He stood in front of the mirror, pulling the wide part of a red necktie through the loop he’d made, his eyes crossing a bit as he focused on the work his clumsy hands were doing. When he finished pulling—somewhat proud of himself for successfully following the instructions he had looked up online—the knot was lopsided, and the thin part of the tie hung lower in the back than the wide part did in front. He tried bunching up the thin part and stuffing it through the tag on the back of the tie, but it made the thing look bulky and made his mistake obvious. He really didn’t want to have to untie the knotted mess that hung limply against his body and start all over again, and the thought of the wasted time and effort made him wince. He would have to do it, just the same, even though he thought there was a good chance no one would even notice him, anyway. No one much cares about the groom’s brother-in-law, especially if he’s not there to do anything but observe and applaud at the appropriate time. All that was required of him, really, was to show up—he was merely a box that needed to be checked. He would sit in the pew on the right side of the church—stone faced and silent—waiting for the long, boring affair to be over.
As he undid the knot to start over again, he hoped the wedding would not last long, knowing it was futile to do so and that hoping was a wasted effort. He could not be positive, but he thought it was reasonable to assume that somewhere in the world, there was a Catholic wedding just now entering its third hour, with no end in sight. Catholics seemed to take a perverse delight in haunting their churches with solemn songs and lachrymose Latin in a minor key, all in the mournful shadow of their crucified savior.
Those people, he thought to himself, are fundamentally sick. Nothing to be done about that.
The tie could wait. This was more important. He picked up the revolver from the dresser and raised it up to the mirror, watching his reflection take aim. No one had ever held a gun on him before, and even though it was his reflection doing the aiming, the view down the barrel still made him shiver. He thumbed back the hammer.
Here was peace, here was serenity. He felt much better about the necktie, now. Ever since he bought the gun, he felt like he was better able to handle the minor things, the petty day-to-day annoyances that seemed to define his life. He told his wife that he had bought the gun—a blued steel .44 magnum revolver—on a whim during a long lunch break one afternoon, and though the look in her eyes and the tone of her voice made it certain she was not convinced this was true, she did not press it any further. Seeing that the “why?” was becoming a hopelessly unnavigable morass of half-truths and left out details, she decided to focus her attention on the “what?” portion of the scenario, the actual gun itself.
The thing about getting the gun—and what never ceased to anger him when he thought about it—was that his wife never wanted it in the first place. The impulse was his, the desire to hold the gun in his hand was his, and the sudden overwhelming need to possess a firearm in order to feel complete was, likewise, his. She had no part of it. She had not contributed to the conversation—which was carried out in muffled tones by himself as he drove to the dealer—and had not been involved in any part of the decision making process. The entirety of “what?” and “why?” were undertaken by him, and him alone. Now, of course, she liked to tell people that she felt safe having the gun in the house, which was the same excuse he had given her when he brought it home. He felt she had co-opted his rationale and was actively trying to convince friends and loved ones that those ideas were hers.
Her sole contribution had been the purchase of a lockbox, which was designed to be mounted vertically onto the wall, like an inverted holster. When properly secured, the revolver would be mostly hidden from view, which was aggravating. Aesthetically, the revolver was a beautiful thing, a wild and dangerous objet d’art that deserved to be displayed, not hidden from view. He did have to admit, though, that the lockbox itself looked fairly badass, composed as it was of heavy duty black steel.
He had hung the lockbox while she was gone one morning, lifting its heavy metal by himself and carefully balancing it on the hangers drilled into the studs. The wall behind was scratched a bit, but the lockbox covered it up to where most people—unless they were really looking, he felt—would probably never notice it.
After he was finished hanging the lockbox, he went into the kitchen and pulled the gin out of the liquor cabinet, then got the club soda. He didn’t have a lime, but he made the gin and tonic anyway because he deserved it. He had after all, done a manly thing. He had worked hard—using the strength in his hands and the brains in his head, the way a man should—and he deserved to be rewarded for his efforts, and to rest from his labors.
