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EDWARD H. FISCHER


WHEN WE'RE TOGETHER

I love my Super .38 Automatic. I've had her quite awhile and know her well. I can take her apart and put her back together in complete darkness. I love the sheen of blued steel and classical, Model of 1911, lines. I love the heft and balance. Love the way she barks-sharp, but not explosive. Blam-like that, authoritative. Nice and reassuring, with wads of cotton in my ears. Love the quick jump that goes with the report when I touch her off. She doesn't bite though, not me she doesn't. Not like a .357 or .45 will nip the web of your hand if you let them go too fast. The smell of burnt cordite afterwards: I've been known to sniff around her chamber and muzzle for that lingering smell. Tell you something else, she's never jammed on me. Over sixteen hundred rounds and nary a snag. She's super all right.

Mostly I'll fire her in clipfuls of five: blam, blam, blam, blam, blam. She holds ten altogether, with one nested in the chamber. Sometimes I'll fill her up to capacity and let them go rapid-fire. Other times I practice slow-firing her, pressing them off very deliberately and, at fifty feet, often as not can hold them within a four-inch circle. That's about as good as she's made to do, on fixed sights, even with her modern-type barrel bushing.

The only custom work she's had is a trigger job, soon after I got her. And a year or two ago I put on a pair of hand-filling hard-rubber combat stocks. I've tried many other handguns, and they don't measure up. Tried the 9mms, pint-sized .380s, even revolvers. No thanks, don't care to experiment anymore. Got the one I want.

About the only place I ever fire her anymore is in the Spraylin Gates State Forest. At the end of a rutted road there's an abandoned sandpit sort of hidden behind a row of hemlocks. Supposedly not many folks know about this. I usually have it to myself, but at the beginning of hunting season when the dilettantes come out to try their cheap shotguns I'll avoid the area like the plague. Kids will hike or cycle in there with .22 rifles, but they don't bother me. Once a couple of colored kids came over and began asking me about the Super-what caliber, how many fit into the clip, does she kick much, etc.-and asked could they have my empties. Well-mannered, sincere boys, I told them sure, take the empties. Then I gave them a thrill they aren't likely to forget: I let them fire Super, one shot each.

If I haven't popped her for a while I'll run a lightly oiled patch through every so often, just to be on the safe side. I won't take her out in wet weather, and seldom in winter. Most of the winter the road into the sandpit is impassable. When we had our house I'd fire her in the cellar, the hot slugs swallowed by my Detroit Bullet Trap. Sold that miraculous contraption because of Sunbeam. Resentful of my hobby, she squawked about the noise. The neighbors will call the police, she'd say. Don't you see you're scaring Robbie? She used this along with certain other phony allegations to justify the separation. Took my boy, ran as far as she could go, all the way out to Lala Land. No visitations, not supposed to call, letters go unanswered. The checks are cashed, though. I have fourteen of them bearing her fussy little signature, cashed at the Bank of Santa Ana. All right. So be it. We do what we have to do.

After Sunbeam and Robbie took off and the house was sold I leased this efficiency. At first I used it just to store things and sleep in. Now it's my refuge. More and more I'm happy to stay inside it. At first I palled around with some of the boys from work. Went to bars and ballgames, bowling, even to some movies. Then I tried the singles establishments on my own, searching for companionship of another sort. Those were sorry experiences. Here's the gist of my present life: wake up and put the coffee on, drive to the shop, return to my abode and read the evening paper, making it last as long as possible, go out to one of four eateries I frequent, come back and watch TV, shower and shave, climb into bed, get up, start the coffee, etc. etc. etc. etc. Nights and weekends are, as you may imagine, pretty much a stay-in proposition. Not the best of circumstances, not entirely the worst. I read my firearm periodicals or watch telly with snacks and beer and old Super lying by my side. Every now and again I'll sweep her up and, at arm's length, train her sights on a passerby in the streets outside my windows or, more often, on the bridge of a TV announcer's nose, trying to press her off (snick!) before the picture shifts. Of course she is empty at such times.

