Your Bullet and You
Sheldon CostaFiction / Number 97
“Oh god,” the man said. “I’m so sorry.” And then he shot her.
The woman, who didn’t know the man and couldn’t possibly imagine what reason he’d have for shooting her, was indignant. She didn’t think of herself as the kind of person who would ever be shot. It was like she’d suddenly been told she was a clown—like a passerby had handed her a mirror and pointed out the white makeup caked on her cheeks, the red cotton ball glued to her nose. Wait a minute, she wanted to say, this isn’t me. This is a mistake.
The man holding the gun, on the other hand, seemed exactly like the kind of person who might shoot someone. Which is to say: he was a disappointment. Short and sweaty, with the frightened pout of a child who’d tossed a rock at a window and was surprised by the inexplicable fact of its shattering. He wore cargo shorts, and a green bowling shirt so large it hung down to his knees. He was crying.
What a guy, she thought, to be shot by.
“Thanks a lot, asshole,” she said from across the street, as the gun discharged a thin nimbus of fire and the bullet began its slow escape from the weapon’s barrel.
“I’m so sorry,” the man said again. He was really weeping now. He dropped the gun. “I didn’t have a choice. I hope you can forgive me.” Then, he sprinted away.
The woman stood on her side of the road for a few moments, watching the bullet cruise over the asphalt. She’d seen many bullets over the years, moving leisurely along toward their targets, and it was odd, now—almost exciting—to know there was one out in the world searching for her. Though the bullet would no doubt cause all kinds of trouble, it was also the most interesting thing to happen to her in months.
She waited until the bullet had made it halfway across the avenue, the passing cars carefully maneuvering around its path, before she finally headed home. Her apartment was on the other side of town, so she’d have more than enough time to get her affairs in order.
After she walked in the door and dumped her messenger bag on the couch, she ran herself a bath. It was the first time, since she’d moved in a year ago, that she had opted to fill up the tub. Once every few months she told herself, “I’m going to take a nice long bath soon,” and then never did, choosing a shower instead. But now, with the bullet in her life, she felt she’d earned a good soak.
She hissed as she lowered herself into the steaming water. While her muscles relaxed into the heat, she contemplated her options. Across town, the bullet was moving, inch by inch, in her direction. Though the bullet was slow, it did not need to eat or sleep. Its only goal was to burrow itself inside whoever the gun had been pointed at when its trigger was pulled. The woman figured she had one day, maybe two, before the bullet ascended the three flights of stairs to her apartment, penetrated her flimsy wooden door, and killed her.
She tried to cry. The bullet was a rare opportunity to indulge in some genuine sorrow. But all she could muster was a long, shaky sigh. It would have been easier to die quickly and violently. Hit by a car or stabbed in an alleyway. Such things required no planning—and the woman hated planning. She found it grossly suburban, ranking it between manicured lawns and chain restaurants on the hierarchy of her distaste.
She knew she wouldn’t wait around for the bullet to come and find her. She’d have to flee, like so many had, and keep living her life. There were too many things she wanted to accomplish before she died, though she wasn’t entirely sure what these things might be. She’d never been to Greece, for example. She’d never tasted duck.
She dipped her head beneath the water’s surface, replacing the rush of traffic outside with a pleasant gurgle. She took stock of her life. Three years ago, she moved to this small midwestern city to attend graduate school and study interpretive dance. No one at the school liked her dancing, which they deemed grotesque and unintelligible. She’d only received a degree because it was considered bad form to fail a student who had technically completed all the program’s requirements.
When she graduated, she got a job at a local dance studio, where all the students expected her to teach them the routines they saw in music videos, with lots of hip thrusting and slow, sensual touching of the self. She did not like this sort of dancing. She found it banal, and disturbing, to watch her young students hump the air.
