My granny once gave me a teeny tiny flare gun.
It wasn’t the weirdest thing I ever received from her, not by a long stretch––but let’s just not go there, right?
No, this was a teeny tiny flare gun in a pretty wooden box, and it sure was weird enough. It came with cartridges and all, with floral ornaments around its handle, and granny smiled like a wolf when she handed it to me.
“For when you get in trouble,” she said.
“Why would I get in trouble?” I was eleven years old then, and pretty sure I was strong enough to take on whatever the world might throw at me, without a gun.
“Because life would be boring if you didn’t,” granny said. She was like that sometimes. When she was young, she’d travel the country two years with a circus and one year with highwaymen. She still kept a broad-brimmed hat with a peacock feather from those days. It hung on the wall right above the fireplace.
“And now that you’re prepared, it’s time for you to get on your way,” said granny.
“Why, of course! Your mother must be starving. She would be lost without me, really, what ever would she do, and she would be quite lost without you too, then, because I’m certainly not going to walk all the way to town with my own two feet every day to bring her food.”
“But it’s very far until town, and it’s almost dark already…”
Then, granny dressed me up in a clean white shirt, combed my hair, tied a red tie around my neck, stuck the flare gun in my pocket, and pressed a heavy wicker basket in my arms. “Here are two bottles of wine for her, and some bread for her, and a piece of cake for her… and I’m also going to add one of the nice saucers––your mother mustn’t always be eating out of those cardboard plates of hers. For shame! Can you carry all that?”
“Good boy. No use in complaining anyway.” She pinched my cheek, straightened my tie, and sent me on my way through the forest.
I followed the footpath from grandma’s house, and after some time, I came by a field of flowers. It was a magnificent field, all Lily of the Valleys and pink oleander, foxglove, plenty of others that I didn’t know the name of but that were just as pretty. I plucked a red one and stuck it in the topmost button hole of my shirt to match my tie.
Next, I came by a river, which was wild and deep and freezing. A ferry went across it, but the ferryman looked like an unfriendly fellow in his dark cloak, with his dark hood and his eyes like red coals… I had to give him one of the bottles of wine to convince him to take me across––it annoyed me quite a bit. For spite, I didn’t say thank you, even though he said “what a lovely flower you have there, young gentleman!” when I got off on the other side.
Last, when had almost made it out of the forest, my road led me by a gaping cave. In front of that cave sat a big, bad tiger. It licked its lips when I approached.
“Where are you going, sweet, sweet boy?” the tiger purred. I didn’t like the way it looked at me.
“I’m going to town,” I replied, and hoped that would be the end of it.
“What do you have in that basket, sweet, sweet boy?” the tiger asked and came a little closer. It had very big paws, very big ears, and very big teeth…
“I have bread, cake, a saucer, and wine––but only one bottle is left, so you can’t have none of it!”
“Is that so? Well, where might you have these things from, sweet, sweet boy?” I could now see the reflection of my red tie in the tiger’s opal eyes.
“I have them from my granny, who lives alone in a cabin in these woods, just a few hours from here.”
At that, the tiger’s eyes grew wide; it jumped back and let out a hiss. “Go on, go on, hurry up, boy! I wouldn’t want any trouble with her…” And the big, bad tiger disappeared back in his cave without another word.
I still have the teeny tiny flare gun my granny gave me. It’s in the top drawer of my desk, right here, just a moment away. I’m thirty-eight years old now and work at the bank. So far, I never fired it once, but who knows when I might?
It’s for when I get in trouble.