The Gun Cabinet
The gun cabinet was prominent, a gleaming walnut and glass display, free of dust and fingerprints, which was noteworthy as the rest of the house was covered in pet hair and smelled of must, and dog, and old. Lena’s eyes kept flicking back to this centerpiece dominating the living room. Each gun rested on a metal mounting over gray padding; three large guns were horizontal, and two handguns were tilted at a diagonal.
Lena perched on the edge of the floral, overstuffed sofa, sweating as the central heating blasted away Virginia’s December chill. She glanced down, surreptitiously brushing at the dog hair clinging to the legs of her black jeans. Jeans she would likely wear for several days, as her suitcase, stuffed with sweaters and boots and thick, cozy socks for their eight-day visit, never made it off the conveyor belt at the Richmond Airport.
Ray’s mother Margaret (please, call me Mags) had offered to lend Lena her clothing multiple times, but since the petite blonde was about half Lena’s height, the suggestion was ludicrous. Lena politely demurred, assuring Mags that she would do some laundry before bed.
Lena was grateful when Ray’s stepfather, Jim, handed her a highball splashed with a generous pour of Tullamore Dew, telling her his family, like the whiskey, hailed from Tullamore, Ireland. This Lena could manage. Whiskey talk. Ray and Margaret—Mags—were deep in conversation about Ray’s job at the Mercedes dealership, so Lena clutched her glass, sipping and nodding, encouraging Jim with murmurs of interest as he waxed poetic about Irish whiskey.
“It’s blended, Lena, triple barrel. You know what that means?”
“They make it in three barrels?”
“That’s exactly right. Ray, you got a good one here! Triple cask matured, they say. Well, I’ll tell you, I have whiskey in my blood. The rivers were flowing with it back in the old country. King’s County, Lena, that’s what they called it. We were kings!” His chortle caught in his throat, turning into a phlegmy cough that fogged up his thick glasses and shook his jowls before he soothed his throat with another gulp of whiskey. “You know the Irish, we love our drink. Distilleries all over the place! Tullamore, Ireland. The green would knock your eyes out, Lena. They don’t call it the Emerald Isle for nothing!”
“And that’s where you grew up?”
Jim’s gravelly laughter turned into another choking fit that rattled his Lazy-Boy and turned his whiskered face a concerning shade of red. Lena watched anxiously, then glanced toward Mags, but when she ignored the explosive noises coming from their side of the room, Lena guessed these eruptions must be fairly commonplace. Breathing still labored, Jim wiped his mouth, then continued. “No, no, right here in Virginia, Miss Lena. But I’ll tell you, my great-great-grandma—lemme see—is that the right amount of greats? Maybe another drop would help me remember.” He winked, nodding toward the bottle. Dutifully, Lena refilled his glass, giving herself another splash as well. When in Rome. Or, uh. Virginia. “Well, that woulda been Oonagh. She married one of those Molloy nephews way back, but he wasn’t actually a Molloy, he was a Daly, but the Molloys were his people. Then they had Orla—that’s my great gran. She married a Molloy cousin, too, and had my granny Aoife. Those Molloys, well, they had their sticky fingers in just about every operation out there in King’s County.” He looked expectantly at Lena, and she sensed she was supposed to respond.
“Oh yeah, that Michael Molloy, he was the first, and after that, the Molloys pretty much owned the town.”
“That’s right, lass.”
Lass? He was getting more Irish with every swallow.
“They had the general store, the wine shop, the distillery. All a them cousins got a piece. Oh yeah, they ran the town, that’s for darn sure. And the castles in that place, well, they didn’t call it King’s County for nothin! They’d knock your eyes out! You been to Ireland, Lena?”
“No Jim, I never have.”
“Ray,” he hollered across the room, “take this little girl to Ireland!”
“I’m working on it, Jimmy. Working on it.”
“Well son, you gotta make that happen! You making good money at that fancy car shop? Running that place yet?”