The students’ parents, on the other hand, wanted their children to learn ballet. The woman despised ballet—the frilly tutus flopping about like drunk, horny flowers; the mutilated feet stuffed and hidden inside velvety slippers. No form of dance was nearly as disingenuous, yet the parents’ mouths frothed at the mere thought of their little cherubs flouncing around the stage, their bumbling elegance a pale imitation of the real thing, like those Russian bears who’d been trained to ride bicycles.
The body was a prison. All dance, she felt, should incorporate some demonstration of our desire to escape the entrapments of the flesh. Yet when she showed her students her thesis—a dance she called “The World” that involved a lot of hair-yanking and cheek slapping—they glared at her like she’d offered them a glass of toenail clippings.
So maybe the bullet wasn’t such a bad thing. She wasn’t attached to her city, which looked as though it had been built a hundred years ago and then promptly left to decay, each brick structure half-abandoned and covered in ivy, the nights weary with the lonesome wails of old trains. Maybe the bullet was a good excuse to move her life in a new, more hopeful direction.
The optimism didn’t last. By the time she dried herself off and crawled into bed, all she could think about was the bullet, creeping closer every second, hungry to end her. It took her a long time to fall asleep, and when she did, she dreamed again and again of falling into a deep ravine full of hungry, slithering insects.
The next day, she went to a municipal building downtown. The line that led to the plexiglass window was long and winding. Though people were there for all kinds of reasons—speeding tickets and parking violations and petty criminal disputes—you could tell who’d come because of a bullet. They were the ones who kept glancing over their shoulders and nervously tugging their fingers through their hair.
When she made it to the front, the woman told the worker behind the plexiglass that she’d been shot. He adjusted his glasses and held a piece of paper in front of his face. “We are terribly sorry for your loss,” he said, reading from a script. “Would you like to press charges?”
He peeked up at her from the paper. The woman thought of the crying man who’d shot her. What was the point? The bullet was already out in the world. The police couldn’t be bothered with that sort of thing.
“No,” she said. The worker returned his eyes to the sheet. He explained to the woman the various ways she might stay ahead of her bullet—how, in a vehicle, she could put enough distance between them to earn herself weeks of uninterrupted living. Months, if she took a plane. He also advised her to get a gym membership.
“Cardio,” he read aloud. “Is the best friend of anyone with a bullet in their life. The National Association Against Gun Violence suggests a minimum of three miles a day.”
Then, he asked her to sign a few complicated forms and, when she’d finished, slid her a glossy folder. Inside, she found a government relocation check—barely enough for a security deposit on a new apartment—and a small pamphlet entitled “Your Bullet and You.” She briefly scanned the booklet, its pages separated into sections with titles like A Bullet is a Beginning, Not an End. The eerie similarity of these sentiments to her thoughts the night before upset her. Her mind, she realized, had come to the exact same conclusions about her bullet as an overworked government copywriter’s.
“Ma’am,” the worker said, tapping on the glass. A patronizing frown weighed down his cheeks. Was he worried about her? Did he plan on delivering a rousing speech about how she must Go On and Live Her Life? She felt herself blush. Few things were as pathetic as a stranger’s pity.
But he only pointed to the elderly woman standing next to her in line, who stared at the beige wall behind the worker with steely concentration. Judging by her obvious unwillingness to turn her head, her bullet was either very far away, or very close.
“If you don’t have any questions, could you step aside? We have a lot of people waiting.”
The woman decided she would drive west. There was so much of the country she’d never seen.
When she returned from the government office, she packed up her apartment. It was easier than she thought: a single rolling suitcase full of clothes, a cardboard box of pots and pans. By the time she was done, standing in the center of the room with her meager luggage, she was amazed. Was this all she had to show for her years in this city?
“Thank you,” she said to the apartment, though it had never been a comfortable place to live. It was too hot in summer and too cold in winter. The walls would sweat for reasons the woman didn’t understand. She often crawled into bed feeling slightly digested.
But the apartment had also protected her, in its own way, from the dangers of the world outside. Its windows had allowed no burglaries, its roof no dripping rain. She was ashamed to leave it so suddenly.
