Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Rifle


I was the little brother. My sister, Elaine, 16, called me Mikey. We loved each other.  To me Elaine seemed so very old. Our 1950’s family treated me as a little prince but Elaine was not raised as a princess. 

Despite the unequal treatment, Elaine never resented me.

We lived in Phoenix where western events were a big deal.

 Each year Elaine and I would go to the Annual Rodeo Parade together.

I was always so excited. Elaine and I would plan it all out.

“First we’ll take the bus downtown.”
“We can catch in on Indian School Road.”
“Here, Mikey, you should wear this red bandana.  Let me cuff your jeans.”

I told Elaine, “this year I get to be on a parade float with the Kinelworth elementary school.

Elaine hugged me as we plotted the day.
“We’ll go to Woolworth’s for lunch.”
“We’ll get ice cream at the big Carnation store downtown.” 

After the parade, we took the city bus home.  Elaine asked me to help her with her squaw dress. She was wearing some type of Indian costume for an event beyond the ken of her little brother.

We went in the backyard of our suburban home.  Elaine had a bright blue embroidered skirt hanging on the clothes line.

“Mikey, hold one end while I twist it.”
Elaine began to tighten and twist the dress to create special wrinkles
“Are you going to wear your silver concho belt?, I asked.
“Are you going to wear the turquoise bracelet.”

In earlier years, I had  been the annoying little boy listening in on the phone extension:
“Mikey, are you on the phone!!
“Get off!! I’m going to tell mom on you.”

I liked to make Elaine yell at me.  I never thought she was truly angry with me.

Elaine saw herself as my teacher on all things related to etiquette.
“Now, open the door and let the women enter first.”
“Help mom with her chair.”
“Always let women  go first.”

And then there was personal appearance.

“Stand up straight, Mikey.”
“Comb her your hair! You can’t go with me with your hair like that.”
“Throw you shoulders back. Don’t slump.”

I obeyed.  Elaine seemed to know the order of things and I listened to her.

As a 10 year old boy, I was generally not included in family decisions.  So it came as a surprise to me when mom and dad announced  we were moving to Long Beach, California. They explained, Elaine would stay behind and live with her friend Dorothy.  Elaine would finish her final year at West High..

Elaine promised, “I’ll write you and tell you about high school.” 
“Here, I have some stationary for you to write to me.”

I wondered what would happen with my big sister gone.
I felt she was leaving us.

After dark, our  stuffed 1951 Chevrolet pulled away from our driveway headed  California.  Without air conditioning, we always made this  desert trip in the night.

During the car ride, my  mother and father explained  the move. They had purchased a small business,  It was a delicatessen. .

Mom said: “we have rented a big apartment near the ocean.  It is close to where we go on vacation in the Summer.”

As a bonus, she explained, I could walk to the ocean and to my favorite Belmont fishing pier.

For years past, we had been going to Long Beach each Summer had been a huge treat for me and Elaine. Every day, I hunted the beach for shell and various treasures.  I was out all day, every day. 

Our car pulled up at the curb to our new home. The  apartment was done in a grand Spanish motif.  The outside stairs were  brightly painted  tiles with each stair level a different pattern of flowers.  A 12 foot yellow hibiscus grew along the stairway.

Inside,  the rough stucco walls had sconces that had once held gas lights but now were electric  The doorways were arched. The front door was a particularly heavy oak with a little black iron peek through window.

At the end of a long hall, I had my own room.  This seemed pretty fine to me.  Elaine’s room would be next-door.  But her room was empty for now.

I felt we had  begun a vacation. The apartment was so unlike our box-like home in Phoenix.

Among my most prized possessions  was my 22 rifle.  I had been a proud owner of a BB Gun in Phoenix but now I had moved up the gun food chain to a real 22.

My dad, taught me how to fire the weapon and clean it. He took me to gun ranges and often to the Arizona desert where I shot at the rusty tin cans sprouting up like the surrounding mesquite and cactus.

“OK Mikey,” lay down and hold the rifle like this.”
Dad lay on a blanket on the floor of the rocky desert. He bent his hat back, just so to shade his eyes.  

“You have to slowly squeeze the trigger and keep your target aligned .”

