by Staci Ritchie
They’re sitting in a circle on the worn wooden floor of her apartment, the girl with the long black hair that splits at the ends and the name that she got from a dead ancestor. There is a bottle of vodka in the middle of the circle, empty and plastic, its cheap insides now sloshing around in theirs. Liquid courage, the truth in the cliché.
“I have an idea,” she says. There are six of them, and she’s the oldest if only by a few months. They’ve known each other since diapers or lockers or cheap cleats, but now they’re adults. Barely. Adults due to number only and eighteen doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. They are supposed to be moving on with their lives, and they can feel responsibility, dull, painstaking responsibility ghosting at their fingertips when the room is quiet.
“Russian Roulette,” she says. It’s a terrible idea, but she moves lazily across the room to retrieve her Smith and Wesson revolver from beneath the piles of lace in her underwear drawer. She traded her mother’s wedding ring for the gun. Her mother had died and left her things worth money, but she hadn’t left her any memories. So she took the shining diamond to a pawn shop three hours after the funeral, dirt still dark and fresh atop the coffin, and bought herself some power. The gun holds six bullets. There are six of them. They are all sick of each other. It isn’t how the game works. She loads a single bullet, spins the cylinder, runs her thumb along the rough design of the rubber grip, and takes her place within the circle, passes the gun to her right.
He is tall, lean, eats piles and mounds of thick, heavy food but can’t seem to substantiate himself. He is a slight stream of smoke amongst solid men, and he’s never touched the ground before. Tonight, with cold silver pressed against his temple, he quivers and feels the wood hard and real against his crossed legs, his pointed ankles. There is a lifeless click, and he feels human in the face of his mortality.
He passes the gun to his right. She doesn’t spin the cylinder. It isn’t how the game works. It clicks.
She passes the gun to her right, he takes it, he doesn’t spin the cylinder. It clicks. He rubs the sides of his head, his cheeks, the rough skin along his jawline and the smooth skin behind his earlobes. Softens out the cracks like dried, flaking paint. He is marble again. A child, perfect in his existence. He passes the gun to his right.
She doesn’t spin the cylinder. She takes longer to pull the trigger. The time she has spent does not pass before her closed eyes, but instead the ones that she may not. She can feel the buttons of business casual crowding the skin at her throat. She can feel the children dropping from between her narrow thighs like rain drops. It is claustrophobic, terrifying, and she longs for it—pulls the trigger because she can’t stand the anxiety of not knowing whether she’ll meet them or not, her children. There is a dull click, it rattles her ear drums. With reluctance, the gun again moves right.
He wastes no time. He knows the odds, doesn’t spin the cylinder, he wants this. He doesn’t even close his eyes when pulls the trigger. There is a click, and his stomach drops. It’s the same feeling he had when his mother wouldn’t buy the sickening sweet, plastic wrapped treats he always picked out at the grocery store. She wanted him to be healthy. Strong and brave and organic like expensive fruit. He feels like the death that won’t come to him.
The gun returns to the hands it calls home. Her breath comes quick, in short bursts like the flash of a camera. She knows what it means, so she spins the cylinder, feels the future heavy on the pads of her fingers. She points the gun at each of them, at herself, at the ceiling. Pulls the trigger and it fires. Loud like a siren outside of her window, or an old car backfiring in the alley. The laughter seeps from their lips unexpected, and dishonest.
In the apartment upstairs an old man sleeps with his balding head upon a flat, striped pillow. His blood has seen, firsthand, two wars; it has seen the fistfights of children who are angry with their condition but unable to change it. His blood has seen a robbery; it has run through the hands that stopped guns and the ones that fired them. And all the while it has remained true blue, dotted with stars like the American flag. People clap him on the back in liquor stores and on the street, they see his wrinkled military tattoos folding in on themselves and thank him for his valor, the strength in the blood he has not spilled. With age it has remained blue, turquoise like the ocean as it rises to the surface and pushes at his thinning skin. Tonight, across those striped sheets, it runs red.