RANDOM - ANDY HENION
It is just after five on a hot summer day when the car rumbles up the drive. Two men get out, a tall passenger and a bowlegged driver with red hair. The windows are shut, the air conditioning on, so no one in the house hears their approach. Still, it would not raise suspicion. The house sits on a corner lot a half mile from the interstate and people regularly use the driveway for a turnaround or to stop and ask for directions. Anne Parr and her son have lived here only three weeks and cable men and drain inspectors still come and go. And then there are the men from Anne’s past, men like these with ink sleeves and earrings.
Anne is standing in the dining room with her back to the window. She is addressing Steven and his younger cousin Jack, who is staying a few days while his mother and her latest boyfriend get acquainted. The boys want to ride their bikes four miles to the theater. Anne has agreed to let them go, but only if they are back before dark. Steven is asking his mother for money when he stops to track the movement just outside the window. Following his cue, Anne turns and watches each of the men pass by, trying in vain to make a mental identification. And in this sliver of time, she knows she has made a terrible mistake.
The men enter through the unlocked door. Without a word the red haired man grabs Anne and throws her to the couch, tearing her sundress. The tall man points at the boys and orders them into the kitchen. The boys back against the sink, looking from the tall man to the couch where the red haired man has crawled on top of Steven’s mother and is working at his jeans. Steven takes a step forward but the tall man pushes him hard in the chest and his back strikes the counter. He winces from the pain but more so at the image of the rose tattoo on his mother’s pelvis.
Anne Parr screams. Jack slides to the floor and begins to cry. The tall man is sucking air through his teeth and rubbing his chin over and over. Steven is not sure how to interpret this. The tall man’s pupils are messed up and he is sweating heavily. Steven knows high when he sees it.
This time it is the red haired man who screams. Steven’s mother has clawed his face and broken free. She makes it two steps before he clubs her to the floor and descends upon her from behind. The tall man has turned, still stroking his jawbone, and Steven slips past him and darts around the corner and into the master bedroom where his mother sleeps. She keeps a gun in her nightstand for men like these, men from her past. Anne Parr has always been open about the weapon, and the two of them used to fire it together down at the river. Steven opens the drawer and withdraws the gun, then turns it on the tall man as he enters the room. The man swears and holds up his hands and bolts from the room. He runs down the short hallway and into the garage. Steven hears the garage door going up and wonders if the man knew the layout of the house or just took a chance.
Steven exits his mother’s bedroom with the gun held out in front of him. To his left he sees Jack curled up, a puddle of his piss spreading across the kitchen linoleum. The red haired man is oblivious to his partner’s departure. He is thrusting and grunting on the back of Steven’s mother, holding her head up by the ponytail. Steven walks up behind him and says, loudly, You. The man turns and Steven fires. Part of his head is splashed across the glass of the fireplace. As the man goes limp Anne’s head is dropped and her cheek bangs off the floor. Steven hears his mother groan and nods to himself that she is alive and goes for the tall man.
The rusty car is rolling backwards down the driveway. The tall man cannot get it started. Across the street the bald neighbor and his wife have come onto the porch. They frequently watch Steven and his mother from this vantage point, but they have yet to come over and introduce themselves. Anne Parr calls them rich assholes. When they see Steven running with the gun they hurry back into the house. Steven can hear sirens in the distance and wonders if the rich assholes are the ones who called it in.
Steven makes it to the car as the engine revs. He opens the rear door and jumps in, shutting the door behind him. The tall man says, No no no, but keeps driving, backing onto the street and accelerating toward the interstate. Steven points the gun at the back of his head. He is thinking about the man sucking air through his teeth and rubbing his face. He is wondering about the man’s intentions.
The tall man looks in the rearview and says, Listen kid—how old are you, anyway?
Steven says, Thirteen.
Fuck, thirteen? No shit. Okay, listen. Whaddaya like to do?
Steven is used to this question from adults. He says, I like to play baseball. I like to fish, but there’s no river here. Oh, and I like to sit and stew in my own juices—that’s what my teacher says.
The man’s laugh sounds like a bark. Juices, he says. No shit, little man.
The tall man has entered the interstate and is heading east toward the city. Steven watches him tap the steering wheel with long, leathery fingers.
Okay, man, listen, the tall man says. You don’t wanna do this thing. You seem like a good kid. Let’s just—
I blew that fucker’s head off, says Steven.
The tall man wipes sweat from his forehead and says, Goddamn.
Steven says, Why did you come to our house?
Okay, shit. Okay. Junior there, my friend? He’s just. Listen—
Why? Steven says firmly. He holds the gun in both hands and feels a strange sense of calm, of power. He pulls the hammer back.
It’s random, man. Junior—he saw your old lady in the yard, working in her flowerbed or what have you. The other day? Said he had to have her. I am so sorry about that, you know? Junior, he’s—
You don’t know my mother?
Never saw her before, man. Until that day, like I said—
She used to do what you do. Get high. But then she quit and went to the meetings and got a better job.
I don’t—listen, man—
Then my grandpa died and we bought the house. My grandpa had his own company that makes foam cups. He disowned my mom because she got high, but he still gave us money and we bought the house.
Yeah? Sorry about your granddad and all that. But, you know, your old lady? Good for her, right? I’ve been tryin’ for somethin’ better like that, little man. Believe that shit.
The tall man is pushing the old car as fast as it will go. They are passing vehicles, swerving on the interstate. Steven glances out the window and licks his lips, unfazed by the erratic driving. He has a feeling nothing will ever be the same again.
He says, Your friend hurt my mother.
Shut up. I want to know something.
Anything, little brother, I’ll tell you. Straight up.
What were you going to do? When he was done?
The car drifts toward the ditch. Their eyes meet in the rearview. And before the tall man can open his mouth, Steven has his answer.
BIO: Andy's short fiction appears in Plots With Guns, Thieves Jargon, Pindeldyboz, Hobart and other publications. He lives in Michigan.