By Elizabeth Fenley
“Him or her? One bullet. Five seconds. Choose.” The manic, disheveled man with a shotgun who has broken into our house lifts his shirt to show me a pistol in his waistband. “Or I kill all three of you.” He grins, twitches, and giggles, like this is a joke.
I nod, on my knees in our living room in the middle of the night with my fifteen-year-old daughter and my husband of eighteen years. Freya, my only child, so much like me. And Jason, my high school sweetheart—senior prom, losing my virginity, the only man I’ve ever been with—but that was a person from long ago.
This doesn’t feel like a joke to me.
“If I get to five, I shoot Bubba here first—in that fat beer belly.” He pushes the gun into Jason’s overhanging stomach. Jason cowers. He’s used to being the only bully in the room. Cowards always are. I’m an easier target. “Stomach wounds hurt like a bitch, bleed and bleed, and you die real slow.”
I almost wish this man would shoot him right now for all the drunken nights, the times I didn’t call 911, didn’t go to the doctor, and for the time I didn’t shoot him myself when he tried to murder us. Freya was a baby when he stood with the gun at the top of the stairs, in front of the Winnie the Pooh nursery door. I shoved him away from my child, watched him windmill down the stairs, the overwhelming smell of rum and sweat, the heat of his body slamming against mine as I wrestled him. And then the cool, perfect metal of the pistol that seemed like it belonged in my hand even though I’d never held one before, the indentation on his forehead as I pressed the barrel to it. Jason was crying then, too, but that’s not why I didn’t shoot him. I could have gotten away with it. I should have ended it then.
Jason sobs. I smell the rum on his breath. Last night, it was tequila. I make sure Freya and I stay away from him at night. She knows how he treats me, how he talks to me. She’s never seen him hit me, but she tells me we should leave—just get in the car and disappear. I try to explain to her that it’s not that simple. And I know she’s right. I wonder why I stay.
“Dammit, Jason, do something!” I hiss, desperate enough to beg for his help. He does nothing.
The man presses the shotgun to Freya’s head. “Then I make you watch while I fuck this sweet little thing.” He begins to rub his erection through his jeans.
“Kill me instead.” It’s the only thing I can think of to say. “Go ahead and shoot me.”
He swings the shotgun back toward me. His pupils are uneven, one hugely dilated, the other a mere pinprick. This seems to be a novel twist to his sick game.
“You get what you want,” I say. “You wanted me to choose—I choose me. I’m ready.”
“No, Mom, please—”
He tilts his head, shark-like teeth filling his grotesque smile. “But the game’s just gettin’ good.”
With one bullet in the gun he showed me, what can I do? Can I shoot him before he pulls the trigger on Freya? The only time I’ve had a gun in my hand was when it was against Jason’s forehead; he didn’t resist or move. I don’t trust my aim. What if I hit Freya? I’m afraid my hands will shake. Will she run if I miss? I glance over at Freya; she’s trembling. I could tell her to run before I pull the trigger.
Jason’s on his own.
“No, no, no, against the rules. Point the gun toward me, and I splatter her brains.” He presses the shotgun against Freya’s head. She flinches, and he chuckles. Drool dripping now, but he’s oblivious to it. “Don’t do it. You’ll spoil the fun.”
I realize he’s played this game before. Putting people in this situation must get him off.
“Just leave her alone. We’ll do whatever you want.” I give my husband one last chance. “Jason, tell him.”
“Dad, help us!” Freya screams, her voice rough with fury. “For once, you drunk piece of shit!” She knows about the drinking, his abuse, and even the night he tried to kill us. I told her that two years ago. I wanted her to know exactly who he is and the importance of protecting herself from him. I think she hates him even more than I do. It’s the two of us against him. Tonight, it’s the two of us against the two of them.
He won’t even look at his daughter.
“Jason, say something, goddamn you.”
“Play the game.” The man pulls his hand from his pants to hold the gun out to me. He giggles and spittle trickles onto his chin.
I take the gun and smell urine. Jason has wet himself.
“Freya, close your eyes.” This doesn’t feel like a joke to me. But it isn’t a difficult choice either.