Gun Show

Everett D. Schell was awarded the Dawson Prize in Drama in the 2017 Prison Writing Contest. Schell is currently incarcerated at the Beto Unit in Texas.

Every year, hundreds of inmates from around the country submit poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and dramatic works to PEN America’s Prison Writing Contest, one of the few outlets of free expression for the country’s incarcerated population. On November 28, PEN America will celebrate the winners of this year’s contest with a live reading, Breakout: Voices from the Inside. Participants including 2016 PEN/Bellwether Award-winner Lisa Ko and 2010 National Book Award-winner Terrance Hayes will read from the prize-winning manuscripts.

Scene

Night before a gun show. Several card tables upstage display a few guns. All spit and polish. On the floor downstage are two or three crates full of uncleaned guns. A card table center stage has gun cleaning paraphernalia on it and a folding chair behind it.

AT RISE: VET, early 30s, ENTERS. He’s got a bum leg. He pulls a handgun from a crate and limps to cleaning table where he sits and with military precision and speed disassembles gun.

VET
We’re havin’ a gun show, yessiree. Our little town of Sunday-go-to-meetin’ and cheat-on-their-taxes, red-blooded Americans. I’m talkin’ wave-Old-Glory Americans. Fine, upstandin’ citizens of Bridgeford County, U-S of A.
(beat)
Know ‘em all by name, I do. Where they live too. That kinda knowledge gets to be part a yuh after deliverin’ their daily bread somethin’ like eight years ‘fore goin’ off to war. And I ain’t talkin’ flour and grain. No siree. The daily bread hereabouts is The Bridgeford Daily Herald. And I tell yuh, they cain’t survive one God-forbid day without it.
(begins cleaning gun)
Now let me tell yuh ‘bout The Herald . . . Page one covers all the local news, an’ sports too. Page two ain’t nothing but o-bituaries, an’ page three, news and sports on the national scene. In-ternational news cain’t be found in The Herald. ‘Cause all the rest is gossip. I’m talkin’ pages four, five, and six. All good-for-nothin’ gossip.
(beat)
Let me give yuh a sample taste. Kinda like they used to do at them Piggly Wiggly stores . . . Miss Bridgeford County Busybody will say somethin’ along the lines of—

VET tries to sound like Miss Busybody.

Far be it from me to spread something un-confirmed. But if my eyes weren’t deceiving me, and I don’t see how they could have been, I swear I detected a definite pooch in the paunch of Preacher Carradine’s wife. Mmmhmm. When she fancied herself a schoolgirl again and demonstrated the backstroke at The Bridgeford County Home for Little People.
(beat)
See you all at church come Sunday.

Gun is clean.

VET
(own voice)
Buy, howdy. On and on she’ll go not showin’ no mercy whatsoever. And two columns over, you can read about it one more time, with a good dose of hanky-panky in-sin-unation from the pen of Miss Raunchy Rumors. And does anybody ever sue ‘em for all that bullshit? Hell no. Ain’t nobody gonna dare put The Herald outa business. Like I said, they cain’t survive one God-forbid day without it.

He quickly reassembles gun and takes the now spit-and-polish weapon to a table where he places it ever so carefully among the others. He limps to one of the crates, pulls out a deer rifle, and then sits on edge of crate.

VET
Well, I came back from the war, don’t yuh know, with this here gimpy leg. Dang near got it blowed completely off by one o’ them kick-ass, im-provised explosive devices.
(beat)
It all happened one fine day near checkpoint bin Laden. Happened so fast, I didn’t even have time to shit.
(beat)
Hell, who do I think I’m shittin’? I did have time to shit. All fuckin’ over myself.
(beat)
Happened automatically I guess. Got me one o’ them Purple Hearts to show for it. But the guys who shoulda got the Heart, and the Medal of Honor to boot, were the medics who braved not only bullets and bombs when they pulled me outa harm’s way, but all that stinky shit in my drawers too, which has to be, I say had to be, smellin’ up 15 klicks of I-ragi airspace, in ev’ry direction around me.
(beat)
But all that’s ancient history now.
(beat)
One thing good I did get outa the army, I know guns. How to use ‘em. How to clean ‘em. And how to re-spect ‘em. An M-16 can put a worlda hurt on the enemy. Same goes for an AK-47. Or a Glock, nine-millimeter. A worlda hurt I’m tellin’ yuh.
(beat)
Learned a little somethin’ ‘bout chemical weapons too. All the way down to what they call the mo-lecular level. How this shit is gonna mix with that shit and become some whole other shit altogether. Badass shit. Not unlike my own, don’t yuh know.

