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John Minichillo

Two Lifetime Members of the N.R.A. Who Loved Guns and Life Itself

At the kitchen table Emma Gee listens to classical music CDs on her Bose Wave Radio. She sips coffee. Her husband sits on the couch in the next room smoking and watching satellite TV. Emma Gee loves her coffee. It’s Folger’s but she pours imported hazelnut-flavored syrup into her cup, like they have in the cafes. She eats chocolates. Her husband says, "Turn that down. I’m watching something."

She watches the back of his head and beyond him the TV, a 70’s Magnavox in a cherry cabinet painted cream with gold trim. She’s in the habit of watching TV over Albert’s shoulder from the kitchen. Emma Gee wants to kill her husband but knows she would never get away with it. This is the basic theme of all the cop shows he watches, dozens of shows, with names like Autopsy, Crime Lab, Investigative Reports, True Tales of Murder, Unsolved Murders, Murder Files. The detectives on these shows have projectile-motion laboratories, laser optics, chemical residue testing, computer imaging—whole branches of scientific knowledge Emma Gee shudders to imagine. Her husband knows what time these shows are on and on which satellites. Albert is always either watching TV or he’s gone from the house, at work. Emma Gee refuses to lower the volume of her Wave Radio and Albert puts on the headphones he bought for her nine years ago.

He bought the headphones as a gift and for a while she actually wore them. For his sake, though, and she felt stupid. They were bulky and the cord got in the way of everything, even of sipping coffee and eating chocolates. She hated the headphones but wore them for her husband. Until he started asking questions as a joke whenever she had them on, which annoyed Emma Gee without exception. He didn’t want to talk when she wasn’t wearing them. She would lift the black plastic coconut shells from her ears and say, "Albert, speak up. I can’t hear you." He would wait to ask his next question until she had them back on.

So she quit wearing the headphones altogether and she called a TV repairman to install a quarter-inch jack into the Magnavox. The repairman was familiar with Albert’s TV, he had replaced each successive picture tube and on/off switch. He was also the man who installed Albert’s satellite antenna. He offered to buy the old TV: "They don’t make cabinets like this anymore," he said. But Albert will never sell, he’ll keep fixing it until he’s dead. The TV’s in his will. The repairman installed the headphone jack under the top panel of the cabinet, where it slides open, where there’s a hi-fi and phonograph underneath. The repair cost $129 but was worth it. Albert could wear the headphones. He could see what it felt like. At first he refused: "I bought them for you," he said. "What do I want with headphones?"

Emma Gee started keeping the volume of her Wave Radio at 4 and she turned it up even louder if Albert complained. She told the TV repairman the headphone jack was for her deaf husband, which was true. The plant where Albert worked required ear protection, the expensive kind, though even that wasn’t enough over the years. He kept the TV louder and louder. Until one night when he tried the headphones and discovered he could hear. Now he eats all his meals at a TV tray with the headphones blasting and he falls asleep on the couch wearing them.

Emma Gee likes her Folger’s strong. Albert says coffee makes her jittery but she finds it soothing, more like waking up. She wants to trade his guns for Beanie Babies—Sue’s Craft Store was doing that. He never hunted anymore and it would just about take care of the Christmas shopping.

"We can give people something nice for a change," she says, but Al isn’t listening, she should just go ahead and do it. She wants the guns gone, she finds herself too often confronted with a clear shot of his fat head. Emma Gee daydreams of shooting out Albert’s TV over his shoulder as a warning, except she’s afraid how that might be misconstrued. If she’s firing a gun in the house she’s going all the way. She knows from 60 Minutes that women really do go to jail, though not any like herself. What saves Emma Gee from shooting out Albert’s Magnavox in the end is a deep-rooted respect for his things—as she wishes he would respect her music. She loves "The Blue Danube." And where would she be without her Vivaldi?

Albert is a baby over his guns. Emma’s hyper-aware of every gun in the house: rifle, shotgun, Beretta, shotgun, rifle, rifle, Colt, Magnum, Smith and Wesson, Glock. If she needs a gun in a hurry she knows where to run. He never loads them or fires them, but he cleans the guns for sentimental reasons. Sometimes when Albert has a gun apart on the TV tray and he gets to talking good times, Emma Gee likes to remind him he once killed a man. He was driving her on errands around downtown Shreveport in their Buick when Emma spotted a fight, a three-on-one in a narrow alleyway between limestone buildings. She told Albert to "do something." He parked the Buick at the mouth of the alley and walked around to the trunk. He produced a rifle, held it straight up and down, and he fired three shots into the band of sky between the buildings, the reports echoed, and the attackers ran off. The victim was left cut and bleeding on the sidewalk, a jogger named Ted Olafsen. Albert walked over to check on him.