Ray turned to his stepfather, and launched into the attributes of the 2003 S-Class. Lena’s eyes drifted back to the gun cabinet. This didn’t bother Ray? Five weapons displayed in the middle of the living room? She scanned her memory for a conversation about guns, gun control, guns in the home. Was it possible this had never come up in the last three years? She knew her future in-laws were Republicans—well, Jim was. She wasn’t sure about Mags. Ray said his mom voted “based on the candidate.” Unsure what that meant, Lena didn’t probe. She detested George Bush, and so did Ray, but he explicitly asked her to avoid politics on their family visit. It’s only a week, he said. We won’t see them again until the wedding. Ray wasn’t a boat rocker, and while Lena appreciated that he was easy to get along with, she sometimes wondered what it would take for him to engage in an uncomfortable interaction. Lena wouldn’t describe herself as confrontational, exactly, but she wasn’t afraid to assert her opinion, and lately, she had begun to consider if Ray prioritized friendly over honest. But maybe in this case he was right. They were in Virginia, after all. Surely she could avoid politics and semi-fake it for one week.
Lena knew Jim had been in the Navy—and served in Vietnam—but she had never understood the relationship between the military and Republicans. George Bush didn’t fight in Vietnam. He was too busy snorting cocaine at frat parties and getting bad grades. His family just shipped others off to war, paid lip service with empty “support the troops” mantras. How did sending poor people to die in greed-based wars that benefited the rich “support the troops?” And let’s not even talk about this Shock and Awe campaign. More like the Blow Up a Bunch of Muslim Women and Children in Baghdad campaign. Yep, this was exactly why Ray didn’t want her to talk politics, thought Lena, and almost laughed out loud. Almost. Somehow, the gun cabinet drained the humor out of the room.
One of the hand guns looked modern. Thick, menacing, black. Lena thought the clip in the handle probably meant the gun was an automatic. A Glock? Lena’s gun language was minimal, solely from fiction. Harry Bosch and Elvis Cole. The other handgun looked like something out of a black and white movie, shiny and silver, with a long nose and a spinning cylinders where you put the bullets in one at a time. Then there were big ones. A long rifle with a walnut stock and some kind of sighting instrument on top. A scope? Was that it? Who used those things? Snipers? Lena felt a shiver of anxiety pulse across her skin. Another, similar in shape, but half the length, had two barrels. Wide. Heavy. A sawed-off shotgun? Lena pictured those massive double barrels pointed at her, and the whiskey sloshed in her belly. Didn’t shotguns blow huge holes in things? You couldn’t use those to hunt. And the last weapon certainly wasn’t for hunting. This one looked military, jet black with a skinny barrel and a huge clip. The kind that movie gangsters used to spray bullets in a terrifying arc. What was Jim doing with all these guns?
“You like ‘em, huh. Want to hold one?”
The sudden silence startled Lena out of her reverie. Everyone was looking at her.
Jim started to heave himself out of the lounger, a multi-step process that involved rocking forward until the chair snapped into an upright position with a dull thud. Then he braced his hands on the armrests, groaning, muttering, inching out of the seat. Lena looked on with alarm. Finally on his feet, Jim hobbled to the front door, tugging his thick, fisherman-knit sweater down over his pot belly, and hauling his sagging brown corduroys up over his flat rear. He grabbed a set of keys off a hook on the wall, then started toward the mantel. Peering at the gun cabinet, he fumbled through the keys, and Lena registered what she had missed. Want to hold one?
“No, Jim—I—I’m not—please don’t—”
“Let’s look at the nine. Little big for a lady, but it’s a nice solid piece.”
“I don’t—no thank you, Jim.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble,” he continued. He had the case open, and was trying to jam the huge key ring into his pocket. Lena eyeballed Ray, a silent plea for help, but he shrugged. She was on her own. Lena tried again.
“Jim, I really don’t like—”
“Now you don’t have to be afraid Miss Lena, none a these are loaded.” He pressed some sort of release, pulled the thick handgun from the cabinet, then turned to face Lena. “We could head on up to the range tomorrow,” he said, then barked out a rough laugh. “Fill this sucker up with hollow points and blow some holes in things.” He held the gun out. Lena shook her head. “Well go on then. Take it.”
“No. I don’t want to.”