His sense of accomplishment lasted until just shortly after she came home.
“We were going to hang that together,” she said, not taking her eyes off the spot where the lockbox hung—with a discernible lopsidedness—near the TV. She set down plastic bags laden with groceries, her arms seemingly full of them. It amazed him that she was able to bring all that in by herself. It was comical watching her unburden herself, as if her arms were clown cars disgorging an unending stream of face painted madmen, and he smiled as he watched her.
“I took care of it,” he said, a sense of pride in his tone of voice mixing nicely with the subtle slur he had picked up from drinking the gin and tonic too quickly.
“But we said we didn’t want it in the living room.”
“No, we…didn’t?” he said, the last word rising up in a questioning lilt because he could not remember whether they had, in fact, agreed not to hang the thing in the living room.
“Well, we said we were going to hang it upstairs, in the walk-in with the studio light, where it would be out of the way but we could still find it if we had to get to it. I thought we said we weren’t really comfortable advertising the fact that we have a gun. Certainly not enough to just have it sit here in the living room. I’m having a really hard time figuring out why you did this. I mean, maybe we never actually said we weren’t going to hang it up in the living room, but why would it ever even occur to you to hang it out here? Like, what was the thought process, here?”
He stood silent, his lips sucked tightly against his teeth, making his mouth small and puckered. There were no words that came to mind, nothing at all he could think to say to his wife.
“Are you going to say anything?”
He did not. Instead, he did what he always did, which was stay silent until it reached the point of annoyance, then he mumbled through a low, nearly unintelligible apology.
“I honestly don’t know where your mind is sometimes,” she’d said.
Staring at the black void of the revolver barrel, he wished she was here now, saying that same thing to him again. She wouldn’t have seen the gun, not yet, and when she asked him where his mind was, he’d say “Everywhere!” as he lifted the revolver to his head and pulled the trigger.
Except, she hadn’t asked a question. She had made a statement, and in that context his response wouldn’t make sense. He was disappointed, and a feeling of almost total dejection flowed over him. He put the revolver down and frowned at his reflection. His tie looked stupid and would need to be redone. The left side of his face bore patchy traces of facial hair that his razor had missed, and the right side was lined with shallow cuts, one of which was still bleeding and had dripped onto his dress shirt at some point.
He supposed he’d have to change the head on the razor and try again, at least on the left side. Cheap things—they never lasted more than two months, and frequently less than that. That article he read online was a lie—running a disposable razor up your forearm did not sharpen it. It didn’t do anything, in fact.
It seemed so pointless. There were a million better things he could be doing with his time besides dressing for the wedding, which he didn’t even want to go to, anyway. After how many failed attempts is it appropriate to stop pretending like an upcoming wedding is a joyous thing? His brother-in-law had done this very same thing three times before, with three different women, all of whom looked exactly the same except for the fact that they got progressively younger with each new iteration. It was like watching someone age in reverse: wrinkles disappeared, crow’s feet filled in, hair became more lustrous and an even darker shade of black, breasts increased in size while still somehow managing to defy gravity, and backsides lifted and sculpted, eventually reaching a point to where it seemed as if they had been carved out of rock. Each marriage ended in a contemptuous divorce, as the end of the current relationship tended to overlap with the engendering of a new one. The newer, younger woman would take the place of the older one, eventually being replaced herself. When she left, she’d take a portion of the household assets and a few years’ worth of bad memories and broken promises with her.
For the current bride-to-be, his brother-in-law had converted to Catholicism. He could understand how those that had been indoctrinated at an early age could put up with the pageantry and blatant small mindedness of Catholicism, but he could not understand how an otherwise reasonably intelligent person could decide to take up the faith. It was disturbing how many people readily bought into the obviously ludicrous.
