“Pull the mighty thorn, Androcles!”

Written by

The Smiths – The Boy With The Thorn In His Side

When mere yards from one furnishing a gun, three shots invading the air out of view and a further four accompanying lost brothers in focus, you get a little giddy as you turn to bring the whole scene to sight. It’s a fool’s giddiness for an unfolding stage play of chaotic consequence.

At an intersection they came bounding out from one of those 24-hour liquor stores where they sell milk the day it’s set to spoil and where the mouth of any plastic bottle tastes like the air of a stale holding area; that or rat piss. A stone’s throw away, I’m sure I could throw a stone that far, before the first loud noise gave birth, I set the gas nozzle into the car. From the entrance they sprang, between the store door and the car door shots were fired, aimed at nothing in particular, and somewhere in the darkened car park were cars, presumably theirs, which they started or had started and then sped away, unlikely to outrun their adrenaline. That was it.

I’ve seen a gun before. I’ve seen a shotgun before and I’ve seen it used by my father. Once a farmer, he used it with the intent to outfox prey. I remember in our garden, propped against a wooden stile we made together one summer, was a square of wood with one red dot in the middle he’d put there with sheep marker spray. “Watch this. I’ll hit it, that red patch.” And I watched as he kept his promise. Bang! The red dot was gone, replaced by a hole in the wood, and the excitement of the gun and the noise and the promise was nothing but a treat for a seven-year-old boy. The kind of excitement that comes when clueless to consequence.

The men from the store, they were all young, boys I suppose, which puts them closer to my age and closer to my neighbouring school desk than I’d have hoped for them, lanky and fidgety in their spree, but for the one yielding the gun. He held it with the assurance and studly poise of a promotional still. Everything about him – from his clothes to his turn – was fitted, like a better specimen of man, like a much needed improvement, but then one whose crutch is not sarcasm but weaponry tends to stand in inflated profile when offered to hungry eyes. I’ve seen a gun and its effect before, but I’ve never seen a medley of guilty heads on the run, dodging women with faces drawn so scowl, and people in cars, steel machines, shocked still at green traffic lights to many a moment’s pause. It feels so immeasurably silly to be scared of another being, as fragile as we are.

This is a story told with failed exaggeration, you’ll have gathered – an obese spit at the excitement of storytelling. Seven bullets sprung to damage only the air’s used and useful existence; without carnage, without death, without sweat or souvenir grievance. I saw it and it was a scene and for the time that time needs to become past, between thinking you’ve caught the fly in your bare hand and seeing you haven’t, it was over, void of any lasting imprint. [The Queen Is Alive.]

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