The old man shut the white door to his house, turned the deadbolt, and dropped his key under the mat. “Welcome!” the mat exclaimed as he turned the corner over to conceal the brass key. Checking his pockets for the final time before leaving, he took mental inventory of his belongings while patting down his pants and jacket pockets to be certain:Wallet, Watch, Glasses, Revolver, Mail, and A Little Cash. Yup, that’s it. Raising his head to the sky, the old man took a deep breath in, smiled and began to walk to church for the first time in almost two years, since his granddaughter died.
His granddaughter, Ellie, was only seven when she died. She had her grandma’s eyes, red hair and was the old man’s world. Today was Ellie’s birthday. She would have been nine.
“Don’t blame God,” the old man told his son, Ellie’s father, last week.
“Fuck dad, are you shitting me? She’s gone. And who the hell else am I gonna blame?”
“Not His fault, son. And you know it. He didn’t make that piece of shit get drunk. Nor did he make him drive.”
“She was seven, dad. Jesus Christ, she was only seven…” and with that he broke and started to weep.
“I know, son,” he said as he held his son close, and his own tears back, “I know.”
Ellie had gotten a brand new bike for her seventh birthday, a gift from her grandpa. The old man could remember it clearly. It was red and had a silver bell with silver and red tassels coming off the handlebars. There were no training wheels.
“Don’t believe in ‘em,” he told his son, “you didn’t need any, and neither does she.”
“Dad, she’s a girl,” Ellie’s father protested.
“So what? Does that mean she has no ability to balance? Besides, girls should be tough too.” And with that, Ellie’s grandpa got his way.
Ellie’s birthday party was held at her parent’s house on the cul-de-sac where they lived. Her crystal blue eyes came to life when her grandpa wheeled out her new bicycle.
“Really? Really, for me grandpa? WOW! It’s so coool!” he could still hear her voice and see the joy in her eyes.
“Oh, this? No. It’s for some other little girl down the road.”
“Well, she really needs a bicycle and I was just gonna wheel this thing over for her so she could give it a ride and…” the old man’s eyes sparkled, “unless you know someone else who really needs one.”
Ellie smiled and with that, she and her grandpa began to giggle in front yard.
The old man’s blue eyes began to well as he walked toward the church. He was halfway there, and sighed heavy with the burden of memory. Dropping his mail in the blue mailbox, he stopped to look down the road where the hospital was, where his wife had passed away.
“I wish grandma was here,” Ellie said as her grandpa helped her to balance on her new bike.
“Well, she is,” he had been rehearsing this answer for a little over a year.
Ellie looked at her grandpa with puzzled, innocent blue eyes, “How?”
He got on one knee and pointed at the sky, as if to show her a passing plane, “You see that cloud?”
“Yes,” her red hair dancing in the breeze as she looked.
“Well, just like that cloud, your grandma’s up there lookin’ down on you every day.”
“That’s right, El,” he smiled, “from heaven.”
“Oh,” she looked at the ground, “I meant really here. Not just heaven.”
His jaw clenched and he looked at the ground as tears began to well in his eyes. Children are so wise, he thought.
He tightened his lips and cleared his throat, “Me too El, really here… would be better.”
It took three days for Ellie to master her bicycle, red hair and silver tassels flew behind her as she tasted the wind with her face and laughing at her new freedom. Her grandpa sat on the front porch and watched with pride as she rode around the cul-de-sac at her parent’s house. Her father stepped onto the porch, cracked open a bottle of beer with the familiar psshhht and took a pull off the bottle.
“You were right, dad. As usual.”
The old man looked away from Ellie for the first time in a while, briefly glanced at the brown bottle, and quickly diverted his eyes to his son, “Good of you to say, but I knew that already.”
“Shit, dad. I’m sorry,” face flushed, “I always forget. I’ll go pour this out, be right back.”
The old man smiled, “Don’t worry about it, son. The only thing wrong with drinking is me doing it”
“I know, but it just feels…”
“Sit down, son,” he tapped the chair next to him, “enjoy this with me.”