In February I got to worrying about snapping her too much. Dry-firing them can weaken the firing pin and create other problems. I began wondering if I should send her back, see about replacing the small internal parts. Called the factory for expert advice. The particular customer service person I talked with didn't offer much and when I persisted, finally asking to speak to someone more knowledgeable, she got huffy with me. Goddamn you you goddamned bitch, I felt like screaming into the mouthpiece, but hung up instead. Later on I thought I should have been more patient. I can be touchy.

I'll make my rounds of the gun stores fairly regularly. There're ones I like in Norwalk, Derby, Hamden, etc. I check them but don't buy except for accessories: bore solvent, targets, ammo, and so forth. I'll examine everything on display, see what's changed since my last survey. Occasionally I'll inquire about a new model or an interesting used piece, but most times when they ask if I need help I just smile politely and reply, "No thanks. I'm just window-shopping." I haven't purchased a gun in years and years.

Recently started getting the itch, first time in a long time. Began thinking I'd like to have a companion piece for Super. The notion of owning two of them identical really got me going. Be nice to hold them in each hand, I thought. I couldn't give up the idea. I tried to. Tried telling myself I needed another gun like I needed a hole in my head. One night during this siege I went to a movie but, other than in a general way, I couldn't say what the story was about because all through the movie I kept seeing the new model alongside my old one. I had to possess a pair of them. Isn't that peculiar?

None of my haunts had the Government Model in .38 caliber. One dealer showed me a used Commander in .38 Super, but the slide had scratches, the bluing was worn from holster use and, besides, I wasn't interested in any sawed-off version. A couple of places I called said they'd order one for me, but, piss on that, I have to see before I buy. Finally located a Series 70-same as mine but brand new-at Ruth's Guns, at the other end of the state, near the Rhody border. Seems an odd name for a gun store until you realize it's the owner's family name, like Babe Ruth's.

I drove up on an afternoon in early April (April 4 to be exact; I still have the sales slip if not the merchandise). Cold and gray, a good day to buy a pistol. I'd been there long ago, before the turnpike was completed, when it had seemed a lot more remote. At the Bozrah toll station as I waited in a correct-change lane someone hit me from behind. It was no big thing, no damage done, but I was raging. They've had chain accidents resulting in fiery deaths at these toll stops.

I got out ready to throttle that asshole. I rapped on his window and he looked bewildered. When he opened the window a putrid smell came from within. His eyes met my face but did not focus just right.

"Don't you know you ran into me?"

"Did I bump you?" He really didn't know what had occurred. The pitiful sight of him cut through my anger.

"Try to be more careful when you're behind the wheel," I told him. I thought perhaps he'd had a seizure.

Ruth's was essentially the same, the L-shaped interior bordered by horizontal display cases containing the arrays of handguns ("One of the largest selections in the East," their yellow-pages ad proclaimed). Behind the cases a narrow aisle provided access for the staff, and vertical racks of exposed rifles and shotguns lined the walls. A Saturday afternoon, the store was filled with guys all ages hovering around the cases, stooping to examine the merchandise, or standing in clusters talking their gun talk, some in hushed tones appropriate for a sacred place. "Gunnies," I called them in my private voice.

Mr. and Mrs. were both on hand, good-naturedly answering the ceaseless questions and carefully taking out and replacing the guns the customers asked to see. I presumed the platinum blonde was Mrs. R; she looked older than he. At one time she might have been a small-town beauty contestant or a big-city call girl, the looks now fading but the remarkable figure, shown to great effect in the stylish skirt and sweater, made me think things disloyal to Sunbeam. You can bet that Mrs. has been catching men's stares and known their lecherous thoughts for quite a few decades.

The object of my affection lay factory-fresh in its open box alongside several used snub-nosed revolvers. The other new Government Models, all .45s, were in another case. The Super wasn't with them, I assumed, because of its discontinued status. From what I could see of it through the glass, it was mint perfect. The amount on the tag was high but by then I did not care, I was hooked.

Mr. R was showing the snubbies to a couple of would-be punk rockers, old enough to know better with their latest asinine-style haircuts, shirttails hanging out below their jackets, glittery ear studs, etc., Mr. getting them all excited letting them handle a Colt Cobra and an early model, a Banker's Special in .38 S&W. I can recall being worked up over them, too, the sneaky-lethal-looking belly guns, but I was only twelve or thirteen at the time. Now I won't take a second look at any of them.