On the road out of town, the woman called her boss, the owner of the dance studio, an exceptionally bitter woman who wore heavy canvas dresses and smoked indoors. She’d been a classical dancer in her youth, before injuring an essential muscle in her thigh. When she first applied, the woman had shown her “The World,” only for the owner to label it aggressively contemporary. The owner ultimately hired the woman, she said, not because of her skills as an artist, but because the woman had a handsome bone structure. Also, the woman had access to a car, and the owner frequently needed to be driven around the city to run errands, since she’d lost her license after crashing her own vehicle in a drunk driving accident.
“Well,” the owner said when the woman told her about the bullet. “That’s probably for the best, considering what you did last Thursday.”
A week before, hoping to inspire the students to create their own interpretive dances, the woman had asked them to consider a specific scenario.
“A large man breaks into your home,” she said, “and kills your parents. Then, he captures you and puts you in a metal cage. He sells you to the circus, where your mouth is taped shut. You are dressed like a filthy chimp and forced to perform each night for ugly country people, who hurl peanuts at you and squeal in piggish delight at your pain.”
For nearly a minute, silence dominated the ill-ventilated room. Then she said, “What would your performance look like? How would you embody your anger, and your fear, for those brief moments of self-expression?”
The students, as always, stared at their sneakers. They picked their noses. They extracted wedges of wax from their ears and pondered placing them on their tongues. “The answer to that question,” the woman said, “is real dancing.”
Five or six parents had entered the studio during this speech, hoping to see their children practicing their clumsy tendus at the balance bar. They were not happy with the woman’s prompt. They’d asked the owner to fire her.
“Good luck out there,” the owner said. “Guess I’m going to have to start using public transportation.”
“It has been an honor working with you,” the woman said, though this was in no way true. When she imagined the owner scowling out a bus window while a smelly old man smooched at her from across the row, she laughed.
“I’m glad you’re taking this change in stride,” the owner said before hanging up.
The woman pressed her foot firmly on the pedal, pushing eighty. At one point, as she sped down the road, she spotted a bullet drifting lazily along the median. It was only a brief flash of silver, but the rippled air in front of its point was unmistakable. For a moment, she was afraid. But this bullet belonged to someone else. Her own bullet, she knew, had barely reached the city limits.
She drove for days, the landscape a long stretch of brown that gradually rose into timid green hills. She stayed at motels that looked as though they’d been built for the express purpose of being immediately forgotten: places where a solitary light perpetually flickered above the front desk, where a withered proprietor waited to slide her a plastic key and stare at her in foggy disbelief, as if a customer was a kind of local legend he’d only heard about in passing whispers.
Often, these motels had windows that looked out onto the freeway, and the woman spent her evenings eating bags of chips from the vending machine and watching the sun dissolve into a violent smear on the horizon. There were less bullets here than in the city, but she still caught sight of them from time to time, moving across the landscape like migrating flocks of birds. Though she was always a few days ahead of her own bullet, she wondered if she would know it by sight when it arrived—if it might bristle with an aura only she could see—or if it would simply look like all the others.
It was still difficult to sleep. She passed many evenings trying to dance, bending herself over the starched sheets of her bed and stretching her toes toward the broken television. She was not pleased with the results. There was a tension in her shape she couldn’t unwind.
So she drove. Usually after three or four hours of sleep. She guzzled burnt coffee from gas stations and counted the billboards, of which there were too many. The country, it seemed, contained nothing but gas stations and billboards, a whole nation built to be passed by. Sometimes she cried; maybe from the bullet, or the lack of sleep, or the boundless decay—the slouching grain silos and wind-ravaged barns—that rose up on all sides of her.
There were camps every hundred miles or so. Traveling caravans of fluttering blue tarps and rusted vehicles, populated by other people running from their bullets—those who’d lost most of their material possessions while trying to escape. They had spent their government checks and couldn’t hold down steady jobs, so they gathered together and pooled their resources, moving as much as possible, gaining and losing followers as they went along.
