Honored Guest (Vintage Contemporaries)

Honored Guest (Vintage Contemporaries) by Joy Williams Page A

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Authors: Joy Williams
did it naturally. Off to the left behind a wall of clear glass was the firing range.The shooters wore ear protectors and stood at an angle in little compartments firing at targets on wires that could be brought up close or sent farther away by pressing a button. The target showed the torso of a man with large square shoulders and a large square head. In the left-hand corner of the target was a box in which the same figure was much reduced. This was the area you wanted to hit when you were good. It wasn’t tedious to watch the shooters, but it wasn’t that interesting either. I preferred to sit as close as possible to the closed door of the classroom and listen to the Marksman address the class.
    The Marksman stressed awareness and responsibility. He stressed the importance of accuracy and power and speed and commitment and attitude. He said that having a gun was like having a pet or having a child. He said that there was nothing embarrassing about carrying a gun into public places. You can carry a weapon into any establishment except those that serve liquor, unless you’re requested not to by the operator of that establishment. No one else can tell you, only the operator. Embarrassment is not carrying a gun, the Marksman said. Embarrassment is being a victim, naked, in a bloody lump, gazed upon by strangers. That’s embarrassment, he said.
    The Marksman told horrible stories about individuals and their unexpected fates. He told stories about doors that were opened a crack when they had been closed before. He told stories about tailgating vehicles. He told a story about the minivan mugger, the man who hid under cars and slashed women’s Achilles tendons so they couldn’t run away. He said that the attitude you have toward others is important. Do not give them the benefit of the doubt. Give them the benefit of the doubt and you could already be dead or dying. The distinction between dead and dying was an awful one and I often wentinto the bathroom, the one marked
, and washed my hands and dried them, holding and turning them for a long time under the hot-air dryer. The Marksman told the story about the barefoot, barechested madman with the machete on the steps of the capitol in Phoenix. This was his favorite story, illustrating as it did the difference between killing power and stopping power. The madman strode forward for sixteen seconds after he had been warned and his chest blown out. You could see daylight through his chest. You could see the gum wrappers on the marble steps behind him right through his chest. But for sixteen seconds he kept coming, wielding his machete, and in those sixteen seconds he annihilated four individuals. My mother kept taking the classes, so I heard this story more than once.
    My mother decided that she wanted to know the Marksman socially and invited him to dinner along with the others in the class. We decided on a buffet-style arrangement, the plates and silverware stacked off to the side. This way, if no one came, we wouldn’t feel humiliated. The table had not been set. No one came except the Marksman. Not the fat lady who had her own pistol and a purple holster for it, not the bald man or the two college girls, not the other man with the tattoo of a toucan on his arm. The Marksman was a thin man in tight clothes and he wore a gold chain and had a small mustache. Sometimes he favored bloused shirts but that night he was wearing a jacket. I sat with him in the living room while my mother was in the kitchen. The dogs came in and looked at him. Then they jumped up onto the sofa and curled up and looked at him.
    “You allow those dogs every license, I see,” he said.
    I wanted to say something but had no idea what it was.
    He asked me if I’d been to Disneyland.
    “No,” I said.
    “How about the other one, the one in Florida?”
    I said that I hadn’t.
    “Where are you from?” he asked me.
    “Here,” I said.
    “I’m from San Antonio,” he said. “Have you ever been to

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