The Orphan


With a cooling shotgun across his lap, Peter Bradley sits on his mother’s favorite couch and wonders if he has the nerve left to finish it.
Two of his father’s chalky, tiny Ativans dissolve in a hot wash of whiskey in Peter’s stomach while he stares at the phone on the polished coffee table in front of him. Such gleaming, antique mahogany festooned with senseless bric-a-brac. The swarms of wasps in his body start to melt away, and he looks out the living room’s picture window. So many identical, jigsawed homes. His parents’ retiree development at Easter in New Jersey. A sky scrubbed clean and achingly bright.
-Sir? Are you still there, sir?
-Yeah. Got you on the speaker now.
-Good. Please stay on the line, sir.

-So, how was your day?
-I said, how was your day? You know, work and things. Have you been on 911 dispatch long? I guess it’s a good job, but wouldn’t know. Just making conversation.
-Sir, is there anyone else in the residence with you besides the two victims?
-Do you know if the two victims are still breathing?
-They’re in the other room.
-Which room is that, sir?
-In the back. It’s a kitchen and TV room kind of thing. Breakfast nook, a little patio outside with bird feeders and wrought iron chairs. Wind chimes.
-Do you know if the two victims are still breathing, sir?
-No. And it’s Peter by the way.
-Who is Peter, sir?
-Me. My name. I’m Peter.
-You’re Peter?
-Yeah, I’m Peter. Peter Bradley. Their son.

-What age are you, Peter?
-Are you keeping me on the line so I don’t run off? Trust me, I’m not going anywhere.
-How old are you, Peter?
-How much do they pay you for this?
-For what, sir?
-Pay me for what, Peter?
-Peter, I need you to tell me if the victims are still breathing.
-I’m on the couch.
-What couch? Where’s the couch, Peter?
-In the living room up front. God…I hate these curtains.
-I need you—
-I’m not going back there.

-Like everybody I once I thought, like, I’d never be capable of doing something like this, you know? But I guess in the end all it takes is a little…push.
-Are alone in the room in the front of the house, Peter?
-Yeah. All alone. It’s kind of weird. It’s like everything’s rushing to a hot point. I don’t know, maybe it’s the pills. I took a couple of my father’s pills earlier.
-Do you know what medications you took?
-His anxiety stuff. I was so shaky.
-Peter, I need you stay on the line with me, all right?
-What’s your name?
-I’m sorry?
-Your name. What’s your name?

-Penny, huh? Like the coin?
-Yes, like the coin.
-People—Christ. They never think, I mean, they never even dream they got so much power. All it takes is a little something beyond their control, you know what I’m saying? A little something somebody else doesn’t know about. Chemical changes. Things accumulate. It’s like snow or sand or like rust, you know? All of sudden it’s there and then it’s too late. Penny? Are you still there, Penny?
-I’m still here, Peter.
-Stay with me, Penny.
-Okay, I’m staying with you.
-Good. That’s good. Thank you.

-Are there any other firearms in the house, Peter?
-Nah, just the one. Bought this baby at a sporting goods store and drove up yesterday. This country is so messed up, I mean, walk right and talk hunting and ducks to some dude in a green smock and he acts like he’s your best friend in the world. Wait—
-I hear sirens. Oh, wow. Here they come. Hey, do me a favor will you? Tell them what I said about the push, okay?
-Please stay on the line, Peter, please stay on the line as long as you can.
-It might’ve been easier if they’d just left me alone.

~ fin ~


A huge fan of the interpretive private eye films The Long Goodbye (1973) and The Drowning Pool (1975), Kieran Shea‘s stories have appeared previously in Shotgun Honey, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and elsewhere. He’s also written a couple of novels and one short story collection.