Count to Three

By Paul Negri

Daddy kept the gun in a shoebox in his closet. I found it one night as I hid there and prayed while he tore up the house and screamed at Momma, something he did when he drank a lot of beer. He drank a lot of beer all the time. It always ended up with his counting to three.

   “I’m going to count to three,” he’d yell. What Momma was supposed to do before he got to three I didn’t know. I was nine and kept my eyes shut a lot. But she always did it and he’d quiet down. He’d go out then and I’d go to Momma. I knew not to touch her. It took her a while before she wanted to be touched. I just sat with her. Sometimes I would read her a story. I had a book of stories with a lot of pictures, and not many words. It was my favorite book and I read it over and over. Momma would just watch me. When she smiled, I knew she was better.

   “Why can’t we go away?” I’d ask her.

   “We can’t, Lizzie,” she’d say. “He’d just find us.”

   “Maybe he’ll change.”

   “That would take a miracle. Just be a good girl and pray.”

   Daddy said I was too big for the book with all the pictures. “You’re nine. You should read real books,” he said.

   “This is a real book,” I said.

   “That book is for babies. Or stupid girls.”

   “I’m not a baby,” I said.

He laughed.

   One night Daddy started up and Momma told me to go to my room. I went instead to their room and sat down in Daddy’s closet. I opened the shoebox and took out the gun. It was not like the guns you saw on TV. It was smaller and had a really short nose and it wasn’t very heavy, not even for a nine-year-old girl. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I prayed really hard. I prayed so hard it hurt and I began to cry. I heard Daddy say, “I’m going to count to three.”

   I took the gun and went into the kitchen. Momma was in the corner on the floor, her hands over her face. Daddy looked at me.

   “I’m going to count to one,” I said.

Daddy laughed. “That’s not how it goes, stupid. You got to count to three.”

   “One,” I said and squeezed the trigger. My hand jerked up. I shot him right in the eye. It was a miracle.


Paul Negri is the former president and publisher of Dover Publications. He has twice won the Gold Medal for fiction in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition. His stories have appeared in The Penn Review, Vestal Review, Pif Magazine and many other publications. He lives in Clifton, New Jersey.

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