"You OK?" he said. Then as he stood over the injured man two of the bullets came back down. They whizzed past Albert’s ear and hit the jogger in the chest. The guy started breathing sporadically, Albert didn’t know what to do, and the jogger died.

Albert put his rifle in the trunk and he drove with Emma Gee to a payphone to call the cops. He thought he might be in some kind of trouble. In the phone booth he concocted a story that one of the punks had a pistol, a Saturday night special. When Albert got back in the car he made Emma go along with the story. She didn’t think it was smart to lie to the cops but Albert was sure no one else saw.

"Besides," he said, "they won’t believe what really happened."

When the cops showed up, Albert and Emma Gee told their lie, and they told it again six months later, in court, which was more difficult than Emma Gee had imagined, since the three kids were herded into the room. One of them looked like her nephew, Chris. A lot like him.

"Poor Chris," she said to herself as she imagined her nephew behind bars. "Poor dear sweet Chris." But the lawyer put her on the stand and she gave him a good cry and then it was easy. She knew what a Saturday night special was and she described it. She even told the reporters afterwards she felt justice had been served. Albert said it hadn’t been enough. He looked right into the Live at Five camera and said those punks should pay ear for ear.

Emma Gee sits close to the kitchen window, which she keeps cracked to avoid Albert’s secondhand smoke. She was a smokestack herself until she quit smoking and drinking as part of the recent effort to outlast him. She hears grasshoppers through the kitchen window and she swoons over J.S. Bach, a piano piece so romantic it seems to accompany the lulling bugs at dusk. It’s no longer summer, but Shreveport is balmy, with bullfrogs sawing, birds yammering, and so many flies. Louisiana at any time of the year reminds Emma Gee of summers growing up in Ohio. She remembers walking home barefoot and tracking mulberry juice from her stained feet onto Grandma’s white carpet. She was whipped for that. Grandfather slapped the back of Emma Gee’s thighs with a switch while he yelled at Emma Gee’s Grandma, "I said not to get white, didn’t I? You said, ‘I’m going to look at carpets,’ and I said, ‘Don't get white.’ I specifically told you not white!" It was harder being Emma Gee then. Now she traverses the days with ease, though she’s unhappy.

She wants Albert to drive her to a psychologist this afternoon so she can be hypnotized. It’s not the guns it’s everything. The hypnotist helped her quit smoking and she has faith in him, but she knows Albert would never be open to hypnotism. She remembers the time she wanted him to go with her to a marriage counselor but he wouldn’t. She went anyway, alone in a taxi, which was pointless. She didn’t want that again, so she put off mentioning the hypnotist. She hoped she might trick Albert into coming along. If she were to discover she’d been abducted by a UFO or something as traumatic, she wanted Albert there. Emma Gee knows aliens can suppress memory. And she wants the hypnotist to delve. Even if Albert won’t come the psychologist is going to videotape the session so they can watch it together on the couch at home. She knows her hypnotism will be convincing and powerful. She hopes the tape will help Albert come to grips. Memories of things didn’t matter so much as the things themselves.

"Albert," she says. This is what she calls him when she’s serious or angry. "Can you take me to an appointment? It’s important." A woman on one of Albert’s TV shows measures earthen graves inside a catacomb: dug-out empty shelves line both sides of the dark descending tunnel, like the woman is standing between two long rows of head-to-toe bunks in a basement hallway. She wears khaki shorts and a miner’s helmet. Her perfect knees are smudged with brown clay. She uses a tape measure and she shouts numbers in Italian to an off-screen assistant: "Quaranta due. Trenta nove." She measures the length of catacomb graves with the span of her arms. She’s careful never to touch the dirt walls and she wears a dust muzzle. When she leans inside a grave Albert imagines that she holds her breath so she won’t stir ancient motes.

"Where to?" Albert asks Emma Gee.

"Doctor’s appointment."

"You ill?"

"Not that kind of doctor."

"Girl doctor?"

"Can you drive?"

Emma brings CDs for the ride and she rolls her window down. Her music puts her at ease. The breeze helps her breathe. She sits in the passenger seat with her seat belt on, one foot in her lap, a half lotus. Emma Gee knows how to meditate: you make yourself a leaf, a small leaf on a swirling stream. Hypnosis is deeper. You let the leaf sink.

