I HAD JUST turned eight, the puffs of birthday cake candles still seemed to linger days after the party. Sweets, toy cars, money from relatives and a new bike: all represented a hike in my yearly stock. But the real present was behind glass display cases. I needed help from Dad to see the items, standing on his boots for a better view.
A gruff old feller wearing a cap came over, smiling with effort. There was no telling how many years he’d been on the other side. “You must be eight! You take your time kid – you choose – don’t let your old man sway you!” He chuckled, my Dad smiled. “We have a special 10% discount for birthday boys, and anything out of that case,” he indicated to the left, “is 20% off. Let me know when you’ve decided.”
“Thanks,” said Dad, as the owner ambled away over towards the corner where a younger version of him was sorting through boxes, a brown haired guy with a scruffy beard and t-shirt testing belly.
“Do you see one you like?”
I nodded, unsure, eyes now fixated on the walls, where slick dark coloured dreams rested on brackets. I felt Dad’s stare, looking up at him, knowing they were out of the price range, sensing his eyes redirecting me to the smaller ones.
“That one I said,” with confidence after a brief to and fro between the displays.
“Ok. Good choice!” He seemed pleased at my decisiveness and looked at the old man who came over like a waiter seasoned to read searching looks, adjusting his cap.
“Well kid,” he rested his hands on the glass, “what’s your decision?” His eyes flashed momentarily as he looked at me with his grandpa smile, close mouthed.
“That one!” I said jabbing my glass-smudging finger at the display case, my skin still coated in the sticky sweat of gelatine sweets.
The old man followed my gesture and tapped his finger on the glass. “That one?”
“No!” I said excitedly. “The one higher up.”
“Oh, this one?”
“Yeah!” I nodded vigorously, balling my hands together as the display was unlocked, the shelves pulled backwards and the old man placed my birthday present on the counter, all slick black metal, my eyes wider than the Grand Canyon.
“Go ahead, get a feel for it,” he encouraged. Dad moved his lips in agreement with their sentiments, nodding towards it.
As I pulled it towards me, it was lighter than I thought it would be, but still heavy. I inspected it for minutes as Dad and the oldie chatted. I rotated it, manipulating it, hefting it, a manic grin taking hold.
“Are you definitely sure that’s the one you want?” Dad said.
I nodded dumbly, handing it over to him and we walked towards the register. All my classmates already had one, I was the last to hit eight years old. “I can’t wait to show my friends at school!” I said. Both of them laughed, Dad tussling my hair as my present was boxed up and placed in a bag.
“Here! – Leon – , where’s the boxes of twenty twos?” The old man turned to Leon who scratched his belly in the doorway of the stockroom. “Part of the special offer..” he added.
Raising eyebrows knowingly, Leon went away then seconds later handed a small box to the old man who scanned it and placed it in the bag. “That’s on the house,” oldie said, “but I still gotta scan it.”
Dad smiled in appreciation as the excitement became too much for me, the bag within reach, Dad producing a credit card. I looked at the old man, and his navy cap, noticing the red embroidered writing on it: Second Amendment First.
They exchanged pleasantries, then Dad slid the bag towards me handles first. In my excitement I nearly forgot to say thanks. Soon we were outside on the sidewalk, sun beaming down at me like Dad was, his hand loosely dangling to guide me. “Remember what I said earlier?” he said.
“Don’t use all the bullets up at once!” We finished the latter half in unison. I felt ten feet tall, not four foot five and a quarter. I looked down at my bag, peeking through the handles. I really hoped the extra Call of Duty coaching sessions paid off. Finally my first gun. Finally, I could feel safe at school.