He returns to cleaning table and disassembles rifle.

VET
So I got me this little gig here cleanin’ all these guns for the big gun show we’ll be havin’ tomorrow. Yessiree, gonna be all spit and polish for all them flag-wavin’ tax cheaters. Fine, upstandin’ citizens who are gonna come in here seekin’ some bullshittin’ yourself, half-ass sense of personal security in a Smith and Wesson revolver.

He begins cleaning rifle. Beat.

VET
Last gun show we had, some old man was sittin’ right about here. He was hawkin’ his wares, don’t yuh know, when someone asked him what the Sam Hill he thought about all this gun control talk they was havin’ up in Washington. Well, the old man leaned back in his chair, scratched his chin like this—
(leans back and scratches chin)
And after ‘bout half a good yawn of thinkin’ says, it’ll be the victims who put us outa business. Take these guns right off the table they will . . . But until then, it’s business as usual.

GHOST CHILD (6) ENTERS. Running to a display table, she grabs a gun and EXITS opposite stage. VET doesn’t see her. Pause.

VET
I can see a day when we won’t have no more victims. I can see a day when we’ll have somethin’ like smart guns. No, not them fingerprint identification types. Hell, if the finger belongs to a psycho, what good would it do? No, I’m talkin’ smart in their ability to sense good old-fashioned right from wrong. And deadly emotions. Pick up a smart gun with jealousy in your heart—anger, hate, or greed—and the gun will sense it. All it would take is for some genius IQ to figure out all the chemical shit involved.
(beat)
Hell, they might even make ‘em so damn sensitive that touch ain’t even required. Just get near the damn gun with intent to do someone harm and fuckin’ chemical shit is triggered inside it. All the way down to its mo-lecular level.

Another GHOST CHILD (8) ENTERS. She repeats the action of the first. VET doesn’t see her.

VET
And the gun will get so hot you cain’t hold it . . . No, wait. What the hell am I thinkin’? Hot could be dangerous. Drop the gun on a rug or some other combustible shit and you could set the whole place on fire. End up killin’ the ones we’re tryin’ to save. Hmm . . .

A third GHOST CHILD (10) ENTERS. He takes two guns from a crate and EXITS posthaste. VET assembles rifle.

VET
Maybe cold would be the way to go. Hell yeah. Liquid nitrogen cold. Touch it and your hand will freeze solid. Try pullin’ a trigger with a Popsickle digit, buddy boy. And even if yuh could, the gun would be so brittle it would shatter into a million tiny pieces. Like that Terminator fella in the movies.
(beat)
Oh, man, if that day would come, killin’ with guns could not happen. ‘Cause yuh see, even guns made outta the old metal could be fixed and made smart. All you’d have to do is somethin’ like this.
He puts a few drops of gun oil on a rag and shines barrel of rifle.

VET
Tincture of Grief. Yeah, that’s what I could call it. Or maybe TOG for short. Powerful shit. Made from all the tears which fell in Columbine, Aurora, and Newtown. Plus whatever chemical shit it would take to make the tears mix with oil and make the metal turn cold when needed.
(beat)
I know. I know. You’re thinkin’ how are we gonna get all the fuckin’ drug cartels and hometown thugs, and the damn military and psychos to boot, to bring in all the gun cleanin’ shit they must have a ton of already? . . . Simple simple.
(smiles)
Recall.
(beat)
Tell ‘em it’s all tainted with some fuckin’ micro bug. Enters your system by touch, this bug, and then like a bat outa hell goes to targetin’ all your fuckin’ private parts. Announce it on radio, TV, and fuckin’ Twitter too, and tell ‘em they’re damn lucky if it ain’t screwed ‘em over yet. And watch ‘em bring all that shit in like crazy.
(beat)
Yessiree, give me your ol’ shit and I’ll give yuh my TOG. And killin’ with guns will be a thing of the past. War might be a thing of the past. At least the conventional kind. And we could settle our diff’rences from there on out with boxin’ matches. Wrestlin’ matches. And pound-your-soles-in-the-dirt-fast-as-yuh-can footraces.

