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12/7/13: I've just relaunched this blog! With a whole new look, I'm returning to this blog and will be publishing my fictions - old and new - along with notes and thoughts about writing and being a writer. I'll also be including posts about my work with World Vision as their blog manager as well as my travels. You can now subscribe to this blog by email or through Google+, and you can leave me comments here or in Google+ itself. Come read!

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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Too Close to the Sun

With all of the recent conversation about gun control, I thought I would feature this flash fiction on my blog. I wrote it after Sandy Hook, mostly for myself as a way of exploring and understanding a little bit about that tragedy, and it took me almost two years to show it to anyone. When I finally did, the editors at Dirty Chai wanted it for their "Love Child" themed issue last November. 

This is purely a work of fiction and not meant in any way to be a commentary on Sandy Hook, or Charleston, or any other shooting. Just an exploration of psychology and family. 

A modern retelling of the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus: this is "Too Close to the Sun" …

Too Close to the Sun

I taught my boy to shoot. Started him on a bird-shot peashooter when he was eight. Took him hunting on cold winter weekends all while he was in school, brought us home antlers and venison and rabbit furs. He was steady and patient from the very beginning, loved the anticipation of the hunt, “thrill of the kill,” we would say. Bored, restless while I field-dressed the animals, already thinking ahead to the next. I projected him into his future, imagined him a soldier, an army sniper, to retire a huntsman to a ranch in these same woods. These were the skills I taught him.

There are many ways to create a monster. But I blame his mother.

He was fourteen when she left me, convinced the courts to confiscate him along with my house and furniture and savings, everything except what she didn’t want. My guns, my trophies. He wasn’t ready to leave me yet, I hadn’t taught him everything he needed to know. Had always thought there would be more time for those lessons, but to the jury I was a bitter war vet still clinging to the only thing I knew. I disagreed. The judge did not.

Parenting feels like sprinting downhill. One misstep and you’re flat on your face. And you never see it coming till you’re on your back looking up at your mistake.

The morning my boy shot his way into his mother’s school, I was deep in the forest a hundred miles away, didn’t hear about it until I turned the news on that evening, the two rabbits I’d brought home already on the grill. I stood watching, breathless, for a long time, the rabbits smoking, charring. At first, I was only worried about my ex-wife, some old instinct kicking in, gradually piecing together that my son was the shooter. And that both of them were dead.

One day when I was a boy, I got into trouble at school and was punished with a switch across the palm. My father picked me up and saw the marks and stormed up to my classroom, conveying in no uncertain terms that no one was ever to lay a hand on his boy again. He then drove me home and gave me the worst beating of my childhood. He had no qualms with corporal punishment. But if there was a lesson to be taught, he wanted it to come from him.

I wish my boy had lived. I wish they’d all lived. His mother. The teachers. The students. But more than anything, I want him to know what he’s done, to pay for his mistakes, and to come through the pain of redemption. I want him to see the aftermath of his actions, the pain engineered by his hands. I believe that there is more tragedy in loss than in death, that heroes and little ones find their way home. Pain is of the world. But my son, too, will no longer feel it. Therein lies the paradox of believing in a merciful God. I cannot trust in justice for my son that I did not give. And that is my greater loss.

© 2013 Matthew Brennan

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