Wednesday, November 2, 2016


                                                        Sunday, June 14th, 2014

            The gun dealer is a grizzled old man who brings along his Downs Syndrome son.  We meet in a warehouse district somewhere on the outskirts of Albuquerque.  The building is large and crowded and noisy with workers changing license plates and using sanders to scrape off registration numbers from various cars that have most likely been stolen.

            “Isn’t there some place private we can go?” I shout above the din.

            The old guy shouts back, “Too risky.”

            His son wears a striped t-shirt with Neapolitan ice cream colors.  His palms are pressed against his ears and he’s grimacing as if constipated.

            “Come on,” I shout, “look at the poor kid.”

            The old man thinks it over, then leads us to a restroom in back.  Every Playboy centerfold Pamela Anderson’s ever been in is tacked to the walls, in addition to a spread from Playgirl featuring Burt Reynolds.

            The old guy sets a trunk on a sink counter where, by the looks of the mess, someone’s just recently had a bloody nose or worse.  Not only are there red smears everywhere, but the faucets knobs are lined with grime and a broken toothbrush is stuck in the drain.

            The old guy opens the trunk with a flourish, as if he’s some kind of magician.  Inside are a Rubik’s Cube and two old pistols that look right out of the Civil War.  He hands the cube to the kid and the kid tosses it in the air and misses catching it, picks it up from the floor and tosses it again, over and over. 

            “Not much of a selection,” I say.

            “What did you expect, machine guns?  I ain’t Walmart.”

            I buy the smaller pistol and a box of shells the old guy has in his coat pocket.  Why he’s wearing a jacket when it’s an eighty-five degree June day is anybody’s guess.

            “Say, do you mind keeping an eye on Keith for a few minutes?”

            Keith tosses the Rubik’s cube and this time it lands in the toilet, water splashing over the rim, and he starts to bawl.

            “Are you kidding?” I say.

            “Just be a little while.  Here, you can have the second gun free.”

            “Why do I need two?”

            “You never know.”

            The old guy hands me the gun and heads out the door.  I shout after him, but he doesn’t stop.  Keith is crying harder than ever.  I reach into the toilet with its lemon-colored water and foist out the toy, washing it in the sink with globs of soap, then wiping my hands with my shirt tail.

            A half an hour passes.  An hour.  The Rubik’s Cube has a number of squares broken off and they lay like bright-colored Skittles on the filthy floor.

            I start to panic.  “Hey, Keith,” I say, “where did Dad go?  Or Granddad?”

            Keith says something that sounds like hotdogs.

            “He went to lunch, is that where Grandpa went?”

            Then he says something that sounds like chili.

            “Fuck me,” I say, taking Keith’s hand and heading out of the restroom, out of the shop and down the street where I’d seen a food truck earlier.

            The guy manning the truck is the palest person I’ve ever seen, with a dandelion seed afro that could match anything Art Garfunkel ever sported.  “What’ll you have?”

            I ask him if he’s seen the old guy, but Art says he hasn’t.  When I ask him if he knows Keith, he looks at me like I’m nuts.

            “This isn’t my kid,” I say.  “He belongs the old guy.”

            “And that’s my problem, why?”

            “Look, I really need to get going.  Do you mind watching the boy, Keith?  His grandfather dropped him off with me at that shop across the block and he’ll be right back.”

            “Are you on meth?”

            “I’ll give you a gun,” I say, pulling the pistol out of my pocket.


            “No, I’m giving it to you, free.”

            When I try handing the pistol across the counter the guy dips and comes back up holding a shotgun.

            “Drop it.”

            “Hey, it’s not like that.”

            “I’ll plaster your face with pellets if you don’t drop your weapon.”

            “That’s just it, I was trying to give it to you as payment for watching Keith.”

            Keith reaches up and snatches the pistol.  I see my opportunity and sprint behind the food truck and keep running until I’m in my car.

            As I drive, the remaining pistol chafes my inner thigh, and when I pull it out two chips from the Rubik’s Cube clatter against the stick shift.

            I feel shitty for abandoning Keith but I tell myself he’s better off with a food truck guy than me.  I replay the events of the day in my head trying to figure out where I went wrong but after a while the road opens up to a land so flat that it’s hypnotic the way watching a campfire is, and my thoughts dull as I roll down the window to let the air in, warm wind whipping my hair like a set of groping fingers.


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