My mother sat cross legged on the floor of the living room. Her hands methodically shoved brass cartridges into the magazines until they were full. She would place the full magazine by her right knee in neat stacks of three. On her left side were the empty magazines. In front, sat the green metal can of bullets.
Left, load, right, start another. Click, Click Click.
I stood in the doorway watching her and waiting. She had nothing more to say to my father and even less to me. It wasn't our fault.
My father entered the room carrying two shotguns. The longer of the two was the one he used to go dove hunting with in September. The other was the "home gun" my sister and I were not supposed to touch. He set the long gun on the good chair in the living room and then worked the slide on the home gun.
He always did that before and after he went dove hunting. "Clear the gun, Kate" he'd tell me. "Always clear the gun.".
My father took a red shotgun shell from the open box on the dining room table and slid it into the gun. Then another, then another, then another. He did not slide the gun action again though. Not yet.
I left the room and went into the den off the kitchen. The news was still on and would be for hours if not days. I stared at the screen for a few minutes without seeing anything. I went into the kitchen. The light was out and it was late afternoon. Mom should be starting dinner but the stove was cold. She would not be cooking today.
I went back into the living room. My mother stood and the cartilage in her knees popped. She leaned down and picked up a stack of loaded magazines and started putting them into a dull green bag with dark stains on one side. I recognized it as one of my father's bags he used to carry dead birds when he went hunting.
"I'll take the Ford." said my father. My mother said nothing, she just kept putting magazines in the bag.
"Kate." my father said. He handed me a large manila envelope.
"Birth certificates, social security cards, insurance, house information. It's all in there." he said.
I felt the creases of the manila envelope and stared at the floor. My father set down a blue metal box on the coffee table, took out a small key and opened the box. Inside was a stack of cash, credit cards and some loose papers.
"Go to your aunt's house after we leave, she's waiting for you. Take this stuff and don't forget your bag. I don't know when you will need the papers, but the cash will come in handy. Do what you have to." he said.
"Take this." he handed me a pistol.
"You remember how to use this." It wasn't a question, but a statement. I nodded. My father left the room.
My mother was standing in the living room looking at the mantle where my sister's picture stared back at us. Mother turned to me and her eyes returned to normal.
"Come here." she ordered, " Turn around."
She had a brush and began dragging it through my hair.
"Take care of your hair. Comb it out after you shower, never put it in a pony tail wet and dry it before you go to bed at night."
She was hurting me and I said so. She stopped brushing and pulled my hair into a pony tail, tying it with an elastic band. She turned me around and looked me in the eye. There was no sadness.
I wanted to hug her, but she would only push me away. Like a kitten too old to nurse or a bird that needed to fly, she was shoving me out of her life.
My mother picked up the game bag and put it over her shoulder. She casually picked up the rifle and thoughtfully checked a magazine before pushing it into the gun. Like a shopper considering a melon at the market before placing it in her cart.
"Ready?" my father said. My mother said nothing and went to the open front door. My father turned to me.
"Remember, go straight to your aunt's house. No dilly dallying, you hear?" he said. I nodded.
The door closed and I heard both cars start out front. Seconds later, they pulled away, the transmission on my mother's Subaru whining as the gears shifted into their place.
I picked up my sister's framed school picture and went into the den. I unmuted the television and stared at the images on the screen. The elementary school was smouldering and firemen poked carefully around the edges. A woman knelt on the ground with her hands in her hair, he face screwed with misery. Like sleep walkers, people stepped around and ignored her. The government declared an impotent state of emergency.
Their place, that place where those people gathered was around the corner from my sister's school. The place of constant wailing, dour faces and tented women. Places similar to it all over town and everywhere else that knew suffering, torment and unrelenting horror. That place.
An enemy without children is an enemy without a future, they said. My mother and father should be there about now. They won't be alone. This night will not end lightly nor soon. It will last for a very long time, black as ink, oily, dirty and sudden.
My sister loved flowers, crayons and balloons. I once told her a certain flower had no smell,
yet she still oohed after she sniffed it as though it was the scent of a
rainbow. The end of her nose was yellow with pollen and she looked up at me and smiled. She believed.
Now, I looked at the face of my eight year old little sister. She had a blue bow in her hair and her smile was crooked. I held her picture to my chest. All the flowers were brown and dying and taken all the color of the world away with them.
I was standing on the front porch. In my left hand was my sister's picture, in my right, the gun. I was close enough that I could walk to her school and then some more. It was getting dark. It would be getting darker, as night comes.
"-- stated authorities at the scene, where the multiple fatalities may be impossible to identify. Calls for dental records have been issued, but with many of the victims under the age of ten, authorities warn it might be weeks before identities are released. Federal officials are warning everyone not to jump to conclusions over today's attacks and the arrest of several persons from the refugee community. Area clergy and ministers are planning a candlelight vigil....".