Occasionally, the woman would stop and spend the night at one of these camps, both to save her dwindling cash and to see what kind of world these exiles had built for themselves. She envisioned a place where the ephemeral nature of life was faced head-on; where everyone, forced by violent circumstances to free themselves of society’s empty consumerism and pointless labor, had refined their sensibility for the essential. The sort of people who, like her, also saw through ballet’s crude illusions.
Mostly, the caravans were loud and fetid, their filthy inhabitants so worn down from running that they moved around with sluggish fatigue, as if someone had secretly sewn heavy weights into their clothes while they slept.
At one campsite, she sat with them around the communal fire. Someone handed her a bowl of watery stew and a plastic spoon. The campers talked about their bullets. One woman, the oldest, had been shot by her husband five years ago. He’d lost his job at an oil field in South Dakota and, after a few drinks, came for her with a hunting rifle. They’d worked things out since then, she said. Still talked on the phone every few months. Another man, who wore a cracked letterman’s jacket he repeatedly buttoned and unbuttoned as he spoke, said he had been shot by a semi-automatic, his voice lowering with the pride of a fisherman who’d caught a particularly sizable trout. Approximately one hundred and twenty bullets were coming for him.
The woman tried to imagine what this might look like: a flurry of silver passing over the prairie, a swarm of glinting points.
There were children in the camp as well, though they did not sit at the fire and swap stories. Most were accompanied by their parents, who had outfitted them with bullet-proof vests. The vests were useless, of course—once a bullet chose you, there was no stopping it—but the woman could tell, by the way the parents checked and rechecked the vests’ straps, that the Kevlar put their minds at ease, the thick blue armor proof that they’d at least tried to take action.
Few campers blamed the people who shot them for their condition. After all, bullets were the price a person paid for all the dazzling lights, all the endless pleasures, of modern civilization. They did, however, complain about the stinginess of the government’s checks, or the lack of long-term support. Some of the campers kept the pamphlets they’d received when they were first shot. They liked to read them aloud around the fire, laughing at the platitudes they contained.
“A bullet is a chance to get up and make a change,” they recited with mock cheeriness. “A bullet is a reminder that our time on Earth is both precious and fleeting.” The woman was embarrassed, again, that her own thoughts had ever veered in that direction.
When she told them she was a dancer, the campers asked her for a show.
“I only have one dance,” she said. “It’s called ‘The World.’”
One of the campers asked if she needed music, but the woman shook her head. As always, she would move to the beat of her own pulse. She took a moment to gather herself, closing her eyes and breathing deeply. Then she began, tumbling around the campfire in a sudden burst of movement.
The dance was meant to terrify and shock the viewer—it did not follow any discernible rhythm or pattern; it renounced any allegiance to narrative, each gesture arising spontaneously from whatever came before. When she’d first put it together, the woman had hoped to evoke a reaction in her audience akin to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The sort of art whose dissonance could send people rioting in the streets.
The woman crouched low and gnashed her teeth. She opened her hand and slapped the earth, howling in rage. Her arms and legs jerked in painful contortions, like there was a parasite rooting around in her bones, trying to tunnel a path to freedom through her marrow.
When she’d performed the piece for her thesis committee, the woman was told the dance lacked specificity. The woman was unsure of what this meant, but the verdict haunted her. She hadn’t created a new routine since graduation.
The dance took fifteen minutes. By the time the woman was finished, she was splayed out beside the fire, covered in dirt, panting through her nose. Quite a few of the campers had returned to their tents. The remaining ones clapped half-heartedly.
“That’s a dance?” the man in the letterman’s jacket whispered. The woman didn’t answer.
The next morning, when she was preparing to leave, the woman spotted a man standing on the edge of camp. He gazed off into distance, his wrinkled face as serene and unflinching as a statue’s. The other campers went out of their way to avoid looking at him. After a few minutes, the woman realized what he was staring at: a single bullet, moving over the tall grass to the south.
