The rifle stock pressed firmly against my shoulder. A bead of sweat slid lazily through my right eyebrow. I knew it would be a problem soon, but I shrugged it off. My head tilted awkwardly to one side, as I struggled to peer through the eyepiece of the scope on the rifle. I was no marksman. I wasn’t afraid to admit that.

I slowly exhaled and let the crosshairs fall across the target. Nice and easy, I thought to myself. One more breath.

The bead of sweat dripped from my brow and into my eye. It stung a little, but not as much as missing my mark would. I took a deep breath and held it for a 2-count. I exhaled. My finger shifted ever-so-slightly.


The pellet gun made barely a sound as the round was thrust mightily from the chamber, down the barrel and across the backyard toward the target: an aluminum can propped up on a cardboard box. I listened for the tell-tale metal-on-metal crunch that meant I’d scored a hit. I watched intently for that moment when the can, filled to the brim with water from the old caulk bucket the dog drinks from, exploded in a spray of sparkling light reflected skyward.

Nothing. Missed again.

The chuckle came from behind me, as I lowered the rifle and proceeded to offer it to my dad.

“You missed,” he prodded. “The point is to hit the can, you know.”

“You haven’t hit it yet either,” I retorted, a little more defensively than I expected. He took the rifle from my hands and loaded another pellet. His massive arms primed the rifle for another shot.

“No, but I’m going to hit it before you will.”

Big talk. From both of us. Only minutes earlier, my 7-year old son fired his very first shot and hit the target dead-on. I’d never been more proud in my life, and I abhorred violence.

“Your grandson hit it before you did. First try.”

Dad laughed. There was a mixture of pride and jealousy in his voice as he said, “Little shit.” We both laughed. My dad was funny when he cursed. It was one of his more endearing traits.

He took aim. He didn’t waste time trying to calm himself. He didn’t try any breathing techniques to steady his shot. He just pointed, sighted, and fired.

He missed.

I took the rifle from him and put my pellet into the chamber. I took my shot. I missed.

I shrugged and handed Dad the rifle. “Why don’t you just hit it already, so our pissing match can be over.”

He took the rifle, loaded it, and steadied it in his hands. I looked on in silence as a calm fell across the yard. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as his finger tightened.

The can erupted in a brilliant display of color. Sunlight fractured as it passed through hundreds of water droplets. A loud twang resounded across the cornfield, ripe and ready for harvest. The can spun in place, torn nearly in two by the force of the water begging to escape through the newly-formed rupture. It must have taken less than a second, but it felt like ten. The can fell off the back of the cardboard box. Water was already soaking into the corrugated paper, leaving a mark behind. Like bloodstains, reminding any unfortunate passer-by that something horrendous had happened in that very spot.

“Your shot,” he said, as he handed me the rifle. I took it without a word, and grinned.