“Whaddya mean? Just—” He took a few steps, pushing the gun towards her again, and Lena jumped up and backed away.
“No! Stop it! I’m not touching the fucking gun!”
Jim froze. Mags’ pink lipsticked mouth was a little round o of surprise. Ray blew out a breath and avoided Lena’s eyes.
Lena listened to her heart beat in her ears as heat radiated from her face and chest. She gathered herself as the silence extended. In through the nose, out through the mouth.
“Sorry, Jim,” she offered quietly. Her words fell into the chasm that had opened up in the Virginia living room. “I don’t like guns, and I don’t want to hold them or fire them. But I apologize for my language. I’m sorry if I offended you.”
“Well,” said Jim. He cleared his throat. “All right then.”
Lena turned to her fiancé. “Ray, I’m heading upstairs to read for a bit.” He nodded. Stiff. She couldn’t read his look through the sudden blur of tears clouding her vision. Before they could spill, Lena turned and walked up the stairs.
A few minutes later, Ray peeked in the doorway.
“You okay?” He held out her glass. “I brought your whiskey.” Lena managed a small smile. Ray set the glass down on the bedside table, sat on the edge of the bed, and wrapped her in a bear hug.
Muffled against his chest, Lena muttered, “I guess they hate me now.” Ray laughed.
“Of course they don’t hate you.”
“I said ‘fuck’ to Jim and rejected his stupid guns.”
“Yeah you did. And that’s what I love about you. But maybe—could you tone it down a notch?”
A renewed surge of anger colored Lena’s face. She pulled away and scowled. “What was I supposed to do?! He literally shoved a gun in my face! I said no like five times! He wasn’t listening!”
“I know, I know. Look. It’s fine. Jim’s just—he’s old. And he’s injured. He took a bad fall working for a logging company, and had to retire early, so he has this whole glory days thing, and he’s really proud of his time in the Navy, so it’s just—he doesn’t have a whole lot else going on. Of course he doesn’t hate you. It’s fine. He gets it now. No more guns.”
“Well, sort of. I mean, they’re right there. Hanging on the wall.”
Ray stiffened, and a note of defensiveness crept into his tone. “What do you want me to do? They’re not mine! And we’re not in the Bay! I know you think everything is supposed to be super liberal, but guns are normal in lots of places.”
Lena swallowed. Normal. She hated that word. Her mind suddenly danced back to the flag that never actually materialized on the porch but still, somehow, hung in Lena’s subconscious.
“Would you ever get a gun? Want a gun in our home?”
Ray stared at her, incredulous.
“Are you kidding? No! No way.”
Lena let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.
“Okay. I just—we never—”
“Babe. Chill. I don’t like guns. I just—please don’t judge my stepdad. It’s different here. He’s a vet. He’s a good person.” He grabbed her hand and looked into her eyes. “This is my family. Can you be cool with that?”
As Lena smiled, and nodded, she wondered, for a moment, what exactly she was agreeing too. Was she overreacting? Maybe. Probably. This wasn’t about Ray. He just said he didn’t like guns. And no one could pick their parents. It was only a week. Right? Only a week. Once a year. And as Ray pulled Lena back into his arms, she stomped down the little worm of doubt that poked its green nose out of the dirt and peered up at her, wriggling this way and that.
The next morning, as Mags fried eggs and bacon, and pulled hot fluffy biscuits out of the oven, and chatted with Ray about their plans for the day, Jim apologized to Lena for the “misunderstanding.”
And then, for the rest of their visit, seven long days, Jim stayed quiet. He watched TV and read the newspaper in his Lazy-boy. He did not pour Lena another Tullamore Dew.
After earning an English Literature degree in San Francisco, Lindsay spent ten years in the classroom, teaching teenagers how to write. Now, after completing her MFA in Creative Fiction from Mills at Northeastern, she focuses on her own craft. Lindsay is the recipient of the Amanda Davis MFA Thesis in Fiction Prize, and the Melody Clarke Teppola Creative Writing Prize in Fiction. She has a forthcoming short story in the literary magazine Drunk Monkeys. Lindsay recently completed her first novel, and is hard at work on the sequel.