"Do you believe in the supernatural?" she asks Albert. She knows his ideology from the shows he watches and by the way he talks back to the TV—but she wants to hear him speak.

He takes a hit from his cigarette and he stares at the road ahead: "Emma, I believe in things we cannot perceive. Not so much spirits as powerful forces. The future and the past overlapping."

"I believe people can predict the future," Emma says. "People like Nostradamus. And the prophets." She lets her hand hang out of the Buick. She thinks Albert knows more about God than he’s willing to share, more even than he can articulate. She stops giving him directions and she lets him drive on like a rocket.

He doesn’t know where he’s going or why. He’s nervous and he speeds. Emma senses his anxiety and moves closer to him. He puts his arm around her and squeezes her shoulder. She wants to kiss him on the ear with a bullet, so they can be together like this in the Buick forever, stuck in Highway 20 limbo, which didn’t sound bad to Emma: there was the Tastee Freeze, the Rock and Bowl, Pizza Hut, the old mall—Highway 20 sounded great.

"Albert," she says.


"Sometimes I hear voices."

"In your head?"

"Like when phone lines get crossed and I’m not supposed to be listening."

"What do they say?"

"They tell me to kill you."

"Kill me?"

"They’re not nice."

"Do you see them?"

"If I want. But they’re not human. They’re Atlantians."

"From Atlanta?"


"What kind of shrink am I taking you to?"

"He’s not a shrink. He’s not even a doctor. He’s a hypnotist. He’s the one who helped me quit smoking."

"You said you had a doctor’s appointment."

"It doesn’t matter," she says, "we missed the turn. I told the hypnotist why I thought I was hearing voices, but he had another explanation. Mostly, I hear them when I’m alone or at night. He says that’s key. He thinks I’m suppressing."

"Suppressing what?"

"We need to find out."

"Then it will stop?"

"Probably not, but it’s a start."

"What is your explanation, Emma?"

"I don’t know."

"Did you tell the hypnotist you were a heavy drinker? This might have something to do with that, as an aftereffect."

"I asked Dr. Kirch," she says. "I quit heavy-drinking years ago so he said he doubted it. He prescribed pills."

"What pills?"

"The yellow ones."

"You want a divorce, Em?"

"Who said anything about a divorce?"

"We’re dangerous to each other."

"I’m dangerous to you," she says. "One way. Or were you thinking of killing me too?"

"No, but I have the right to defend myself."

"I wouldn’t give you the chance," she says. "Do you know how many times a day I ponder it?"

"Is that why you roost in the kitchen?"

"I don’t roost. I sit in the kitchen because you smoke."

"You said this hypnotist helped you quit?"

"We missed the turn. He lives in Mindon."

"How long have we been driving?" he says.

"Twenty minutes."

"How did you get out here?"

"A good hypnotist is hard to find. I called a cab. The cabbie was a better conversationalist than you."

"You know better than to shoot me, Em, no matter who says?"


"Can this man hypnotize you not to hear voices?"

"I don’t know," she says. "He could hypnotize you."

"Why me?"

"To quit smoking. That might help."

"I can’t quit."

"And you could cut down on TV."

"Be reasonable."

"It drives me batty. That’s when I hear voices the most."

"They’re not real, Emma. They’re in your head."

"To me they’re real. I tell them killing isn’t smart, guns will bring trouble, but they’re insistent voices, with a different morality, a different sense of street smarts. Their opinion of you isn’t very high."

"Would you wake me up first, if you decided to do it?"

"Would you want me to?"


"Just because I say I will doesn’t mean I will."

Albert sleeps with a pistol under his pillow that night and he dreams about the shooting incident with the jogger, except he’s driving the Buick alone. Traffic and the weather downtown are the same as they were that day, so he knows something’s about to happen. He reaches under his seat for the .25 pistol he wouldn’t normally keep in the Buick, but in the dream he knows it’s there. He sees the kids attack the jogger, he drives up, aims, and opens fire.

Cops are on the scene in no time. One sneaks up behind the Buick and grabs the barrel of Albert’s .25. Albert sees the cop’s partner in his rearview mirror but he clings to the pistol. Albert doesn’t hear the shots, his back windshield implodes, and he blacks out. The next thing he knows he’s in a hospital bed with Emma Gee beside him and he can’t move. She says reporters are in the lobby and he’s going to jail. The dream ends with Emma Gee reaching for the pistol under Albert’s pillow and he knows he’s going to die.

