To say that I was living the dream wasn’t quite how I would put it.
To say that I was part of something bigger, something that was beyond any single participant’s control might seem to be true, but there were always exceptions and circumstances that could alter the status quo at any time.
That hadn’t happened yet, nor was any of us expected anything like that to happen. You never do. These events are often random, and come when everyone least expects it, and, afterwards, no one can offer any sort of explanation of why it happened.
But it did.
And, like everyone else, I watched it unfold and did very little to either mitigate the fallout or discover the reasons behind it.
Not to begin with.
The thing is, everything was so normal on that day.
Our neighbourhood was typical of many in the town, a town where it wasn’t that large that everyone knew, or knew of, just about everyone else. Our street in suburbia was typical of any other street, we all knew the neighbours, all visited each other, had street BBQ’s, all the children played together, as we had when we were children, and there were few new people, that its to say, people who had not lived all their lives in the town.
I and three other husbands took turns to drive to the station and took the train into the city where we worked. WE al; had similar jobs and similar interests. The wives either worked in the town or stayed at home, managing a small business and motherhood at the same time. Our children went to the same schools, most as we had before them.
To an outsider, it might be said our lives were mundane.
I was out the back in the shed trying to fix the lawnmower, a recalcitrant machine at the best of times. The twins were playing in the sandpit I’d just finished making as part of a landscaping project in a corner of the yard that once had a tall tree. Lightning from a storm some months before had struck it and did irreparable damage to it so I cut it down.
Suddenly there was the sound of what I thought was a car or truck backfiring. Three or four loud bangs. I thought nothing of it until I heard, a few minutes later, three more. I looked at the mower, shook my head, and decided to investigate. I was making no progress with the mower and needed a distraction.
I walked up the side of the house, and into the front yard. I could see several people standing in their doorways or outside on the porch looking towards the end of the cul-de-sac. When I reached the front fence and looked myself, I could see Ralph Jones standing next to what looked like a person lying on the road, not moving.
There was something surreal about that image, and seconds later, when my brain began to register what I was actually seeing, it was Ralph standing over a body, gun in hand, and I don’t think I could describe his expression. Hate, pity, dumbstruck, angry.
He looked up and looked from side to side, then started walking slowly towards me. Two new things registered as I found myself riveted to the spot. The first, there were four other bodies scattered on the road, the footpath, and driveway behind him. The other he was reloading the gun with a new clip. I’d seen the gun before, he showed it to me a few months ago when he bought it, just in case, he said.
I’d asked what just in case of what? I couldn’t remember what his answer was.
I saw him turn to look towards the Mandelson’s, the next second raising the gun and aiming it at Jerry, who had also come out into his front yard to see what was happening. Two shots, the second hitting Jerry, and I saw him collapse.
Suddenly, all around me, doors were shutting or people who had come out were quickly disappearing back inside.
It was clear now Jerry had snapped, his only intention was to shoot people. But, why us? We were his friends. We had known him forever, he and I went to school together, did the same crazy stuff when we were kids. Yesterday, if you’d asked me, I’d have said he was the most normal person I’d ever met.
I should have run, but somewhere in my mind, I must have thought that wouldn’t present as a target. Foolishly or otherwise, I thought if I stood still he wouldn’t see me.
He’d seen me, but as he walked towards me, he’d lowered the gun. I heard rather than saw Marjorie open then close the door the moment she saw Ralph, and I suspect, the gun in his hand, and had put two and two together. She may have called out to me to get inside, but I couldn’t be sure.
I found my voice when he stopped about ten feet from me. “Ralph. What’s going on?”
“The whole world’s gone mad. can’t you see it?” He gestured wildly about him with both hands.
I just kept an eye on his gun hand. I was not sure why, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I must have been thinking of an escape plan, as impossible as that sounded. Or was I hoping he wouldn’t shoot his best friend?
“Has it?” I looked around. It was the quintessential perfect day, clear blue sky, gentle breeze, not too hot.
I don’t think he heard me.
“Mark my words, Larry, life, as you know it, is about to change…”
That’s when I saw the deranged expression on his face as he raised the gun, pointing it directly at me. And seconds later, watched what looked like his head exploding.
Just before my legs gave out, and in those last moments of consciousness, I thought I heard a scream in the distance.
© Charles Heath 2020