The biggest influence in writing, and revising, this piece was a discussion in an undergraduate writing workshop at the University of Houston. It was about the William Carlos Williams story “The Use of Force,” and we talked about fiction as a place for characters to have unexpected, even inappropriate, feelings in a given situation. The doctor in the WCW story hates the little girl he is supposed to be trying to save, and it is out of hatred that he finally pries open her jaws to examine and diagnose her illness. The story is uncomfortable for the reader, especially given how scared and grateful and conflicted the parents are, how unaware they are of the doctor’s inward disgust and frustration. This class was several years ago, well before I drafted “A Good, Clean Shot,” but it’s a discussion that’s always stuck with me.
While “A Good, Clean Shot” is based on an actual incident (I am the girl from the newspaper with zebra blood on her slacks), the impetus to fictionalize it sprang from a narrator who must navigate the private and public, the truth and lies, of her feelings. This is an intersection that draws me as a writer, particularly given fiction’s capability to move so easily between the outer and inner life. Secrets and flaws should never be safe and hidden in fiction, at least not from the reader, and this is one story that plays with that idea.
Kelsie Hahn holds an MFA in fiction from New Mexico State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Barrelhouse, 1/25, NANO Fiction, SpringGun, and others. She lives in Houston, TX with her husband, Stephen Cleboski.
Permalink: A Good, Clean Shot
Bartleby the zebra lies in the North pasture in a pool of red muck. He is definitely dead—Lorne says the bullet went straight through his heart. A good, clean shot.
The sheriff’s deputies are here, as is a girl from the newspaper. She steps carefully from island to island of clean grass, but by the time she gets to me her slacks are hemmed in a dark line of mud and zebra blood.
I never liked that zebra—he bit visitors, kicked over feed tubs, and mounted the colts into submission until they scattered to shiver in far corners. Tell the truth, I’m glad he’s gone.
“Who would kill such a beautiful creature?” I ask the girl, and she dutifully writes it down. “That could have been Lorne who got hit out there. He often works in the pasture. It could have been him, and how awful. What a terrible waste of a wonderful animal.”
The girl murmurs sympathy and asks some more questions. Lorne is pointing out angles to the deputies, thumbing his pockets, leaning back and loudly telling them what happened. He’s practically shouting at them. I’m still talking to the newspaper girl when he comes over and snags me around the waist and, inappropriately, nibbles my ear.
After dinner, Lorne comes to me. There’s a smear of blood on his checkered shirt. He paws at the buttons on my jeans, but I angle into the corner by the sink and keep scrubbing casserole from the dishes.
“I’m tired,” I say. “I’m sad about Bartleby.” He was wrapped in a tarp and hauled away hours ago from the North pasture. The other zebras are now in the West pasture, beyond sight of the red mud. “I’m glad it wasn’t you out there,” I say to his back as he heads to the bathroom.
In the morning, Lorne will go to the North pasture, clean and fill the troughs, and as he moves the vital parts of his body will face the woods, the house, the East pasture, and the road, where they think the shot came from. As for me, I will go to the zebras in the West pasture to bring them soft grains. For now they wait, placid, unburdened.
by Kelsie Hahn