By Nafis Shahriar
The reporter in a wide angle narrates the events from the scene of the crime. She stands a little distance away from the barricade – built with rickety old sticks and reflective yellow tape. The reporter has to be female you see, to attract the largely male dominated target demographic. She wears her shortest skirt available that can be paired up with her shirt and brown coat. There are creases in the skirt that can be attributed to it being frequently and mercilessly ironed, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that she is young, blonde, and her shirt is open to the third button.
The station frequently intercuts her with footage collected from the scene of the crime. There are long hallways smeared with blood. There is the bathroom where the shooter was apprehended by one of the survivors. There are bloodied and bullet ridden bodies of teenagers – their faces blurred out in order to maintain the integrity of journalistic ethics. But for little Timmy, none of these matters. He barely gets to hear what happened before Mark shoos him out of the room. All he understands is that something happened at school today, something that made the alarms go off and make his mom cry.
He goes up to his room and turns on his computer. Mark is busy with the TV, and his mom is fast asleep. His room comes to life in the bluish white of the monitor. He goes to the folder where he keeps all his games and boots up the latest version of Grand Theft Auto. Mickey had already managed to get his hands on the game, but Timmy had been forbidden from touching his computer for a month. But with whatever happened at school, that doesn’t matter anymore.
His mom made all his favorites today, and Mark went out and got him ice cream. Mickey called during the night and told him that school was going to be out for a while. All things considered, tonight seems like the perfect night to play video games.
Across town, Riley is trying to decide what to do. His shoulder is damp from tears, and he has a massive erection he is trying to suppress. His girlfriend – Cheryl – lost her best friend Cynthia during the shooting. Consequently, he gained entry in her bedroom for the first time in the six years they have been together. He met Cheryl while he was still in middle school. During the duration of their relationship, Riley hadn’t even received so much as a single kiss. As such, entering her sleeping quarters during the tail end of the night had always been out of the question.
This never seemed fair to Riley. All his friends lost their virginity long before senior year. During prom, Riley was hoping to take Cheryl to a motel. This is what he had always seen in the movies: The shy girl opens up to the love of her life during the most magical night of their lives together and they take their first steps towards adulthood. But Cheryl insisted on waiting till marriage, and Riley acquiesced.
At the station, Paul has his eyes fixed on the monitor. He is pleased he got Amy to show so much skin, even though she protested saying she wasn’t feeling it tonight. Paul certainly understood her squeamishness, but the importance of his role as the manager of the station matters more. After Claire had died, his work became the only thing he could cling to. With the shooting that took place today, it seems like fate has placed an ace in his hands.
He works at a small, local station, but because the shooting took place in their town, he was able to send a team inside and quickly gather some footage. The school has been cordoned off by the police, and major news outlets like Fox and CNN will have to wait for days before they can crack open the story properly. Paul showed the clip he gathered repeatedly throughout the day, spliced together with footage of Amy interviewing the local residents. They are now running the story as a special to really hammer home the brutality of it. If he is playing his cards as well as he thinks he is, the rating for the station is going to go through the roof.
There were rumors that Fox was building a station specially for the South, running content and programs too risqué for the mainstream. One of Paul’s buddies called a couple of months ago and said that he knew a guy. Paul forwarded his resume and has been showing content that would specifically align with what Fox would like to air.
Paul had been a card-carrying Democrat all his life, and the things he does now makes him sick sometimes. But what can he do? Not only did the hospital fail to save Claire, but the medical bills put him in deep debt. His current pay was barely enough to make ends meet. To stay on top, he needed to get on a national network, and this was a transition that he needed to undertake fast.
The camera cuts from Amy to Randy Johnson, a burly man in his 40s. Muscular, hair combed back, and a tight- fitting suit that showed off all the nuances of his figure. At this point, most men who turned into the station for Amy shuts off their screens, but Mark isn’t most men. He is happily married to Tim’s mom – her second husband – and he doesn’t need to sneak in front of the TV in order to satiate his fetishes. Mark doesn’t even watch the news that much, but after what happened today, it’s like he has been taped to the screen.
