Betsy Came into the Room
Betsy came into the room. When Betsy came into a room, you knew it. She carried herself completely at all times, not leaving metaphoric parts of herself in the hallway. She was always and unfailingly Betsy. She sometimes addressed you as herself. “Betsy, honey, she would say.” She had trouble remembering names, but wanted to be personal. ”Whatever Betsy wants, Betsy gets,” she’d say. She liked to inhabit the subjunctive.
But you don’t care about that. You want to know what happened after she entered the room, after she said what she said. You probably have an attitude about that. Calling other people with your name would get a little annoying, you think. Especially when it’s Betsy.
Yes. But never mind what she said, never mind your attitude about it. Here’s what happened.
Betsy took out her gun. Oh, yes, and you know when someone in a story takes out a gun, they’ve got to use it. Betsy took out her gun and it was something small, something ladylike- because, as she would be the first to tell you, Betsy was a lady. She took out her gun and it was ladylike, meaning small and resembling something that hadn’t been used—I guess fired would be the correct word here- something that hadn’t been fired in eons.
Betsy waved her gun over her head, causing the skittish among us to take cover. Yes, I was there. Yes, you can take my word for it. I did not take cover. I knew Betsy well enough. Or so I thought.
But a waiter dropped his tray. Glasses broke. Cocktail hour was officially ruined.
Betsy waved her gun over her head, and I laughed. “Oh, Betsy,” I said.
Betsy did not look at me. “I have an announcement to make,” Betsy said. “There is no culture in this country any more. I speak as one at the end of a long line of Betsy’s. My great grandmother, Betsy Ross, knitted stars. We need to go back to knitting stars. We need to enact laws so people who are mentally ill, among whom I include myself, do not ruin schools or hospitals or cocktail parties by shooting off their guns. Q.E.D.”
It was at this point, I think, that she pulled the trigger.
I was surprised, knowing Betsy, that the gun went off. It was kind of an old-fashioned gun. I was later informed the bullet or pellet or whatever it was made a small hole in the ceiling, nothing more.
The police came, of course, as they always do, summoned to the ruined party by any number of cell phones.
They wanted to arrest Betsy, but people- I among them, I’m proud to say- immediately began our denial of what had happened. It was an accident, I said, Betsy said, everyone said. No one was hurt. It was a harmless stunt. Only a few glasses were broken. Someone will pay for them, for the ceiling, for everything.
I drove Betsy home. When we were at a stoplight, she put the gun in my lap. ”You keep it,’’ she said.
I looked down at the thing in my lap, spotlighted as by a domestic moon.
It looked cold but felt warm. It looked like something that might once have been called a derringer. “Are you sure?” I asked. “It looks kind of valuable to be giving away.”
“Stop the car,” Betsy said unnecessarily. ”This is where I get out.”
She got out. “It is valuable,” she said. She shut the car door and looked at me through the window. I pushed a button and the glass slid down. “It’s still loaded,” she said. “Good night, Betsy. Thanks for the ride.” She walked away. She could do that, Betsy. She could walk away and make it matter.
It was the last time I saw Betsy.
I brought the gun to Betsy’s funeral, but I didn’t use it then. I didn’t even bring it into view.
I gave one of the eulogies. I said “Betsy” a lot. We all did, of course, but I had Betsy’s still-loaded gun in the purse I carried, and I think that made my eulogy different. More authentic. If I may commit the one unpardonable sin of quoting myself, here is how my eulogy ended: “When Betsy came into a room, you knew it. She carried herself with her at all times, not leaving part of herself in the hallway like most of us do. She was always and unfailingly Betsy.”
Lyn Coffin is a widely-published writer (30 plus books- poetry, prose, both, neither). She is currently in Georgia, the country, translating Galaktion and trying to learn Georgian.