“There… good shot. You came closer this time!”
Ocassionaly I could hear the sound of the bullet hitting a can.

I was proud. I loved spending this time with my Dad.

Rifle instructions often included stories about his time in the Army. He had been in the 7th Cavalry when they still had horses. My dad had been a polo player.

I loved to take out his Army paraphernalia . He still had boots, spurs and a sword.

By the time we moved to  Long Beach, I had become reasonably proficient with my 22.  Mom and Dad were consumed with their new business, so I didn’t get out to practice and in Long Beach there was no desert.

Often while watching TV, I would take out the 22 and clean it. I would fondle the wooden stock and polish the metal parts. I liked the ritual of swabbing the barrel with gun oil.  I kept the 22 shells in the top drawer of my bureau and my stood my rifle in my closet.

My parents drilled me about gun safety. Even as a boy with a cap gun, I was forbidden to point it at another boy.  Of course I broke that rule, but, if caught,  I would always be admonished
“Never point a gun at a person.”

As soon as Elaine finished her last semester of high school, she came to live with us in the apartment.

I was so excited to have her back. Elaine could now drive. She took me shopping and bought a large yellow fishnet for me.  We bought a bamboo pole and she rigged it up on the wall of my room.

“There! Now you can hang your starfish and shells on the net!”
I was ecstatic.  My room was even more wonderful.

 Elaine  began community college and made new “college” friends. She met a lot of students in the performing arts.  She told me about plays and the actors she had met.  

Elaine seemed to suddenly be much older. With mom and dad at work and Elaine busy with friends and school, I was mostly alone.

When Elaine was home, she  and I often ate in a diner near our parents delicatessen .  There was no time for family dinners.

In the diner one evening, we sat at the counter
Elaine: “I’ll have coffee.”
Me: “Coffee!!” Elaine, you are having coffee!! I said a bit too loud.
The waitress smiled.
Elaine: “Stop it, you are embarrassing me.”

Despite her embarrassing little brother,  Elaine continued to do her duties as my big sister. Moving on beyond basic etiquette she enjoyed trying  to teach me to dance.  Getting ready for a 6th grade event of some kind, we put on music in the living room of the apartment.

Elaine would show me where to place my hands, how to move my feet as we turned our living room into a ballroom.

We laughed and danced around and around. Eventually we put on some very loud rock and roll and really began to stomp around.

“Boom, Boom, Boom”
Oh god, it’s Mrs. Ehrenkrantz downstairs. She has a broom out again!
We stopped but continued to giggle.

In the early evening, it was already  dark in November.  I was home with my mother. Dad was at work.  Elaine came home. We all began to talk about getting Pizza or going out to Delmonicos.  We lived two blocks from a busy street.

I was headed down the hall to phone for Pizza  when the doorbell rang.

My mom pulled open the door, not bothering to look through the metal grated box to see who is visiting.  She swung the door wide and a man walked in pushing my mother aside.
“You are Elaine’s mother.”
“I am here to tell you that I have bee watching her.  She is seeing some very bad people at City College! She’s hanging out with those no good kids in the theater!

I stood at the end of the hall. I put down the phone.  I could see my mother and sister were both frightened. He was a big man with backpack.  He was menacing.  I knew this was bad.  I felt afraid for mom and Elaine.

I thought: “I should protect them.”

He was much bigger than all of us.  I could sense the threat from my hallway vantage point.

“I want you to leave right now! “My mom said,
“But you have to listen to me. You are being a bad parent.!!”  His voice sounded angry and loud. He was screaming.  

I closed the door to my room. I could hear the argument continuing down the hall.

I got out my rifle and loaded a single shell.

I sat on my bed for a moment thinking what should I do?

My mind raced.  My imagination took me out in the hall with the rifle.

My rifle fired one shot at a time. If I took off the safety, I could fire it.

What am I supposed to do?  Should I shoot this man?

While I thought, I heard the front door slam.  He was gone. 

I discharged the shell and put everything away. No one knew about my little life defining melodrama in my bedroom.

After the event, Elaine became fearful to walk alone. Although I was still relatively small, Elaine wanted me to meet her at the bus stop and walk down our darkened streets.  If she needed to go out, I went with her. 

I felt older and bigger.


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