BULLETPROOF • by Divya Raghavan

This is my first time at a gun show. I’m not very good at it. You made me come here with you, and I’m just terrible, and the guns make me nervous, and I don’t know why I’ve decided that this is something that being a good girlfriend entails. I don’t understand these machines. Can you use them in the rain? Is the whole keeping your powder dry thing still necessary? Or was that from pirate times?

There’s a man next to me aiming a rifle at his wife, and she’s pressing her palms against her face in mock distress. He’s making fake shooting noises as he flexes his muscles. They both seem to find this funny.

If I die here from some psycho shooting up the place, I want you to know I’m sorry about that time I told your parents about your tattoo in college, and that time you found out your grandparents were cousins and then I told everyone you were inbred.

There’s a shooting demonstration in the corner of the room. You lead me to it by my hand and we join the forming crowd. My muscles clench every time he squeezes the trigger and the bullet explodes out with steely precision. Your fingertips are fleshy and rough against my fingers, spindly and squeezing, and you see the discomfort I’m trying to hide. You kiss my forehead and lead me away. We make more space for the crowd behind us, craning their necks and watching with appreciative eyes.

Did I ever tell you about the first time I saw a gun being shot? I was my grandpa’s only grandchild, and he wanted a grandson, not a granddaughter. He took me hunting once, said it would be time for just me and him. I didn’t know he meant time for me to follow him while he killed things. He made me be very, very quiet while we stalked a pheasant. And then he made me throw something toward it to startle it so it would fly up. And before he shot, he took the time to look at me and wink. He winked and then the gun boomed and the trees screamed and the bird dropped like your mother’s jaw when I mentioned that tattoo. I really did think she already knew.

I’m trying to figure out how we got here, to this garishly carpeted dining room at a hotel that rents by the hour. They’ve filled it with tables and crowded them with guns. I didn’t expect there to be knives here, too, with curved blades and ornate handles.

When we started dating it was simple and fun and I never thought that in eight years I’d be at a gun show with you. Back then I didn’t want to be your girlfriend because I didn’t want to be anyone’s anything. But you stuck to me and since our hands were practically superglued together you grew on me after a while. I thought it was interesting that you liked guns and loved running and wanted to teach me how to drive a tractor. I liked the things that made you different from me. And then I did little things for you. There are little things that make someone a good girlfriend, little things you have to give up like drinking too much and flirting during girls night out, or the morning alarm I like to set but you say it gives you a headache, or the spices that I like to cook with but that make your face red. And now I’m at a gun show, wondering what I’ll have to give up when I’m your wife. But it’s not uneven, you give up things too, like watching game shows, and going to car races, and that former friend of yours who makes sexist jokes. We both are giving up all of these pieces of ourselves until, faster than a speeding bullet, I’m at a gun show, miserable and trapped, and you’re wiping sweat off your stubble when we go out to dinner and I pick the restaurant and I pick Indian. Love means doing things you hate but pretending you like them. Maybe we should have waited longer and tried different things, different people.

You pick up a gun and toss it between your hands, feeling the weight of it. You hold it up and blow the top of it like a movie-screen villain and we smile at each other, and those doubts I’ve been pushing out squeeze their way into my brain. I can’t tell if I lost myself because I love you or if I love you because I lost myself.

Divya Raghavan lives in Cambridge, MA but her heart resides in the Midwest. She is a senior at Harvard University studying Psychology and English.

Rate this story:
 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • I can feel this story. When it started I wasn’t sure if I like it. The pov charecter seemed to ramble on. Then, out of nowhere I understood, as she understood. Love is being lost in an image of what feels right to the person you love. Trying to disassemble and reassemble love into something that makes sense does tend to make one ramble. I loved the story. I felt the charecter and if it were a full legnth novel, I would want to read more…..

  • fishlovesca

    This could have been written a bit better, but was very good in sections, and the ending was well done.

  • ajcap

    I remember those days. Vaguely.

    But this story bought it all back and I enjoyed it. Loved the humour throughout, and the sense of uncomfortable rambling. I think the author created the moment very well. And the doubts.

  • Three and a half stars today. The ending was powerful; the sudden realization that love means giving things up; however, I’ve never been a fan of stories in which we are in the character’s head the entire time. Without action, stories like this tend to lag. It was well written, but rambling through the character’s thoughts can get a bit tiresome.

  • Another I-love-love-love-it story! I enjoyed every minute of this character’s somewhat rambling inner conversation. It felt genuine.

    There were some cringing moments (the other couple playing around with a gun) and there were some laughing moments (mom’s jaw dropping). All in all, a wonderful story.

  • Well done! Love requires compromise. But there must be a balance in there that satisfies both parties and sometimes that balance becomes uneven.

    I can see this being developed into an even longer piece- like a novella- if the author chose to do so. There’s room to explore the unbalance here. (In my opinion)

  • Brian Dolton

    Strong voice, very solid, very believable. 4 stars from me.

