Hollow Point - Carl Unternahrer

Firing a rifle is a simple thing.

You pull the trigger. This releases a spring that flicks the rifle's hammer forward, striking the firing pin. This in turn, is thrust forward to strike a primer at the base of the ammunition cartridge that sits in the barrel. The firing pin striking the primer creates a spark that ignites the gunpowder contained within the cartridge. The explosive force of this combusting gunpowder separates the projectile from the tip of the cartridge. This force then continues to propel the projectile forward, out of the barrel and towards the target.

Firing a rifle is a simple thing.

The projectile impacts the target. Most hunting cartridges use jacketed hollow point rounds. A JHP round features a hole bored in its tip. This hole creates a point of structural weakness in the projectile, causing it to fragment upon contact with the target. In what is commonly referred to as a 'mushroom effect', the fragmenting projectile expands as it penetrates, ensuring maximal tissue damage and shock to the target's nervous system. 

Firing a rifle is a simple thing...

What is not so simple, however, is why somebody would turn that rifle around and fire it at himself.
The first question that springs to mind in regard to this scenario is a simple one –  why?
Why would you do it? Why would you pull the trigger that trips the spring that flicks the hammer that hits the pin that strikes the primer that sparks the powder that fires the bullet down the barrel and into yourself?
Why?
It is a simple question – but one that apparently lacks a simple answer. So, allow me to ask you something a little more direct: 
Have you ever seen the impact of a suicide upon a family? 
Have you ever seen your mother sitting at the computer, chin resting on clenched fist as she clicks her way like clockwork through an old slide-show of photos? 
Have you ever seen your sister embrace the Love of her Everlasting Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ?
What about your grandparents? Have you ever seen them struck down by a stroke as their teary-eyed children deliver the news to their doorstep one Tuesday afternoon? 
And your father. Your father that cracked jokes at the end of the Green Mile. Have you ever seen him shed a single tear before? Try seeing him break down at the kitchen table, hiding his face in one hand as he sobs away, pleading: He was my son! He was my son!

Have you ever beat at the ground with your fists? Have you slammed them into the damp dirt over and over and over until your watch has broken off and been flung away, forgotten; until the grass gives way to mud that smears itself into the cuts on your knuckles; until the dew soaks through your socks and your jeans and the front of your shirt as you're lying there? As you're lying there face down – alone in the middle of a crowd of people reaching down to tell you that everything will be okay.

So have you seen those things? If you had then you'd know this: That a suicide impacts just like a jacketed hollow point – it penetrates before expanding for maximal damage.

And if you had seen those things then you wouldn't have done it. You wouldn't have stuck the tip of that rifle in your mouth. You wouldn't have left us with nothing but impotent questions and a box that we couldn't open – they said it would be better if we didn't see the body.

I can still see you though.

I see you smiling in all those damned photos that Mum puts up around the house. I see you smiling on green couches. I see you smiling under green trees. I see you smiling arm in arm with other smiling people. I see you smiling alone with the sun. You're always smiling. You're a smiling fucking ghost leering down out of the walls...

Always smiling.

But I don't even need the photos to see you.

I see you sifting through your pile of possessions in the family room: Your red and tan Swanndri, your shearing kit, your rugby boots, your washing basket, your chilly-bin – all slowly disappearing on TradeMe. I see you sitting in Grandad's old rocking chair as we got pissed and talked shit about guns and girls in your lounge. I see you rolling around on the grass with Tess as she taps me on the leg with her paw, mooching for a tummy-rub. I see you laughing in the driver's seat as your Hilux spirals its way sideways around the paddock.

I see you whenever I pick up a rifle.

I see you standing there, alone in your house on that wide, lonely field. The TV is switched off. There's nothing worth watching on a Sunday evening anyway. Hunting & Fishing pamphlets lie scattered on the table alongside loose matches and stray shotgun shells. You close the vent on the fire and let it dwindle down to crimson embers. As you do so, a dusting of ash drifts wearily through the air, only to end up smudged underfoot into the carpet. 