GHOST CHILDREN make another gun run. They EXIST as VET gets up. He takes rifle to a display table, goes to a crate and pulls out an AK-47. He sits on crate.

VET
Last races I seen was at the local orph’nage. Must be home to nearly 85 kids. They be takin’ ‘em in from Bridgeford and all the surroundin’ countries. Yessiree, they call it The Bridgeford County Home for Little People. I swear to God it’s listed that way in the phone book. And yeah, we still got those here. Let your fingers do the walkin’ don’t yuh know.
(beat)
But I’m not talkin’ ‘bout sprint races and the like. I’m talkin’ tater sack races and the kind where yuh cain’t let the egg fall outa the spoon. Loads a fun . . . To watch.

He returns to cleaning table and disassembles the AK.

VET
There’s a kid livin’ there who can throw his farts. Like a damn ventriloquist. I ain’t shittin’. But I sure as hell thought I was ‘cause it ain’t only sound he can throw. No Siree. Damn smell too. Had it comin’ right outa my own fuckin’ drawers. Had me thinkin’ my other leg had just got blowed to smithereens.
(beat)
Funny as one o’ them Ben Stiller movies on any other occasion. Embarassin’ as hell when you’re a bein’ introduced as a war hero. And a heap more embarassin’ when it’s Miss Carla Fine-As-A-Centerfold Jackson who’s a doin’ the introduction.
(beat)
I owe the kid one. I really do.

He begins cleaning the AK. GHOST CHILDREN ENTER. They remain near edge of stage. VET doesn’t see them, but audience finally gets a good look at the trio. They’re American kids, faces morgue ready, and their clothes are splattered with great spots of blood. Sensing something, VET turns his head, but GHOST CHILDREN EXIT before he sees them. He continues cleaning.

VET
One day, ‘fore my leg got blowed to hell, we got orders to look for some jihad fella. Somethin’ al somethin’ and accordin’ to brass, number five on the most-wanted list. They gave us pics o’ this guy and said he could be found in what was left of this buildin’ we was headin’ to.
(beat)
Well, when we got there and started diggin’, we found kids in the rubble. Little kids and more than a few. Never seen so much co-latteral damage in one place.
(beat)
And did we find the guys? Hell no. I don’t think he was anywhere near the fuckin’ place. But intel said he was, so brass said go, and screw collateral damage.
(beat)
I told Sarge, I could see them jihad fellas puttin’ kids in harm’s way, but I didn’t think we would do it.
(beat)
Sarge looked at me kinda surprised and said, “Like it or not, son, in the eyes of some people, what we was tryin’ to get, made how we got it, right.” He said this Mack somebody fella said just about the same thing with better words a long time ago. And he said, a lot of people feels this way. ‘Specially in times o’ war.

He begins assembling the AK.

VET
I ain’t got nothin’ against ownin’ a deer rifle. I shot me a buck or two in my day. Deer meat is good eatin’.
(beat)
Don’t got nothin’ ‘gainst handguns neither. But there ain’t a Joe Blow, Farmer Jones, or Miss Bridgeford County Busybody from here to hell who’s got any business ownin’ one o’ these.

AK is assembled.

VET
‘Cause these here ain’t good for nothin’ but war and mass murder.

VET reaches under table and peels a banana clip from underside of tabletop where it had been securely taped. He loads clip into AK and rises with rifle in hand.

VET
Yuh know, I think the old man was right. It’ll be the victims who put us outa business.

GHOST CHILDREN ENTER. This time he sees them.

VET
Yessiree, we’re havin’ a gun show tomorrow. A real gun show.

GHOST CHILDREN EXIT and VET follows. Blackout.

END PLAY

Source: https://pen.org/gun-show/