“Whose is this?”
The shouting broke the silence that had been hanging over the MacArthur household on that Saturday morning in June. Everyone else was still asleep, but Julia was up, and she was furious. She stormed from room to room, slamming doors and cupboards in her wake, ensuring that everyone in the house would know that she was pissed.
“Whose is this?” she screamed again. “Huh? Are none of you pathetic cowards awake yet, or are you hiding from me?”
She banged on her parents’ bedroom door with her left hand. Her right was wrapped around the stubby barrel of a handgun that she had found moments before in a shoebox in the basement.
Julia wasn’t sleeping much. A nasty battle with depression and suicidal tendencies ensured that she was constantly tired, but also perpetually unable to sleep; one of the many cruel paradoxes that sometimes comes with being mentally ill. Instead, she spent most nights digging: digging around the internet for British TV shows she hadn’t watched yet, digging around the house for treasures left behind by the other occupants during the day, and sometimes literally digging in the backyard, in the depression garden that her therapist suggested she start. Some new-agey sounding bullshit about the transformative effects of having a hobby. Julia argued that watching TV was a hobby. Her therapist argued that watching TV was a crutch.
Julia was right in the middle of loudly accusing her brother of gun ownership through his closed bedroom door when the baby started crying. A groan emanated from Julia’s parents’ room.
“Why, Julia,” her mom said plainly as she emerged, eyes bloodshot and still wearing the t-shirt and sweatpants she had worn the day before. “Why is now the time that we need to have this conversation?”
“Because I’m awake, and now you’re awake, and there’s a gun in our house. For some reason. Even though my therapist made you all promise. No weapons. Remember? Remember the no weapons promise?” Julia was right on her mother’s heels as she crossed the hallway to the nursery.
“Okay, Julia. Okay. Fine. Just let me take care of Grace, alright? Though really I should make you do it. You’re the one who woke her up.”
Julia’s mother bent down into the crib, yawning as she raised the crying baby, resting her on her hip. She froze. The previously fractured image of Julia, angry and wielding a gun, had finally come together in her mind like a jigsaw puzzle.
“Julia, that thing’s not loaded, right?”
“What? God, no. I’m not a crazy person. Well, not that kind of crazy person. I looked up how to empty the clip online but there were no bullets in there anyway, and the safety is definitely on. I checked three times to make sure I had done it right.”
“Even so,” Julia’s mother said, cradling Grace protectively. “I don’t like you walking around the house with that thing. And certainly not here, in the nursery. Go set it down on the kitchen table and we’ll talk, alright? I’ll get dad and your brother up.”
Julia went out to the dining room and flicked the light on over the table. There was a small Lazy Susan in the middle for condiments. Julia sat the gun on it instead and pushed gently, hypnotized by the sight of it spinning around slowly. Julia turned at the sound of her brother walking in, scratching his crotch through baggy pajama pants.
“You finally gonna shoot us up?” he asked, taking his usual seat at the table.
“Cut the shit, Nicholas,” Julia said.
“Oh, what, using my full name? Am I in trouble?”
“Course you’re in trouble. You brought a fucking gun into the house even though I personally watched you promise my therapist that you would never bring weapons under this roof as long as I live here. Remember that?”
“Oh, I remember,” he replied, yawning. “Thing is, that’s not my gun.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Yeah. Never seen that before in my life. Besides, I wouldn’t want you to get ahold of it, you fucking lunatic.”
“Not funny, Nick.”
“Is it loaded?” he asked, motioning to the gun.
“Of course not,” Julia replied. “I’m depressed. Not stupid.”
Julia stared once again at the gun, reaching out to give the Lazy Susan another weak push. Grace was still crying somewhere in the house, and Julia was trying to tune out the sound when her father’s heavy footsteps came down the stairs and rounded the corner into the dining room. Julia watched his eyes go straight for the gun.
“Good God Julia, what is it this time?” He ducked into the kitchen and re-emerged a second later with a banana which he was already peeling.
“I could ask you the same thing, traitor,” Julia said.
“Hey, relax Jules,” he said, biting into the banana and sitting down. “Clearly you’re going through something with this gun thing. We’re here to help. It’s not loaded, right?”
“No, it’s not fucking loaded!” Julia said impatiently. “Why is everyone asking me that today?”
“I think probably because we want to know if we’re about to get shot,” Nick said.
“No one is getting shot today or any day,” Julia said.
Nick sat at the table as their dad joined him and slowly ate his way through the banana. Grace was still crying and Julia could hear her mother trying to console her.