Then Albert’s awake in a cold sweat, he wouldn’t wish a nightmare like that on anyone. Emma says realistic enough dreams can kill a man, causing the same physiological reactions in the organs, stopping his heart or his lungs or something as vital. When Albert is fully awake he sees the real Emma Gee in bed next to him and he’s looking down the barrel of the .25, her idea of a joke. Though she’s serious. Emma doesn’t like sleeping with loaded firearms and she tells him so, especially if he’s tossing about. "The safety was off," she says. He bounds from bed and gets quickly dressed. Dawn light penetrates the curtains.

"You shouted in your sleep," she says. She follows him with the pistol sight. "You scared the hell out of me so I reached for it."

"I died in my dream," he says.


"In my dream."

"It’s early," she says. She slips the gun back under his pillow. "You gave us a scare. Come back to bed."

After fourteen nights in a row of the nightmare recurring—not quite the same dream but always ending the same, with shoot-first cops and waking up paralyzed in a hospital bed with a mercy-killing Emma Gee beside him—after fourteen nights in a row of this dream Albert agrees to visit the hypnotist.

They drive to the man’s home in Mindon. He seems nice enough, though maybe he’s too friendly, and he’s expensive. He gives Albert a cup of mint tea and leads him into the back room. He offers him the La-Z-boy and tries a number of relaxation techniques, but Al won’t go under. So the hypnotist and Emma Gee leave him alone with a pen and notepad. The man tells Albert to write out his dreams since remembering isn’t the problem, and he takes Albert’s wife into the next room for her own session.

After half an hour they reappear. Emma stands next to the hypnotist fidgeting. She has a videotape under her arm and she looks like she’s had a good cry. The hypnotist tears out the handwritten sheets and starts a file with Albert’s name on it. He says he’ll keep Albert’s dream log as a guide for future meetings—in the hope that he’ll one day feel relaxed enough to go under. Albert writes the man a check and they never come back.

When they get home he continues bringing the gun to bed. But the more the nightmare recurs the more he is able to control it. He still has the dream, he still tosses and turns, but he has time to shoot the cops and drive away. Emma Gee sometimes wakes him by tapping the barrel of the .25 on his chest in the middle of his dreaming, or she pushes the end of his nose with it.

"You kicked me," she says, whether he did or not.

"Shoot me," he says. "See if I care."

Then he doesn’t dream at all, the first restful night they’ve both had in weeks. And he doesn’t dream the next night or the next. He stops taking the .25 to bed and after a few months he can’t remember what had been so upsetting to make him want to sleep with the gun in the first place.

Albert often props his feet on the coffee table while he watches TV and one night, after Emma Gee has gone to bed, he accidentally knocks her videotape to the floor. At first she had nagged him to watch it but always in the middle of one of his crime shows. He always told her he would watch it later, until one night when that didn’t seem to be enough so he lied and said he’d already played it. He picks up the tape now and thinks about watching it. He scans the satellites one last time but he needs to remember what Emma wanted, like searching for a word on the tip of his tongue. He pops in the tape and sees Emma Gee lying on the corner of a king-sized bed. She cries. The hypnotist holds the camera and talks to her.

"Why do I keep fucking up?" she says.

"Let it out," the hypnotist says. "Release."

"Poor Chris," she says. "Poor dear sweet Chris."

Emma looks pitiful on TV, a bruised wet whimpering thing. And Albert remembers all his problems: Emma was losing it; she had threatened him.

"Sleep," the hypnotist says. "Fifteen minutes of deep rejuvenating sleep."

Emma Gee curls into the fetal position and the tape ends. Albert hits the eject button and the TV comes back on. Hypersexual women in bright Spandex exercise on mats, each with a Bungee contraption between her legs while the celebrity does all the talking. Albert is shocked at the date he sees scrawled on Emma’s tape, from only three months ago. He’s upset how easily he forgets. He hides the tape from himself, behind the books on the bookshelf. He picks up the .25 and shuffles down the hallway suddenly tired, the heavy gun hanging at his side. He steps into the bathroom and sets the pistol on the counter. He washes his face and brushes his teeth. He tries one of Emma’s yellow pills, swallowing it with water.

"Who’s Chris?" he wonders. He picks up the gun and continues down the hall. He needs to fall asleep beside her.

John Minichillo is a Ph.D. graduate of The Center for Writers at USM and an MFA graduate of Western Michigan University. His stories have appeared in Third Coast and Night Rally. He is currently teaching at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

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