Sometimes, a Rifle Really is Just a Rifle, by Erin Fitzgerald

The snowy December recess at Warren G. Harding Elementary School was only the beginning.

Flick’s mother had re-bandaged his tongue after dinner without comment. But when he’d gone into the parlor to say good night later, she’d thwacked him across the head. “Did you have to let those boys get to you? Mr. Schwartz is a garbage man, for Christ’s sake!”

But in the end, it wasn’t Schwartz that had gotten to him.

Flick lay in bed that first night, flat on his back. If he looked down in just the right way, he could see the tip of his white bandaging. If he looked straight ahead, at the ceiling, he could see the flagpole in his mind’s eye, as he had since first grade. An endlessly tall, slender form. Beautiful speckled silver and gold, flung so casually over a steely resolve that he could only think of as patriotic.

Even better, now that he’d taken that triple dog dare? Flick could feel her. How she had tried to fight it at first, what had always been between them. Then, she’d given in. Not immediately, of course, but just soon enough! Then, it had seemed like she’d never let go. It had taken an entire fire truck to tear them apart.

“I’m thstuck,” Flick whispered through the gauze that held his tongue in place. His hands crept beneath the starched bedsheets, beneath his BVDs. “Thstuck…thstuck….”


Years passed, and Flick’s friends left. Schwartz went to medical school back East, and became a pediatrician. Ralphie moved to California, and said he wrote for TV shows. But his brother told everyone at Bo Ling’s new mai-tai lounge that Ralphie actually just pumped gas and took too many Quaaludes.

The day after high school ended, Flick had accepted a job in the menswear department at Higbee’s. Even then, he understood what that meant. He’d be near his love. But he’d also watch twenty Christmas parades from the storefront window, and twenty lines to see Santa Claus snake past the suit racks. He’d take up with Ruthie in his dad’s car, then Miss Shields in her classroom over a summer vacation, and nothing would change.

Not even groping Scut Farkus in his apartment above the movie theater changed anything, at first. But then they watched the moon landing together, drinking beers and eating potato chips on Farkus’ bed.

“It’s all bullshit,” Farkus said, sneering at Neil Armstrong lowering himself onto the moon’s surface. “They built a studio to look like the moon and hired actors.”

Flick opened a new beer. “Do you ever wish this was real, even if it would be really weird?”

“Nah,” Farkus said. He said nothing more, but Flick saw it clearly in his yellow eyes: Stop being a crybaby. And he knew that he was right about that, at least.

Now, when Flick walks home from work, he walks past Warren G. Harding Elementary School, to the corner of its playground. She’s there waiting for him, as always. Flick takes her into his arms. He presses himself against her, until he sees stars.

If it’s Christmas time? When the two of them kiss, they never let go.


Erin Fitzgerald is an associate editor for SmokeLong Quarterly, and for the Wigleaf 50. You can find her detailed instructions on how to live your life at, or via Twitter at @gnomeloaf.

[ed. note: over the next two weeks, we’ll be catching up with characters from beloved Christmas movies, learning how their lives have turned out after the cameras stopped rolling. We’ve invited some of our favorite writers to share these stories.]