“So, what’s with the gun, Jules?” her dad asked curiously.
“I dunno. Besides, this isn’t my interrogation. I came here to ask you that. What’s with the gun, dad?”
“You mean it’s not yours?”
If it didn’t belong to anyone in the room, and it certainly couldn’t belong to Grace, and they didn’t have any other siblings…
Julia’s mother appeared in the doorway, holding Grace and bouncing her against her hip.
“Sorry guys,” she said, standing behind her usual chair. “Every time I tried to put her back down she’d just start crying again, so I brought her with me.”
Julia, Nick, and their dad were all staring at her.
“Mom…” Nick began, but Julia cut him off.
“Mom, is this your fucking gun?” Julia asked, jabbing her finger at the gun on the table.
Mom said nothing. She sighed deeply, and began pacing from one end of the dining room to the other.
“Mom, is this your gun?” Julia asked again, arms crossed.
“It’s, uh. Yeah. Yeah Julia, it’s my gun.”
“Can I ask why you have a fucking gun in this house, mom? This house which has a strict weapons ban put in place by my goddamn therapist to keep me alive? Can I ask you that, mom?”
Mom sighed impatiently, still rocking Grace on her hip. Grace babbled happily, her cheerful baby talk acting as the moment’s jarring and unpleasant backing track.
“I bought that years ago, Julia. Many years ago, when you were Grace’s age. We were living in our old house, the one down on Staples, you remember the one? That neighbourhood was awful. Robberies up and down the street, cars being broken into every night, your father even got mugged a few times walking the dog at night, you remember that, honey?”
“Anyway, I never felt safe there, and with a new baby in the house - you - and another one on the way - Nicholas - I had to do something, anything, to feel like I had control. So, I bought a gun. It was for safety, Julia. Your safety. Our safety. I need you to understand that. Do you understand?”
“Why does everyone always think that more guns will make us safe?” Julia exclaimed, reaching out and grabbing the gun from the Lazy Susan. Everyone else recoiled and mom turned her back on the room, putting herself between Grace and the weapon.
“Goddamnit Julia, put that thing down!” dad yelled, throwing his hands in the air over his head, Nick doing the same.
“Why do you still have it, mom? Why is this still here? You talked to my therapist, you know why this is important to me. Why did you keep it?” Julia was crying now, waving the gun wildly through the air.
Mom was crying now, too, which made Grace’s screaming start up again.
“I don’t know, Julia.”
“Yes you do, mom. Tell me.”
“I don’t know!”
“Because I wanted to kill myself, Julia! You’re not the only one who’s fucked up in this family!”
Julia was stunned, so stunned that her tears and sobs came to a halt. Grace was still screaming, and mom was crying even harder now, too. Dad reached over and took the baby before leaving the room. Nick slipped out with him and they both went back upstairs.
Julia sat the gun back down in the centre of the table and crossed the room to where her mother was standing, sobbing. Julia wrapped her arms around her mother; her mother was a few inches shorter than her, so Julia tucked her head down into the crook of her neck and held her until the crying stopped. Neither of them said anything for a long time. Julia could feel her mother’s tears soaking through her pajama shirt.
“Why didn’t you tell me, mom?” Julia asked, breaking the silence.
“I had to be strong for you, Julia, and for Nick. I thought about telling you once before, awhile ago, before you were diagnosed. But around then was when your father and I started talking about having another kid while we still could, and it just… It wasn’t the right time.”
“You don’t have to hide it, mom. Lots of people, all kinds of people, are going through stuff like this all the time. Did you ever talk to anyone about it? A therapist, or anyone?”
“Well, as someone who’s been there - I guess, someone who is there - trust me: you gotta talk to someone, mom, okay? For dad, and for me and Nick, and for Grace. And especially for you. Okay?”
“Okay,” Julia said. “Thankfully for you, I know a therapist.”
The next time Julia went to therapy, her mom went along too and made an appointment for herself. Julia and her mom talked about what to do with the gun, which Nick had locked away in a safe in his room for the time being. The therapist suggested that they contact the RCMP and have it decommissioned, which they did. When the officer handling their account asked what they would like to have done with the gun, Julia’s mother asked if they could keep it. When they got home, they took the gun into the backyard, wrapped it up in the old shoebox that Julia had found it in, the same box that it had lived in for many years, and they buried it deep, six feet deep, in Julia’s depression garden. On the ground up above, they marked its place with a wide, smooth rock upon which Julia had painted an epitaph.
This is a monument to the strength of my mother. I’d rather bury this than her.