His head hurt like a son-of-a-bitch but he couldn’t complain out loud. Because his mouth wasn’t working or rather his lips and teeth were jammed against something so couldn’t work. But complaining was his first impulse. “Son-of-a-bitch” was his most accessible expletive. Stuck door, banged thumb with hammer, missed favourite show: Son-of-a-Bitch! The big word, the short one actually starting with “f” would certainly seem more appropriate right now as there was really no one person or S-O-B to blame for anything right now and circumstances certainly seemed “f’d-up” right now. It just wasn’t his word.

His ears were ringing from the muzzle blast so close to his head that on that side the eardrum might well be busted. Happens in war a lot they say. Bomb misses its mark but the blast deafens you anyway. He had never been in a war so had to take others’ word for it. Actors mostly—acting it out on screen in under-water dullness while compatriot actors shouted important warnings at them that they couldn’t hear. Who knew if movies portrayed anything accurately? Deaf for a little while but still up and fighting made for pretty good drama. He wasn’t planning on ever getting up again. And there was no noise now anyway.

He was face and body down on a hard surface. Immobile. To be expected. Was Heaven hard? More likely Hell. He had no clear vision. Thought that in the afterlife he would at least get good eyesight back but all he could see and not focus on, as normal, were grey shapes. Tall lines ran up and away above his face. Chair legs maybe, but disappearing into the blur. He could smell stuff. That part of his old senses still seemed to be working. Cordite in the air from the gun blast was really confusing. He should have left all of that behind.

The hard surface below his face smelled of maybe old wax, old socks and dog shit tracked in by his once mutt, now dead, like he was. Aside from easing the pain in his head and ending the crushing press on his face he wanted to get away from the smell. Was that his own piss mixed in there? Something sure stunk. Pissing yourself while dying might be expected. More likely old dog piss, tracked everywhere by his constantly marking male dog, which likely streamed as much piss on its feet as it did on the neighbourhood bushes, trees and lamp posts. He also guessed that blood must be gushing out of the hole in his head so would be adding to the stink around him. Stories said it smelled of iron. Maybe he smelled that too.

He hadn’t expected to need to smell anything with a bullet through his brain but like other stories said, maybe you just slowed down easing into death. Maybe departure stink was part of the process. Even brainshot dead, the eyes, the ears and apparently the nose still carried on trying for a while. He’d have to wait it out. He’d try not to think about it.

Ending thinking was what he had been hoping for. He thought too much. Why was he still thinking anyway? That part of the brain should surely be out of commission. The black dog that wasn’t his actual dog, which had been sort of off-white when it was still around, was lurking. He got the reference from some mental stuff on social. The depressive “black dog” lived inside him for sure. Until recently, he could chase the dog out of his head for a while with booze or drugs. It always came back later, nosing in and pushing every other feeling out. Was the damn thing around now in spite of the biggest chase-away event possible: putting a bullet through your brain? Too slow death was unfair. Killing yourself should be quick, like slamming a door on the ass of the foul canine.

His hand was also apparently still there at the end of an arm that was still attached to a body that he could still feel. A jammed hand was up under his face. He could feel a thumb under his eye. The stuck thumb could feel the weight of a near-dead head pressing down on it through an eye socket that still enclosed a painful eye. This eye would have liked to join the unstuck left one in providing more of the fuzzy view of a room stretching away from him. Being pinned onto the thumb was stopping it from doing anything useful.

He was more confused than usual. Mostly confused and painfully frustrated by an inability to move had been fairly normal lately. Adding deadweight to that condition was a new problem. On any given day several parts of his body didn’t seem connected to any part of his brain, at least in the sense of making them do anything. Feet and legs could be stuck to the floor and to the couch. Hands flopped over the edge of the ratty couch arm. Head sunk to his chest. The sullen parts were as useless at noon as they had been under a dope load at midnight passed. He wanted to move, to climb out of the hole but the parts wouldn’t cooperate. Light another smoke—that was about all they could do in daylight.

Surprising to him, the parts had moved well enough together to retrieve the gun from the box under the cellar stairs. He’d seen it there on a shelf. The body parts major accomplishment this month—but to be fair that constructive act had been fully planned in the night while pretty stoned. Remembering the idea while in a black dog state, he’d actually felt a little lift. Good for him to find it. Good for him to get it. Good luck too, he found little bullets in the box. Just one would be needed.

