Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Reminder

 Told from the POV of several characters. It's an experiment. I'll leave you to figure out who's narrating what. The main character is the budding artist. But he's not the only one narrating.
I looked up from where I lay. The smoking barrel in his hands seemed happier now, that its purpose in life was complete.
The strange thing about a gunshot is the realness of it. The starkness of the bullet's intrusion into your body. Even with the pain aside, there's something about the small metallic cylinder that just feels wrong. When you're dying, and you know it, passing out from blood loss is probably a mercy.
Sunday morning. One of my favourite parts of the week. I usually either sleep or I go out. Today was a going-out kind of day, so I left home to get to the beach.
The beach is my refuge. When cool sea air mixes with beer and sand and a couple of burgers, then there's this heady sense of euphoria that settles on you like a blanket and refuses to go away. I lay in the sand, dead to the world, feeling fuller than my stomach.
It's the impact. You can tell that someone shot you from the impact.
Of course you know that someone's going to shoot you. But until the bullet actually penetrates, you still hold out this sliver of hope that someone will be a good samaritan and do something about the gun. It rarely happens anywhere outside the movies. People are just too jaded, or just apathetic.
I saw her get there, with the man, running into the alley. She was young. Younger than I'd have liked. Perhaps as old as my sister, but still younger than me.
Another thing I like about the beach is the women. There's plenty of eye candy. I like to sketch that eye candy. I didn't spend three years in Art School being a borderline geek. I can sketch and paint almost anything under the sun. I wasn't a Picasso, but I wasn't half bad either.
This was a weekly occurence. I'd come to the beach, hang out for a while and sketch whatever I liked. I had a ton of books sitting at home, full of these sketches that my friends tried to publish for me.
I hadn't let them. It seemed wrong, somehow. Those sketches were parts of other peoples' memories, part of their lives, done without their consent.. but then, that makes me a pervert, I guess.
I didn't think she would fire.
Hell, I didn't think there were even any bullets in the bloody gun. 'Jenny, sit down. You've had a shock.. I'll call the police.' She had these little gloves on, pink and frilly. I hadn't asked why. I had a stab of suspicion, though... if you followed conventional detective operas, then gloves didn't leave fingerprints.
But she was a girl. Just a little girl.
And with tears in her blue eyes, she fired the gun, pointblank, into my chest.
Sketching is all very fine, but you realize that like a writer's mental block, you can't actually start until you find something to sketch in the first place!
I had to look around for a subject. There's only so many sketches of the female form you can do with some sort of vindictive pleasure, until you start actually looking for a good subject with some meaning to it.
I found a subject. She might have been seventeen or so, a blonde firangi. She had on a one-piece swimsuit and sat on a rock, occassionally looking out over the sea while reading a book. She had small pink gloves on; and bandages under that.
Wondering if I should ask permission first, I drew the first few strokes.
I didn't believe it when she picked up the gun. I didn't expect her to, either. I thought she had collapsed. She was in shock.
The dead man on the floor had been just too much for both of us. It's one thing to see the body of your grandfather or parent, who did naturally and had to be cremated; with love and farewells. It's quite something else to see an impersonal killing. It's like life has no meaning, and very little importance. Everyone's a God in their own world.
'Put the gun away, it might still be loaded.' She shook her head.
'My brother's dead,' she said, and collapsed onto her knees, sobbing.
When she rose there was a purpose in her eyes, a steely determination, that I... didn't actually like. It was vehement and malicious, that gleam.. and suddenly, I realized the alley was empty but for us.
Halfway through my sketch, she looked around the beach and saw me watching her. Wondering if she'd object, I studied her, going on with my work. She soon caught wind of my frequent glances, and got off her rock. I sighed; another sketch scrapped because the subject was either too nervous of being stared at, or had something to say about the matter.
I was about to get up myself, to close the distance and apologize, when two men ran up from the water. One was in swimming trunks. The other was dressed typically in jeans and a sweatshirt.
He had a gun.
I didn't believe myself that I'd done it. I didn't think I could have, not if someone had paid me to. But things just happen. Both men lay dead on the ground. The first one had been murdered in cold blood, the second... probably in defense. 
The second... maybe I could plead self-defense. 
And so she'd shot him first. Call it preemptive judgement. Call it murder. He was dead, we were alive.
I looked around, wiping his blood off my hands, and I remembered that she was still there, and she'd screamed, seeing the corpses. She'd screamed again, firing the gun.
It's alright, I wanted to say. He's not hurting anyone else now.  But the words didn't come out. My mouth had frozen of itself.
She had the bloodied gun. And it was pointed at me.