You wander past the kitchen, with its piles of dirty dishes covering every surface, and into the bathroom where mould is growing on the ceiling... But fuck it, you can worry about the mess some other time. Leaning on the sink you look into the mirror and the guy who looks back at you has a nose that is too crooked and a complexion that is too red and eyes that keep avoiding your gaze so you turn away.

You go to get your phone from that one spot on the top of the couch where it can get a bar of reception: 
She hasn't texted you back. 
She stopped replying hours ago. 
But maybe that's for the best.

The land-line sleeps in its cradle and you consider calling Mum again but end up deciding that it would be weird to call her twice in one night. Besides, you didn't really have anything to say to her the first time you called and its getting too late now. The red bars on your clock glare down at you. 
Yeah, Mum would definitely be in bed by now.

So you pick up a pen and start writing. It takes a while. You haven't written this much in one go since you finished school, but once you get started it all begins flowing again – down your arm, through the pen and out onto the paper. All of the texts that shrivel your guts up into your chest. All of the embraces sent unspoken down the phone-line. All of the claws that scrape along the inside of your skull. You release those things that you kept tucked away inside yourself. Locked up to simmer and boil and blister and burst. You pour each of them out, page after page. 
Then when you're done you fold them up into a neat little package. On that package you write three simple words. To My Family. And now that it's all sitting there in front of you, wrapped up nicely on the table; you realise that you have nothing left inside. You are a shell. A blank. A hollow in the shape of a human being.

So you pick up your rifle.

You take it into your room and sit on the edge of your bed. The curtains are closed but the door is open. You get up and close the door as well. Sitting back down, you rest the rifle across your lap and look at it for a while. Synthetic stock. Floating barrel. 6X optical zoom. You aren't crying.

The rifle doesn't say anything.

Your eyes may be red, but that's just from yesterday's sun. You know that you aren't crying.

The rifle doesn't say anything at all.

You get up again and open up your gun-cabinet in the wardrobe. After tossing up between the three-shot and the five-shot magazine you decide that it really doesn't matter which one you use so you grab the nearest. It happens to be the five-shot. You grab a round as well.

Sitting down once more, you rest the rifle again over your knees. You roll the round between thumb and forefinger a few times before you click it into the magazine and then click the magazine into the rifle. Holding the rifle in your right hand, you lift the bolt with your left and slide it back without thinking. You've slid that bolt back and forward so many times before, but now you catch yourself while it's still open. You slide it forward again – but more slowly this time, more deliberately. With a long exhale you press it back down again.

The actions are solid. Simple.

You place the butt of the rifle on the ground and hold the forestock in both hands as you close your eyes and lower your head. The end of the barrel is bitter and smells faintly of sulphur but it rests cool against your tongue. Your foot glides up the side of the stock, inching closer and closer toward the trigger.

Then I drop the rifle and the bang of wooden butt meeting wooden floor sends me ricocheting back into my own life and back to my question.

Why?

And I don't like to hold rifles any more. So instead I pick up a pen. I sit down and I pour it all out; all of the questions, all of the accusations, all of the morbid fantasies that flick around the darkest corners of my mind. Then once it's all sitting there wrapped up nicely in front of me – I come to realise something.

I realise that I'm hollow myself.

And I'm not alone either... Because everyone else is hollow too. We are all just jacketed hollow points. We're tiny packages hurtling blissfully towards our targets, only realising that we're empty as we burst apart on impact.

And yet... I am okay with this. Who would ever introspect while they're whizzing through the air at four thousand one hundred and four kilometres per hour? Who would begrudge a cubic millimetre of empty space when they're surging with one thousand five hundred and twenty eight Joules of kinetic energy? We're tiny packages hurtling blissfully through life – and that is enough for me.

But it wasn't enough for you. And now I'm left back where I started. Left with that same, simple, endless question.

Why?

But I won't ask you any more.

There's no point – the question is hollow.

Contributor's Note

Carl Unternahrer is a student studying Creative Writing at the University of Waikato.

 

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