Dodging Bullets
Kevin Brown
Break
I remember the day my school bus crashed, because I wasn't on it. The day the fire department ripped the bus top into metal ribbons, I was in the counselor's office, talking about my feelings since my mom ran away.
I liked the counselor's office. I'd eat hard candy and hold a stuffed teddy bear three times my size. With the counselor asking if I feel it's my fault, I'd rub its tattered fur and trace the busted threads along the seam lines. That afternoon I told her how I used to see Mom and Dad's reflections washing dishes in the window above the sink. Smiling, blowing soap bubbles, leaning in to kiss. I wrapped my arms halfway around the bear and said how one day the reflections weren't smiling. How one day Mom's reflection was gone.
Then we heard sirens scream by like the world was ending.
That night at home, after the news poured in—how many lived, died, and might not make it through the morning—it hit me that I took that bus every day. At the kitchen table, eating a baloney sandwich, I said, "Dad, if I was on that bus, would I have died?" He twisted a glass of whiskey back and forth in half-arcs, leaned on his elbows, and said, "Don't know, son. Either way, you dodged a bullet." His eyes were raw and red-webbed. A framed picture of Mom beside him. He took a sip. "We're all dodging invisible bullets," he said. "They zip by our heads, every second of every day."
"Who's shooting at us?" I said, and he said, "God."
He drained his drink to the ice. "You turn left and live. Another guy turns right, and..." he slapped the table, "dies." He stood and walked to the sink. His reflection looking back at him. Thick raindrops popped his face in the glass and slid down in clear streaks. "The same store you were in Monday burns down Tuesday. A guy gets shot, the doctor tells him another inch to the right or left and he'd be gone." Lightning fluttered, whitening his face out a moment. Then it returned, his reflection looking down. "At any given moment, we're all just an inch to the right or left from tragedy."
Munching my sandwich, the crust arced in a smile, I pretended Mom left so I'd have to see that counselor and hug that bear while up the road my bus was rolling off the road. Maybe she pushed me out of the line of fire, sacrificing their marriage for the better me. Now, I wonder if she took a bullet herself, if she was shot down, or is still moving through the world, bullets popping divots in the ground around her.
But Dad was hit, and the whiskey got him years later. In the hospital I held his purple hand as he twitched and shook from the bullet that found its mark years ago. From the wound that never healed.
Kevin Brown recently won the Permafrost Literary Journal's Midnight Sun Fiction Contest, the Touchstone Fiction Competition, and placed third in the Cadenza Fiction Contest. He was nominated for the 2007 Best American Short Stories, and has published in Alligator Juniper, sub-TERRAIN, Rosebud, New Delta Review, Underground Voices, Conclave, Crannog, Mississippi Crow, Vulcan, and NANO Fiction. Website