Tabby dialled 911. Which is to say, she punched in the buttons with trembling fingers: 9-1-1.
She held tightly to Rosa’s hand, shaking her to try and silence her wailing. The bathroom door was closed and locked, and Tabby pressed Rosa and herself tightly against the tiled wall under the window.
“Nicky,” she called through the door. “Have you put it down? Put it down for mommy. Have you put it down?”
“Remain calm,” said a voice in her ear. A person at the call center. Remain calm? Fuck you.
“Mama!” Nicky called back, cheerfully. This was a new game.
Tabby said to the voice: “What do I do?”
She said to Nicky: “Put it on the floor!”
She said to Rosa: “Stay here, right here. Do not move! Do you understand?” Rosa put her thumb in her mouth. She had broken that habit weeks ago.
Then Tabby unlocked the door, and peered around into the bedroom. It was painted a pale yellow, with taupe and navy accents. She’d seen it in a magazine, she forgot which one. It looked better in the magazine, without a pile of laundry on the bed, curtains that had been clawed by the cat, and a child in a dirty diaper on the carpet, waving a loaded gun around.
Nicky held the gun by the handle. It was heavy for him, so he used two hands. He’d seen guns on the TV. Tabby had just been gone a second, two seconds! to turn off the oven when the timer sounded, and when she returned Nicky had the weapon in his sticky little hands. It was too heavy for him to point at his sister’s head, so the muzzle rested against her tummy.
She barely remembered scooping up Rosa and trying to take the gun from Nicky. He pulled away and fell on his back, now aiming at the ceiling. He was at that terrible stage when everything was a “No!” Tabby’s sister had been commiserating with her just the day before, laughing at the stubbornness of the twins. “It’ll pass,” said Nancy with a laugh. “The tyrant stage eventually does. Be patient!”
Be patient? Fuck off.
She rushed into the ensuite and deposited Rosa in the bathtub, then Rosa started screaming and Tabby picked her up and then set her down, and, in a panic, took her cellphone out of her apron pocket and debated whether to call Albert or 911. Al was busy with his nephew’s family, two hundred miles away. He could fix some things, but not this. It was all his fault anyway. Fuck him. Instinctively she called emergency but realized it was a futile move, the disembodied voice an irritant, and she ended the call, tossing the phone into the wastebasket.
Tabby stepped back into the bedroom closed the bathroom door behind her. Rosa had fallen silent. It wouldn’t surprise Tabby if she dropped off to sleep, since it was Rosa’s habit to explode with energy, then, expended, fall asleep where she sat.
“Bang,” said Nicky. His two chubby fingers squeezed the trigger as Tabby reached him. “Bang.”
There was no sound but the suddenly loud ticking of the bedside clock. Nicky looked up into his mother’s eyes, and his face distorted, his eyes and mouth and nose all scrunched together, and he let out a wail loud enough to wake his sleeping sister.
Nicky didn’t resist when Tabby took the gun from him. The grip was sticky. She carefully put it on top of the wardrobe. She picked up the boy and held him until his cries subsided into hiccups, then fetched Rosa from the bathtub.
“I’m glad you didn’t call the police,” Albert said when she called him, after she had calmed down enough and put the twins down for a nap. “Don’t need them nosing around. Anyway, the safety was on.”