Honored Guest (Vintage Contemporaries)

Honored Guest (Vintage Contemporaries) by Joy Williams Page B

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Authors: Joy Williams
San Antonio?”
    “No,” I said.
    “There’s a big river there, a big attraction, that runs right past all the shops and restaurants and that’s all lit up with fairy lights,” the Marksman said. “Tourists take cruises on it and stroll beside it. They promenade,” he said in a careful voice. “Once a year, they pump the whole thing out, the whole damn river, and clean it and then put the water back in again. They scrub the bottom like it was a bathtub and fill it up again. What do you think about that?”
    My hands were damp. I was beginning to worry about this, but my mother always said there was nothing more useless than dreading something you weren’t understanding.
    “People have lost their interest in reality,” the Marksman said.

    The classes continued at the Institute. The old group left and a new one with the same silent demeanor took their place. I stayed close to the door and listened. The Marksman said never to point the muzzle of a gun at something you weren’t willing to destroy. He said that often with practice you’re just repeating a mistake. He stressed caution and respect. He stressed response, readiness and alertness. When class was over,everyone filed out to choose a handgun and buy a box of ammunition, then strode to their appointed cubicle.
    My mother did not extend any more dinner invitations to the group, although the Marksman came every Friday. It became the custom. I knew my mother did not exactly want him in our life, because she already was making fun of his manner of speaking, but she wanted him somehow. There are many people who have artificial friendships like this that become quite fulfilling, I’m sure. I tried to imagine him living with us. The used targets papering the rooms, his bloused shirts hanging on the clothesline, his enormous black truck in the driveway. I imagined him trying to turn my father’s room into a saferoom, for the Marksman spoke often about the necessity of one of these in every house. The requirements were a solid-core door, a dead bolt, a wireless telephone and a gun, and this was the place you should immediately go to when a threat presented itself, a madman or a fiend or merely someone who, for whatever reason, wanted to kill you and cease your life forever. My father had died in his room, but the way I understood it, with very few modifications it could be made into a saferoom of the Marksman’s specifications.
    The psychiatrist had said that my father had been fortunate to have his room, in his own home with his own family, that is my mother and myself and the dogs. I did not disagree with this.
    I liked the Marksman’s truck. One Friday night when we were eating dinner I told him so.
    “That’s because you’re an American girl,” the Marksman said. “Something in the American spirit likes great size and a failure to be subtle. Nothing satisfies this better than a truck.”
    The Marksman usually ignored me, but would address meif I spoke to him directly. With my mother he was courteous. I think he liked her. She did not like him, and I didn’t know what she was doing. She had not become a very good shot, either.
    My mother and father loved each other. He had been big and strong before he got sick. He had favorite things, favorite meals and movies and places. He even had a favorite towel. It was a towel I’d had with big old-fashioned trains on it. He said he liked it because whichever way he dried himself he felt he was getting somewhere, but when he got sick he couldn’t wash himself or dry himself or feed himself either. When he was very sick my mother had to be careful when she washed him or his skin would come off on the cloth. He liked to talk, but then he became too weak to talk. My mother said my father’s mind was strong and healthy, so we read to it and talked to it, even though I grew to hate the thought of it. This hidden mind in my father’s body.
    The Marksman had been coming over for several weeks when he appeared one

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