Rachel Hall

We tell our kids to give it their best shot before their big exams—calculus, say, or French—or before the championship game on a crisp autumn night, the stands filled with fans in the school colors, the stadium lights bright. Before their piano recital, their dance performance, chorus try-outs. To a younger child, fearful at the town park jungle gym, we promise, we’ve got you covered, sweetie. Of a feisty girl who questions everything, has her own ideas about bedtime we say, oh, she’s a real pistol, that one. Meal times, nap time, eating vegetables, any of these might be a powder keg, if we aren’t careful. We make a gun with our index finger and thumb, hold it to our temple. Bang! So often, with our kids, we feel ourselves under the gun, shooting from the hip, dodging bullets. 

If we happen to run into an old friend at the grocery store or the library, we shoot the breeze. Our friend has news—a book accepted for publication, a new business venture, a big promotion. And we’re happy for her. Let’s all get together soon, we might say, when our conversation has fizzled out. Of course, everyone is so busy, it may be a long shot, but it would be great to see everyone again. I’ll shoot you a text, we say, waving. 

We say son of a gun, go great guns, go out with a bang. We feel ourselves in the line of fire, under fire, in the crosshairs. We fight fire with fire. What else can we do?

We work in education or health care or finance. We are chefs, lawyers, plumbers, social workers. We stand behind checkout counters at stores that promise more bang for their buck or sit at desks rifling through notes, organizing information into neat bullet points, banging out a new report. We’re biting the bullet and sticking to our guns. Everything is right on target. What gunners we are! 

We say drive by. We say lock, stock, and barrel. We say trigger happy, hair trigger; we ask whose finger do you want on the trigger? We say don’t shoot the messenger.

Our politicians, those big shots, say they are loaded for bear. They insist they will pull the trigger on new policy. At the same time, they promise to keep the powder dry. It seems the most we can hope for these days is small-bore change. We’d love a real straight shooter, someone who says what they mean and means what they say. 

Maybe we’ve jumped the gun, shot ourselves in the foot. We might shoot the moon, drive off to make fresh start elsewhere. At the time, this seemed like a silver bullet, but later it’s clear we’ve made a mistake, gone off half-cocked. In this new place, all the same problems arise. Life is like that: there are few turkey shots.

We say smoking gun, shot in the dark, quick on the draw. We ride shotgun and take pot shots, cheap shots, money shots, parting shots. 

Our intimate talk is loaded in this way, too. Candles lit, our beloved there beside us, the rest of the world far away. We are safe here, surely. We say he blew his wad or that he’s shooting blanks. Or maybe ours was a shotgun wedding. 

Tell me, point blank, what does this say about us?

Rachel Hall is the author of Heirlooms (BkMk Press), selected by Marge Piercy for the G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize. Her stories have appeared in a number of journals including Bellevue Literary Review, New England Review, and Cimarron Review. She teaches creative writing at SUNY Geneseo and is at work on a collection of stories that examine gun violence.