Dad says, “In the little cartridge, you mean.”
“Right,” I say, “but also one inside?”
He leaves the bathroom. Goes downstairs. I wait there with his red-gold piss still steaming in the bowl. The barrel should be pointed roughly where my feet are. At anyone taking a car key off the rack. I wonder if a .22 round can make it through a tin ceiling. It’s not enough, dad’s said, to kill something that big. Just to teach a lesson.
While men work on the garage roof I pick up the trash dragged across our yard. Berry cartons. A torn catheter bag. Foam trays of ground turkey. We have ten more pounds expiring in the fridge. Turkey never got rare like we thought it would. Though maybe it’s different for a bear.
The ammonia hasn’t worked. Dad comes in and takes his gloves off. He puts a jug of bleach on the counter next to it. I’m at the computer, a couple drinks in. Feeling bold. I say that the two chemicals make poison gas together, like I’ve known that my whole life, and he tells me to relax.
“We’re not there yet.”
I have a job. Without rain, the sodding’s started to turn yellow. It detracts from the expanded garage. Men still come to dump driveway gravel, but they’re forbidden from watering anything, charging us extra. I have to be strict with them. I go into the rose bushes, shut off the water. The hose dies in their hands. They turn and look at me. I yell in their language: I’ve got it, which is also the name of a band.
Mom’s cousin died when we got here. She couldn’t have seen her if she’d wanted to.
The family sent all these confessions from their grandfather. He was a failed spy novelist who’d gone into oil, candy, floating containers. Several of his business partners killed themselves. One drowned in his car.
I read the confessions at night, around 8:30, sitting by the window with the .22 leaning on the wall. The bullet stays chambered. 8:30 was when mom saw the bear. She went to throw some trash away and it stood on its hind legs, black and massive with all it’d taken from us.
“Then it ran,” she said.
I drive to the little mountain mall. I go into the liquor store and talk to the owner about my generation and its frailties and what they expect of him. I try not to be drunk already because he gives me free samples. Whatever he’s testing out at the time.
As a child mom’s grandfather wanted to serve chicken stew to his family. He’d seen all their Irish maids do it. He got the pot from the stove and put it on the dining room table but forgot to lock down the wing. The boiling stew was trapped inside his trousers. He couldn’t walk for six months. I read that the doctor diagnosed him with proud flesh, a term that was usually reserved for horses, but in this case seemed to apply.
The sodding is divided into perfect squares, except where it meets a curve. I spray each square for two minutes on the ‘mist’ setting. I’ve confirmed online that they are dead and can’t come back. It takes about an hour. I drink a triple bourbon named after the mountains. The men are laying stones so I avoid the driveway. They work later and later. A white F‑150 collects them at dusk. They laugh a lot, through their handkerchiefs. Now and then I think about leaving out a bucket of icy beers. Nursing one of them in my bedroom. Maybe they’ve fallen, from the roof, or with fever. I’m dabbing a cloth on their forehead. As long as they’re kept cool.
After the oil well my great grandfather tried selling insurance. Stenotype machines. Film projectors to the Dutch in Grand Rapids. They were too devout for movies.
When he was in his late 50s a Yale friend got him a job as a utilities auditor. Any billing irregularities he found, he’d receive a commission. But he said no one talked to him. His boss only sent him to towns where people loved the electric company. Trusted them like family.
I wake up. 9:15. I get the .22 and head for the door. It’s dad, back from New Hampshire. He wants to show me something. The garage is a hundred yards from our house, the men haven’t wired the lamps yet. I ask him if I should bring the gun. He says never to walk with it in the dark.
We go for a drive in the new car, a Mercedes convertible. In the headlights we see some banana peels and paper towels smeared on the grass. We don’t talk for a few minutes. I might vomit. The car is low and terrifying. We scream past Jasper Johns’s house. Then dad stops and has me drive. He switches the handling mode from COMFORT to SPORT. When I am sure it’s good to feel the road I say, “You really feel it in this one.”
A neighbor down the street owned a mare. She kept throwing their son any time he tried to ride her so they let my great-grandfather take her out. But she never threw him. It was a good few months. He would gallop through Bristol, avoiding his own street. That way everyone who saw him thought the horse was his. A fine, strong horse. They’d named her Miss Highlife.
We learn that dad hasn’t pissed in two days. He thought he could hide it forever.
Mom takes him to his specialist, all the way back in Boston. The yard must go on. It looks like rain. I get properly drunk. The better to keep an eye on clouds, men. One of them ventures into the rose bushes. I run out without shoes and tell him No no no, we won’t pay, I point to the dark sky, step in a pile of bear scat. He doesn’t laugh. He unrolls the hose and brings me around front and shows me the cement mixer, says, For your concrete. Then washes my feet.
Heading inside, I hold the door wide open so he can see the rack of keys, the resting gun, in case he wants to come back later. 8:35, 8:40. I’ll have no use for it then.
Doug Ross is a writer and photographer based in Brooklyn. He grew up outside of Detroit, MI. His work has been featured in X‑R-A‑Y Magazine and JMWW.