'Hope, you don't have to use it on your wedding night.'
She handed the pistol to Hope, right after the vows, right before the reception.
'I'm just kidding, darling. Don't worry. He's a good man. You did well sweetheart. He's a good man. You'll be fine.'
Hope's paper-thin smile tried to grow as she stared at her grandmother's reflection in the mirror. The mother-of-pearl grip sparkled in her grandmother's hand, bathed by the Chapel's cheap buzzing lights.
'There's a bullet for you, just in case.'
Hope had left the gun on the table.
A week earlier, drunk off self-pity, she had taken it out of its case and walked to the kitchen, where she stuck the barrel in her mouth and proceeded to take pictures of herself to send to Ray.
In a rare instance of good fortune, her phone ran out of battery before she could indulge her sense of pithy revenge. She woke up and pried open her tear-salted eyelashes then made sure to delete any evidence of her maudlin stupidity.
She had planned to put it back. She had been treating it like a leering stranger whenever she walked by it. She had finally decided to put it away when her phone rang. It was Ray.
'What time are you coming.'
'There's a train at 11 so I can be there by 3, as long as nobody decides to take a mental health day and jump onto the tracks.'
'It's worth the entertainment.'
'Jesus Christ Hope.'
'Are you bringing May?'
'No. I'm just dropping off the check.'
'Don't bring May.'
'I won't. I'll see you at 3.'
She was in the shower when the buzzer rang. She cursed through the steam and the scalding water hitting her back, whipped from her quiet fantasies into reality.
'Shit. Shit. Early, he's always fucking early.'
She scrambled to grab a towel off the toilet seat, slipping in her panic on the mildew on the bathmat, saving herself a concussion by clutching at the pale plastic shower curtains with white knuckles.
There was no time for her to attempt any minimal illusion of composure. Had it been a year ago, she would have sacrificed his time to look her most alluring. The effort seemed to mock her as she grew weary of defeat. There was no use to highlight something what wasn't wanted.
She avoided her reflection as she barreled down the stairs. She opened the door and kept her foot between the frame, realizing her keys were still upstairs.
'Hope it's fucking freezing, you couldn't have waited to get yourself dolled up for me?'
'Well you said 3. It's 2:30.'
She noticed something bright beneath his armpit. Her stomach dropped to fill with rage .
'Why do you have a purple backpack?'
'I called you. You didn't pick up- which is typical, honestly it's my fault for thinking you might actually pay attention to your life- Denise told me you probably-'
'Motherfucker. You motherfuck-'
'I forget May had a half-day today. Honest mistake.'
'You're a cocksucker.'
'Calm down. I tried to call you, you didn't answer and that's your fucking problem, Hope. It's not cute anymore- this bullshit? You can't handle one thing going wrong and that's what drove me-'
'Fuck You. Where is she?'
May had been busy feeding pigeons bits of stale crackers she had crushed up in her hands on the way to the city. She heard her father call her name and ran to him, staying half-hidden behind him, wary of Theresa. Ray brightened with force and presented the girl.
'May, do you remember Aunt Hope?'
Hope winced. May shook her head.
'Hope is writer.'
'Do you write stories?'
'I write fire alarm warranties.'
'Haha, no sweetie, she writes things for grown-ups.'
'What kind of things?'
May looked at Hope with deep concern.
'Not your fault, Mayberry.'
They walked upstairs, Hope two steps ahead of Ray and May, who solemnly took in the dark green light of her temporary surroundings. Apartment complexes were an exotic habitat to May, who had only known people to live in warm, welcoming houses on tree-lined streets.
When Hope unlocked the door, May stayed quiet, assessing her surroundings.
'May I sit on the couch?'
Hope, who had made up her mind to despise May ever since learning of her conception, couldn't help but be impressed with her manners. No doubt Ray had either bribed or forced her to be on her best behavior.
Ray took Theresa aside as May made herself moderately comfortable on the couch. May waited until he turned his back and started chewing on her hair. Theresa locked eyes with her and May spit her stiff spit-laced locks out of her mouth slowly and liently.
'Huge favor. I need to see Leo.'
'Call me HoHo again and I throw her out the fucking window.'
