The wiry clerk at the gun store was pretty sure he didn’t want to sell me a gun so that I could shoot Georgia, my dog. But he wasn’t completely sure.
She sat on her haunches, panting softly. The Gunny looked at her, wondering if she were a good dog or a bad dog. The look on his face was the same look my father had when he tried to solve math problems.
“She ate my sandwich,” I said.
Another man still dressed for deer season six months after it ended took a knee beside the dog. “Does she bite?”
Georgia rolled onto her back and cocked her forearms to get a belly scratch. Her breath was a pungent cloud of sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. The smell of my filched Reuben panini overtook the faint circulating esters of black powder.
“It’s in her blood,” I said. “Her Uncle Simon Sad Eyes also stole sandwiches. It’s a very opportunistic line of retrievers.”
I remembered the time Simon Sad Eyes had stolen a whole pizza from three girls who only laughed and rubbed his head. One said, “Labs have the softest ears in the world.”
The man scratching Georgia was named Colt. I imagined he had two dogs named Smith and Wesson, and a horse named Trigger. “Aren’t they supposed to bring things back to you?” Colt said.
A friendly cross-stitch of the second amendment in biblical gothic lettering was mounted on the wall alongside an array of stocks and barrels. There weren’t any Guerini field guns—works of truth and beauty—but I could see the shop was making an effort at style.
Except for the fact I wanted to shoot my dog, these men were a lot like me. We’d grown up in a culture in which if you shot and missed your buddy would cut the back out of your shirt so everyone would know you couldn’t aim. We’d grown up counting breaths—three big ones—before squeezing the trigger, rather than “pulling” it.
Still, I was surprised that the dealer wasn’t absolutely sure he couldn’t sell me a firearm. He was bereft of an ability to explore the riddle of my predicament until he could understand it. Gunny didn’t ask me what had happened before the sandwich. He didn’t want to know if Georgia and I had been having a great hike on the river together. Maybe my wife had called. Maybe she’d fussed at me over something. Maybe I’d gone quiet as if grieving but really just to camouflage my rage.
A rage that could only be quelled by driving to Wally’s Country Store and ordering a sandwich.
There was a beauty parlor between Wally’s and the gun store. Arriving at Wally’s, I’d sat and watched a neighbor lead an older woman into the salon to have her hair done, as we called it. Maybe it was a duty, but it was also a kindness.
Sometimes you open your eyes and find that you are dancing with someone and sometimes you open them to realize you’re alone and everyone else is staring at you because the music isn’t for everyone.
The math never adds up. Like the old song says: I got six bullets and ten people I need to kill.
What was holding up Gunny was my right to buy a gun for any reason. That was something he believed in. It was in the Constitution. I imagined he told himself at night: What was good for George Washington is good enough for me.
And then I guess he took out his wooden teeth and went to sleep.
Georgia and I made our way to the car. Next time I feel so angry, I promised her, we’ll get a mani-pedi.