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August 9, 2017 | Fiction

Willing

Jennifer Wortman

Willing photo

One of the men I love’s pointing a gun—stainless steel, ecru handle--at his temple, and I tell him I’ll do anything if he puts down that gun. This is the man I’m not leaving my husband for. But now I tell him I’m leaving my husband. I call my husband, so the man can hear, and tell my husband I’m leaving him. My husband isn’t surprised, but he’s pissed. He knows about this man, because we have the kind of marriage where I can tell him about this man, and because we have that kind of marriage, I wasn’t going to leave him for this man. But now it turns out I’m leaving him for this man, because this man has a gun to his head, which is like putting a gun to my head, because I love him that much. I love the kind of man who will put a gun to his own head, and therefore, by implication, my head. My husband, though pissed, will not put a gun to his head over any of this, and I also love the kind of man who will not put a gun to his head over any of this. But it turns out the gun wins. I tell my husband we’ll talk later. I hang up and hold out my hand, into which the man places the gun, gently, like a pet newly dead. 

I love this man, and I love my husband, but I also love this gun. I open the chamber and eject the bullets, just in case I start loving it too much. Because of guns’ obvious phallic properties, no one speaks of their feminine beauty, their curves and holes. I don’t speak of their feminine beauty. Instead, I say to the man I love, “You should fuck me with this gun.” We have never fucked, because I love my husband. We have never even kissed. Then I say, “Just kidding. I’d never fuck a gun. Unless it was loaded, with the hammer cocked.” 

When I was a girl, my dad would take me shooting. I was a terrible shot, but my dad praised my skills, because I went shooting with him, and my willingness to do so was skill enough. 

My willingness has limits. I don’t own a gun. The man I love’s willingness knows no bounds. Life is easier that way, when you are willing to shoot people to protect yourself or shoot yourself to protect other people. When you’re willing to leave the husband you love for the man you love or willing to leave the man you love for the husband you love. But now I love this man extra, because his gun released my willingness, a wildcat fresh from the cage.  And I love him because when I say things like, “I’d never fuck a gun. Unless it was loaded, with the hammer cocked,” and laugh until I cry, he holds me and strokes my hair but doesn’t kiss me or cop a feel, even though he could. Even now, after I’ve left my husband, he holds me and strokes my hair, nothing more. And I hold him and stroke the bristles where his hair would be if he hadn’t shaved it off, a practical move that nonetheless looks, with his sad face, like mourning. I love his sad face, and my husband’s sad face, and, come to think of it, my dead dad’s sad face. But I hate my sad face.

Before this man put a gun to his head, I’d sent him photos of my saddest face.  I wanted him to see me as I am, not just sad, but ugly, shorn of make-up and hygiene and youth and sleep: photos reeking of bad breath and funked armpits and cellular rot. I looked that way because I wasn’t leaving my husband for this man, and we were saying goodbye. I took pictures of myself looking that way because it was the closest I could get to shooting myself. This man saw the pictures and put a gun to his head: my hero.

He strokes my sad face and says, “Shhh. It’s okay.” He strokes my hair. “We’re together now, right?” 

His eyes are ovens, burning dark. 

“Forever,” I say. 

The word tastes like cold steel. 

I smile. 

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