It is not, strictly speaking, true that guns kill people. Roger Harrison was fond of telling his wife this just as she was fond of telling him that guns do kill people. Roger and Eileen had just gotten back from going out to eat. They had gone out with another couple. Roger knew both of them. He knew a lot of people but he didn't have many friends. To call Roger quiet would give one the wrong impression. He was an optometrist and a good one. His staff liked him. People in general liked Roger even if he rarely said anything. This bothered Eileen because she could never figure out why people liked Roger better than they liked her.
Eileen poured herself a glass of wine. She set the bottle next to the toaster and bent down to scratch her dog behind the ears. Roger tolerated the dog only because his son loved it. Jonathan had found the dog running in the street and after a brief stay at the Humane Society Eileen had brought him home. Eileen had a heart but Roger was never sure it belonged to him. She wasn’t a flirt but she talked about men and their wives in a way that made Roger uncomfortable. He listened to her talking to the dog. She picked her glass up and without warning she changed the topic of conversation. “I had a good time tonight. Did you?”
Roger shrugged. All he wanted to do was to go to bed with Eileen. Oblivious to the tension in the room Eileen kept talking. “I didn’t realize you knew both Matt and Annabelle. How do you know her?”
“I went to school with them. He’s two years behind me and she was a year behind him.”
“She seems nice."
Roger shrugged again.
“Why don’t you like her?”
“She dated my brother Craig for a while. He and Matt are in the same class.” There was an undercurrent in Roger’s voice that Eileen didn’t understand. It was not like Roger to have strong feelings about people. “Did it not end well?”
"I don't know why she even went out with Craig in the first place. We thought she was in the family way but it turned out she had an eating disorder. She and Matt used to work at the bank her father ran. They both went to college and they both dropped out. The only thing he ever wanted to do was work with cars and the only thing she ever wanted to do was marry him. Annabelle used to be really fat when she was younger. She lost all sorts of weight when she was in high school. That's when she and Matt started going out. They broke up right after his brother Mark got back from Vietnam. She dated Craig for couple months but as soon as Matt wanted her back she left Craig. Craig and Annabelle only dated for a couple months but she really did a number on him."
"Why'd you agree to go out with them then?"
The funeral he had recently attended weighed heavily on his mind. "Matt’s mother died. That's the funeral I went to the other day.”
Eileen took another sip of her wine and waved to their son as he walked through the kitchen. “I didn’t realize Matt's mother had just passed away. No one said anything about it to me.”
Roger waited until he was sure Jonathan was out of earshot. He moved closer to his wife and spoke in an undertone. “She killed herself. She broke her hip so Matt and his brothers put her in a nursing home when she got out of the hospital. Her husband has been dead for years. Matt and his brothers didn't think she could manage at home by herself so they put her in a nursing home and she killed herself.”
“That’s horrible.” Eileen took a small sip of wine. “How did she do it?”
“She didn’t shoot herself if that’s what you’re getting at.”
It hadn’t been. Eileen had been genuinely curious. Anger made her words sharp. “It’s a fact Roger. Guns kill people and spare me your tripe about bullets killing people. Guns are dangerous and you know it.”
“Plastic bags are dangerous Eileen. That’s how Matt’s mother killed herself. She tied a plastic bag around her head.” He gave her glass a disgusted look. “I’m going to bed.”
Eileen picked her glass up and went to talk to her son. It wasn’t easy being the mother of a teenage boy but Eileen did her best to try and talk to him about the unpleasantness of life. Eileen’s parents had never told her anything and she was determined not to raise her son the way she and Roger had been raised.
