Locust House Variations, A Weekly Fiction Column by Adam Gnade, “Everything is a Weapon Now and I Have Never Wanted to be a Soldier”

This morning we woke up to snow. Fields of it stretching in all directions. Flakes falling from the gray sky. Alison left early after setting up the coffee and I did farm chores waiting for mine to cool. First the dogs outside to eat their breakfast. Then the chickens let into the field and the barn door propped open for the sheep and goats. An orange plastic Home Depot bucket filled with water for the donkeys.

The snow lay ankle deep and soft like Styrofoam packing peanuts as I walked back to the farmhouse—the sky low and dark, and white snow dropping in slow, dry handfuls from the black trees.

On Thursday I’ll get my second shot. Thursday is Earth Day. Once the snow is gone, we will put in a garden. Alison and me, Frankie and her boys Willy and Johnsy, all of us working together. I’m thinking Sunday. Sunday for a garden. We need to stop going to the grocery store all the time. I don’t feel safe there. Grow more food. Push inward. Build a stone wall up around us.

I have dreams about this stone wall. It’s not healthy, I know, but the thought of it makes me feel quiet inside. A stone wall like a castle’s boundary—ten feet tall and three feet thick, a barrier against reality—reality and bullets. Is this any different than Trump’s wall? It feels different.

I have been thinking about this song from the LA punk band X, the chorus of which goes, “See how we are/gotta keep bars on all our windows/see how we are/we only sing about it once in every twenty years/see how we are”

Yesterday I sat in the car in a mall parking lot and did a Textual Healing podcast interview about my books. The interview was two and a half hours long and we talked mostly about the virus, about protests, about racists. It’s hard to talk about your work when your country is how it is.

Mallory, the host of the podcast, said the manager of her apartment building told her maybe she should take down the Black Lives Matter sign in her window because people might get upset. She asked the manager, “What kind of people?” and the manager backed off. For a while.

After the interview I went into Target with a shopping list Alison gave me for an event she’s doing. The store was full of people and there were lines at the register stretching what felt like a city block. Not like the lines at the beginning of the pandemic but long regardless, uncomfortably long. Being in the store is one thing after hiding away for weeks but standing still … standing still in a line locked in place by shopping carts is another. White American men are shooting up stores, shooting up schools, shooting up churches. They write manifestos and they livestream their killing and they hope for immortality. They hope to be celebrities and martyrs to the cause of genocidal white nationalism. Standing in line at Target I feel like one—a target I mean, and then I realize I have made an unintentional joke, and that it is not a funny joke or a good thing to think, and I hate myself for thinking it. Everything is a weapon now and I have never wanted to be a soldier.

To die in a line of people with a cart full of multipack chips and snacks, mailing labels, a bag of limes, some KeVita Tart Cherry kombucha, and a bottle of expensive coconut water feels worse than dying any other way. Of course it’s not. Dying is shit no matter how you look at it. Feeling like you’ve got a bullseye painted on you is a special kind of shit. Knowing this is how your country is now is beyond shit. Not having an end in sight is of course shit, but it’s also harrowing in a way I cannot begin to articulate. I can try. But I fall short. There are no words for this.

I don’t want to be a body lying on the floor at Target in a video people watch and debate, something on the news as proof that things are as bad as they say. I want to stay at home and never leave the farm and hold those I love close and build up that stone wall. That I am pushed to want this is frustrating. That whenever Alison comes home from work or from the store I’m thankful she wasn’t killed in a shooting is frustrating. No, frustrating is not the right word. Frustrating is mild. Frustrating is annoyance but not devastation. This is devastating, all of it, and I have no answers. This is America. Spring of 2021. See how we are. Adam Gnade