“What’s up, son? You look like you jumped into a pool of lemonade and come up with a mouth full of castor oil. Never seen you so glum. Not bored, are you?”
“I guess so,” Owen said with a shrug.
“Well, not much happ’nin round here. What say we head on down the back paddock and fire off a few rounds?”
Owen hadn’t heard the term ‘fire off a few rounds’ before and said so.
The old man clapped him on the shoulder, cackling with laughter. “Son, you sure got a lotta learnin’ to do if we’re gonna turn you into a country boy. Didn’t they teach you anything at that city slicker school you went to?”
“I guess not.”
“Come on then. Time we got you some ed’cation, country style.”
Pa led Owen to the shed and took something wrapped in a greasy old blanket back to the ute. Returning to the shed, he stood for a moment and looked around, seemingly lost in thought.
“Now, where did I hide ’em this time?” he muttered.
“Hide what, Pa?” Owen asked.
“Bullets, son, bullets! I hides ’em in diff’rent places all the time, so’s no bugger knows where to find ’em. Trouble is, I hides ’em so well, sometimes, I can’t find ’em meself!” He cackled with laughter again.
He rummaged around; on shelves, opening boxes, moving stuff around until finally he picked up a box. “Here’s the buggers. Now then, you ready for some learnin’, son?”
“Sure thing, Pa!”
Owen wondered why his Pa was like two different people. Sometimes Pa spoke normally, but other times Pa changed; the way he spoke sounded so different. He said funny words and some bad ones too. Owen liked this Pa much better. He decided he wanted to talk the way Pa did so he would listen and learn.
Down by the river, Pa set up some cans on fence posts and shot them, one by one. The noise of the gun had frightened Owen at first, but after Pa had fired it a few times, Owen didn’t jump any more. In fact he was having lots of fun. He loved the ‘zing’ as the cans flipped into the air one by one.
When the cans had been set on the posts again, Pa had handed Owen the gun. “Your turn.”
Owen tentatively took the gun from his Pa’s hands. “Will you really let me shoot it?”
“Yes, but you gotta promise you won’t tell your mother. Ladies don’t like guns and she’ll only get wild. Best we keep it to ourselves. So, do ya promise?”
“I promise, Pa.”
Owen held the gun and pointed it toward one of the cans.
“Hold up a sec, lad. You wouldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, waving it around like that. Let me.” Pa took the gun from Owen.
“Firstly, you gotta stand with your feet a little ways apart so that you’re balanced.”
Owen looked down at his feet, shuffled them apart. “Like this?”
“Yup, that’ll do ya. Now this curved bit rests against your shoulder, here.” He positioned the gun so that it nestled into Owen’s shoulder.
“Your left hand, like so.” He took Owen’s hand and placed it on the hand grip.
“Now, your right hand is your firing hand, so that’s the one you pull the trigger with, but not yet. Feel this bit? That’s the trigger guard. You keep your hand on the outside of that till you’re gonna shoot. OK?”
“OK, now you’re looking good, Owen. What I want you to do now is to look down the barrel at the can over there and line up this little jigger on the end of the gun here with this notch here.”
Owen looked down the barrel where Pa was indicating.
“When you think you’ve got it lined up, you carefully move your index finger of your right hand on to the trigger, take a breath, let a little bit out and then hold your breath as you squeeze the trigger.”
Owen held his breath and squeezed the trigger.
“Ah shit, we’re out of bullets. Sorry Owen. Should’a realized.”
Owen watched as his Pa took out the empty magazine and slotted another in its place. When he finished loading he handed the gun back. “Remember what I told you?”
“Yes, Pa. I think so.” He stood and held the gun like Pa had showed him. He looked down the barrel, squinting one eye closed as he did so, taking careful aim.
“Remember your breathing, Owen.”
He took a breath, held it and squeezed the trigger. ‘Zing’, the can disappeared from view.
“Holy snappin’ duck shit! You hit the bastard, Owen. Your very first shot and you hit it!”
“I hit it, Pa, I HIT IT!” Owen said as his Pa took the gun from him.
A cackle of laughter erupted from the old man. “Well ain’t that just the duck’s nuts!”
They spent the next few hours shooting cans until their supply of ammunition was exhausted. Pa retrieved the cans and they sat together on the tail gate of the ute drinking lemonade. Owen listened, fascinated as Pa talked about guns and shooting.
“Can we shoot some more tomorrow, Pa?”
“I guess so, son. But we have to be careful your mother doesn’t find out or she’ll chew my ear off for teaching you. Remember you promised you wouldn’t tell her, and you have to keep that promise if you want to go shooting again. D’ya hear me?”
“Yes, Pa. I understand. I promise I won’t tell Mum.”
“That’s good. Oh and don’t go blabbing your mouth to your mates at school, either, or you can bet your left knacker that someone will tell someone else and next thing your mother is chewing my ear off.”
“I promise I won’t tell anybody at all.”
Owen went to bed that night happier than he’d been in ages. He couldn’t believe his Pa was actually teaching him to shoot.
“Did you ever kill anyone, Pa?” Owen asked. They were down by the river again and Pa had been warning Owen that a gun could kill someone if you weren’t careful.
“Well, yes I did, son. It was a few years back now, but I killed him.”
“Did you go to prison?” Owen’s eyes were wide with astonishment to think his Pa had actually killed someone.
“Nah! Made out it was an accident. Said I’d thought it was a fox, but I knew it was him, that Greg Irving. Bastard was trespassing on my property and stealing my chickens. He got what he deserved, all right. A bullet in the head. Good, clean shot. He dropped face first in the dirt. Stone dead, he was.” Pa laughed.
“Now you just keep that to yourself, young man. Your mother doesn’t know, and she doesn’t need to know. Understand?”
“Sure Pa. I won’t tell.”
“You see, Owen, when you’re a man, you’ve gotta be tough. Women don’t understand that, they want you to be all sweet and kind, like they are—well most of ’em, anyway. But when you’re a man, if you’re all kind and soft, people will just walk all over you. You’ve got to show them who’s boss. Only one winner in a fight, you just make sure that when the dust settles it’s you that is still standing. You understand what I’m saying?”