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Accidental Target, Part 2

“A young girl next door was walking along that road right there,” the officer said …“She was shot in the neck … It looks like you were the only one shooting.”

They arrested my father and charged him for attempted involuntary manslaughter, long before my brother and I returned home from school that day. I had become accustomed to my father’s presence at home on most days, since he had only managed to find temporary work after he was “laid off” from his last job as a seismographic driller. More often than not, when we returned from school, my father could be found sitting on the cracked, dark green vinyl couch in our living room watching television, or outside tinkering on an old car, hood raised and country music blaring from his old radio.

On that particular day, I was met by an unsettling stillness as I stepped off the school bus and swung open the old front door. I could hear my mother in the kitchen, but there was no sign of my father until I passed the door of my parents’ bedroom.  I could see my father’s shadowy figure lying in his darkened bedroom, the glow of the fiery tip of his cigarette revealing the deeply-etched lines on his face. I walked past the bedroom and into the kitchen, where my mother was drinking coffee. She sat at the mint green, 1950s-style kitchen table with a worried, strained expression on her round face.

“What happened?” I asked as I dropped my books on the table.

Mama shook her head and spoke with short, clipped agitation. “They charged him with attempted involuntary manslaughter today. Now we will have to go to court. I know they probably didn’t even check to see if old man Robertson was shooting, he’s probably the one who did it!”

It was the first time I had ever heard the term “manslaughter” and it sounded awful.

“Did Callie die?” I asked. I sat down at the table, so afraid of how she would answer.

Mama shook her head again. “No, she is going to be okay,” she said dismissively. “They said the bullet went through her neck and severed her vocal cords, so she may never speak again. Of course they tried to make it seem more serious than it was. They said the bullet just missed a major artery, but who knows?” She abruptly set her coffee cup down on the matching saucer with a clatter.

The familiar churning in my stomach began to increase to a sickening roar. I shook my head in disbelief, and silently wished I could be anywhere other than in that kitchen having that conversation. I longed for time to rewind to last week, when I would have just come home from school and lost myself in a novel for the afternoon.

“What’s going to happen?” I asked. “Why is dad in bed?”

A sympathetic expression washed over Mama’s face. “We don’t know yet. He is so upset and worried that he will have to go back to prison. He said he would never go back; too much happened there.” She got up and put her cup in the sink, while I sat at the table and attempted to absorb what she was saying. I knew that long ago my father had spent several years in prison for murder, which she had revealed to me once a few years before.

We had been parked outside of an office building, and sat in the new motor home my dad had somehow managed to get financed. My father had some important business to discuss with the man inside – a man he had once worked with. His tall, thin frame had disappeared inside of the building what seemed like hours ago, and we were becoming restless.

Mama sat there with a frown, forehead furrowed and arms crossed over her round abdomen, lost in thought.

“What are they doing in there?” I asked impatiently.

“I don’t know, but it worries me,” Mama replied. “I just don’t like it. He has been to prison before too; he is not a good influence.”

I thought I had heard wrong. “Prison? What do you mean?”

Mama suddenly realized what she had revealed. She looked at me carefully and began to explain.

“He doesn’t want you kids to know about this, I didn’t mean to tell you. I guess it is just as well, you will find out sooner or later,” she began.

“Your dad went to prison for murdering a man long before he met me. He spent five years in Leavenworth Prison down in Louisiana. He was on guard duty that night, and a person coming toward him didn’t respond when he asked “Halt, who goes there?’ He shot the man and of course he died. Unfortunately, earlier in the day your father had a heated disagreement with this same man. They thought he purposely shot him.  As part of his punishment, they forced him to watch as they retrieved the bullets from his body, something that really bothers him even today.” She looked off into the distance. “He has had such a tough life; he doesn’t need the influence of the guy in that building.”

She stared watchfully at the door of the building again, while I attempted to make the earth stand still. She seemed totally unaware of the impact of her words. I had known my father as someone who had a lot of pride and liked to “talk big”; he was unemotional, tough, and brooding. I knew so little about my father. I couldn’t fathom taking another human life, nor could I imagine death coming at the hands of my father.

Now, as I watched my mother begin peeling potatoes for dinner, I wondered about our future.

“What’s going to happen? Will he go back to prison?” I asked.

Mama didn’t miss a beat; her small hands continued to deftly remove the brown skins from the potatoes.

“I don’t think so. We have a meeting with the attorney tomorrow and will know more then.”

I picked up my books and left the sounds of my mother’s cooking behind me as I walked into my bedroom. I grabbed my novel from where it lay on my bedside table and sprawled across my bed, where I let the silence of the house envelope me, and willed all of the “what-if?” questions to disappear. I opened my novel and let the words take me away.

____________________________________________________________________________________

It was months before we knew what would become of my father. As it happened, my mother was right. He served no jail time for Callie’s shooting, but was placed on ten years of probation. He was ordered to pay restitution for Callie’s medical costs, including vocal therapy. I have heard that Callie eventually regained use of her voice, though it was never quite the same. I never saw Callie again, since we moved soon after my father was placed on probation.

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