Christmastime in Katy, Texas, in the 1996th year since the event that inspired it.
Andy, bent over his wish list, red-orange Crayola in hand, all furrowed concentration and backward S’s. Pretty standard fare for a nine-year-old boy: A spaceship, puppies, coal for his schoolyard nemesis, etc.
T’was but one tangible, quasi-realistic choice underlined twice and outlined in crude, royal-blue stars for effect—a Red Ryder BB gun.
This being the mid-‘90s, such a wish should’ve elicited hands of horror in front of the mouths of every parent within earshot. This being Texas, such a wish was considered a family blessing.
His pa paused in his tinsel stringing, patted Andy on the back, eyes aglow with fatherly pride. “You’re going to be quite the sharpshooter, boy, just you wait.”
His family waded through crowds into the area’s shopping mecca, high ceilings and sterile fluorescence, toward Santa’s village. Old Saint Nick was doing his best to prevent sweat stains from breaking through the red velvet, not easy in the 95-degree heat and polyester beard. But he perked up at Andy’s request, managed his first full-throated “Ho, ho, ho” of his shift. “Why, they should call you the Red Rifle, my child,” taking note of Andy’s shock of tangerine hair.
Teachers praised his foresight; the parish priest read his wish list aloud to plenty of Awws.
The days sped toward the big 25, and not even his mother—a kind-hearted, fragile thing—could utter a word of caution. The beaming glow on her unusually chunky-cheeked boy silenced the warnings.
Christmas day, breakfast tacos and Feliz Navidad.
Andy tore down the stairs, leaving his older sister in his wake, footie pajamas padding on the hardwood. He nose-dived under the tree, tossing presents aside fist by fist. He stopped at the long, thin box hidden behind the ceramic train station.
Wrapping torn aside, Andy tore at the seam.
There it was, in all its glory.
“Why don’t you go outside and try it out, son,” pa said, practically wiping away tears of joy. “Go on.”
Andy burst through the screen door, bounded down the wooden back porch. He dug through the recycle bin. Budweiser bottles, 2% milk jugs, Folgers coffee can, quickly lined atop the family’s whitewashed fence.
Andy stepped back, heart aflutter, loaded the BBs in the hatch. He released the safety, cocked the gun at his shoulder, took a deep breath.
His parents crept onto the porch behind him, pa in his faded gray bathrobe, ma pulling her beige nightgown tighter around her, white knuckles betraying her anxiety.
The first shot missed, hooking left of the jug, exploding into the tree house behind it. The second spun wide, too. As did the third, the fourth, the fifth. The watch party disappeared, pa grumbling under his breath, leaving Andy to his personal anguish.
Slicing wide, thumping off the fence—shot after shot fired off, not one target hit.
Shoulders slumped, Andy sank backward into the mud. Tears streaked his face, tasting of salt and snot.
Christmastime in Katy, Texas, in the 2013th year since the event that inspired it.
Andy backed onto the porch, shouting apologies behind him, sorrys lost amid the din of the bellowing dinner party. He closed the French doors behind him and swallowed in the chill.
The old house on Clay Road was now the light-brick mansion on State Street.
Andy could see his breath, an odd, cold spelling whipping through South Texas. He pinched his charcoal pea coat tighter against him.
He strolled briskly across the sweeping lawn, keyed open the latch. On a shelf, his old friend.
The quarterback snagged a long-emptied oil-can, too, propped it atop the neighboring stone wall. He stepped backward, pacing off the distance.
He shouldered the rusted Red Ryder BB gun, didn’t even bother to steady himself.
A quick pull on the trigger, and a ting off the center of the target. The quarterback smirked.
He returned the gun to its spot, loped patiently back across the yard. His return was greeted by yells of greeting, and he matched them right back, the smell of spiced ham and the sound of Bing Crosby escaping through the open doors.