He can’t make sense of it, the violence and brutality of the act. The shooter doesn’t even fit the profile of a quiet kid who snaps all of a sudden. He just shows up one day with an AR-15 and shoots the whole place to kingdom come. That’s the part that bothers Mark the most, the unforeseen randomness of the event. He remembers a quote he heard in an old foreign film he watched years ago: “People like to think that a crime has a meaning, but most of them don’t.”
Timmy continues to play his video game – mowing down a car full of civilians so there would be panic on the streets. The game has recreated one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles. Timmy has been to LA only once – to meet his biological father. He was crossing the road when a truck almost squished him against the road. Now he is standing in one of the busiest intersections of the planet with no one having the power to stop him.
Everyone is afraid of him. Everyone is running away from him. How easy it is to get people to obey just because he has a gun. With each shot fired, he feels a jolt go through his body. If firing a virtual gun feels this good, imagine how better would it be to just hold the real thing?
“You are never going to leave me, right?” Cheryl asks.
“Never,” replies Riley. “But what if something happens?”
“We’re adults now, Cheryl. I know we are applying to the same college, but we also have to understand that things might not turn out the way we want. What if we end up in separate campuses?”
“We’ll talk on the phone.”
“I’m not talking about that,” Riley is getting impatient. “I am talking about needs – the physical needs that both of us have. I have always wanted to have sex, and on some deep level, I know you want to as well. What happens if we separate? What happens if we fall for different people?”
“You don’t love me anymore,” Cheryl launches into a whimper.
“I do,” replies Riley. “God knows I do. I’m just afraid about what is going to happen. You know as well as I that long distance relationships always get the best of people. What if something happens and we lose each other?”
“But I love you. I love you and only you. You have to understand Riley, something like that would never happen from my side,” the whimpers have turned into sobs.
“Something like that would never happen from my side either,” Riley looks her in the eye. “But isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?”
Cheryl continues to cry, but she realizes what Riley is asking for. She wipes her eyes and begins to undress. She throws her t-shirt and shorts away. She unhooks her bra and takes off her panties. She folds her arms around her breasts and looks the other way, as if trying to conjure up something to hide her shame.
Riley can’t believe what he is seeing. There is the bare neck and collarbones that left him breathless every time they met. The semicircular curve of her body is something that even Einstein can’t calculate. The moist noise and the pink texture of her vagina makes him gasp, making him recall all those late-night sessions in the toilet. He reaches out his fingers and wipes away her tears. He inches closer and she acquiesces. Riley kisses her and holds her in an embrace, unbuckling his pants and getting ready for the main event.
“You want me to do what?” Amy asks.
“You are to go to the gun range in the morning,” Paul relies.
“Interview some of the regulars and the store owners and learn to shoot a gun. Also, take some strategically placed pictures with the arsenal – coiling your legs and chest around a shotgun, blowing out the smoke coming out of a handgun seductively, that kind of thing.”
Amy doesn’t say anything for a while. “Do you have any idea how sick you’ve become?” she finally retorts.
“I hope I don’t need to tell you how to do your job,” Paul replies.
“The station survives on ratings, and we have to give the audience what they want. If we fail, then we will have to cut back. It’s none of my business, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want to go back to making breakfast for drunkards.”
Amy doesn’t know what to say. She takes her bag and leaves.
Paul watches her walking out of his office and a grin spread across his face.
He can make her do anything.
Anything he desires.
“Can’t sleep?” Mark asks Timmy from the door.
“Not really,” Timmy replies. “I got some sleep in the afternoon, and I really want to play some video games now.”
“Alright,” Mark says. “Say, do you want to go to the Zoo tomorrow?”
Timmy turns away from the monitor. He eyes Mark for a while before replying, “Is it okay if we go to the gun range, dad?”
Mark’s eyes get filled with tears. He has been living with Timmy for a year now, and this is time first Timmy called him dad.
“Of course, sport,” he replies. “We’ll do anything you want.”
Timmy turns back to his video game with a smile. He has been playing only for a couple of hours, but he has already built a criminal empire. He had made his headquarters in one of the biggest buildings in the state. He has multiple guns. His bathroom is filled with cocaine. All of his staff are women who are compelled to anything that he wishes. He has a view of the beautiful bay sunset, and come next morning, he is going to hold a real gun.
He is living the dream.
The American dream.
Nafis Shahriar is a journalist based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. His work has appeared in Dhaka Tribune, The Woman Inc, and Six Sentences.