She stood there and watched him as the bullet moved closer and closer. The man did not run away, though it became clear, as the dawn brightened into day, that the bullet was coming for him. The woman felt cold. She watched the man stand there until the bullet pierced his sternum. His body curled around the small point in the air, like a sail catching a strong gust of wind, then crumpled to the ground.
When the woman walked over and looked down at him, she expected to find the man’s face frozen in a snarl. Instead, his eyes were wide with relief, his lips parted as if he’d taken a deep breath after a long submersion. A red stain blossomed on his cotton shirt.
She returned to her car and pressed her forehead against the steering wheel until she felt calm enough to drive again.
Eventually, the woman began to see mountains as she drove, surging up from the horizon in long snow-capped ranges. Behind their peaks were evergreen forests and alpine lakes with waters so pure she could make out fossilized trees piled beneath their surfaces. The woman rolled down the window, filling her car with the smell of woodsmoke. The gas stations where she stopped to refill her tank resembled log cabins and stocked miniature jars of fool’s gold and knit winter caps.
Then, just as she reached the sea—its immensity rippled with silver in the spots where the sun broke through the dense clouds overhead, as if the sky were a cracked ceiling someone was trying to shine a light through—her car shuddered to a halt.
She was on the side of the road in a small town where the citizens scraped together a living giving tours of deserted copper mines and selling pancakes to passing drivers. She walked to a nearby motel, leaving her car at the
roadside. The teenaged boy behind the counter, who was playing solitaire on a computer older than both of them, stared at her for a long time before asking if she wanted a room. Only then did the woman realize that she was wearing the same clothes in which she’d begun her journey; that her hair was a greasy, bundled mess. When she exhaled into her fist, the soft cavern of flesh filled with the rancid stench of stale nacho cheese and beef jerky.
“Bullet?” the boy asked, not without awe.
“How long do you have?”
It was a rude question. But perhaps he was too young to know. The woman told him she wasn’t sure. Probably a few weeks. Maybe a month.
“Fast driver,” he said. “I’ll give you the discount.”
He handed her a key to a room over the empty pool, where she could watch leaves gather in soggy piles. The boy helped her carry her things in from the car and scribbled the phone number of a local towing company onto a napkin. When she tried to hand him a tip he denied it, which might have angered her if she wasn’t running out of money. She’d gone through most of the government check on her trip and didn’t have much in savings.
The tow truck driver, when he arrived an hour later, informed her the car was dead. He opened the hood and pointed at various bits of machinery, pontificating on the intricacies of their destruction. He told her he could sell it to someone he knew at a scrapyard and offered her a hundred dollars. She said yes, and he pressed the bills into her hands with surprising tenderness.
That night, she twisted herself in the bed’s sheets, unable to find a comfortable position. It was the first time in days that she was not on the move, and all she could think about was her bullet and its tireless campaign. She closed her eyes, trying to lose herself in the sound of the ocean, but the ceaselessness of the waves only made her anxious. She didn’t like how they refused to stop hurling themselves against the shore.
Because the town had no dance studios, the woman got a job at a local diner, where she passed the hours wearing a checkered apron and a paper hat shaped like a hotdog. All day she carried waffles to the quiet families who sat in the leather booths or restocked the tables’ wire baskets with perfectly wrapped butter squares. When she wasn’t working, she wandered up and down the nearby streets, peering through the streaked windows of foreclosed storefronts. An air of impending disaster hung over the place: it was nestled at the base of a domed volcano, and the townspeople often spoke of the day it would erupt, recounting with a certain morbid glee how every building would be crushed beneath layers of hot magma and rock.
The woman’s plan was to make as much money as possible in the weeks it would take for her bullet to arrive, and then buy a bus ticket south. She figured she could repeat this method for as long as she liked. She would be like one of those nomads she’d seen in magazines, moving from place to place beneath an impossibly starry sky.
