Sawed-Off Shotgun

The late-night, grainy mugshot of the woman with a coy smile tugging at her lips betrayed her name, finally, at the bottom: Brandy Wright.

No one knew where she got it at first. No one understood why she felt the need to do what she did, sprinting along the pin-ball gutters of Montgomery Street, eyes iced with steel as the shotgun arced high above her in two clenched fists. I heard her long before I saw her eyes aiming through the centerfold of KoB News:


The weekend had only just arrived, had only spilled a spoonful of moonlight through the Sandia Mountains, glowing onto the sidewalk before she took aim. Even now, I can’t tell you why I felt the thrum of a certain kind of electricity biting through the air, only that I braced for nightmares like they usually signaled. I fell into my skittish routine, curled into a nest of blankets on the couch by the window, and tried desperately to fall asleep to the low battery pings of a phone that seemed as depleted as I was.

But the moon-glow softness of the sidewalk beamed with quick bursts of a spotlight racing for a crazed silhouette stealing for the shadows. The thrumming prongs of a helicopter hovered too close, heartbeating the air with vibrations, and rattling me awake just as my mother shook my shoulders in a frenzy. Even without the spotlight beaming, her eyes reflected a buggy chill as her voice dropped to a whisper. Do you hear that megaphone?

I blinked off sleep in the strobe lights of the chopper cutting through the neighborhood and heard a chirping that seemed to bounce from our backyard, to our front door, and bounded across the street all at once. Although it was muffled, snippets siphoned through unbroken: Albuquerque Police Department…firearm down…surrender firearm now…stay inside…homes.

She’d only been a tense murmur then, our neighbors checking on other neighbors through the worried whispers between phones. No one knows, my mom said. Come to my room, let’s wait together.

For hours, we couldn’t tell if the yells were at our window, perched at our mailbox, or singing along with the sirens roaring by. I pictured swat uniforms stalking across picket-fences, hunching behind mid-size SUVs, signaling behind sun-bleached playsets. I waited for shadows to skulk across the window pane, for a shatter to seal the air with a scream, or for shots to ring silence into the city.

I didn’t know what to do with the chaos creeping in, the sudden lack of information crackling up my spine. With each command of the officer’s megaphone vibrating the walls, I’d paced back and forth, from my mother’s darkened room haloed in the blue of the TV, to the shadows dressing the hall in black, to huddling on the lid of the toilet seat, grasping at my jittering knees with clammy fingers, gently willing them to soften.

Only my dog had helped, then. I should’ve known from his unspoken puppy language that if he wasn’t braced on all fours, growls tugging at his teeth, I should’ve softened into sleep alongside him. I’d tried sinking my face into his fur, chest rising slowly with sleep, but it still couldn’t drown out the megaphone robotics outside. He must’ve tasted my fear-tinged sweat, felt the shakiness of my palms as he lolled a lazy ear up to me, quizzical in all of his sleepy puppiness. Go to sleep he’d seemed to say with a little grunt and an exasperated sigh, turning to face away from me.

Even still, I couldn’t. Not until well after midnight, when the images slowly fed my phone with her secretive smile, arched-yet-skeletal eyebrows, orange jumpsuit painting her into a Robin Hood gone rabid. Even in the days afterward, the name kept ghosting into my mind on echoes of shots throttling out into open air, of her imagined laughter pulling from a body made manic. KRQE had written her off as a domestic dispute case, angered by family, spurred into snatching the sawed-off shotgun, stealing screams down Montgomery as the clock struck midnight.

I can’t tell you why I keep thinking of Brandy Wright and the fear she’d wielded several streets away, only that I can picture shrieks of laughter bubbling up into January wisps of steam, her sawed-off shotgun sailing high, hell-bent on breaking a world that had already broken her.

Brianna G. Reed is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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