Starting Over by Tim Gerstmar

Jay Thompson rubbed his clean-shaven head. He had just finished his last shift at the bakery, and they threw him an impromptu going away party. They wanted to take him out afterwards, but he told them he had an appointment, said his goodbyes, and left. He was off to Marine bootcamp tomorrow, and while he knew he should feel apprehensive, he felt calm and hopeful, which was standard for Jay. He was big, quiet, not the best looking, or the quickest, but built for punishment, of all sorts. He had to see Mick before he left. Nobody at the bakery liked Mick. They felt he was a bad influence, but Jay had to say goodbye.

He approached the basketball courts. There was the hollow jounce of the basketball and the clang of the hoop as Mick jumped for the rebound. When he saw Jay coming, he threw the ball to the other players and ran over.

“Yo, fuck stick!” Mick yelled, slapping Jay on his head.

“Fuck,” blurted Jay.

“Easy, dude. Tomorrow’s the day huh? Getting started early I see.”

“Yeah.”

“You shoulda let them shave your head. Fuckin numbskull.”

Jay shrugged and forced a laugh and a grin.

“Gonna make yourself a target. You’ve gotta pass bootcamp first,” said Mick. “My cousin tried to join but didn’t pass the physical. Knees were fucked. How’s your knees?”

“I passed.”

“OK, but the Marines do some serious shit. I mean, you’re big and all, but you ain’t quick. You need reflexes,” said Mick, hopping back and forth in front of Jay like a boxer, letting loose a volley of short jabs, pulling them inches from Jay’s face.

“Quit it,” said Jay, waving him off.

“See, you ain’t got the reflexes, or the killer instinct.”

“Hey, man, where’s Rich?” Jay asked, his voice trembling.

“Fuck knows. Ain’t seen him in a couple days. Probably baggin that skanky broad a his.”

“Really? I was hopin to see him fore I go.”

“You won’t. Pussy’s more important to that fuck. Come on, man, let’s split.”

Mick grabbed his backpack, and they went up the street to the park, which was deserted at the moment. Usually they went to the mall, but only when Rich came along. Rich always had beer. Once drunk, he and Mick would get Jay to scream at or moon random people. Jay put up with it. At least it was attention. Though one time Mick made him pick up dried dog shit in the parking lot and throw it at some younger kids, which Jay didn’t like, but he was drunk and feeling crazy.

They found a bench and Mick pulled a bottle of Wild Turkey and some paper cups out of the bag. There was something else in there, a dark shape that the bottle of whiskey clanged against. Twenty minutes later they were both feeling good.

“Hey, wanna see somethin? You’ll like this,” said Mick.

He reached into the bag and pulled out a black pistol with a polished wooden grip.

“You know what kinda gun it is?” Mick asked.

“It’s a revolver.”

“Bravo, Einstein. Do you know what kind of revolver?”

Jay shook his head.

“It’s a .38 snub nose. You’ve got a lot to learn, Marine. Can you use it?”

“I think so.”

“Bullshit. Let’s see yuh,” said Mick, holding the weapon out and waving it around.

“Fuck, put it away. Somebody’s gonna come along,” Jay hissed.

“Pussy. Come on, killer, have some fucking balls would you. I snuck it outta my old man’s drawer because I figured we could have some real fun, give you a good send off.”

“I can’t get in any trouble. They’ll cancel my contract.”

“They’re not gonna do that. Everybody in the Marines does dumb shit. Here, I dare you to point it at someone. That guy jogging around the park.”

Mick pointed to a man in running shorts and a tank top rounding a corner in the distance. He gave the gun to Jay. Jay looked dumbly from the .38 to the runner.

“Careful, bro. It’s loaded,” said Mick, chuckling. “You’ll fuckin freak when it goes off.”

“No,” Jay muttered, his cheeks reddening. “I’m done with this.”

“Do it!”

“I can’t.”

“Fucking freak show.”

Jay started to shake.

“Oh, what’s wrong? Little Jay’s scared,” Mick laughed and took a pull of whiskey. “Give it to me, I’ll show you.”

Jay felt hot, fiery tension in the center of his forehead. He stood up.

“Alright! You like talkin shit? Fuckin punk bitch!” he yelled.

He put the .38 to Mick’s head and pulled the trigger. The world erupted in sound. Mick’s body slumped to the side then onto the ground. Brains and bits of skull wet the grass. Jay stared at the pistol, not believing the recoil he just felt, as his mind scrambled to catch up with events. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the runner take off in a different direction.

                                                                                    #

Jay took one of his extended walks along the harbor, which he always did when he needed to think. He felt dirty, like some creep that hangs out in peep show booths stinking of jizz. Tomorrow he was supposed to ship out. He leaned against a railing and looked out over the water at the ships headed for ports unknown. There were police sirens in the distance, somewhere, as there always were in the city. The sun was starting to go down. It still felt like he could be off tomorrow, like the reality of what happened was open for debate. The runner couldn’t possibly know who he was. Was there really anything wrong with showing up at the recruitment office tomorrow? He wanted to believe there wasn’t: that the universe would be kind and let the Corps give him a new life.

“It’ll be OK,” he muttered to himself, as he thought about the pistol lying on the wet ground, Mick’s cold hand around the grip. “With any luck.”              

Bio: Tim Gerstmar is a writer and artist who specializes in noir and speculative fiction. Originally from Massachusetts, Tim has been teaching English in Asia for over a decade in South Korea, Thailand, China, and Malaysia. Tim’s work has appeared in a variety of online and print venues. His short story ‘The Man Who Loved Weegee’ appeared in Out of the Gutter’s Flash Fiction Offensive, and you can find his Bangkok crime novel THE GUNFIGHTERS on www.amazon.com.

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