We'd chased them down into this side alley, following the pair. She'd brought me along, and I had to wonder exactly why. She'd yelled something that sounded like "Derek" and grabbed me; before I knew it, I was running with her.
The man with the gun had already shot twice, but both shots had done more damage to the alley than to their intended targets. We followed them into the twisting depths of a deserted alley. I never liked alleys. Too much stuff goes on in here than anywhere else.
We'd found the man lying there, Derek, in his swimming trunks, as we rounded a corner. He was lying there, leaking life from three bullet holes in his chest.
Impulsively, I'd thrown my sketchbook at him. It was a thick book, with a heavy cover, and he'd been dazed by the killing himself. The book hitting his hand had probably brought him to reality, but I hadn't stopped there, I'd punched him in the face with force, and kicked at his groin. He went down, clutching his vitals. I don't remember much else at the time; adrenaline was making things a blur.
We grappled at each other. The movies romanticize this part, making it an epic struggle between good and evil. I thought it felt like Russian Roulette, except that in this case, the one without the gun lost. It was anything-goes, pokes in the eye, kicks to the groin, jabs to the throat. But somehow, I got a kick in faster than him, and he let go of it. Then, something roared; and the man froze.
Rigor mortis. She'd shot him.
*'No, Derek!' she'd screamed. 'Brother!' Well, that solved something. So the dead man was her brother. 'What have you done?' The man with the gun was standing loosely. He looked like any other firangi, but the gun and the clothes gave him a shady cast to his profile. He turned towards us, and I suddenly realized that we were the only things standing between him and a quick getaway.
His gun came up.

Two months later

Walking on the beach is a sobering pastime, particularly if it's done by moonlight.
There's something sobering about being shot at. It reminds you that life, as you know it, is fragile. Perhaps we knew it once. I'd forgotten. I'd taken most of mine being careless about it.
I saw the rocks there, where she'd once sat.
Who had she been? Where had she gone?
I hadn't remembered much. Strangely, the best I could remember of her, was her pink gloves. They'd been distinctive. How many assassins do you read about, who hold their guns in pink-gloved hands? Guns and pink rarely go well together.
She'd been the sister. Derek's sister.
But Derek had been the man I'd grappled with. Not the man who'd been killed first.
Why? Why the random killing? And why had she fired? Twice?
By all means, she'd killed both her brother, and tried to kill me. Who was she?
I hadn't remembered any police, but one of my friends had told me all they'd found there was a pair of bloodied gloves.
I had a unique perspective on this. I wasn't actually involved. The police had called me a passerby. They'd never considered the possibility that this was actually anything more than a shootout.
Since both the swimming-trunks guy and this Derek had had guns.
In my grapple with Derek, the gun had never actually left us. She'd grabbed the other one, and tried to shoot one of us. Maybe not him. Possibly me.
Or maybe she'd just wanted to stop us.
Whatever the reason. I was alive, neither of them were. And the girl, vanished.
Life has a unique way of telling you about your scope in things, about your importance. Life, on the grander scale of things, goes on no matter what happens. We're ants. Extras in a movie, substitute players for a football tournament.
After all that effort, when there are no answers, and no revelations, there's only one thing to say: C'est la vie.
And let it go.

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