And he did. Soon, they were talking like old friends, telling each other lies about fish and feats of bravery, and laughing so hard the neighbors would look to see what all the commotion was about. When silence came, they would watch Ellie ride for a while until a new story would come and start it all again, barely noticing the time passing as they enjoyed the day. They didn’t notice the light fading, the empty beers or the rusty grey pickup driving into the cul-de-sac; they were enjoying the moment.
There was no stopping the rusty grey pickup. With driver passed out at the wheel, the truck drove on autopilot through the middle of the cul-de-sac and at 25 miles per hour, crushing Ellie and her new red bicycle into the telephone pole, knocking it over, coming to rest upon Ellie and her bicycle with a silver bell. Ellie’s grandpa turned with a smile from his son in time to witness Ellie and her bicycle being folded between the telephone pole and the truck. He restrained his son from going over to Ellie for almost three minutes, knowing that what was left of his son’s daughter would destroy what was left of his son.
The old man walked absently up the three steps to the doors of the church, grasped the iron handle of the wooden door and stepped inside the house of God. Walking past the pews, he saw the priest adjusting the bread and wine for Wednesday-night mass, and met him at the pulpit.
“Hello,” the priest spoke, noticeably surprised to see the old man, “I… I wasn’t expecting to see…”
“Sit down, Padre.”
The priest did so without question, sitting in the tall wooden seat where he normally sat during services on Sunday while the congregation sang. He sat, nervously scanning the empty pews while the old man sat in the wooden chair across from him. It was a small church, even for a small town, and the red seats of the pews were a sharp contrast to the dark brown wood. The priest took a deep breath in and let it out slowly, closing his eyes and re-opening them as he drew in another.
“I know why you’re here” the priest spoke finally “I recognize you from court.”
“I thought you might. I mean shit, we were in the same room for almost four months.”
“Sir, this is a house of God, and I…”
“Don’t talk to me about God” the old man’s blue eyes were sharp, stabbing at the priest as he sat motionless and directed his vision to the floor.
“No, you don’t” the old man replied, “I’ve been a Christian since I quit drinking. God and I talk all the time, it’s the only way I could stay sober, and since my wife died,” he sighs “even more now.”
“And what do you think He thinks of all… this?”
“Oh, I know what He thinks. He disapproves, of course. The high road, forgiveness and all that bullshit, but I don’t care anymore. I think I’m getting too damn old to give half a shit about all that, and He knows it. So do you,” the old man smiled.
And with that comment, the priest took a long hard look the silver revolver in the old man’s hand. The satin smooth of the steel reflecting light from the cross between them as they spoke, and the wooden handle that barely showed from the opening of his right hand as the old man spoke. He held it casually; waving it back and forth as though the old man were holding a fork over dinner and now the priest couldn’t take his eyes off it.
“Shiny, ain’t it?” the old man asked flatly.
The priest’s eyes jutted upward to meet the old man’s constant stare, “And what are you going to do with it?”
“I’ve actually thought a lot about that,” the old man drew in a deep breath and let it out slow, “and I think I’m going to kill you with it.”
“Yeah. I wasn’t really sure ‘till I got here, but now… I’m pretty sure. I’ve done a lot of thinking about it, and I just can’t let this one ride, y’know? She deserved better, she was just a kid and you destroyed her. Funny thing… if you’d gone to jail, I wouldn’t be here. I always give the law a chance to work.”
“I…” the priest paused, his eyes finding the floor again, “I was wrong”
“Well, that’s not news, but it’s good of you to say.”
“Where are you planning on taking me, I mean to… to do this?”
“Thought about that too, a lot. And I was gonna take you out to the woods” the old man sighed, “but now that I’m lookin at it, doesn’t look like I’ve got muchova choice. If someone sees us, it’ll be game over.”
At that, the priest started to cry, “Please, not here.”
“Well…” the old man shrugged his shoulders, cocked the hammer back on the revolver, and aimed at the priest. The priest began to weep in earnest as the old man closed his left eye to take aim. The crucifixion in the stained glass above the priest drew the old man’s attention. Under Christ, the caption read, “For The Whole World” and the old man paused. He thought of his wife, how she had calmed him down in his younger years, how he had been drunk for the first half of his life, and for the first time he felt compassion for the priest. He remembered his wife’s words the day before she died, “I’m so proud of you” she had said when he didn’t punch his son in the nose for calling his wife a bitch.