Days turned into weeks. Months passed. Eileen and Roger continued to go out with Matt and Annabelle. Eileen and Annabelle became friends. Matt and Roger were already friends. Eileen found out that Matt and Annabelle had four boys compared to her one son. The youngest one had been born deaf and Eileen never saw him without thinking that a soundless world would be an awful thing. She wondered how Matt and Annabelle coped with their son being deaf. Her son mentioned that the baby was going to have a hard time later on in life and Eileen wasn't a sentimental woman but that touched her. The more the Harrison's saw of Matt and Annabelle the more Roger and Eileen liked them. Their children were nice. It seemed as if the boys got along when the families got together. Eileen had hoped that Annabelle’s sons would develop a closer relationship with Jonathan but as time passed she realized that Annabelle’s boys were younger and lacked the maturity age had given her son.
Life went along much as it normally did until Eileen and Roger got into a fight after Eileen mentioned that Matt and Annabelle didn’t have any hand guns in their home. Roger tried ignoring Eileen but she kept attacking him. The fight escalated. The front door opened and closed. Neither Roger nor Eileen heard Jonathan leave the house. It wasn't until morning that they realized he was missing. The fight that had precipitated their son’s departure hadn’t been forgotten but it had been eclipsed by the greater worry of Jonathan’s disappearance.
Jonathan's parents called every friend of his they could think of. Other parents responded. The frantic hearts of Roger and Eileen were calmed by the news that Jonathan had spent the night at a friend's house. The friend’s mother assumed that Jonathan had gotten his parent's permission to spend the night. She apologized to both Roger and Eileen for the misunderstanding. She and her husband had taken two of their children to a basketball game so she wasn't even sure what time Jonathan had come over. Eileen spoke to her son briefly before replacing the receiver. She was too upset to say more than a teary "I love you" to him. Roger put a comforting arm around his wife but Eileen flung it off. “If anything happens to Jonathan I’ll kill you Roger. Damn you for being such a lousy father.”
Roger wasn’t sure what he said after that but he was sufficiently concerned about the situation at home to schedule an appointment with a psychologist who had an office in the building Roger himself worked at. He told Eileen about his decision after supper. Roger had expected her to be appreciative that he was taking this matter seriously but Eileen was furious with him. Eileen had never slapped her husband before but she couldn’t believe he had taken their personal life into someone else’s office. The psychologist lived two subdivisions away from Eileen and Roger. Her children went to the same school Jonathan did. It was now only a matter of time before Eileen and Roger’s personal problems were being discussed by every teenager who rode the bus to school with Jonathan. Eileen confided all of this to Annabelle who was surprisingly empathetic. She had grown up in a small town. Gossip and rumors were rampant. Everyone knew everyone else and they were always ready to believe the worst.
Eileen felt better after her talk with Annabelle. Her friend had shared some of her own problems with Eileen. It wasn’t easy raising four boys. Teenagers in general were difficult to deal with. Eileen told Annabelle about Roger and the guns. Annabelle told Eileen about Matt and the cars. As the owner of a automobile dealership he collected cars but what he really liked to do was drive at breakneck speeds and all four of his sons loved cars, girls and driving too fast. Eileen paid for lunch that day. Annabelle called late one night after one of her sons was out past curfew. Eileen was tempted to tell Roger about the call but some instinct warned her against it.
Things grew worse between Eileen and Roger. They fought about the guns, their son and the dog.
Annabelle told Eileen that she and Matt had troubles of their own. Eileen started meeting Annabelle first thing in the morning so they could work out together. Eileen found the ritual of exercise to be therapeutic. Her muscles hardened. She started losing weight. Now Eileen bought energy bars instead of granola bars. She went through her kitchen and threw Roger’s junk food out. Eileen stopped buying coffee and started drinking tea. She made an appointment for Roger to have a physical.
Roger felt that Eileen nagged him incessantly about the extra weight he could never lose. He found himself talking to his friend Matt about Eileen, the changes around the house and how Eileen had started exercising. Matt had always been tall and thin. He didn’t exercise like his wife did but he got up at five in the morning to get coffee and the paper. No one else in his family drank coffee. Annabelle didn’t want it around the kids and when she had been pregnant the smell had bothered her. The talk with Matt had been helpful. Roger started buying coffee on his way into work. Eileen didn’t own him or his life. Roger asked Matt if he wanted to go fishing. Matt invited Roger to go flying with him and his brother. The flight went well but Roger felt vaguely nauseated the entire time.
