“The bleating lambs, safe beneath the ewes”

The bullet came in through the side door.  For a long time it just stood there, and eventually I grew used to it.  All day long I saw it, patiently waiting: when I reached into the drawer for my checkbook to pay the paperboy, when I ate my lunch (a scoop of all natural peanut butter, mandarin orange slices in real mandarin orange juice, and a small bag of Oreos) when I kicked off my shoes after sweeping the entire first floor.  I turned on the eleven o’clock news and there it was, upright on top of the TV, which depressed me, so I decided to call it a night.

I only became alarmed when it followed me upstairs.

But there too it simply stood in the corner while I washed up and changed for bed.  I read, and it perched on my bureau, gleaming, I turned out the light and it faded away.  I told myself it would be all right.  It wasn’t the first bullet I’d seen, after all.

A few years earlier I’d unearthed one for a rifle in the back yard when bedding tulips, long and bronze colored in the clumped black soil.  At the time I pictured someone planting rows of bullets like bulbs, then harvesting their ordered ranks over the summer, but it was the only one I dug up.  I cleaned and oiled it and kept it in a kitchen cabinet next to the juice glasses, telling myself it was a reminder.  Of what, I never figured out.  Eventually, I threw it away.

And as a child I’d found another, smaller one, probably from a .22, which I took to our basement and slipped into my father’s massive red iron vice, bolted to the workbench that ran along almost an entire water-stained wall.  Then I stood over it for a long time, holding a hammer, so long my hand began to sweat, the handle to turn slippery, the hammer to grow heavier, the twinned smells of metal and wood shavings making my nose itch.

I was going to smack the indented circle on the bottom of the shell casing, causing the bullet to shoot out the other end, having already figured out its trajectory once it tunneled through the nearly-shut vice: under the stairs, a close miss of the shadowed furnace (by a foot or so) and a smack into the far wall just above the soapstone sink.  But I couldn’t be sure.  If the casing shifted as I struck it (I was wary of tightening the vice too much, in case doing so would set off the bullet), or if the bullet path through the vice’s narrow opening wasn’t smooth, it might slew sideways into the furnace, blowing up the furnace, me, and the house, or the bullet might ricochet off that far wall instead of embedding itself in the cinderblock and break a window, or if I didn’t strike the casing flush it might turn up and hit me in the head.  My parents would find me dead on the floor of a gunshot wound, gripping a hammer.  How stupid would that be?

Less dangerous but no less problematic:  my mother might hear the gunshot and ask what I was doing.

I don’t remember what I did with it in the end.

This one was different.  Copper-jacketed, lead-tipped, and stream-lined, but for all that a bit squatter than the rifle bullet, I heard it moving as I drifted off.  Then I was wide awake, looking up at it hovering beside the bed, a dark slash in the milky moonlight.

I thought about turning the light on again, now that it was closer, wondering if it really had my name, and if so, where it would be written, and then it spoke to me, a woman’s voice, which surprised me.  Young and almost friendly.

I’m yours, it said in that calming, cool voice. Then she said, And you’re mine.

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Paul Griner is the author of the acclaimed novel Collectors and the short story collection Follow Me, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick. He was inspired to write The German Woman by the true story of a team of filmmakers who were tried for treason just after the United States entered World War I for making a film critical of the British, our new allies, and by an E.M. Forster quote: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” His work has been translated into half a dozen languages.

Paul Griner

About Paul Griner

Paul Griner is the author of short story collection Follow Me and the novels Collectors, and The German Woman. His work has appeared in Ploughshares, Playboy, One Story, Prairie Schooner, Tin House, Narrative, Story, Bomb, Zoetrope, Glimmer Train, The Indiana Review and New York Tyrant among others, and been translated into half a dozen languages.