Joe was enthusiastic. He bought a .32 and a box of bullets at a pawn shop and was headed across the fields to shoot some beer bottles. Target practice. “Man,” he smiled at me, “Man, you need one of these, too. For protection. You can never tell what will happen around here. You have no idea how crazy these people are.” He got there before me. He, too, was from New Jersey. Maybe he knew what he was talking about. But we weren’t supposed to have guns. We were supposed to be non-violent. But maybe I did need protection. There were a lot of people around who were not thrilled at our arrival. There were rumors. And, of course, threats.
The police headquarters was on the dusty, main street of the town. On the white side of the tracks, down the block from the gin, across the street from the drug store. I walked in in the middle of the afternoon. The old police car was parked out front. The street was quiet, it was hot, and there was a single officer inside. He woke himself up, pulled himself out of the wooden armchair he was leaning against the bars. I put the brown paper bag (he would have called it a “sack”) on the counter, and quietly informed him, “There’s a gun in there. It’s mine. I want you to look at it and write down the serial number, and I want you to take my name and address, so that if I have to shoot somebody, you’ll know it was me who did it.”
He didn’t seem at all startled by the request. He already knew who I was. And why I was there. He knew all about the rumors. And the threats.
In the bag was a heavy, black, snub nosed .38. A police special. It wasn’t at all for shooting targets. Neither beer bottles, nor small animals. If you wanted to hit something, or more likely someone you’d have to be standing right next to it or him. But this gun had one enormous virtue. When you fired it in the dark, it was very loud. Like a cannon. And it made a bright yellow flash. In other words, it was perfect for me. One squeeze of the trigger would scare anybody to death. Including me. You’d think of just going home. Or back to wherever you were before. You wouldn’t think about much more than that. You’d want to leave.
After my visit downtown I put the loaded gun under my pillow. And life went on more or less as before. Community organizing. Playing with the dog. Going to meetings. Visits to the store to buy single cigarettes. Trips down the highway to buy cheap, hot beer. Answering questions from distant supervisors about what was going on. The constant talking of organizing. Eating barbecue. Putting coins in the jukebox. Talking some more. Visiting the neighbors. Talking some more. After a while, it wasn’t a big deal any more that there was a bump under the pillow. I took it for granted. I continued to watch my back. And my step. But the ugly rumors continued that they would get me.
One Fall Saturday night it was cold and raining. I was alone at home watching television. Home at the time was a run down, rotting shack in the edge of a small cotton field near the railroad tracks. The dog was sleeping on the floor. A leak in the roof near the entrance was dripping into a coffee can. I heard two or three cars pull up, heard their doors slam, and heard the occupants yelling and bumping into things. They were calling me all kinds of unkind names, telling me how they were going to beat my posterior, telling me immediately to bring my buttocks out of the house. When I looked out the window, it looked like they might be carrying shotguns or rifles. I couldn’t recognize any of them. I turned the lights off. I went to the bed and reached under the pillow. They continued to yell epithets and threaten and describe the things they were planning on doing to me. They said they were going to inflict various kinds of physical injury on me, burn my house down to the ground, and kill the dog who they thought only barked at white people. It was true about who the dog barked at, so he started to growl and bark at them. I quietly opened the window at the side of the house, pointed the gun toward the sky, and fired a single shot. Boom. The boom echoed around the town. As I was afraid it would, it scared me nearly to death.
“Oh hell,” one of them shouted. “I told you he’d shoot. Let’s get the hell out of here.” They jumped back in their cars and drove off into the rain.
My heart was pounding. I was shaking. I picked up the phone to call Joe. “Listen,” I told him. “Something just happened. You know that gun I got?”
“Did you just shoot somebody?”
“Nobody got hurt. But I’m shaking. I need you to come and get me and let me stay at your house tonight. Just for tonight. I don’t want to be here if they come back tonight. It’s too scary.”
He came and got me. To my unending gratitude, they didn’t come back.
Instead, one afternoon about two weeks later one of them drove off the road in his pick up truck. He intentionally ran over my dog and killed him.
This Week In The Dream Antilles is usually a weekly digest. Usually, it appears on Friday. Sometimes, like now and for several of the past weeks, it isn’t actually a digest of essays posted at The Dream Antilles. For the essays you have to visit The Dream Antilles