In October, a few weeks after I’d started eighth grade, my mother shot my father’s lawn six times, her aim sweeping from left to right as if she was drawing a line. “God damn you,” she said before each shot.
She was sure my father was inside the house because his car was parked in the driveway, and my father was not someone who was fond of exercise, even a leisurely walk. The one-car garage hadn’t had room for either my father’s Ford or my mother’s Toyota since I could remember. What was parked inside were old lawnmowers and rusted tools, three broken televisions, a washer and dryer set, and an ancient refrigerator my mother had made him take the door off “before your only son suffocates himself in there.”
“You cowardly, silent shit,” my mother said when she was finished, pointing the empty gun at each of the four windows in the front. Behind one of them, she must have believed, my father was peeking, and then she climbed into the car where I was sitting with my seat belt on like I’d promised.
“Good boy,” she said, patting me on my head. I almost barked, but thought better of it. She stuffed the pistol under her seat and started the car. “I considered shooting holes in all those damned, broken appliances, but I finally decided to shoot the lawn so every neighbor who cared to look could see how Mr. Keeps-to-Himself stayed inside and took it.”
I looked at the lawn as if I expected the holes to be bleeding. “He’ll have his hands full with the shame of that,” she went on. “He’ll have some explaining to do when he shows himself.”
I wondered if you could get arrested for assaulting a yard, even one as small and weed-choked as my father’s, with dandelions so thick it looked as if they’d been planted as ground cover. “If he presses charges,” my mother said like a mind-reader, “your father could complicate things.” We were moving by then, back on the busy two-lane that ran six houses down from where we’d lived until two weeks before. She patted my left knee. “But don’t you worry. I know your father. It’s just one more thing he’ll never talk about. He’s like those World War II vets who keep everything to themselves, even now when they’re as old as dirt. D-Day, Iwo Jima, the Battle of the Bulge and all that. Like they ate something terrible and can’t digest it.”
“Ok,” I said, but she’d already reached for the radio and turned on a station that was playing what sounded like a hundred violins pretending to be an approaching thunderstorm. “We’ll stop for pizza,” she said. “There’s a three-topping special at Gino’s. You can get whatever tickles your fancy.”
Pepperoni. Sausage. Ham. That’s what tickled. She’d promised and delivered. Just like how she’d promised to “show your father what’s up” after he had called my school three times to tell them I wasn’t a resident of the district anymore because he figured we’d moved in with my Aunt Jeanne, who lived close but over the county line. As we’d left with a car full of clothes, she’d told my father, “You do anything but leave us alone, you’ll be sorry,” and now she’d kept the topping for that particular pizza to herself.
“It’s his gun,” she said after I’d stuffed myself, eating the whole medium pie except for one slice my mother nibbled until I’d finished. “I thought he might use it on himself when we left, but it turned out to come in handy.”
“He could buy another one.”
“Not your father. Not when he had time to think,” she said, but she stopped on the bridge my old school bus crossed every morning and afternoon, the one where, sitting up high, you were reminded there was nothing but emptiness between that bus and the river all the way down a hundred feet below. “Help me,” she said. “Watch where this goes so you know this happened.”
“Ok,” I said, but I took a step back from the railing, terrified I’d lean over and somehow flop into the air.
“Scaredy-cat,” she said, which yanked me back to the railing like a leash. She smiled, then waited for a truck to pass, an empty space opening along the road in either direction before she let the gun drop, the river so far away that the sound of the splash seemed as unreal as a curse in a dubbed-in, foreign movie. “There,” she said, hugging me until I felt as if I’d just stood by and watched my father die.