"Jesus, this is really cherry," the punk brandishing the Banker's said, trying to sound as if he knew something.

"Six bucks, though," his buddy said (gunny talk for six hundred).

Mr. took a worn gun cloth from the countertop, wiped the Cobra and Banker's, and put them away. Then he turned to me. I recognized him from years ago. Heavier and balding, he'd grown a curly pepper-and-salt beard. What I remembered most about him were the protruding eyes, like big Sicilian olives. Of course he did not remember me. "I called about the Super .38," I said, nodding towards it. He fished it out of the box, pulled back the slide to make sure it was empty, and handed it to me. Propping my forearms against the counter to keep my hands from shaking I looked her over carefully and found no imperfections.

I offered him considerably less than the listed price. Surprisingly he raised my bid by just twenty dollars. I pretended to think this over a few seconds before I said okay and got out my permit and checkbook. As he filled in the sales slip he kept talking it up, informing me the model I was buying was preferable to the newer series because of some slight mechanical differences. Gun salesmen will do that, keep you feeling you've made a good decision even after the actual point of purchase. He talked up the cartridge, too, telling me the .38 Super was an outstanding, often overlooked round. As if I didn't already know it.

Driving home with it wrapped in its box I was like a hungry kid with a warm pizza on the passenger seat. After the Bozrah station I pulled off the interstate and undid the thing. Then as I drove I could glance at it, or reach over and heft it, or position it in my lap; and once, one-handed, I even cocked the hammer and squeezed the trigger. When a big truck went by I covered it up. I did not want some trucker looking down from his cab spotting my brand-new semiauto. No telling how somebody might react to that.

I felt so good with my purchase an old song came to me. I sang it over and over.

I love my Super, my Super loves me

I love my Super, my Super loves me

When we're together we're great com-pan-nee

I love my Su-per, my Super loves me.

My brief affair with new Super ended the day I took it out with a box each of solid ball and hollow points. It jammed on me-not once, not twice, but four times in fewer than sixty rounds, something I could not tolerate.

I could have sent it to the factory or taken it to a competent gunsmith. It may have been a minor extractor problem or a bad clip, even. But, psychologically speaking, the damage had been done. Repaired or not, I could not trust that one again. That afternoon and evening and the next day I was so disgruntled I devised a scheme for ditching her. The practical thing would have been to sell the gun at a loss, either to Ruth or some other dealer. But I did not want new Super owned by some dumb gunny.

Early one evening of the following week I wrapped her in a clean T-shirt, tied the bundle with white nylon cord, and took it down to the Stratford ferry landing. In the warm months the small tow-barge shuttles the Housatonic's widest section, hauling three or four cars per trip. I waited until after dusk, the next-to-last crossing of the day and, somewhere in the middle, plopped her over the side, no one the wiser. That was sad, like putting a sick puppy to sleep, but it made for a clean break. I still had old Super, I consoled myself, but there was no more singing.

It must have been a month, maybe more, before I went to the range again. Loading the clips fast and rather recklessly, I fired almost a hundred rounds, letting the barrel get hot, not caring, aiming at four coffee cans perched on sticks jammed into the sand, blasting away at them at a distance really too close to miss; I riddled them to pieces. For her part Super performed flawlessly, but it did not seem to help.

On the Fourth of July, in no frame of mind to leave my sanctum, I sipped beer and dozed through most of a televised Mets-Dodgers game. During one of my naps or just coming out of one an idea struck that revved my spirits. I would take a trip. I had twenty-six days of paid vacation coming, so why not? Take Super across the country. I'd never had her out of state. The idea began to excite me. I got up off my ass and found the road atlas. I could break Super into her main components, pack them away in separate places, fly out to Illinois, rent a car, buy some ammo after I got the car. I'd heard transportation of firearms is no problem in the western states. I could stop and fire her in all the states I traveled through. Pull off the road in some secluded spot, set up a few targets and pop off a clipful or two in every state from Illinois to the West Coast. Hot dog! Each night I would find modest though adequate and clean lodging, swab out and lubricate Super's bore, and settle in before the TV with a six-pack and bag of burgers. Take my time going out, show her Santa Ana as a final treat. The plan was so gratifying I slept soundly that night; I spread a towel on the bed for Super and slept with her by my side.

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