All your friends have older brothers–some in jail, some in Vietnam. But Nancy’s brother is a cop. He works nights and sleeps days, so he’s always snoring in the back bedroom when you play at her house.
Nancy is a tomboy. She likes to play Matchbox cars. She always chooses the cop car and makes the scary siren sound–rrrrrrr rrrrrr–as she rushes the black and white car marked POLICE across the worn carpet.
You’re not a tomboy. You want to choose the turquoise Bel Air convertible so you can pretend you’re Miss America being driven down the street in a parade. But you always choose the ambulance and follow the cop car across the carpet, because when there’s a murder, somebody’s got to clean up the mess.
One day Nancy’s mother goes to a wake and leaves you in the house with just the cop brother snoring in the back.
Do you want to see my brother’s gun? Nancy asks.
You don’t really. But you know it’s polite to say yes.
She drags a chair over to the wooden cabinet in the front hallway, climbs up, and takes a pistol out of a leather holster.
She points it at you.
You stare into the dark hole of the barrel.
You better put that back, you say, or else–
Else what, she says.
Else I’ll tell your mother, you say.
She shrugs and puts the gun back in the holster.
You don’t tell her mother. Or your own mother. And you keep playing Matchbox cars just like before. But for weeks afterward when you go to bed and mumble now I lay me down to…, you hear Nancy making the scary siren sound–rrrrrrr rrrrrr–before you fall into the dark barrel of sleep.
by Rita Ciresi
Rita Ciresi is author of the novels Bring Back My Body to Me, Pink Slip, Blue Italian, and Remind Me Again Why I Married You, and three award-winning story collections, Second Wife, Sometimes I Dream in Italian, and Mother Rocket. She is professor of English at the University of South Florida and fiction editor of 2 Bridges Review.