Excerpt from Janice, a short story



I thought I was done writing about guns in any way but one made it into this story.  Maybe this will be the last time and I’ll start writing about sunshine and puppies after this.


“You shot at me?” He was asking, not knowing where it came from.

“It wasn’t me,” I said.

We both turned to look at Janice. She never budged. She was slouched on the sofa with her legs spread, gray corduroy pants and red tennis shoes stretched out before her. She’d watched me steal his stash without moving, watched Walter come after me without moving, taken my pistol from her purse and shot at him with as little movement as possible, her demeanor unsurprising since that was pretty much her dominant position, even when we were having sex.

People often said we were the perfect couple.

I took offense to that because I still cared about my appearance. I kept my hair long and well cared for. People commented about it. A woman once told me I had beautiful hair. Janice often reminded me of an old broom well past its prime, though at twenty-five she only had a couple of years on me.

She continued to point the gun in our direction and it became clear to me that I didn’t know for sure who she was shooting at. The barrel wavered back and forth in an undecided way, oscillating like a divining rod in search of water, or the way a planchette moved across an Ouija board. Walter and I looked at each other in a moment of recognition and dove to the floor like something out of a comedy. I knew then I wasn’t the bad man I thought I could be. I had believed I was capable of killing a man if pressed, or beating him senseless, or becoming a gangster kingpin and ordering others to do my deeds. I just didn’t know how to get into such a position. Janice was letting me know why. I wasn’t able to do what she had just done. I crawled behind Walter’s floppy chair with the big cushions, even though it offered no protection beyond inhibiting her line of sight. It sagged in such a way that it reminded me of an old obese woman who hadn’t moved in years and was hoping someone would put her out of her misery. It brought me no comfort fearing Janice might shoot in my direction if for no other reason than to kill that possessed chair. Walter cowered behind his oval coffee table. He looked at me. I could see his butt sticking up and I signaled for him to lay flat.

He did but said in a hushed, panicked tone, as if he were choking on a hairball, “What the fuck?” Walter was pure hippy, long black hair always tied in a ponytail, a thicker body than you’d expect given his washed out appearance – he was a man who liked to eat – and though he wasn’t known for being violent there was always a menacing air about him; you knew he could go off if pressed, if offended.

I shrugged with my eyes, meaning I didn’t know anything more than he did. If only he’d had dogs instead of cats maybe one of them would have torn into Janice or her weapon.

The music Walter had been playing for us, a new album called Visions of the Emerald Beyond by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, was out of control. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. It sounded like something god would have listened to while creating the universe. The composer had tapped into it to reveal the gateway to an eternal heaven. Just as we hit the floor birds started chirping, and then guitars and violins kicked in, and it wasn’t like they were playing about anything – they weren’t telling a story or moaning about the past – they just carved up the air to pave the way forward. I didn’t realize music could do that. If I liked a song it was because they sang about my life and I could sing along and revel in its pain and longing. Even if it was clearly about someone else I could pretend it was about me. But I liked this just the same, even though if it were about anything it was about us all. One big soul. Yet in the midst of all that gloriousness was Janice pointing a gun.

4 thoughts on “Excerpt from Janice, a short story

  1. Ah— interesting little story. You always leave me wanting more. Now I want to know if Janice actually killed one of them or if the narrator finally woke up & claimed a better life for himself. And that’s the point – I’m supposed to think for myself???

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