In the salon on Eastern Avenue, Richard, Trish, and Molly cut the hair. Vincent is shaping up his long mullet. Tall and skinny with acne scars, he looks familiar, like I’ve seen him playing in a band, or maybe he is a friend of friends, someone I’ve met on the street. He is none of those things.
Julie is getting her roots done, the sticky amber paste left on her scalp while things happen. Twelve weeks pregnant, she is awash with the hormones nature provides women to see them through. The paste is turning sticky and dry, but no one is paying attention.
Molly has big blue eyes and lots of carefully applied mascara. She is the one who had to empty the register. She is the one who is crying. She tells the police he wore a baby blue baseball cap and it takes the rest of us a moment to realize it is not compassion, or kindness, to let that pass. He did not wear a blue cap. It was black with gold lettering. Trish says it was a Pirates cap.
Only I saw his green canvas belt and the copper color of his shoes. No one else noticed these things. I keep saying it and saying it, making sure I am heard, because what if it is that green belt that makes the difference?
Richard saw his crooked teeth. We all saw his scruffy beard. I noticed his round forehead, the white of his eyes. Everyone except me thought the gunman’s jeans were darker than Vincent’s, but why bother to disagree? What we witnessed won’t make a difference.
* * *
If I had seen it there would have been a gritty sidewalk, wet, the humid damp of a late summer night, the glow of a streetlamp reflecting on dull yellow paint chipping from the curb. This is where the blood would have poured forth like a sheet, until only a brown trickle filled the cracks, mixing with rain.
Concrete is dull, but not that dull, and when the blood stilled, the coarse slabs would still feel his fall, the soft thud of his back, the crack of his head, the staccato smack of his wrist last of all. That stretch of sidewalk, two square meters, how many feet does it know a day? It won’t forget how the man stayed where he fell, how the pavement held him in the end. The sidewalk remembers things we forget, like the slap-burst gun-pop that tore his face and chest, a sound now ground into pores of stone that echo what happened.
* * *
The gun, however, was a different story. We all saw it, small and nickel light. The way people talk, you’d think we see guns like that everywhere we go. The bike courier, that nice kid working his way through college, he nodded his head when Richard told him what happened. “Sounds like some kind of Glock,” he said, “maybe a nine millimeter. Was it pump action?”
Well, I guess. It was no dime-show revolver. This wasn’t Bonnie and Clyde. Here in America, we’re past that now.
* * *
I was thirty yards away from a stump of lodge pole pine with a bull’s eye pinned on it. I’d been warned: every gun is loaded. I pulled the chamber back and a magazine dropped in my hand like Pez. The safety switch slid open a window, showed a red bar. Red is ready. I found my target in the slot. Nothing was real but the circle dancing out of range. I breathed deep, exhaled, pulled the trigger.
The target tore—so sudden. And to think—I'd caused it.
I had no right to hit anything, but the stump fell over. I crowed and ran forward to see where the bullet hit—a ragged tear in the white periphery. The stump lay helpless in the dirt, my bullet in its side, all the stones and cow bones of Big Sky America looking on.
* * *
I saw this too: a man’s neckties fluttering like prayer flags from a balcony; a chorus of voices raised in Hallelujah; a mother, a brother and a daughter. The woman stared mute at the company gathered to witness. She wore a loose sweater, loose pants. These are the clothes you wear to a funeral when you can barely stand. The man pressed his shoe into the stone as if the earth could hold back his tears. He was trying to speak, trying to tell us something about his brother, and what I remember is how two of his brother’s neck ties, the silliest ones, dangled from his throat as he leaned toward the ground, his fists jammed deep in his pockets. And the girl. She had a friend with her, a boy her age who stayed by her side. She didn’t try to talk, only pinched her lip over and over again, to feel the pain and to keep it in check.
We know no better way to do this.