He was not looking forward to going to the church. His wife was already there, helping her brother prepare for his (fourth) big day. Whenever he found himself in a church, and in particular when anyone in the clergy began to speak, he was only able to think in blasphemies. Every statement from the clergy spawned a refutation in his mind, every response from the congregation led to an excoriation under his breath.
Staring at himself in the mirror, he thought about how great it would be to bring the gun to the church. Then, in the midst of the ceremony, he would rise from his seat and walk to the front of the church, assume a pose like the horrific martyr behind him, and shoot himself in the head. On thinking over it further, though, he realized that this would still require him to finish dressing for the wedding, which was an unpleasant prospect, and if he did decide to go through with it just to bring the gun to church, there was always the chance that he would miss the right moment to make his way to the front, and the whole thing would just look amateurish and silly.
He yanked at the necktie, readying himself for another attempt. It occurred to him that it would, perhaps, be thematically appropriate to hang himself from this stupid red necktie, as a sort of protest against getting ready for the occasion. His wife would find him later that evening, when she had finished her familial responsibilities. He would be hanging from, well, he didn’t know where, exactly, but there was bound to be a suitable place somewhere in the house. He tried to envision it as he looked at himself in the mirror, tried to imagine his head resting on one shoulder, his face purple, his tongue swollen and black, and his eyes bulging, but he couldn’t. For one, not having a clear idea of where to hang himself was hampering his imagination, and for another, hanging himself would still require him to tie a decent knot, and he was quite sure that to get the job done properly, his improvised noose would require craftsmanship of a higher quality than he was willing to provide. The combination of those two things conspired to completely take him out of the moment.
Maybe the wedding wouldn’t be so bad, after all. Well, there wasn’t much chance of that, but the open bar would be worth checking out, perhaps, if only for the opportunity it provided to get away from the passive-aggressive questioning of his wife’s family whenever he was in their presence.
He could definitely do without answering “How’s the job hunt going?” or “So how long are you taking off?” or “Are you feeling ok today?” That last one had been asked of him so frequently that lately he had stopped answering it with words. He would look the person in the eyes, then give a slight smile and a brief nod. This seemed to be all people were looking for in way of answers. They were content not to dig too deep, lest they find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being asked to take up a shovel of their own.
The real problem was that none of them took him seriously. It was beyond frustrating, especially when everyone was so willing to take his wife’s idiot brother just as he was, without a single critical question leveled his way.
They’ll learn, he thought as he picked up the revolver again. He pushed the thumbpiece and gently drew out the cylinder, being careful with the swing arm because he did not want to damage it. Having a gun was not like it was in the movies, where you could just let the cylinder out and flick your wrist to snap it back into place. It looked cool, but it was dangerous and exhibited poor gun safety. More than that, it was just irresponsible.
There were two shells in the cylinder, on opposite ends. He closed his eyes and spun the cylinder, then pushed it back in place and opened his eyes again. Looking at himself in the mirror, he raised the revolver and drew back the hammer. He settled the barrel just behind his right ear, and he wondered if he would be able to see—for no more than a brief instant—the damage it would do as the bullet screamed its way through his head. He smiled at the thought, and pulled the trigger.
There was a dry click.
He pulled the wide part of the tie down until it was longer than the thin part, then he brought the thin part behind and swung the wide part around to make a loose loop. He lifted the wide part up and over, then threaded it through the loop and pulled it taut. He looked at himself in the mirror. The tie was straight. He was done dressing for the wedding, and no more would be needed from him today.
Here was peace. Here was serenity.
Zachary Davis is a professional writer and editor. His work has appeared in print and online in The Fertile Source, Bartleby Snopes, Forty Ounce Bachelors, Drunk Monkeys, the Anthology of Appalachian Writers Volumes IV and V, The First Line and Carve. He is a three time finalist for the WV Fiction Award, the 2nd place winner for the 2013 WV Fiction Award, and is currently the Fiction Editor of Fluent Magazine.