The old man lowered the revolver, looked at the priest and saw him for the first time, not as the monster who ran over his granddaughter when he was drunk, but as a man. A man that was not much different than he was when he was younger, and drunker. He was surprised to see himself in the priest, and his eyes began to well up. Where would he have been without her, without a second chance, a third?
The priest, looked up from the floor and their eyes met. Seeing the tears coming on the old man, there was a moment where each man saw the other as though looking into a mirror. The priest smiled.
Why are you smiling? Do you think we’re friends? That we’re gonna laugh and have a few fuckin’ beers and ‘Oh remember the time you ran over Ellie and I nearly shot you in the church?’ Is this a game to you? You took Ellie! Everything that was right… is gone… just gone.
The gun came up as quickly as the smile, the old man’s eyes changing suddenly to a terrible version of sharp blue, and with the aim he was taught as a child, he gently squeezed the trigger. A flash of light and the thunder of the revolver was unleashed. The priest fell with a wet thud that wasn’t heard by the old man’s ringing ears, and was dead before he hit the floor.
“It’s not funny,” the old man said through his tears, “not funny at all you fuck.”
The old man sat motionless in the church until the choir director showed up almost forty-five minutes later. She shrieked as saw the scene left for her by the old man. When the heavy wood door slammed shut behind her, the church shook just enough to cause the old man to fall forward from the front pew where he shot himself. The choir director couldn’t hear him fall over her screams. When the police arrived, less than three minutes later, the chief began to cry at the words scrawled above the priest in blood. Fucker had it comin it stated plainly. The chief barely noticed the old man on the floor in front pew with his silver revolver still clutched in his right hand.
“Chief?” the officer standing next to him asked quietly.
“I knew him,” he said, staring at what was left of the priest, “he was, a good man.”
“Isn’t he the one that ran over that girl a couple of…” the officer stopped as his superior turned his gaze away from his fallen friend and towards him.
The chief’s brown, tear filled eyes looked sharply at the young officer, and from quivering lips he replied, “We all make mistakes.”
It was quiet in the house of God for the rest of the night as the men and women in the church did their jobs.
Two days later, Ellie’s father stepped out from the dark of his house to get the mail. Obviously drunk, he staggered across his lawn to his mailbox with his bare feet touching the soft wet grass. It should’ve been me was all he could think as he crossed the lawn as he remembered his last conversation with his dad.
“I think I should kill him.” He told his dad.
“Son, you don’t want anything to do with killing anybody,” the old man’s eyes were a razor’s edge blue as he spoke, “you’ve got a long life ahead and you don’t want to live with that. Not ever.”
“Dad he murdered her in the street and got off on a goddamned technicality because the fucking police chief didn’t read him his fucking rights!”
“I know son, but every dog has his day.”
“Yeah? Well I wanna be there for that sonofabitch’s day. So I can see him bleed for what he and his god did to my Ellie.”
“Don’t blame God.” His dad said.
His dad used to come by and check the mail for him. Once a day he would come by, pick up the mail, arrange it according to bills and personal, and leave it on the kitchen table. It was like clockwork, and he did it ever since Ellie died. He told him once that it was how he kept on living, by finding things to do.
“Your just makin sure I’m okay, dad.”
“Well,” the old man smiled, “maybe that too.”
The mail was a stack of bills and a single letter. When he saw the letter, he dropped the bills onto the lawn and stared at it with blinking eyes. What the fuck? He mouthed as stared at the letter from his dad. Tearing the end off the envelope, he shook out the single piece of paper and began to read the last words from his father. As he read, tears began to well. He shook his head up and down, as though he was taking direct orders from his father when he was six. After reading the letter, with tears streaming down his face he looked up to the sky and fell to his knees.
“I will dad, I promise,” holding the letter to his chest, he began to weep, “I promise.”