Sharp Shooter

By Jacinta Bunnell

In rural Pennsylvania, dads like mine wanted their children to gain a working knowledge of rifles and various shooting techniques. Guns ‘n’ Ammo was not just a magazine, it was a lifestyle around our house. We even had the first day of deer hunting season off from school every year. My father had no sons like other men upon whom he could impart his great knowledge of gunnery, but I don’t think it would have made any difference to him if he had. Firepower knew no gender to my dad. He had tried with three different partners to make offspring that were real sharp shooters, kids who would grow up, love guns, shoot fowl between the eyes, and inherit his ample gun collection. But when my father died, not one of the four of us wanted even so much as a round of bullets. The proud collection, along with the antique glass case that held it in all its locked regalia, was sold along with the rest of his possessions we didn’t know what to do with. The tree limbs carved to resemble busty women, the Beefeater Gin statuettes, the endless close-up photos of bees resting on black-eyed Susans and chrysanthemums: these were all sold to the highest bidder at a real country auction.

Though these riches are all in the hands of someone else who truly must appreciate their value now, I can still clearly recall the hard press of the gun between my collarbone and shoulder. The feeling and memory of the curved end of one of the rifles solid against me doesn’t go away. The smell of gunpowder and smoke blows downwind some days and I imagine my potential as a child shooting-prodigy. Rifles have a kickback, is what they say. You have to have really strong arms to shoot that type of gun; not only to shoot it, but to even hold it level and look through the sight. My small, wiry arms strained to keep it up at age seven and eight. But I ultimately managed quite well in the end because of the muscles built from countless hours in the ballet studio. I withstood this era simply to get to spend time with my dad. It was not because I particularly fiended after the chance to someday use this knowledge in the slaughtering of small animals that I even learned to use these weapons at all.

We would shoot the round clay pigeons out of the machine my father had purchased for us at Bunnell’s, our family’s hardware store. We would go in there together on his one day off. His brothers and father ran the store while he held down a job as a businessman. The floors and walls smelled strongly of old wood and we were celebrities within the confines of that building, getting boisterous hellos and high fives from everyone who worked behind the counter. The first sight you saw upon entering the store was the penny gumball machine, a prize for the children who didn’t want to be in a hardware store at all. The pink gumballs stood out the brightest of all but had the most severe flavour. You craved for them to taste like cotton candy or frosting because they looked so colourfully inviting but they always proved disappointing, not unlike the turpentine sold in the store.

When we brought home the clay pigeon target-flinger, we shot the discs far out into the blue sky as he guided my aim, making it easier for me to get the hang of this firearm, the one that was promised to me someday, and I pulled strongly on the trigger. CRACK. All at once, the sound of the gun going off next to my ear and the clay pigeon blowing to smithereens all over the front lawn. There is a certain thrill in recalling those times that is now made greater because I am not trying to get finished up with my rifle tutorial as quickly as I can. The truth is, all I really wanted to do in those days was play Space Invaders. Now that was a brand of sharp shooting I could really get behind.

Excerpted from I Do Not Want You To Go

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