Afterwards, we try to do trig homework, but Taylor’s still upset about what happened in gym class, so he turns on the TV. In the middle of the doom-and-gloom local news, the newscasters start talking about the Freeway Sniper.
I can’t believe anyone would do that, I say.
And he says in his sweet I’m-not-from-Cali accent, He does it because it’s easy.
I pretend the steady shhh of the 10 Freeway outside the window is the sound of a river running in the backyard and we aren’t in this tacky apartment he shares with his mother, the floors trembling when someone walks on the catwalks and cigarette smoke leaking from cracks around the medicine cabinet. An apartment building like the one I live in, only we have a pool blooming algae-green in the courtyard.
What do you mean? I finally say.
And he says, Let me show you.
He goes into his mother’s room and comes out carrying this long ass gun like it’s a baby in his arms and I look at him like what the hell.
Relax, he says. It’s just a rifle.
Well, yeah, I know it’s a fuckin’ rifle.
It doesn’t have bullets in it.
Why do you even have a rifle?
Used to go shooting with my dad back in Texas. Come on.
I stand up, pull my crop top down, attempting to cover my stomach. I should go, I say, mom will kill me if I’m late for dinner.
Come on, he repeats.
His eyes are what made me chase him. They’re turquoise, like those Alaskan rivers I’ve seen in travel magazines, the rivers running from glaciers to ocean. Eyes I thought I could ride like a raft until the rapids whirled me away. But now his eyes shoot past me and for a moment it’s like he’s checked out of his body. Like during the basketball game today when Jimmy Creek and his crew surrounded him and he went to that place and was icy cold.
And if I’m honest I’m a little scared of him when he’s like that, although he tells me, Honey, I’d never hurt you.
I say now, Ok, but be quick.
He leads me out of the apartment up to the roof. There, someone’s dragged up a pair of mismatched lounge chairs and faced them west, although a scrim of apartment buildings blocks any view of the Pacific. A red Solo cup stands on one chair, filled with soggy cigarette butts. The gravel roof crunches below my boots.
Taylor’s already at the edge. There’s no wall or fence, just the edge dropping off. He lies on his stomach. The rifle by his side. Lie down, he says. I pause. His hand grabs my wrist and pulls me down.
The raw edges of the gravel dig into my bare stomach.
Palms line the frontage street Taylor lives on, the trees untrimmed and wearing shrouds of dead leaves around their trunks. I can see the freeway between the palms. All eight lanes, the closest thing that L.A. has to a real river. Cars rushing, each blurring into the next. Everything in motion.
Beyond the 10, beyond rooftops, mountains rise purple and brown. There, I imagine, narrow roads twist through oaks and picture windows reflect the sun like diamonds.
The gun lies between us.
Why did you bring the gun? I say and I don’t know if the tightness in my chest is from lying on sharp gravel or the rising exhaust or something else.
Just to show you.
He takes the gun and aims it at the freeway, his finger on the trigger, one hand curling around the barrel to support it. I take a sharp breath. Those same hands peeled off my jeans, pinned mine over my head as he moved inside me, not 30 minutes ago.
No wonder the sniper thinks he’s so powerful, he says.
There’s no bullets, right?
The safety’s on.
Let’s go back, I say.
Not yet. You try. He hands me the rifle. It’s heavier than I thought. He shows me how to hold it, close one eye to look through the sight. Be careful, if you shoot it’s going to kick back.
My hands shake.
It’s hard to see the people in the cars. Shadows through the windows, like images in dreams that you can’t hold onto after you wake.
Look at them, he says. Nobodies. His breath is hot against my neck; I imagine him breathing a hole in my skin as if he’s melting ice.
Everything’s blurry and I realize I’m crying.
Just aim through a window, he says.
His blue eyes gleam cold, and I remember that those Alaskan rivers run so turquoise because they’ve got all that crap in them that’s left when a glacier melts. Glacial soup, they call it. Dirt and rocks.
All you need to do is pull the trigger, he says.
My finger cramps. This freeway crosses the country. Millions of people flying up and down its lanes, to the Pacific, to the Atlantic. Everyone going somewhere. And me so still.
© Lori Sambol Brody
[This piece was selected by Dylan Brie Ducey. Read Lori’s interview]