Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 608
Ben and Sally Trupp, their two daughters, and their fourteen-year-old son, Murray, are visiting Ben’s parents in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. A highlight of the annual trek from the Trupps’ home in Boston is the opportunity for Murray to shoot his father’s old Remington .22, a gun given to Ben when he was about Murray’s age. As the father and son go out to a field to shoot the rifle, Ben remembers his son’s last birthday, when he tapped Murray’s head to quiet him and the boy, holding the cake knife, threatened to kill him if he were hit again. Sally agreed that Murray was too old to be hit, but Ben, watching his son carrying the rifle, thinks he looks very young.
In the field, the gun does not fire, and Murray curses and throws a tantrum. Ben, unable to help, remembers how his father, also named Murray, taught him to shoot this same gun. The two return to the house, where old Murray, to calm his grandson, promises action and calls Dutch, a local gunsmith. That evening, Ben, his father, and young Murray drive to the gun shop—actually the crowded cellar of Dutch’s home.
Ben realizes that neither he nor his son has ever been in such a place, that it is only his father who would have stumbled on it. He reflects on his own cautious and prescribed life as against his father’s disorderly but somehow more real one. Old Murray introduces his grandson to Dutch as a perfectionist, a boy with drive, and then extols Dutch’s talents to the others. Ben interrupts to explain the gun’s malfunction to Dutch, and old Murray praises Ben’s conciseness, an ability, he says, which he did not inherit from his father.
As Dutch works on the gun, old Murray begins to tell another customer, Reiner, of young Murray’s prowess at sailing, golfing, and skiing. His grandson loves competition, he states, a trait he did not get either from his father or from his grandfather. He voices regret that he could not teach Ben the ability to work with his hands and adds that Ben should have had Dutch as his father. Reiner, a gun lover, tells young Murray bloody stories of Vietnam and of bullets that could tear a man to pieces. Dutch finishes his repair and asks two dollars for the job. Ben protests that it is too little, but his father intervenes, saying that no amount of money can pay for the kind of talent Dutch has.
In the car on the way home, old Murray mentions that Reiner had been in the Navy but, like himself, had not seen combat. As he talks, his voice sounds tired and Ben hopes they have not exhausted his father. Old Murray replies that that is what he is for. Once home, Ben tries to explain the evening to Sally and tells her the shop “smelled of death.” He thinks it may have frightened young Murray. In bed, he dreams of himself as a boy killing a bird and awakes to realize it had occurred exactly as he dreamed. He thinks that he has never forgiven himself for the bird’s death.
That morning, he and young Murray again take the gun to the field. There, the story states, the dream continues. Although Ben concentrates fully, he cannot hit the cans and bottles used as targets. The bullets seem to go right through them. When young Murray fires, however, the cans leap and the bottles break. Ben yells, “You’re killing me!” and then laughs in “pride and relief.”
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