Bonfires and Shotgun Shells

I remember the house where I grew up—dull grey siding and unfortunate mauve window frames. Long-dead cars and scrap AC units occupied the driveway, so we always parked our running cars in the yard. In the garage Dad had a workshop where he’d load shell casings with powder, primers and brass bullets. Near the woods behind the garage we had a fire pit, sometimes we’d sneak into Dad’s workshop and grab some of his primers to throw in the fire. We’d chuck ‘em and run while they exploded behind us. Sometimes the flames would get so high the trees above would catch on fire—we’d just let them burn.

I remember my Dad teaching us how to shoot. He always beat “Safety first!” into our heads, so it was funny when he was dry firing in the living room and a shot live bullet through the kitchen wall. Or when my five year old brother fired a hand gun into the floor a foot or two in front of me—we never did figure out where that slug ricocheted off to. When we were bored, my brothers and I would grab a shotgun and fire into the woods. They used birdshot, because the casing was filled with lots of little bullets that would burst and spread out. I liked to watch the way it pummeled over the weeds, but I was always afraid we’d hit someone. Then we’d be murderers and couldn’t get into heaven after they fried us all up.

I remember learning how to ride a bike. Sometimes Dad and I went for rides, I’d wait until dark for him to come home and ride but usually he was too late or too tired. Mostly I would just circle around in the street on my own. One time a police officer pulled over to scold me for not wearing my helmet, we lived on a busy road and he wanted me to be safe. I told him that’s why I rode against traffic, just in case I needed to bail. He asked me to get my parents. I told him I would, but hid in my closet instead. My Dad came to look for me, and I swear he looked me right in the face but his eyes were sad and he just signed and left me there. He never said anything about it, we had lots of pacts like that.

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