My name is Giles Garstink. I’m twenty-eight years old and live in San Francisco with my grandma. I call her “Nana.” I do fairly well for myself. Nana and I eat, and we have some nice things. She doesn’t have to work anymore. She mostly spends her days volunteering at the soup kitchen and doing water aerobics at the YMCA. I work in the technology industry. I could tell you what I do, but it doesn’t matter. You’ll have to trust me that it’s not important. Like I said, we do just fine. Nice TV, two-bedroom apartment, PS4, Blu-ray, iPad, sure. But something’s not right, and it’s been itching me as long as I can remember.
The world is dangerous. You might say this is obvious. Of course the world is dangerous. People lie and cheat, rape and murder. But that’s not really it, is it? It’s something else, much deeper. Something larger, all-encompassing that goes beyond the bad eggs that always have been around. It’s kind of like the realization that the best apocalyptic novel you’ve ever read is a little too real, and that idea makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s a damn good book, but it also touches us personally, and we didn’t expect that. It’s realistic, after all; that’s why it’s good. But why couldn’t it be real? That’s what nags at me. A couple of twists one way in the real world, and maybe it would be. Call me a doomsayer, but the world is dangerous. I’m going to try to be ready. I may not succeed in the end, but at least I’ll try. You try to convince yourself that what you’re feeling is only anxiety and doubt, and put it out of your mind, or try to. Sometimes, though, you have to believe your intuition—maybe that’s what’s real.
So I bought a gun. Nothing elaborate. A pretty standard .45 caliber. I walked into the shop, and a skinny clerk with dark eyes approached me. “Yes?”
“I’d like to buy a gun, a pistol. What do you recommend?”
He rolled his eyes. “First gun? What ya need a gun for?”
I cocked my head to the side a bit. “The world’s a dangerous place. Sometimes a man needs a gun. Sometimes he doesn’t. Now I think I do.”
“Now ya do, huh? Why now? You planning to do something stupid?”
I just stared at him. “Are you going to sell me a gun or not? If I’d wanted to talk, I’d go to a bar.”
“Yeah, I’ll sell you a gun. How’s this one?” He held out the .45 I told you I bought. “How much ammo do ya need?”
“Enough,” I said.
Actually I don’t plan to use it. I might have gotten a little tough with the guy, but he was being a pain in the ass. When someone you know buys a gun, you’re most likely on one of two sides in having an opinion about the purchase. Either you say, “You’re barking mad. What do you need a gun for?” Or you say, “That’s your right as an American,” and you raise your shoulders in a shrug that implies, It’s none of my business what you do in your space. Maybe so. There’s also the minority that says, “Hell, yeah! Can I check out your new piece?” Those are the fools; they’re not going to make it out. And an even smaller minority, whom you don’t want to talk to and who’ll shoot you where you stand—they’re the bad eggs. They might get the ball rolling, but eggs don’t generally roll straight. In the long run, they won’t matter, either. I guess I’m in majority position two, the shoulder shrug. The gun may not end up helping. But if this whole thing—this world—ends by breaking up like a comet approaching the sun, I want to at least give Nana and me a shot. We deserve that much. But chances are, I’m going to need more than a gun to make that happen.
I walk in through our front door after another tedious day at the office. Nana’s at the kitchen table, drowning in sweat, still breathing heavily. “You all right?” I ask.
She bobs her head up and down by way of answer. I drop my shoulder bag in the doorway and head to my room to change out of my suit. Somehow I’ve managed to thrive in a piece-of-shit economy. Like I said, I’m not complaining. Maybe if I didn’t feel the way I do, I’d be fine going to work every day and coming home. At least it’s just Nana and me. God, if I had a wife and, heaven forbid, kids, I’d probably have lost my mind by now. I come back into the kitchen. Nana’s not breathing quite so heavily, but she’s still sweating furiously.
“Good day?” she inquires.
“It was fine. Nana, we need to talk.”
“What’s wrong, Giles?”
I can’t sit down. Like a child, I avoid her gaze, embarrassed. About what? Then I realize I’m having doubts; I feel foolish. She might think it’s all absurd. I force myself to stare straight at her flushed face. “We need to leave, Nana. We can’t stay here anymore.”
She does nothing for a long moment, then simply nods and glances at the table quietly. Finally she looks up. “I like it here.”
“I know. I do too.”
“So why do we have to go? Will I like it where we’re going? Is it far away? We have friends here. I like it here,” she says again, all in a rush.
“I hope we like it just as much. But I don’t know what will happen, Nana. I just know we can’t stay here. Not anymore.”
She shakes her head. “I’m going to take a shower,” she says as she gets up. Now it’s my turn to nod as she squeezes past me and out of the room.
