I know what a bullet can do. Everybody has an idea, everybody’s seen close-ups—gaudy wounds, geysers of blood, arms and legs flopping, life kathumping to a close. TV-bullet drama. But there are other, not-so-spectacular ways a bullet can work.
My husband wore a bullet on a chain around his neck. He had blond chest hair, red skin from the sun and drinking, and that bright silver necklace. Hobart. When he held me, his bullet would grind into the bone at the base of my throat. I still have a dark place there, I call it a birthmark but it’s a bruise that never went away. “Am I your sweet meat?” he used to ask me. “Say it. Say, Hobart, you’re my sweet meat.”
Here’s what I learned from marriage: I am not brave. I never will be. But I am patient, and I can outlast anyone.
A man came in the store last night. He didn’t shop around, just marched straight up to the counter, shoved his hand in his pocket and said, “This bullet’s for you,” so I gave him all the money from my drawer, stuffed it in a sack like he said, and he—quick!—slapped the counter and left. Slapped down his bullet like he was paying cash, is what I told the police.
It was brass, not silver. Smaller than Hobart’s and without the shine. Greasy, like some people’s pocket change.
The robbery was all over this morning’s news. They showed a picture of the store while the newswoman announced that the man who held it up hadn’t used a gun. He didn’t even say gun. The newswoman made a big point of this. She almost broke into a smile when she told how he’d disappeared before the police could find him. “Successful,” she called him, making him sound heroic.
I wonder what I would say if she interviewed me.
“How did you feel when you realized what had happened?”
“I don’t know. Sick. Mad. But mostly I was just glad he left without hurting me. Mostly I felt grateful.”
“You were grateful?” Like it’s the wrong answer. Like grateful isn’t enough to satisfy a TV audience.
“Gratefulness can fool you,” I would tell her. “It’s a stronger feeling than you think. In fact, I’d put gratefulness up there with the big ones. It can feel like love, or grief, that strong.”
I know this to be true. Or maybe how it works is, gratefulness makes you able to feel the big feelings you wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
“Where’s the bullet now?”
“The police took it. I’ve asked to have it back when they’re through.”
“Why? What’ll you do with it?”
Keep it with the other one, I’m thinking. “Put it in my jewelry box, where I can look at it from time to time.”
Because (not that I would say this on the news), I know what will happen. One day my robber will die. Maybe some gung-ho store clerk will shoot him when he reaches in his pocket. Maybe he’ll come down with a fluke disease. Only forty-six years old, people will say. What a shame, what a waste.
Yes, I will say. I’ll be tender, because I can afford to be. Yes, it is.