Someone I don’t know tells the reporter this happens every New Year’s: “They don’t think where them bullets are gonna land.” It’s almost two a.m. and they’re standing in my landlord’s backyard, lit by a lone TV news camera, all around them dark. I’m watching from my rented room upstairs, window open so I can listen. It was my landlord’s daughter who was shot. Eleven year old Jordyn, a messy girl who hung around older kids she probably shouldn’t. Her parents invited me to join them in the backyard, which offered a glimpse of the Clearwater Beach fireworks. They know I’m a woman alone, a displaced Yankee, recently divorced. No kids. They treat me gently and check on me often, like someone recovering from major surgery. It does feel like that. It’s kind of them to notice.
Tonight they invited several friends, put up streamers, served champagne in black plastic cups with silver stars. We whooped and hollered as colors exploded overhead, noise and crackle. We shivered when the whole sky boomed.
Then someone saw Jordyn slump to the grass.
An ambulance arrived and EMTs kneeled beside her and confirmed. One of the policemen said, “All of you stay put.” Soon enough they knew none of us were armed. None of us killed Jordyn.
“People fire guns into the sky?” I asked a cop with Jared Leto eyes. “To celebrate?”
My ex said I was willfully naïve about guns. It’s true, I don’t want to understand them. I can’t bear that darkness.
I said, “The world isn’t noisy enough?”
“They must think bullets evaporate,” said the cop. “Wind carries them off.”
His eyes were beautiful, but it felt wrong to notice. It feels wrong to mention it now. The fireworks were finished but the air still smelled of gunpowder.
Back in my room, I headed straight for the closet. I make wishes in that closet all the time and some of them come true. Like any hopeful place, it sees occasional magic. You have only my word for it, but what other proof is there of answered prayers?
I’ve wished peace for my ex as our paths diverge. I’ve wished him the experience of fatherhood I denied him. I’ve wished myself free of his resentment.
I’ve wished for uncomplicated friendship, New Year’s fireworks with people who know me only as the divorced lady renting their spare room.
Tonight I wished for a tick back in time. To a moment before Jordyn was shot. I visualized myself in that lawn chair, cup of champagne in hand, but this time hearing the gunshot. Reacting with a mother’s instinct, dragging Jordyn by her skinny arm as a bullet slammed into crabgrass where she just was, where champagne just spilled.
I wished hard, for a while.
Now the reporter speaks directly to the camera, her Channel 9 jacket zipped because it’s late and cold: “Police are zeroing in on the shooter’s location.” She must know, even an arrest won’t mean much to Jordyn’s family. Her words just postpone grief.
A single bullet dropped into Jordyn’s skull and lodged in brain matter. My womb held nothing but potential. Time only ticked forward. The cop with Jared Leto eyes didn’t wear a wedding ring, and maybe he noticed me too. Each new year begins like the old, noise and light and bullets. One child more or less. Some wishes will be granted, others remain closeted. Some are simply made too late.
About the Author: Susan Rukeyser writes stories because she can’t stop. Believe it, she’s tried. Most of them are fiction. Her work appears in The View from Here, Necessary Fiction, PANK, SmokeLong Quarterly and elsewhere. She explains herself here: www.susanrukeyser.com
Story Song: "Numbness" by The Verve