At night she practiced dancing. Sometimes the teenager from downstairs—who, she later found out, wasn’t a teenager at all, but a petite twenty-year-old with acne scars—knocked hesitantly at the door with a six pack. She split the beer with him while she careened around the room, stretching her body into strange tangles. The boy scratched the stubble on his chin and watched her like a biologist who’d discovered some unknown, and confounding, new species.
“Why do you dance like that?” he said one night.
The woman, who’d heard this question many times before, snorted. She told the boy that her teachers at school had asked her the same thing. They wanted her to explain, in words, why she flung herself about without any clear attention to tempo or grace. But she never did. The whole point of the dance was that she couldn’t explain it in words. If she could, why dance at all? It was disgraceful, she said, how everyone demanded things be laid out nicely for them—how eager they were to understand.
“Why are all your moves so violent, though?” the boy asked.
“Because the world is a violent place.”
“You really believe that?”
She smiled in a way that let him know she did. This was one thing she was certain of.
“Does it bother you that no one likes your dancing?” he asked.
“Yes,” the woman said.
“What’s your favorite move?”
The woman stood up. She put her hands out in front of her and gripped the air like she was clinging to a rock wall. She hissed through her teeth and climbed, thrusting one knee up and then the other, dragging her fingers down and swinging them over her head again. It was the first move in “The World,” the motion that marked the beginning of the dance. She called it The Ascent. The teenager watched her do this for nearly ten minutes, her movements growing more and more frantic, her arms and legs speeding up as her breathing intensified, like she was nearly at the top of some great height, like she was scared she might not summit the peek before her energy waned.
By the time she finished, exhaustion blurred her vision. Her shoulders trembled as she tried to refill her lungs. The teenager took a long drink. “I think I get it,” he said. And something about him, something about the way he held his limbs close, as if he expected a heavy object to fall on him at any moment, made her believe he was telling the truth.
A week later, while the woman was at work, The Man Who Shot Her walked through the diner’s front door. He looked better now than when he’d shot her, strolling casually to a booth in brown slacks and a loose linen shirt. When the woman walked over with a pot of coffee—which she considered dumping on his head—he was staring intently out the window, as if every good thing he’d ever wanted from life was just on the other side of the glass.
“You,” the woman said.
The Man Who Shot Her looked up in surprise and smiled.
“There you are,” he said. “I’ve found you.”
“Please, sit with me a moment.”
She looked around the diner. It was early, and there were no other customers. She poured some coffee into the mug in front of The Man Who Shot Her. When he reached for it, she grabbed the cup herself and took a long sip of the scalding fluid.
“I prefer to stand,” she said. The Man Who Shot Her shrugged.
“Listen,” he said. “I needed to find you. To apologize.”
“You already apologized. When you shot me. Remember?”
“I mean, like, a real apology. I followed your bullet all the way out here.”
The woman nearly lost her hold on the coffee pot. Her hands began to shake.
“You followed my bullet?”
“It was a slow trip. Kind of nice to see the country, though. It gave me a lot of time to think. I’m so happy to see you’re doing well.”
The woman did not reply. Instead, she walked to the diner’s entrance and stepped outside. The Man Who Shot Her asked her to wait, but when she ignored him, he followed her into the chill of the morning. The woman stared down the street. No bullet in sight. But it must be close if it had led him here.
She’d thought she had more time.
“Listen,” the Man Who Shot Her said. “I was in a really bad place when I shot you. But I knew, the moment I pulled the trigger, that I’d made a mistake. You wouldn’t believe how messed up I felt afterwards. I even considered hurting myself. That’s how bad it got.”
He looked at her expectantly. His skin was bronzed now, as though he’d recently returned from the Italian coast. He smelled clean, like lilacs and honey. She couldn’t believe this was the same man who’d shot her. She thought about his trip across the country—how much more languid and peaceful it must have been than her own. She imaged him lounging at road-side scenic stops to snap photos of gilded sunsets or resting at nice hotels with room service and cable-access TV, where bellhops and concierges called him “sir” and asked him, earnestly, if he’d enjoyed his stay.
