True Story, Issue #3

"Muzzled" by Gabriela Denise Frank

True Story, Issue #3

On her eighteenth birthday, Gabriela Denise Frank asks her father to take her shooting in the desert—a father-daughter bonding day. But are there other motives behind her request? This far-ranging discussion of guns, ballistics, mass shootings, and the psychology of abuse ends in a simple question: Will she, or won’t she?

From "Muzzled" by Gabriela Denise Frank

“Here,” Dad said, thrusting a .38 Special into my hands. He had agreed to take me shooting, a present for my eighteenth birthday. The .38 was slimmer than the Colt he had handed me first—more of a ladies’ gun, he said. “Hold it out in your right hand below your shoulder and cup the butt with your left hand.” He dragged on an unfiltered Camel as he stepped back. “Bend your knees a little. You want to be steady. Not stiff.”

I nodded and wiped my sweaty palms on my stonewashed denim short shorts, the kind we called Daisy Dukes, before I took hold of the gun for real. It felt smooth, leaden, and compact on my skin, heavier than I anticipated it would be. Holding it, my long, soft hands—flute player’s hands, piano player’s hands, slender like my mother’s hands—felt puny and fey.

“Come on,” he urged. “Give it a try. You said you wanted to do this. Just brace yourself for the kickback.”

I held up the gun like he showed me, the weight of black metal pouring into my palm. In that instant, I got it. The power. Such a strange thing to feel peaceful with.

Squinting down the barrel, I found a clear path between the sights into the imagined heart of the paper target flapping many yards out above the gravelly desert floor, above klatches of saguaros shrugging their arms and mounds of stinger-sharp cholla and gnarled clumps of gray-green desert sagebrush. It was past 2:00 p.m.; we had gotten a late start thanks to my birthday buttermilk pancakes, Dad’s specialty.

The July sun glinted off his sunglasses in blinding starbursts; after fifteen minutes of exposure, my bare, freckled shoulders were baking in the 110-degree heat. My father shifted his weight behind me, longing to be somewhere else. I wiggled my thumb to make sure the webbing of my skin was free of the hammer and wouldn’t get caught when it struck.

Instead of the blank face on the target, I imagined my father standing inside the chalk-white outline, his heart slightly off-center. I took a deep breath and aimed for it, his thin, black paper heart. ...