Gun Love by Jennifer Clement

Gun Love is a hypnotic story of family, community and America’s love affair with firearms, told from the perspective of a sharp-eyed teenager. Below is an extract from Jennifer Clement's stunning novel.

That’s a very fancy plate you’re eating on, the reporter said.

I looked at the white porcelain plate covered with delicate pink flowers and green leaves.

It’s Limoges, I said. From France.

The reporter was quiet for a few seconds and then asked, Do you like living in a car?

You can get away fast if there’s a disaster. Well, that’s what my mother likes to say.

The reporter smiled and walked away. She never asked me about the alligators.

Within three days, all the reporters had left because, on the third morning after the discovery, the alligators were dead.

The reporters got in their cars and trucks and U-turned right out of there. It was fast. It was a twenty-minute funeral march.

They sure got out in a hurry. They never even looked over their shoulders to see if they’d forgotten something, my mother said.

We knew those reporters couldn’t take the odors from the dump. Our garbage was messing with their perfume.

After the reporters left, my mother slipped on her sneakers, grabbed her frayed straw hat, and got out of the car.

Let’s go look at those alligator babies, she said.

As we walked toward the river she took my hand in hers. We were almost the same size. If someone had watched us as we moved away they would have thought we were two nine-year-old girls walking together toward a swing.

My mother and I went through the park and along the trail, lined by cypress trees and saw grass, down to the river. As we walked our bodies broke up a cloud of blue and yellow dragonflies that hovered in our path.

The afternoon sun was large above us in a cloudless sky. This made our shadows long and slender and they cast ahead of us as we moved forward. Our shadows, like two friends, led us toward the river.

What’s the best thing about living in a car? I asked.

Gun Love

'My mother and I expected to see the dead alligators, but when we reached the riverbank they were gone.'

I can tell you. There’s no stove with gas burners. As a child, and then growing up, I was always afraid of the gas being left on. I hate the old cabbage smell coming out of a stove. And there’s no real electricity in a car, my mother said. And no electrical sockets. You can bet there’s always some person who wants to poke something into those holes like a hairpin or a fork. So, I don’t have to think about that.

The soft ground leading from our car to the river was a mess. The grass along the path had been trampled and there were a few plastic water bottles, crushed cans, and white lumps of chewing gum left behind. Under a cypress tree there was a length of coiled black electrical cable.

My mother and I expected to see the dead alligators, but when we reached the riverbank they were gone.

The white sand, where the creatures had been the day before, was red sand. Only a tiny pulp of scale and flesh remained tied to the blue thread.

The bullets had torn the newborns to shreds.

The shooters had left behind a few spent casings and shells on the ground nearby.

We never wondered about it. Some person was forever in the mood for target practice. There was always someone skulking around with an itchy trigger finger. Those babies never had a chance.

One time we even found a bullet hole in our car. It had pierced the hood and must have lodged somewhere in the motor because we couldn’t find the bullet or exit hole.

When did this happen? my mother said on the day we discovered the clean hole in the steel with a dark ring of residue around it.

We never felt it.

People are hunting cars these days, she said. That’s a joke. It must have been a stray.

But we both knew this was not unusual. In our part of Florida things were always being gifted a bullet just for the sake of it. 

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