“You don’t have to forgive me,” he said. “I know I don’t deserve that. But I wanted you to know how sorry I am. If there’s anything I can do, you know, to help out, just say so.”
Then, the woman saw it. Down at the end of the block a small shiny point rounded the corner. There was nothing to distinguish it from any other bullet, but the woman knew. A prickled heat began to burn in her chest, exactly where she knew the bullet was headed.
The Man Who Shot Her followed her eyes. When he saw the bullet, he started to fumble with his keys.
“Why don’t you let me drive you somewhere? Maybe an airport? I’ll buy you a ticket.”
How excited The Man Who Shot Her was! Pumping out his chest and frowning like one of those grim heroes she often saw on the posters of summer blockbusters. He was proud, she realized, of having travelled so far to save her. He looked like a child waiting to be thanked for performing some perfunctory task—washing the dishes or folding his laundry.
Still, a plane ticket would be nice. If she flew far enough, it would be months before the bullet found her again.
It would find her, though. No matter where she went. Until she lived in one of the caravans, too, inhaling the gasoline-drenched air, her tent flapping in the prairie wind while she huddled in a sleeping bag. She remembered the man who walked out to meet his bullet in the field. How calm he’d looked as the blood pooled in his chest. Such relief.
The woman stepped toward her bullet.
“Hey,” The Man Who Shot Her said, reaching out. “What are you doing?”
She took another step, slipping easily from his grip. Then she began to run, her dancer’s legs carrying her in long, equine strides.
But The Man Who Shot Her couldn’t keep up. As she came closer to the bullet, the woman felt a strange elation.
She knew what she would do. She’d step as close to the bullet as she could, so close that she could feel it pressing into her, and for an instant, it would look like she was waiting for the bullet to do what bullets did so well: turn a person into a corpse. Then, as the bullet was about to enter her body, she would shimmy backwards, just out its reach, and raise her hands. In the middle of the street, as the sun began to lend color to the day, she would perform “The World.”
The woman would do this for as long as she was able, leading the bullet along only to vault out of its path at the last possible moment like an agile matador. She would duck and weave. Flip and snarl. She would shout and rouse the neighbors from their volcanic dreams with a strange, spectacular sight: a woman in a hotdog hat dancing with a bullet.
Eventually, she’d be too tired to go on. Then, and only then, would she die.
Or, her dance would be so good—so true—that the laws of physics would allow a momentary usurpation. The bullet would whiz by her and decide to follow The Man Who Shot Her instead. He’d scamper down the street, tripping on his sneakers as he tried to escape, his pale face ruddy with fear.
Or, even better, the bullet might simply stop, suspended before her, and fall harmlessly to the asphalt. The bullet would forget its purpose and become what it was before: inert matter, metal at rest, a chunk of lead uninterested in murderous velocity.
People, she knew, would misinterpret her intentions. They’d think she wanted to die. But she didn’t care. Most people were idiots. Most people were like ants: they saw a mere sliver of existence and reconciled themselves to all kinds of miserable drudgery, priding themselves on their persistence while the universe heaped endless cruelties upon their backs.
The woman wasn’t an ant, though. She was an elk. Or a bear. Or a buffalo. She was a creature with a heart so large its blood could fill a bucket. A beast whose muscles tensed in preparation for the charge, whose tongue probed the depths of the bone for the marrow, whose pupils rolled back into a blank, pitiless rage when it was finally time to fight. Every inch of her thrashing shape, every taut sinew, sang a single song: I am alive.
“Please don’t do this,” said The Man Who Shot her. But it was too late. The woman was already dancing.
Sheldon Costa is a writer originally from Post Falls, Idaho. His fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming from Conjunctions, The Georgia Review, Ninth Letter, The Pinch, and The Adroit Journal, among others. He is a winner of the AWP Intro Journal Project, the 2018 Helen Earnhart Harley Creative Writing Fellowship Award, and the Cream City Review’s 2019 Summer Prize in Fiction. He is currently attending Ohio State University’s MFA program.Image by Amirali Mirhashemian