persistent movement and he slumped to the floor, staring at the ceiling. Paula counted his remaining one…two…three breaths and watched, frozen in place, as his eyes lost their light.
Suddenly her mother appeared at her bedroom door.
“What have you done?” she screamed, rushing to the side of her dead husband. She held his head on her lap, rocking, and continued to wail.
Paula slipped out of the room to call the police. Sinking into the armchair by the front door, she felt sick and confused. When the police arrived, she explained what had happened and allowed them to handcuff her. Her mother stormed into the living room, calling her a murderess. The police had to remove her from the apartment to regain control of the situation.
As Paula rode in the back of the police car, her mind drifted back to her last conversation with Karin. She had been very excited about moving to her own place. Her smile was bright and her expectations high.
“I will finally be free!” she had exclaimed with obvious joy.
Free. Karin was free now, not the way she had planned. Their mother was free from her abusive husband. Their father was free from his addictions. Paula wondered if she would ever be free. Regardless, prison was better than a death sentence.
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Parker lives in South Carolina where she works at and attends a local university. In addition to her current exploration of flash fiction, she writes short stories, poetry and has a novel or two in process.