Three days pass, and Nana and I don’t say two words to each other, even in passing. We’re like ghosts in the wind. We go about our days—we eat; we sleep; I go to work. We do as we’ve always done, at least recently while we’ve lived together in San Francisco. It’s hanging over us, though. We know it’ll have to be addressed soon; neither of us has forgotten what was said while Nana sat dripping sweat at our kitchen table. We just don’t want to talk about it again, not yet. We have an understanding between us. Sometimes we do our best communicating without saying anything. I know, that sounds strange. We’re not mad at each other. It’s almost as if we’re biding our time—or perhaps more to the point, we’re digesting. Digesting what was said and thinking about what needs to be said next. Usually, once we talk, it’s direct, and we say everything we need to. Sure, sometimes it’s nice to chitchat, but this isn’t one of those times. When the time comes, we’ll really talk. It’ll be soon. That’s how it is.
On the third day of silence, I come home from work early. We weren’t deliberately not speaking, like I said, but at this point, that’s how I’m delineating the days. Nana’s not home, which isn’t unexpected, as it’s around quarter of four. I just couldn’t work anymore. I’m at the point where I’m just going through the motions at work. No heart, no soul. So I told the boss I was feeling sick and left early. I’ve been trying to decide the best way to move forward. Which course should I take, for my sake and for Nana’s? I think I’m almost there. Maybe we will talk later. In my bedroom I put down my work laptop that I take back and forth to the office. I lie on my bed and shut my eyes. I sleep a while, in my work clothes. I didn’t mean to fall asleep. It’s almost six now. I take off my business suit and change into jeans and a sweater. I poke my head into the kitchen, but it’s dark and empty. Nana’s still out, which is not entirely unusual. I pick up my keys and head for the door.
I sit at the bar and swirl my drink. The whiskey on the rocks. is helping me decompress. I’m thinking a bit more clearly now. For the time being, the world is as it should be. There are familiar, friendly faces here. I can watch the football game, and when I want another drink, the bartender is happy to oblige. I’m comfortable. But I hate it deep down in my core, because I know that comfort is false and fleeting. I’m sitting alone and not really looking for company; Margery comes in and sits on the stool beside me. She’s a regular here, and we like to talk and flirt a little. Tonight she’s wearing snug-fitting pale blue jeans and a cream-yellow blouse that leaves the perfect amount to the imagination. Her dark brown hair tapers just below her shoulders. Her wide eyes and expressive lips pull me in. “Giles, how the heck have you been?” She covers my hand in hers in greeting. I can’t help smile. There are some truly genuine people out there, and Margery is one of them. Unfortunately, it’s the innocent and the genuine who will hurt the most when society unravels. “I’ve been good, Margery. Same old shit. What’s new?” It’s idle chatter, but that’s all I’ve got in me at the moment. We talk for a while, and we drink. We alternate buying rounds. We do a shot or two and three.
Now I’m pretty far gone. I didn’t eat dinner tonight and have been munching the potato chips at the bar. “Giles, why don’t you ever hit on me? You flirt with me and make me blush, but you never just go for it. Why?”
What do you say when a woman just flat-out puts it to you like that? Honestly, I’m not sure why we haven’t done anything more than flirt. “Sorry, Margery. I guess I was always waiting for the opportune moment. You know?”
Her eyes bore into mine. “I’m not sure. Sometimes, if you keep waiting for that moment, it may pass you by.” She gives me her poutiest face. Her lips look so red and perfect that I can’t take it anymore. I know I shouldn’t do this, but it’s been hanging there all night—and for months before as well—and the temptation is too great. I lean in to kiss her. I taste the sweetness of her breath as she exhales and turns her face away. I’m caught off-guard and topple off my stool, which lifts off the floor and tumbles out behind me before it rebounds into my ass. I end up kissing the edge of the bar, not Margery’s perfect lips.
Margery is all apologies and grabs me by the arm, but it’s much too late. I should have left the bar hours ago. I pull a few bills from my pocket to settle the rest of the tab and hurry for the door. She catches up to me outside, but I’ve had it for tonight. “It’s fine, Margery. I missed my moment.” I smile ruefully, with as much good cheer as I can muster.
“Stay,” she says.
“No, I have to go home.”
When I get home, Nana’s in the kitchen. I haven’t looked at my watch and have no idea what time it is. I squint at the clock over the oven. It’s 11:32. Nana, writing in a notebook at the table, glances up. “You’re drunk,” she says.
“How d’ya know? Didn’t even say anything yet.”
“Your fly’s open, Giles.”
I glance down. So it is. “I’m drunk,” I concur and head to my bedroom. Well, we spoke a few words finally. But we’ll really talk another night, maybe tomorrow.