A little girl yearns for Papa’s attention, yet feels regret the moment the pellet gun weighs in her hand. Some men are not to be trusted. She wants to be brave and to be seen by her Papa, although she understands it is safer to remain invisible. Decades later, after she’s left yet another abusive relationship, a handsome suitor offers to teach her to shoot pool. She must decide if she will make herself vulnerable to the possibility of trust again.
Already, I regret the cool heft of the pellet gun Papa has placed in my pudgy hands.
Whenever Papa is nearby, my tummy feels as though it’s filled with sharp gravel. I feel it sagging like grain-filled chicken stomachs do after butcher. Cramps like dull knives puncture my tummy again and again.
This pain pierces my insides when Papa comes home from the field before supper is on the table. I know he will be angry. Other times, even after the sun is sleeping and it’s hard to keep my eyes open, our empty tummies grumble against the quick sharp pokes of a paring knife.
I would do anything to be invisible again—even pick mushed up flies from my baby sister’s drooling mouth without complaining when she tries to eat them. I wish Papa hadn’t noticed me wanting to hold his gun.
Last year, he brought me to my older brother’s Christmas concert. Butterflies fluttered in my throat—Papa had never offered to take me anywhere before. For the first time ever, because I was too shy to get a brown paper bag of goodies on my own, he held my hand and walked me toward Santa Claus. Papa plucked a small orange wrapped in bright green paper from the goodie bag. And, although my tummy hurt, I gobbled it up. Later, Papa gave me a good spanking for throwing up bits of orange in the parking lot.
Now, Papa leans in close. His pig-barn smell mingles with the honeysuckle perfume from the bushes behind us. I squeeze my eyes shut against the memory of squealing of pigs—a sow’s bloody snout as Papa hit her with his crowbar.
His hot breath on my ear, he says, “Look through the scope. Find your focus.”
I suck dry air in through my nose and squint through the scope. What was clear—tall trees behind billowing grass—becomes blurred shades of green that pulsate to the drum thumping in my ears. Nothing makes sense through the scope, but I cannot tell Papa. He will be angry. He will spank me.
“Papa, how close do I put it?”
He chuckles. “Against your eye.”
I press the cool metal into the hollow above my cheekbone, rest it on the edge of my eye socket. My stomach summersaults as I lean forward, elbows perched on the edge of the sandbox.
Papa snickers. “Now put your finger on the trigger and press down.”
I don’t want to hurt a baby rabbit hiding in the long grass or a bird in the trees, but I wish for Papa to think I am brave. Clamping my teeth, I squeeze my eyes shut until I see red dots on the black of my eyelids. Then, I press the trigger.
Bright red heat slashes my eye. I am floating. I cannot breathe. Never have I imagined this much pain is possible.
Later, Papa laughs at how stupid I am. “Why would you pull the trigger with the gun on your eye?”
Maman does not say anything. It is safer for both of us if she just bites her tongue and presses the tea towel filled with ice against my eye. She rocks me in her arms like she does my little brother when she feeds him with a bottle.
My date leans back against the pool table and lets me rack the balls into the plastic triangle any old way I please. When I tell him I have no idea what I’m doing, he hints, “The black ball should go in the centre.”
I choose a stick that feels good in my hand—whatever that means. We agree that I’ll play by my own rules, but he will play by a gentleman’s rules.
“What would you like to drink?” he asks, his warm hand gentle on my elbow.
“Surprise me?” My brain goes numb when there are too many choices, but he doesn’t mind. Inhaling the cedar musk of his cologne, I admire his confident stride, lean legs, strong shoulders, and tucked-in shirt.
Recently, I ended a long-term relationship with a man who chewed his nails until they bled. He threw temper tantrums in front of my mother and sulked in public when my friends didn’t pay him enough attention.
My date saunters back, a drink in each hand. Man, he’s got a great smile! I think, wishing I were brave enough to tell him how he makes me feel. His idea of taking things as they come is as refreshing as new buds in bloom after the longest winter of my life.
He sets the drinks on the barrel standing in for a table.
We’re both surprised when I get my first shot in. And the second.
“I thought you were a novice!”
“I have no idea how to aim,” I laugh. “It’s one lucky fluke after another.” Like how we met. A cliché, we crossed paths on a dating site—I messaged first because I’d joked with my cousin that my next man would be a dancer. My date’s headline claimed that he loved to salsa. A few easy chats later, with the promise of a conversation in exchange for a salsa lesson, we met for a coffee which turned into a three-hour walk by the river. Once the sun started to set, he offered to walk me home. In the park near my house, I remembered the salsa lesson. We danced—1, 2, 3—5, 6, 7—under the stars. He held my hand, and like middle-aged teenagers, we kissed beside the octopus tree. We fluked out.
“If you’d like, I can show you how to shoot. You learned the salsa without breaking a sweat, so this would be a breeze.”
I bat my eyelashes. “I am a pretty quick study.” Even flirting is easy with him.
Crouching low, he aims the pool cue at the ball. “Pretend you’re going to hit the ball with the tip of the stick.”
Mimicking his stance, my hip brushes his thigh, and an electric throb rushes through my core. I drink in his woodsy musk, and my heart cha-chas.
He chuckles. “Careful! I’m trying to concentrate. Memorize that spot. That’s where you’ll aim the cue ball.”
“Sounds like it’ll be an easy win.”
We both grin. Neither of us senses I’m going to clear the table. When I do, I lean my cheek towards him saying, “Where’s my victory kiss?”
He surprises me—pulls me close and kisses me full on the lips. Quick and well-played, it doesn’t cross the line. I blink as the heat rises to my cheeks.
He holds my drink towards me. “Aren’t you going to taste it?”
The tangy citrus prickle cooling my tongue, I murmur, “You know what I like.”
His slow grin spreads. “Do I?”
“You’ve got a beautiful smile.”
RACHEL LAVERDIERE is a Saskatoon-based writer. Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction pieces are published in journals such as The New Quarterly, filling Station, and FreeFall Magazine. Rachel’s flash fiction was shortlisted for the Geist 2015 Short Long-Distance Writing Contest.
Featured image: Hans Christian Andersen, “Two Pierrots Balancing on Swans and Two Dancers,” cutout in blue paper mounted on an album sheet, 1820-75, Mary Martin Fund, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.