Curiously it was the flight that brought the families closer together. Jonathan asked his father about the flight. Eileen listened to most of the conversation before going upstairs to call Annabelle. Annabelle told Eileen she would talk to her brother-in-law about Jonathan going for a plane ride. She called back to set a date and time for the flight and the smile on Jonathan’s face when Eileen told him he could go flying was one of the things that makes being a mother one of the greatest joys a woman can know.
Roger was in a foul mood when he found out about the flight. He and Eileen started fighting again. The fight was less about the fact that Jonathan was going flying and more about the dissolution of their marriage although neither of them admitted this. Eileen felt that she was moving forward while Roger was stagnating. He accused her of being shallow and manipulative. The fight ended but the pattern continued. Eileen started having two glasses of wine a night. Roger bought some diet pills but he threw them away after he found out they made him sick to his stomach.
The day after Jonathan's flight Eileen got a call from the school guidance counselor. Jonathan had been kicked out of class for cheating. There was another fight about that. Eileen thought Roger was being too hard on Jonathan. As far as children go Jonathan was a good kid. Sure there were things that he did wrong but he wasn’t really bad. Jonathan wasn’t a distinguished student but he had always maintained relatively good grades. He played soccer and he was in chess club. Roger needed to remember that times had changed. Things were different from the way that they were when he had been in school. Jonathan had a nice girlfriend. Things could have been a lot worse but Roger was always making mountains out of molehills.
Eileen mentioned this to Annabelle when they were at lunch. This time the conversation was about Annabelle’s mother. She wanted to come up to Wisconsin but she was afraid of flying. She wanted Matt to drive down to Florida and pick her up. Annabelle was frustrated with Matt and her mother. Eileen no longer had a mother to interfere in her life. Her mother had died when Eileen was thirty. She had had a massive heart attack and when she shared this information with her friend Eileen found out that Matt’s father had gone the same way. Annabelle worried about her husband and his health. Eileen confided her secret fears about Roger and his excess weight. The friends hugged each other tightly when they left the restaurant.
When Eileen walked into her home Roger and Jonathan were fighting. Eileen started yelling at Roger. Neither of them noticed Jonathan slinking up the stairs but Eileen made sure she checked on him before she went to bed. Ever since he had disappeared Eileen had made checking in on her son a habit. She had another glass of wine before she went to bed. The day had been long and stressful. Roger was a sound sleeper but both he and Eileen woke up to a sound that Roger knew wasn't thunder.
Eileen felt vomit rise in the back of her throat as she ran down the hall. Jonathan wasn’t in his room. She ran down the stairs, through the kitchen and down into the basement. Roger’s guns were stored in the far corner of the basement across from the bar. Her son was standing near the cabinet that held Roger’s shotguns.
That he was still standing after the gunshot was reassuring but the deadly weapon in his hands was less so. Eileen had always hated guns and the specimen in Jonathan’s hands was a particularly ugly one. Roger appeared behind her. Jonathan looked up at his father. He raised the gun carefully. Shooting was something he knew about. Roger had been training him for years now. It was one of the few father and son things they habitually did together. It was their routine and their ritual.
Eileen knew she was screaming but couldn’t stop. Roger started walking towards his son. The gun was pointed at his chest but he kept walking. Jonathan’s hands were wet with sweat. Roger was perspiring heavily. The gun went off but the only thing it killed was a sign behind the bar.
Roger, Eileen and Jonathan all go to counseling now. There’s no such thing as the perfect family so Roger doesn’t always go to the gym like he said he would but Eileen goes shooting with her son and husband every week because Roger agreed that keeping guns in the house was dangerous. As long as the guns are out of her house Eileen can deal with them for an hour a week. Sixty minutes a week is a small price to pay for a family that might not have been.