He couldn’t have gone out to buy bullets. That they wouldn’t have sold them to him was a technicality; he just couldn’t have gone out. Stuff—drugs mostly, came to him at the side door of the house. Possessing the oily single-shot .22 target pistol in just an old cardboard box was probably a felony with the gun laws nowadays but it wasn’t his gun and it wasn’t his house.

Old shithead upstairs could try to explain why he hung onto the piece, now that it was out of its box and lying in the pool of blood that must certainly be surrounding the do-nothing downstairs, as he was frequently called. Getting his shit together was tough anytime but he had done this. He showed him some initiative. Taking the little gun out of its box three or four times and trying it out alongside his head had taken some real effort. The death-dealer lurked under his couch for a few days before he could go the next step and put the little bullet in.

Might have shot shithead then if he had thumped the floor for the stereo and then come down to bitch about some stupid thing but he didn’t. She just fed him by leaving it out on the table. Couldn’t stand to sit with them on the days he ate it. They knew it. Out of their hair now. Sorry to the old lady, who he liked well enough, for the mess on her linoleum. Good excuse to finally rip it out. Better there than on the couch or on the handed-down oval rug. He had thought that part through and moved over to the bare wooden chair set on the bare floor. Stupid little things. He should have tried it once loaded to see how hard he had to pull the trigger. Could have shot a box full of paper or something. Less of a surprise. Did he actually hear the bang or just know that things had changed?

They weren’t home up there now so the bang wouldn’t have scared them. He had considered that in his planning too. Couldn’t do anything about the body and the blood to be found around next mealtime. Maybe left a sorry note. Too late now.

His single blinking eye spied his glasses, which had fallen with him and now lay within the narrow in-focus field of his myopic vision. Should have taken them off. Reflex was always to put them on first thing in the day else the world beyond his lap would be made up of mushy blobs. Kind of like now. He had a foot or so of one-eyed clarity. Patterned floor, dust balls, but no blood. How could there be no blood? He found a hand that could flex at the end of different arm, put it in motion and tried pushing down on the smelly floor.

His body moved a little. Not possible with no functioning brain so what gives? His head was still screaming and he was still in the cone of post-blast silence but he obviously wasn’t dying very fast. He had to figure this out. He raised up a few inches. The pinned arm was now able to join in. He lifted his head. Got elbows under. Legs rolled him over. Against all odds, he was able to sit up. Good hand feel head. Ouch! There was a burnt and bruised dent in his skull where a hole should be. He retrieved the glasses and brought them close to his now two working eyes. One ear-arm on the glasses was badly bent and burnt.

He got it. S-O-B! He had shot the glasses right off his head. The bent arm must have taken the hit. The tarnished copper-headed bullet meant for his brain must have ricocheted off the metal arm and into a paneled wall or into the square-tiled and dreary grey ceiling overhead.

Really bad—he wasn’t dying. His head was full of scrambled thoughts. Any relief? No. Painful frustration? Yes. He straightened the bent ear arm and put the glasses on. He could see the whole room again. While he had commitment, he could reload. Lose the glasses. Shit, he only took out one bullet, obviously. The others were back in the box under the stairs, miles away.

His white dog was licking his face. Trying to clean him up? Good old dog. Always there when needed. Dog was wagging his tail, eager to go out. Probably wanted to piss about the neighbourhood, as usual.

He patted the dog, saying, “OK then, gimme a minute.”

He climbed to his feet. Swaying a little but finally thinking clearly as the pain in his head lessened, he decided that could try again another day. Maybe go out tomorrow and head all the way down to the lake pretending to fish and then jump off the pier. He had a fishing pole and gear somewhere. Could buy some worms. But he could swim. That plan wouldn’t work. Something would though.

The curious dog was clearly interested to find out what came next. He told it to sit while he thought about right now. After he got some fresh air, he’d have to straighten up and open a window to get rid of the awful smell.

He patted his leg as he always did, with the leash somehow already in his hand. He found a grin and said, “OK, Let’s go boy.”


About the Author

Ross Peacock has published three novels, as well as the 2022 Inappropriate Short Stories collection. His short stories have appeared in Toronto’s Globe & Mail. He has taught communications at several universities, including Georgian College. He lives Haliburton, Canada.


Photo by freddie marriage on Unsplash