"We Shoot Here" by Anthony Martin
Issue #17 / April 2015
Illustrated by Jenna Hobbs
KINDLE EDITION ($0.99)
ANTHONY MARTIN (@pen_tight) can be found in Pea River Journal, Squawk Back, Lunch Ticket Flyleaf Journal, Quiddity, The Austin Review, Watershed Review, and Up the Nung River in search of Colonel Kurtz. Always getting off the boat.
"That carrying a concealed firearm across state borders is a federal offense only occurred to Pop after we were home. His epiphany came at the dinner table in Ma's halfway house where we were eating on the day Pop and me got back from Arizona because my parents are still peaceable enough to make it through cheeseburgers for their youngest daughter's sake. Ma was in baggy black sweatpants and a loose beige sweatshirt and her hands were shaking. She saw me looking and smiled a little as she took a bite of her cheeseburger and then asked about her firstborn.
* * *
Just inside the border of New Mexico and Arizona, on the New Mexico side, Pop pulled the red truck off onto the shoulder, cut the engine and said, "Nina, you’re going to learn to shoot today." His ocher eyes were focused when he said it, but still smiling a little like they always were when focused on his children. He hadn’t shaved since Des Moines and was clad in the same jeans and boots and work-stained Carhartt he wore when we left Illinois a week earlier.
Outside the winter was receding now, hardly the bitter omnipresence it had been back in the Midwest—back on the I-80 as web-lined across Nebraska and then down toward Denver.
“Now?” I asked my father. “Here?”
Pop was already unzipping the nylon carrying case and removing his silver 9mm pistol. He slid out the clip and examined it. I gathered from the bronze round peeking out the top end that the gun was loaded. He seemed to make the same conclusion and loaded the clip back into the handle of the pistol, locking it into place with a click.
Q&A With Matthew Jankiewicz:
Which authors have had the most influence on your voice and writing style?
I'll incriminate myself, sure. Economy is important to me, as is a balance between humor and torment. I've been hard at work in these areas, moving slowly away from triumphs of despair. In real life I play a mutt, so I suppose it's fair to say I'm a composite of various influences: 19th and 20th century Russian literature, which I studied in college (Pasternak makes me cry); Faulkner (oh god the buzzard in "As I Lay Dying" and also doing something new); Kiš, Hašek (I love Švejk!). I just read "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath for the first time and the simplicity and natural flow of her language, the way she delivers sarcasm and pain and optimism and dread, is something that will stay with me as long as I stay with me. And Paul Thomas Anderson. Different kind of author. I watch The Master and There Will Be Blood on a regular basis.
What was the catalyst behind writing "We Shoot Here?"
From time to time I invent from my adventures growing up among empties stashed around the house and detoxification and halfway houses and codependency and roadtrips and cheeseburgers. Hackneyed? Maybe. Finding someone who writes it true though? That's a different thing.
Some of these experiences were circus-like (bizarro and strangely humorous in a dark and psychedelic way) while others kicked me in the tummy hard and then did it again while I was down. Nina and I learned to shoot the same way. I wanted to write a story in which I at least approach the wonderful resilience children--children who have no choice but to grow up fast--unknowingly demonstrate while standing beneath the trapeze and surrounded by sad, dancing elephants. Those moments when they realize no one is ever going to tie their shoes and they say To hell with it, chamber a round, take aim at their demons.
How long did it take before you finished the final draft of the story?
Something like two week's worth of on-and-off revision (with special attention to the final scene). That's an estimate. I wrote this story at work, where time takes on new and strange forms, so it's difficult to answer with confidence. A thirteen-hundred word first draft, when I can already see how it's all going to unfold (rare!), is doable in one sitting. I do better with compressed shorts like these, get more things sorted out in early iterations. That's all a windbag-way of saying a couple weeks for Nina's journey. Tops.
In "We Shoot Here," you describe Nina's shooting lesson with her father as a form of therapy, a way of showing an internal change. How did you arrive at the decision to end the story with the gun going off?
A fine appraisal. Ends seem to torment me. I think I knew the story would conclude with Nina pulling the trigger before I started writing--it just took me a while to get her there. It was important to me that the end be both a literal shot fired and a purgative experience for Nina. She's not through any of it yet--in fact, it seems as if the fog, as Pops puts it, is only now beginning to clear. Maybe. But this day in the field with her father might serve as a lynchpin to look back on and cling to when things get bad again. The shooting lesson, including the gun going off, is the vehicle I used to demonstrate Nina's internal change, as you call it.
What are you currently reading?
In hand I have three: "Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone" by James Baldwin; "Hemingway: The Toronto Years" by William Burrill; and the Big Book (as folks in the program refer to it). In terms of journals, my print subscriptions (currently Missouri Review and Boston Review) have yet to arrive, so I'm all over Twitter seeking out writing from the journals I want to take to the drive-in then out for root-beer floats. Anne Valente's work (I first found her in Memorious) has a certain immediacy to it that I'm drawn to (a lesson in titles, anyone? "Mollusk, Membrane, Human Heart"); "Ram" by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan (published in No Tokens) comes to mind; "The Unlikely Death of Lawrence Fountaingale, School Bus Driver" by Nathan Raine (published in Wags Revue). These are stories I'm prone to reread and journals that I check up on often. (Oh, and Phoebe.)