Hi there. My name is Sam. It is a pleasure to finally meet you.
I hope that you can forgive me for these circumstances under which we find ourselves. I wish very much that things were different, and that we had longer to get to know each other. I am sorry that we don’t. I am sorry for everything, really—for all that I have done and for all that I am about to do.
I am sorry for following you into the forest this morning. And I am sorry for what I did to you, there in the gathered light of those pine trees, when I found you. I am sorry for how confusing this all must be. I hope that an explanation on my part will help you find peace before you leave.
Yesterday was the first time that I ever saw you. I was in the kitchen making French toast for Sarah. It was still dark out. She was sitting by the window, still more asleep than awake, her mug of black tea hot between her hands and her book of poetry opened to the same dog-eared page that it had been turned to all week. She pressed herself close to the window when she saw you out there in the yard. Her reflection was sharp against the cold of the glass and her breath was turning to dew. Steam rose up from the tea and evaporated before her half-shut eyes.
At the time I had no idea what, or who, you were. But if I had to guess, and I have, I would say that it was in that moment that Sarah began to love you.
I hope this is all starting to make sense. I am sorry if it is not. I will try to be more clear.
You have been shot and I am the man who shot you. And in a couple of minutes I will be the man who kills you. I wish I could say how much I regret all of it, but I don’t. I wish I could say that given the chance, I would not do it again, but I would. I would stay here with you, like this, forever, gladly keeping your misery company until the trees all fell to rot and all the hills that once held them succumbed to the breeze. I am both satisfied with your suffering and I am sorry for it.
I am thankful, too, for this opportunity. I am thankful that you are such an open book. I am thankful that you are so unable to hide your pain. I am thankful, in a strange way, that she was right about you. I imagine that it is part of the reason she loves you in the way that she does. Because you are still you, even now. Because pain has not changed you like pain has changed me. Because in all of the ways that you are you, I am not. And I am perhaps more sorry for that, than for anything else.
I am sorry that you are dying. For the blood and mucous filling your mouth and finding its way to your lungs. I am sorry that it probably tastes, there in the back of your throat, a lot like it smells. I am sorry that you are choking on yourself, and for doing nothing to help. I am sorry for the nickel-sized hole below your neck. For the bullet that tore through the tendons in your chest and pushed out your back. For watching as you thrash, there on the frozen earth and wilted grass, for no other reason than it is simply who you are.
Can you look up for me now? Can you see them, there in the lowest branches? You might wonder how such a large bird rests on such a thin piece of tree. Why the wood doesn’t just snap. And let me tell you, my friend: it is nothing more than the deceitful nature of things at work. It is a trick the vultures learned from their mother. How to hollow out their own bones when they are born. How to fly by becoming less and how to eat by simply waiting. How to be black, and perfectly so. How to fold into themselves and find warmth by tucking their beaks down into their chests. How to expand their wings with their body as the sun creeps down from the hills and the morning air builds. How to train their eyes to see when a life is tethered and how to watch for the slowing of breath. How to live off of men like me—men who kill things—men who take things. But what they don’t know is that I can’t take anything from you until you give me something first. When will you give me what I need? Please help me understand. Help me make sense of all this. It has stopped making sense on its own.
I don’t know why Sarah stopped loving me. I don’t know when it happened, or how. But I hope that you can understand, before you die, that I am also in pain. You are not suffering alone here this morning.
She was everything to me and she left. Did you know that? Did she tell you? Did she ever talk about the holes inside of her? The places where her love for me used to be? How they were copper toned and iridescent and how they grew every day. How they lived in her face and on the crease of her smile, tugging at the corners of her mouth, weighing it down the longer she tried to hold it up. How they sat in her eyes as she stared out the kitchen window, washing the dishes and wiping away at nothing. How they played in her breath and grabbed at her throat when I would touch her.
The garden was my only chance to change all of this. To fill these holes. To prove that love could be something to work at and fix; to show her that it was possible to stitch together doubt and fear and turn it into something greater. The garden was my chance to erase the things we had lost. To bury them out in the darkness. To try again. It was my solution, and it was all I had. We were going to build it together, and together we would mend all that had loosened and become undone between us.
But Sarah smiled when you hopped over the fence and trampled through our lettuce and basil and purple flowering artichokes. She smiled and she nodded and she took slow, thoughtful sips from her tea, like her mind had just been made up about something that she didn’t even know was there. All it took was for you to come and destroy what we had made.
Then she left. Just like that. And I am sorry that she did, for your sake and for mine.
I am sorry that I grabbed the rifle from under our bed and followed your tracks in the snow, until I found you, standing there in the light of the morning, between those dying trees, and shot you in the chest. I am sorry for what I am about to do. I am sorry that the end of my rifle fits so snug between your big black eyes, and that you have so obviously become afraid. I want you to know that I am also afraid.
My name is Sam and I have always hated goodbyes. I would like to take this moment, while we are still here together, like this, to apologize. I am sorry. I know that what I am about to do will fix nothing. I know that. I know.
Terek Hopkins grew up in a small town on California’s central coast, but is currently living in Ibiza, Spain, where he works as an English teacher. His dog is his favorite person and he is not nearly as funny as he thinks he is. You can find him at Unbound, Cheap Pop, or at www.terekhopkins.com.