The Rifle

by Gladys Swedak

“Are we still going camping tomorrow?” Richard asked after dinner Thursday. “I can’t wait to fire Bill’s gun. That’s the only reason I’m going; just to shoot the rifle and only if you come.”

His mother looked at him sadly. “I sorry, Son, I can’t. I have a Women’s Institute meeting tomorrow night. I completely forgot about the camping trip.”

“But Mum,” Richard whined. “I really wanted to go. If you don’t come I won’t go. You said you would go.”

“You can go,” his mother said. “There is nothing stopping you from going.”

“I’m not going alone with him.” Richard pointed at his step-father. “Mum, please.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t.”

Richard’s step-father of just under a year said, “There is no reason we can’t go, son.”

“I keep telling you, I am not your son!” Richard shouted. “Stop calling me Son!”

“All right, Richard, but I’m going. I will be leaving at eight in the morning. If you are coming, be ready to help pack the horse after breakfast. It is up to you.”

Richard went to bed still unsure. “Father, please help me,” he prayed.

He woke to the smell of bacon, dressed quickly and went downstairs. He wondered, is my desire to shoot the gun strong enough to go camping alone with him?

“Good morning, Son,” Bill said. “Are you coming?”

Richard stammered, “Mmm, no, maybe, yes, I guess so. I told you…Oh forget it!”

Bill smiled at Richard, “Let’s eat and we’ll be on our way.”

They finished breakfast and were ready to leave before eight. The morning ride was spent in silence. At the halfway camp, Bill asked, “What can I do for you to like me even a little, Richard?”

As he took the horses to the creek for a drink, Richard said, “You can leave my mother and me alone. You can leave. That’s what you can do. Why did you even come, anyway?”

“I cannot do that, and you know why I came.” Bill handed Richard a sandwich he had taken out of the saddle bag. “Let’s have the lunch your mother made last night.”

They sat down at the picnic table. “Your mum advertised for an Angus bull to breed her herd. I brought King from my ranch in Texas and while at the farm your mother and I fell in love. I know I can never replace your real father but I would still like your respect and to be your friend.”

Richard swallowed a bite of sandwich. “Bill, you said you married Mum because you love her and want to be my friend if not my father.” He took another bite of his sandwich. “But how can Mum love you? She loves my Dad.”

“A woman can love two men if one has passed on. She loves your father in a different way now than she did and she loves me.”

Mum told me she loved him but I couldn’t believe her. That thought and others ran around Richard’s mind as they rode the rest of the way to Mirror Lake, a local glacier fed blue green reflection of the surrounding mountains and sky. The hottest days of summer were the only time to swim in the lake. After setting up camp they ran into the cool clear water staying for only a few minutes.

“OH, it’s cold” Richard said as he came up for air.

“Yes it is,” Bill said as he waded ashore. “Let’s put on some warm clothes. Then make dinner.”

Shivering Richard put on some sweats and held his hands out to the fire. “The fire sure feels good.”

Richard washed the dishes in the lake after they had eaten dinner. When he came back and sat down on the other side of the fire, he said, “That steak tasted good, and those potatoes were the best.”

“My dad showed me how to make them. Let’s walk over to the glacier, Richard. I hear it is beautiful in the sunset.” He rose and started to walk to the glacier.

“What,” Richard asked, surprised. “You’ve never seen a glacier, Bill?

“No, I’ve never seen a glacier, as I’m from Texas. We don’t have glaciers there. I sure would like to see one close up.”

The setting sun was making rainbows in the great river of ice sliding on a thin layer of water formed from the melting ice.

“It is beautiful. I’m glad I came,” Richard said. “Each time I see it, it is different but always beautiful.”

“I am too, Richard. I have never seen anything so beautiful. Let’s go back to camp; it’s chilly standing here at the edge.”

As the sun set, the rainbow in the glacier faded. They returned to the tent, sat and watched the fire slowly die into embers.

Later in his sleeping bag Richard saw Bill’s rifle in the sheath of his saddle. I want so much to hold it and fire it. He got up quietly so as not to wake Bill and crept to the rifle, picked it up and put it to his shoulder. Now what? I pull the trigger. He pulled the trigger; nothing happened as it wasn’t loaded; the hammer just clicked. Oh darn. So he put it back, get back in his sleeping bag and tried to sleep but kept looking at that rifle.

He woke to a shimmering sunrise on the lake. Bill was making breakfast. The smell of bacon and camp coffee got him up.

“Good morning,” Bill said. “I talked to the other campers last night and they said we can fire the rifle as long as we shoot away from the camp and the horses.”

“You mean I can shoot the gun today?’

“Yes, if we stay. Do you want to stay another night?”

“Oh yes, please.”

After breakfast they rode away from the camp, the cherished rifle back in Bill’s saddle sheath.

“Bill, tell me about the rifle. It is so beautiful.”

“Well, Richard,” Bill said, “my father made it. It was the last thing he gave me before he was killed by a sniper in Vietnam. It means more to me than anything, except you and your mother.” He stopped his horse and said, “I think we have gone far enough from camp.”

They dismounted and ground-tied the horses. Bill removed the rifle from the sheath and loaded it.

He handed it to Richard and said, “Hold the rifle against your shoulder, that’s it. Site through the scope, then gently squeeze the trigger.”

It was shiny black with a silver barrel. Richard put it to his shoulder, just the way Bill had showed him. He looked thought the scope for a target. He found a knot in the old tree and pulled the trigger. BANG! It recoiled and threw him back into Bill, who went down, hitting his head on a rock.

“The rifle, where is the rifle?” It had flown out of his hands. Then he realized Bill wasn’t moving. “HELP! HELP!” He looked around the quiet meadow. No one was around. “Help me, someone! Please someone help,” he yelled.

He bent over Bill, took his wrist in his hand. He had a pulse. Good. Now what? Cold water. Richard removed his shirt and ran to the lake and drenching it in the cold water. He ran back to Bill and put the cold wet shirt on his forehead.

“Dad, Dad! Please wake up. Dad, you can’t leave me too. Please wake up.”

“What happened?” Bill moaned and reached up and felt a big lump on the back of his head. “Oh, that hurts.”

“Dad, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. Please forgive me.”

“Forgive you for what, Son? It was my own fault. I should have warned you about the kick. I am so used to it I completely forgot to warn you.”

“But you were so still. You didn’t move. That is what happened to my real dad. He fell when we were playing ball and never got up. It was my fault. I killed him.”

“No, Richard, it was not your fault. Have you been living with this guilt all this time? Oh, Son, come here.” He held his arms out.

Richard went into his arms and cried as he hadn’t since his father died.

After what seemed a long time, Richard quit crying and Bill let him go. “Let’s find that rifle. It’s yours now. You will have to learn how to use it so it doesn’t kick you like that again. I am so sorry, Son.”

They found the rifle and it had a small nick in the stock.

“This will remind me of our trip Dad,” Richard said.

“That’s right, Son. Just as the first nick reminded me of when I shot it the first time. I did the same thing.”

They spent another night at the camp. As they rode into the farmyard Sunday afternoon Richard called, “Mum, Mum, come here. I want to show you something.”

His mother ran towards them wondering what had happened. “What is it Richard? What is the matter?”

“Nothing, I just wanted to show you my rifle. Dad gave it to me.”

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