Come here for a second, will you, sweetheart? The cake isn't going anywhere! That's it. This'll only take a second, honey. Mommy wants to give you a very special present for your eighth birthday. You have to promise not to tell Daddy, okay? You promise? Good boy. Now for the present.
Pick it up. Hold it tight, but not so tight. There. Pop out the empty magazine, grab a full one, slap that right in. Grip it, steady now, make sure your hands aren't shaking. Cock it, pull back this piece here, go on, you're strong enough, I know you are. See this switch here? That's the safety. Flip that down with your right thumb. Good, hear that click? Now all that's left is the ending, and that won't be so hard, will it? Let the barrel sit just so in the palm of your left hand, exactly like that, and focus. Focus on your target, focus on the smooth, cold metal under your hands, but most of all focus on letting your right index finger slide under the trigger guard, on tensing that finger, on coiling those tiny, powerful muscles like a snake. It's not so much pulling the trigger as squeezing it, get ready.
Don't forget to breathe.
And don't you dare hesitate.
And with that, my mother pressed a Glock 17 semi-automatic into my tiny palm.
I didn't tell Daddy. When he came home and hugged me and kissed my cheek, all stubble, I only giggled and clapped my hands as he handed me a giant stuffed elephant. Moonpie, I'd name it later.
My mother and I exchanged glances and reassuring smiles as it got closer to seven o'clock, when we'd cut the cake and I would officially turn eight. She'd look at me questioningly, her head cocked, her ebony hair curving like a question mark over her shoulder, and I'd smile slightly and pat the L-shaped lump on my right thigh under my cargo shorts.
Finally, it was six fifty-seven. Mommy brought out the store-bought cake, pristine and almost unreal, a dark, rich red accented with creamy white. She set it on the table, and Daddy picked up the knife. She shook eight candles out of their box, quickly and precisely, and carefully stood them upright in the thick white cream. I remember, even as the gun pressed into my thigh and my fingers twitched with anticipation, I still felt a perverse excitement at turning eight.
A child deserves to enjoy his birthday, does he not?
Six fifty-eight. My father, grinning broadly, picked up the knife and sliced into the cake four times, for three slices. My mother, head tilted, her cerulean eyes asking: are you ready? I just grinned and indicated my waistband.
Six fifty-nine. My parents began to sing, Daddy in his deep baritone, thick and rich as the cake, and Mommy in her high, clear, flutelike voice, sweet and fresh.
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday dear Marcus
My mother's eyes flicked almost imperceptibly towards the clock on the dining room wall, then to me.
I reached into my shorts. Took out the Glock. Cocked it, because I was strong enough. Flicked off the safety. My father stared blankly, not understanding, and it was only until I leveled the barrel at his head and slipped my finger under the trigger guard and coiled my muscles like a snake and squeezed that his eyes widened in shock and his hands flew up uselessly to protect him from the bullet that found his chest and sent him reeling into the cake.
I was aiming for his head, but I was only eight, after all. I walked up to his body, saw his uncomprehending eyes staring at the ceiling, saw the red on his shirt, thought at first it was cake. Then I felt my mother put her arms around me from behind, embracing me.
"You did so well, sweetheart," she whispered into my hair. "I am so, so proud of you. I love you."
I turned around and looked at her. Her eyes were wide and glistening and her smile looked like it hurt. Then I looked back at Daddy, splayed lifelessly on the table, his arm sunk deep into the red velvet cake. My cake was ruined, the candles poking pitifully out from under his sleeve, the white frosting smeared across the table, the fluffy crimson collapsed into a pile of unrecognizable rubble.
Mommy followed my gaze and I could see the sorrow and fear on her face as she took in her late husband's body. But still, she smiled at me, beautiful even when she was crying. "He deserved it," she murmured, hugging me fiercely. "He deserved it, didn't he? That's what he gets for fucking her. What comes around goes around, doesn't it, Marcus?"
She stood up and stepped away from me, walking slowly towards the sliding glass door that gave a view to our backyard. Her gaze swept through the flowers, the weeds, the little fountain that Daddy had given her for her thirtieth birthday. Then she turned back to me, her face radiant and shining and free, and I swung my gun up again and this time there was no need to flick off the safety.