First published at Grift Magazine.
Two pairs of eyebrows jerked skyward when the gun went off.
“Shit,” Howard said, “I only meant to scare you.” He lowered Donnie to the stained mattress. “Why’d you have to go grab for the gun?”
“It hurts,” Donnie said.
“It should. You got a damn bullet in your gut.” Howard looked around the one-room pigsty Donnie called home. Dirty dishes filled the sink. Flies hovered over a pizza box spread open on the small table in the corner, a stack of phonebooks and a dowel supporting one corner. “You got any towels?” Donnie pointed to an open door across the room.
Howard hurried to the bathroom, walking like he was barefoot on a carpet of rose bushes. A bath towel lay on the floor. He picked it up. A family of roaches raced behind the cracked sink. Howard dropped the towel and backed out of the bathroom. He returned to Donnie, took off his hoodie, and held it against the wound.
“All you had to do was listen, and this wouldn’t have happened,” Howard wagged his head. “All you had to do was listen.”
“Wasn’t none of your business,” Donnie said. “You should've let us be.”
“My family is my business.”
“You gonna get me some help?” Donnie groaned as he straightened out his legs.
“I gotta think.” Howard sat and leaned against the wall. Worst thing he ever did, buy a gun. It didn’t protect anybody in the end. “All you had to do was walk away and leave my daughter alone.” Howard hugged his knees to his chest and stared at the sky through torn curtains.
He saw himself as a young boy, in the apartment with his mom and five siblings. He remembered the day Mr. Hodgins calmly answered his questions as the neighborhood electrician fixed a short in the plug for the refrigerator. Howard was seventeen, and old man Hodgins asked him if he’d like to earn some money. Howard worked for the man for ten years before Mr. Hodgins sold the business to Howard.
Now he had a wife and two kids of his own. He was a respected businessman and an elder in his church. He couldn’t lose all that over a stupid punk. He put his head in his hands and thought about his options.
“I can't believe Francine kept your relationship a secret from me.”
“She was afraid you’d find out, because. . . Well, you know.” Donny stared at the blood then lifted his head. “It doesn’t hurt as much, but I still need to get to a hospital.”
Howard inhaled the fetid air and ran a hand over his bald head. He took in a deep breath and blew it out through tense lips. He knew this neighborhood. Nobody ever saw anything.
“Okay, I know what we’re gonna do.” Howard heard the life wheezing out of the boy’s body. “We're gonna sit and wait.”