  • Rob

    Pluses for a good relationship piece. Minuses for folks pointing guns at each other at a gunshow and laughing(That gets you tossed out or at least stern warning at any gun show I’ve been to for the last 35 years.) Minuses for the silliness of someone shooting in the corner of a hourly hotel’s cafeteria(I re-read this several times to see if what you were describing was on video and, no, they’re all pushing close to watch someone shoot. That’s an ear-cracking 140dB in a small room. (These must all be the lemming-like folks who rush up close to listen to the whining of jet engines revving.) And minuses for a child taken hunting who is clueless about what hunting is. Certainly not understanding death would be normal, but every 3-year-old I’ve been around will at times pick up a stick, make shooting noises, and knock things down. They all understand the concept at a very early age, if not the reality.

    All-in-all the minuses outweighed the pluses for me on this one. However, the idea and the writing were good. Maybe next time you could use cars or airplanes as a backdrop.

  • not necessarily a story, more of a psychological study of a situation.
    Some very good writing, very enjoyable to read.
    There are some technical conflicts with reality, but I suspended those.
    There is humour.
    I love the last sentence.
    well done.

  • JenM

    This was a five star story for me. 🙂 The overall theme’s been done here before but this had great chacterization that drew me in immeditly and let me idintify with the narrator. Her voice was so clear I could hear it in my head!
    I hope you decide to submit more stories to EDF, Ms. Raghaven. 🙂

  • This didn’t quite get it done for me. The gun show depiction felt like it was written by someone who had read about gun shows but never really been to one, and the message felt too heavy-handed. Subtlety, or understatement works better when trying to make such points (IMO).

    Can’t argue with the writing, however, nicely done there, and the proportions of pathos to humor were properly balanced. Three stars…

  • Rose Gardener

    I loved the line about mother’s jaw dropping. The story is nicely told, but the character who told it made me want to scream at her. ‘If you realise you’ve lost yourself, don’t just accept it and soldier on- look at why you feel lost or what’s missing and do something about it! Compromise is essential in relationships, but one should never compromise over who you are alone, on the inside.’
    There, I hope she heard me above the noise of the crowd and the guns. Glad I got that off my chest. 🙂

  • fishlovesca

    LOL @12, calm down, it’s only a story. ;P

  • Loved the voice, the expression and the sentiment.

  • This works wonderfully for me. As a relationship story, it’s “yeah yeah, modern love.” But the present tense gives it a stream-of-consciousness immediacy and importance. Four stars.

  • Five stars, point blank.

  • Douglas Campbell

    Nice work – a well-written look into the pleasures and bewilderments of love.

  • Gretchen

    Smooth and easy to read, with nice doses of humor and insight. Well done.

  • I thought at first there’s a lot of hope for a marriage in which the silly bride-to-be finds nothing wrong except her wasted time of going to a rather frightening gun show. Why would she have to give anything else up? What is the difference between “living together” for a number of years (consider the morning alarm clock) and marrying I don’t know, except for law’s enforcement of formal vows to each other.) The best love has no pretending (“Love means doing things you hate but pretending you like them”). But when I reached the ending I thought the silly (false) smiles were hiding his tender love for guns and the idea of shooting her and I think she caught the idea (“doubts I’ve been pushing out squeeze their way into my brain”).

  • I identified with the emotion behind this piece but would have liked a bit more immediacy, to actually see this couple interacting at the gun show.

  • Simone

    I’m from a generation where women were taught to be people pleasers. In forty years of marriage, I’ve been dragged to a gun show – ONCE. I was so bored, I think I actually drooled. The next time he wanted me to go, I somehow found the gumption to just say no. He wasn’t happy about it, but sometimes you have to please yourself.

    I found this train-of-thought story fascinating.

  • Simone

    P.S. I only dragged him to a fabric story once.

  • Simone

    Er … store.

  • This is a good internal dialogue story; I would rather have had the characters act out the kind of relationship that they have. You know, show don’t tell. But rules are meant to be broken and this is very good telling.

  • I didn’t mean to read this story, I was on the site looking for something else – but I noticed the title and read the first couple of lines … and then didn’t stop reading until I got to the end. I hope you’ll take that as a compliment.

    There were a couple of bits that didn’t quite seem to ring true (such as firing guns inside a hotel – I’ve never been to a gun show, but… surely not?), but on the whole I thought this was a great exploration of what it means to love and to feel a difference between yourself and your half of the couple.

    Great stuff.

  • Liz

    I really really liked this story–have been reading the site for quite some time, but this is the first time I’ve been compelled to comment. For me, an obvious flaw is the title. It doesn’t seem to fit with the theme on more than a superficial level, and it is a bit cliche.

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  • derangedmilk

    Five stars from me, and I don’t do that often. There was something very authentic about this piece. So identifiable, great voice throughout, made me laugh, made me think, didn’t take too long. An excellent flash all around.

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  • The story is not so vivid.But surprise me of it being finalised.

  • Robert Laughlin

    Congratulations, Divya, on finishing as a Micro Award finalist.

    Robert Laughlin, Founder and First Administrator of the Micro Award

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