Guns & Interstate 40

A work of creative nonfiction examining the need to arm oneself in case of an emergency, and how that sense of security can potentially lead to more suffering…

by: Paul Rousseau

Another school shooting. I mute the radio, and enter a small convenience store on a lonely stretch of Interstate 40 in west Texas. An old man greets me. His right cheek bulges with chewing tobacco. A toothpick swivels between his lips. He steps from behind the counter. I notice a .45 caliber handgun holstered on his right hip. An AR-15 assault rifle stands against the side counter. He squints and peers over his glasses. “Can I help you?”

“Do you have Tylenol?” I ask. He directs me to an aisle in the rear of the store. He twists his body to watch, hand on his holster. I grab a small box, and return to the counter. My eyes shift between the .45 caliber handgun and the assault rifle. He notices; his eyebrows raise. “You don’t have a gun?”

“I do, but I keep it locked up.”

He snorts and spits into a Styrofoam cup. “Locked up? Suppose you wake up in the middle of the night and someone is in your house? Whaddaya gonna do?”

“I don’t know, I guess I’d call 911.” I groan; my lip-service words are laughable.

He guffaws and slams his hands on the counter. He steps from the counter until he is so close I can feel the wetness of his breath. “You gotta keep your gun with you at all times. It’s a dangerous world out there, someone threatens you, you shoot the sonofabitch.” His eyes twitch, his arms flail. “Just like the school shooting today. If the teachers were armed, they would have killed the bastard.”

I step sideways, uncomfortable. I tip my head and turn to leave, but he persists.

“You’re not one of those liberals trying to get rid of the Second Amendment are you?”

“No, I’m not, but…”

“You are one of ‘em aren’t you? I knew it.”

My palms dampen. I can feel my heart pounding in my temples. As I scurry toward the door, a burly man enters. I hear them speaking, their words low and garbled. They laugh as I step outside. I slip into the car and lock the door. The burly man exits the store. I notice a 9mm handgun stowed in the front of his pants. He pauses, smiles, then pats the gun like he is burping a baby.

I turn the ignition and continue on Interstate 40. I ponder the old man’s words: “You gotta keep your gun with you at all times.” I store my gun in a locked metal box. The box sits bedside. Would I be able to unlock the box with trembling hands? The old man may be right.

The following morning, at the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico, I awake to a swarm of police. I learn the convenience store on that lonely stretch of Interstate 40 was robbed. I inquire of the old man. The police divulge. “He took a bullet to the leg.” I query if the suspect was wounded. They tell me he was not. I am perplexed. “Didn’t the old man get off a shot?” The police snicker. “He never even got his gun out the holster.”


Paul Rousseau is a semi-retired physician and writer, published or forthcoming in The Healing Muse, Blood and Thunder, Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, The Human Touch, Please See Me, Months To Years, The Examined Life, Burningword Literary Journal, Cleaning up Glitter, The Centifictionist,  Dr. T. J. Eckleburg Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Tendon, and others. He is a lover of dogs.

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