September Story (9/22)


So continues my September Stories project! If you missed any of them, you can find the full list here.

Missed Shot By Danielle Davis

In the post-midnight darkness, as Nov. 21 slipped into Nov. 22, a cold front from the southwest approached Dallas-Fort Worth. Before dawn, the moisture in that cold front turned into a misty drizzle.

Around 1 am, Lee woke with the hot, sticky feeling that he was going to vomit. He lay in bed a while, hoping the feeling would go away if he waiting long enough. As a child, he used to think that if he could count to one million, he'd be able to avoid being sick when the urge hit him. He'd never been able to count that far before being sick, but he felt that proved more that the trick would work than that it didn't.

His stomach roiled, making him writhe in the sheets. He rolled to his side and rubbed gentle circles over his stomach. He began counting in Russian, his American accent making the words sound broken and mispronounced despite his being quite fluent in the language.

Around number 257, his stomach gave a heaving lurch and he belched. It broke his concentration and he missed 258. With one hand clamped to his mouth, he hurried to the bathroom, barely making it to the toilet before his ham and cheese sandwich from dinner made a reappearance.

He heaved until nothing else came up, then his body kept him hunched like a troll over the toilet seat, heaving a little longer just to be sure. Some part of him realized the sound of him dry-heaving sounded like a cat trying to throw up a hairball. It also reminded him of the click his rifle made when it misfired.

The thought of his rifle was soothing, so he ran the fingers of his memory over the length of it again. It was a 6.5mm Carcano model 91/38 carbine. He imagined the heft of it in his hand, the smooth slide of the bolt handle when it chambered a round. The oddly beautiful curve of it, that arced like the topline of a sand shark he'd once seen in the Bronx Zoo on a school field trip—it was one of a few times he'd actually gone to school and he'd been glad not to miss it.

Missing it...missing her. He thought about his new daughter, born a few months ago in October. Audrey Eilir. Marina had insisted on it for some reason, said it was Welsh for "butterfly" and she found it charming. The thought of her small face was charming. Soothing, too.

He wiped his mouth with toilet paper, flushed, and rinse his mouth with water from the sink. His body demanded he gulp the coolness, but he knew he needed to take it easy. He'd had the flu enough times to know this was only the beginning.

He slunk back to bed and spent a half hour tossing fitfully around his cramping gut before he was bolting back to the bathroom to rid himself of the water he'd drunk earlier. As he vomited, his body shivered from the chill of the fever wracking his body. He was sweating, which made him feel colder.

It continued this way for the rest of the morning. He'd slept so little, it didn't feel like the start of a new day, even though the clock on his nightstand kept ticking its way toward dawn.

When the sun rose, damp and muted in the cold grey of the morning, he had finally fallen asleep. Drained and exhausted, his body remained in the haphazard position in which he'd thrown himself on the bed after the last round of being sick.

When he woke, it wasn't with the groggy, coming-to-awareness sluggishness that normally would have preceded most sick spells. Instead it was with a jolt, a sudden flinching of the body as if it were buzzed with electricity.

What time was it?

He leapt up from the bed, but tangled his feet in the sheets in his haste. With a crash and a loud curse, he hit the floor, then scrambled on hands and knees to his bedside table. His hands pawed at the counter of it until they found the clock, a cobalt blue Gilbert with a round face like an owl's eye. His bleary eyes read 11:55am in the clean numerals.

"Oh no. Oh fuck! Oh no." The words crawled out of his throat with a croak.

He gave his eyes an angry rub and glared at the clock face again, hoping his tired eyes were somehow tricking him. It couldn't be this late already. It couldn't.

But the time on the clock hadn't changed.

With a scream of rage, he launched the alarm clock across the room where it bounced off the dresser with a pained cloing! and clattered to the ground.

He half-ran, half-crawled to the bathroom to find his pants. He pawed them frantically up one leg before he changed his mind and raced out of the bathroom and into the living room. His pants flapped after him like a denim tail.

He fumbled with the dials on the television until it blinked to life. He turned to the local news station, unaware that he was muttering "no, no, no" under his breath like a prayer.

