The gun with the pearl handle.

Written for Trifecta. When he told me the truth, I had the obscene urge to hurt him. At first I wanted to bite his ear off, then I thought about kicking him between the legs, and finally I yearned to wrap my little hands around his thick neck and squeeze hard enough to pop his head off like a Barbie doll.

I paused like an animal mesmerized by two bright orbs drawing closer, aware that death is imminent but unaware that it is avoidable. When he blinked, the spell was broken and I sprinted away from him, towards the impact instead of towards safety, scrambling up the stairs, falling and scraping my knees on the rough carpet and climbing the rest of the way on my hands and feet.

If I couldn't hurt my dad, I would hurt myself. I swung open the door to his closet and almost fell backwards from the smell that invaded my nostrils without warning. The scent of vanilla lotion, leather, and something else. The scent of my mother.

Her clothes still hung on the left side in a perfect line like inmates patiently awaiting their sentencing. Although the skin cells clinging to the inside of her boots and a few unwashed jackets were as dead as she was, they still carried some of her essence. And in this way, she lived on. But only inside of the windowless, crowded cell.

I’d been spending as much time as possible in the closet since my mom decided to go to heaven two months and one week earlier. When I got bored snuggling her boots and burying my nose into her blazers, I began to search for the unseen, surveying deep corners and reaching for the highest shelves.

That's when I found the gun. I thought it was a jewelry box at first, and I was beside myself, seduced by the brief fantasy that I would find a magical necklace to turn back time.

But the box, wedged behind a thick curtain of my father's suits, wasn't a forgotten treasure chest. Inside, wrapped in shiny soft fabric, rested a small handgun with a mother of pearl handle and the distinct impression of belonging to a lady.

I turned it over in my hand as I heard my father's heavy footsteps climb the stairs.

"Allegra, sweetheart?" he called.

"Stop!" I screamed wildly.

By the time he got to the closet, I had the gun pressed against my head.

“Allegra,” he sighed. “Put the gun down.”

“What do you care! You’re not my real dad anyways.”

“Yes, I am your real dad. Just not your biological dad.”

“No, you’re not! You’re a fake! A liar!”

“You’re right,” he said. “I wanted to tell you from the beginning. Your mother, may she rest in peace, wouldn’t let me.”

I threw the gun at him and it went off. I must have fainted as the world caved in around me. There was nothing left but ghosts. My mother didn’t love me enough to keep living, and my real dad didn’t love me at all. And then I’d killed the only person left. I was retched and rotten like a dying tree. The maggots would come feast upon me soon enough, and even they would chew me up and spit me out.

Emptiness flooded my heart until I exploded like a tire filled with too much air. I was sure that my blood had stopped flowing, I only needed to wait for the wheels in my brain to stop turning, and then it would be over. In those final moments, the sadness that had permeated every thread of life dissolved for the first time in 68 days.

My father rose from the dead like Jesus, shaking me from my sleep, folding me into his big arms, and depositing me into the shower. He turned on the cold water and my waist-length hair turned into a sheet of ice. The long sleeves of my pink nightgown matted against my skinny arms. I shivered, and he made the water warm.

Drawing my raw, bloody knees up to my chin, I looked at him through wet eyelashes and asked, “am I dead?”

“No, sweetheart.”

My eyes widened. “Are you?”

“The gun wasn’t loaded.”

I knew, at 13 years old, that most guns don’t give second chances, but I had gotten one. I spread my limbs until I was lying prostrate in the bathtub, allowing the water to pierce my wide open eyes as I tried not to think about my mother.