Five Things That Never Happened To Charlie O'Neill
On the fifth of October, 1995, Charlie O'Neill walked into his parents' bedroom looking for a stamp. He climbed onto the bed, searched the headboard--nothing. Drawer on his mother's side of the bed--nothing. The drawer on his father's side of the bed was usually locked, but he yanked on it anyway, and ended up on his butt when the drawer slid open.
He didn't see any stamps. Instead, he saw his father's gun, lying on its side. Charlie froze, listened for steps on the stairs, but the only thing he could hear was the faint drone of the television in the den.
He stood there looking for a long time, until he heard the front door open, and then he slammed the drawer shut and fled the room.
On the fifth of October, 1995, Charlie O'Neill reached into the drawer and picked up his father's gun. It was heavy, heavier than he'd expected, and cold in his hands.
He sat crosslegged on the floor and balanced the gun on his ankles, flicked the hammer a few times, tried and failed to stick a finger in the barrel. Standing up, he went and looked at himself in the mirrored closet door. When he held the gun at his side, it dragged his shoulder down with it; he frowned, grabbed the gun with both hands, pointed it at the mirror. This was a much more satisfactory pose, and Charlie held it for a while, twisting back and forth to get a better view of himself.
Eventually, he got bored, and put the gun way with a mingled sense of guilt and triumph. It wasn't every day that he got to prove that his father made stupid rules.
On the fifth of October, 1995, Charlie O'Neill knew the gun was unloaded, so he pulled the trigger a few times, whispering bang, bang, bang! under his breath.
The creak of someone's feet on the stairs made his heart drop down into his stomach. He scrambled over the bed on his hands and knees, shoved the gun into the open drawer, slammed it shut, and pretended to go back to hunting for a stamp in the headboard.
"Whatcha doin', Charlie?" his father asked, and Charlie knew that was not a good voice.
"I need a stamp," he said, looking over his shoulder and thinking he sounded perfectly normal, not nervous at all. No sir, not him.
His father was leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed. Charlie knew what "really mad" looked like on his father's face, and that, right there, that was it. "Charlie, what have I told you about guns?"
Charlie stuck his chin out, glared right back. "The drawer was unlocked. I just looked at it. I didn't do anything. It wasn't even loaded." His father stared him down until Charlie felt his lip begin to quiver. "It was fine!"
"I think we'd better talk to your mother," Charlie's father said. He was better at controlling his expression than his son was, but a minute later, the first thing his wife saw in it was fear.
On the fifth of October, 1995, Charlie O'Neill knew the gun was unloaded, so he pulled the trigger, whispering bang under his breath. It kicked in his hands; he dropped it, knocked off balance, and fell onto his rear for the second time that afternoon. The mirror shattered, broken glass flying across the carpet, and Charlie burst into tears.
He tried to stop crying--oh, God, he was going to be in so much trouble!--but he couldn't, not to explain or say he was okay or anything. The tears didn't fade until some time later, after his father had searched him for injuries and found none, after his mother had snatched the gun up off the floor, saying "Jack, what did you do?" with something in her voice that might have been anger and might have been tears, after his father had hissed out "Later" in reply, cradling Charlie on his lap and murmuring "It's okay. You're okay."
He was in a lot of trouble, as it turned out. Next time, Charlie vowed, he wouldn't get caught. Also, he wouldn't pull the trigger, because wow, that was a stupid thing to do.
On the tenth of November, 1997, Charlie O'Neill stayed home from school with a cold. As ice cream was the official comfort food for sick members of the O'Neill household, he had a scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough and a scoop of strawberry for breakfast, and then watched TV for a while.
An hour and a half into that afternoon's father/son game of Risk, Charlie was feeling pretty good about his chances, having finally conquered all of Europe. His father was frowning at the board, giving the question of where to put his armies more thought than it deserved, when they heard the first explosion.
There must have been a car accident, he thought, but his father's face was much too white for that. Charlie didn't know a lot about what his father had done before he retired, but he was pretty sure explosions had been part of it, and so when he was told to stay exactly where he was he did. He was still there when his father came back from the window, hauled him up by the arm, and pulled him toward the basement. He ended up sitting in a corner, arms wrapped around his knees, nodding and trying to look calm while his father said evenly, "Stay here. I'll be right back."
His father never came back, and Charlie O'Neill never saw an al'kesh, because he hadn't gone to the window when he had the chance. A few miles away, a self-destruct was counting down. By the time it went off, Charlie was dead.
On me the passage o'er the sea depends; on me the sack of Troy; and in my power it lies to check henceforth barbarian raids on happy Hellas ... All this deliverance will my death ensure, and my fame for setting Hellas free will be a happy one.
--Iphigenia, Iphigenia at Aulis
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