His eyes crawled over the screen.

At first it showed one newscaster in a blue suit stumbling his way through the weather report.

"Please let it be cancelled," he whispered. "Let it be cancelled from the rain."

"C'mon, c'mon!" Lee shouted at the screen. "Nobody cares about the goddammed weather!" He looked at his clock where it lay sideways on the carpet, but it was frozen at 3:15pm. With a disgusted sneer, he turned back to the TV.

There. There it was.

The camera had switched to a new newscaster standing in front of a parade. As Lee watched, the camera panned over the crowd that lined either side of the street, then zoomed back to show the center of the attention.

Lee watched with a growing sick feeling in his stomach as the Presidential motorcade made their way up the center of the street. Several policemen on motorcycles led the way, five abreast, and behind them, a white vehicle, and then the black Lincoln convertible. He saw President Kennedy sitting in the back next to a delectable woman in a pink dress suit that had to be the First Lady. The President was smiling and waving at the crowd.

"Damn them!" Lee screamed at the screen. He was supposed to have been down there an hour ago! All his planning, his careful plans...ruined. The opportunity of a lifetime, ruined.

He sat back on his heels as the camera footage rolled on.

"This won't be the only shot," he murmured to himself in an encouraging tone.

His face crumpled. "But it was the best one! The easiest one to pull off!"

"But there will be other times," he told himself in the same encouraging tone. He cocked his head, considering. "Perhaps even better ones."

He pouted like a child, with his lower lip pooched over his upper. "But I was supposed to do it today!" He slammed his fist on his thigh for emphasis. "This isn't how it was supposed to go."

Then he shifted, his face taking on the expression of a tolerant mother. "Well, life's not fair, L.H. Sometimes we have to buck up and take the punches life gives us. We'll try again another day."

Lee frowned. His eyes stared at the TV without seeing it as he processed the future chances. "It'll be harder to set up the next time," he acknowledged to himself, "but I could always get him at one of his speeches. I could--"

A small pop came from the TV followed by three more, and the crowd erupted into a cloud of shrieks.

"Wha--? What happened?"

He squinted at the screen but all he could see was the mass of people running like a frenzied school of fish. Bodies bolted in all directions, screaming. The cumulative noise of their terror was a cacophony of noise that covered any other sounds that might have given a clue about what was happening. The only thing he was certain of was that the motorcade had stopped moving.

He gripped the sides of the TV so tight his knuckles turned white and shook it. "What's happening, damn you? What's going on?"

Moments later, the second newscaster stepped into view. His face, composed and almost serene earlier, now was flushed and his hair disheveled. The microphone in his hand trembled.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we've just got a report that President Kennedy has been shot. Police are on the scene but..."

The rest of the words seemed to fade away as Lee stared. He saw the newscaster's mouth moving but his words and the shrieks from the crowd had faded away to a tinny buzzing hum in his ears. The sound of it was so loud it seemed to fill his head, to block out any thoughts he had other than the fact that someone had shot the President.

All those months of planning...

someone shot the President

...all that effort...

shot the President

...the papers and the fame. The fame!

And someone shot the President.

* * *

Some hours later he came to himself. He was naked on the floor of his living room and awoke from the fetal position. In a daze, he glanced around and saw the room had been trashed: shards of glass lay in front of the busted television, all the lamps had been shattered, the couch turned over. It looked like the place had been burglarized. But Lee knew, somehow, that he must've done it though he couldn't remember when.

As he got to his feet, the muscles in his back and arms twinged in warning. They felt sore and hot and swollen, as if he'd been through a terrible physical beating.

Some part of him knew that he should be upset by this. That something—someone shot the President—had set him off in the first place. But he wasn't. In fact, his mind was calm, rested. Mentally, he felt like he'd gotten the best sleep of his life.

He may have missed this one, but there would be others. There would be a new President after a while. And he'd see how well they treated the Mother Country. How they treated Cuba. How they treated his beliefs.

He would have his fame someday. He just had to be patient for it.

Total Writing Time: 2 hr., 55 min.

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