When I was 17, I weighed 110 pounds; a Ruger double-action .357 magnum with a 6-inch barrel and cushioned rubber grip weighed a little more than 3 pounds, fully loaded. I didn’t know much about guns or math back then, but it was obvious the girl-to-gun ratio was off. When I took aim, my skinny arms trembled.
High school graduation was only two weeks away. I’d asked for a camera as a graduation gift, a 35 millimeter SLR—a grown-up camera—so I could take pictures of the painted canoes on the lake, the hollyhocks in Grandma’s garden, my friends in their caps and gowns. But then an early-morning customer found my grandfather on the floor behind his cash register, dying, knife-slick, murdered. I forgot about the camera; my family gave me a gun instead.
“Use both hands to keep it steady,” Dad said as we shot glinting red Coke cans off the hay bales behind the barn. I stood the way he showed me, closed my right eye to aim, and he scowled. “You’re still cockeyed.” He’d taught me to shoot a BB gun when I was little, chuckling when he’d noted I was right-handed and left-eyed. We’d giggled, then, about the word cockeyed.
Grandpa’s autopsy doctors wrote the report like an equation: four inches times forty-seven. They looked at depth and angle to estimate how tall the killer was, how much he weighed, how close he had to stand as he swung his knife. Just about anyone can hide a folding knife in their pocket, and you wouldn’t know until you saw the glimmer of the blade. How close to people do you stand?
The county sheriff vomited on the sidewalk outside Grandpa’s hardware store. He thought the killer was insane, probably a drifter. The two local cops refused to look at the crime scene; they didn’t have any suspects. The state Bureau of Investigation said it was a serial killer, or maybe someone who had a grudge against our family. The only thing they agreed on was that they couldn’t protect us. “All of you should be armed,” they said. “All the time.”
“You’ll get stronger,” Dad said after target practice on the morning of graduation. But as I sat alone in my car before the ceremony, I wondered if he was wrong. My friends waited outside the auditorium, waving for me to hurry. The .357 was twice as big as the black satin clutch that matched my graduation gown. I took stock of the parking lot, calculated my risk. Shoved the gun into the glovebox and ran straight to the auditorium doors, my body light, my aim almost steady.
Myna Chang’s work has been featured or is forthcoming in Best Small Fictions, Fractured Lit, and X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, and has been nominated for Best Microfiction. She is the winner of the 2020 Lascaux Prize in Creative Nonfiction. Find her at MynaChang.com or @MynaChang.