'Hope. I'll be gone TEN minutes. No more- I swear. He's waiting right now.'
'Then take her with you.'
'You know I can't.'
'It's practically legal. Westboro Grandmas hit bongs for fun these days.'
'Can you not be a cunt for ten minutes? Can you just do me this fucking favor? You don't have to do anything- just give her the wifi password and let her watch some bullshit on Netflix.'
'Get me a prescription.'
'I've been good.'
Ray glared at her.
'I can't. Theresa, they are up my ass with a fucking periscope, I can't-'
'I write you one for Ativan with ONE refill.'
'Pharmacist of the year.'
'Let me see your key.'
Ray promised May that he would be back soon, and that she would have so much fun with Aunt Hope that she would hardly notice he was gone. Hope rolled her eyes as May started to cry, waiting for her father to leave in an effort to prove her bravery, desperately trying to fight back tears that had already spilled on her cheeks in tandem with shuttering sobs.
Hope stared at May and tried to find words to comfort her. She could not trust herself to speak them without malice and figured she would be better off rubbing the girl's back. She would match the girl's effort to be cordial. No need for dinner table gossip.
She sat next to May, murmuring half-hearted coos as the girl wiped her eyes and nose on the back of her sleeves. She took out her Ipad out of her backpack but it wouldn't turn on.
'Where's your charger?'
May swallowed her sobs and choked out an answer.
'M-my dad... keeps it. In his bad.'
'Yeah he-um.. he takes his bad with him.'
'Oh his-It's bag. Guh. Guh. Bag.'
May started chewing on her hair. Theresa scooted away and remembered the backpack.
'So you.. um... you go to school?'
'Do you like it?'
'That's good. Me too.'
'You're old for school.'
'You're old for Dora.'
May stared at Hope dumfounded, furious.
'I was joking.'
'It wasn't funny and you're still mean.'
Theresa nodded, offended and ashamed.
'Why do you know my dad?'
'He's my friend.'
'Are you friends with my mom?'
'Ask your dad.'
May hopped off the couch and walked to the fridge, opening the door and inspecting the massive amounts of well-intentioned produce collecting rot. The little girl told Hope with grave concern that she should buy a trash can. Hope agreed.
She offered her some of her crumbled crackers. Hope refused, increasingly annoyed at the good intentions of the chubby child.
Hope turned her head to where May was pointing.
'What? The table? It's a kitchen table.'
'No-on the table- is it pearls? Can I wear them?'
'Pearls?-Are you bli-'
Hope realized what had caught May's attention.
'It's a gun. '
'Where'd ya get it?'
'It was a wedding present.'
'How come you don't live in a house with your husband?'
'Ask your mom.'
Hope took the gun off the table and held it in her hands, showing it to May, who stood in awe of seeing something so forbidden look so beautiful.
'Do you love it?'
'Yes...as much as your dad loves you.'
'Can I hold it? I'll be really careful.'
Hope heard the faint sound of the T.V. news anchors reciting tragedies like nursery rhymes, numb to the violence but vulnerable to ratings, humming in her head. It happens all the time.
'Sure. But be really careful.'
The blood rushed in Theresa's ears, her heart pounded as she handed the gun to May.
'Let me make sure it's O.K. for you to hold it. '
She slid the safety off. Her palms left a dew of sweat on the grip.
'Do you want to play a little game, May?'
'I want to play with this.'
'You can keep it if you win.'
'What are the rules?'
'Just watch me.We're gonna see how many times we can make it click. If you get the most clicks, you win it.'
May's eyes bulged with desire.
'I promise. Now let me show you.'
Hope took the pistol from the girl's hands and pulled the trigger.
'That's one. Now it's your turn.'
May took the gun and and tried to pull the trigger. It was too heavy. She had been duped.
'No fair- you're stronger!'
'Let me show you how-you're not doing it right.'
But May would not give up her possible prize.
'It's my turn!'
As May began to shriek, Hope tried to grab the gun out of her hands. May jerked herself off to the left as Hope lunged to the right. The gun flew out of May's hands and spun out on to the floor. Racing towards her prize, May picked up it up and screamed triumphantly as Ray opened the door.
It happens all the time.