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News & Features » November 2013 » “Gunplay” by Nathan Larson

“Gunplay” by Nathan Larson

Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.

This week, Nathan Larson tells us about confronting his son’s first discovery of play-violence.

Nathan LarsonGunplay (nonfiction)
by Nathan Larson
Almost three

Meet my son, Nils, almost three. Yeah, he’s adorable. Naturally, he’s a genius. He’s a lovely, hilarious kid with a protective instinct and a painfully intense desire to please, his mood-antennae constantly quivering, something which my wife and I must always take care to not exploit.

He is a male. He has a penis. Testosterone courses thorough his little body, doing what testosterone does.

Which means he is a killer, natural-born.


My wife and I had always half-jokingly said we wanted to “raise him gay.” We realize this is, of course, an insulting, flip conceit. But to the degree that we could—and in a funny way, repeating the kind of gender naïveté our parents’ generation doled out—we surrounded him with dolls, nurtureables. We wrapped him in unisex, androgynous clothing. “Isn’t she cute!” was (and is) the predominate comment we’d get on the street, especially uptown, the white child in the zebra-print tights. That we were smugly projecting this vibe felt satisfying, as close to transgressive as we could go and still be in a fun and “safe” place.

All was mellow, and then came the trucks. I don’t know when or how that started, but suddenly there they all were, clogging our living room. Cement trucks, garbage trucks, diggers. The dolls were stacked in the corner, unloved.

Nils wants to stab, hit, tear, maim, smash. He delights in explosions, in the jet engine, in any sound or energy displacement that is violent and extreme. This is all par for the course, and certainly an inclination I recognize in myself. There should be nothing shocking here.

And yet. Last week, his third birthday about ten days away, he approached me, fashioned a gun with his little fingers, and said:

“I shoot you. I shoot you.”

His face was ecstatic. This was a first. He was in possession of something new, something big. He wasn’t experimenting with a new behavior; he had simply experienced the activation of a presence already within him. It was terrifying.

In a knee-jerk reaction, my brain called up the numbers: of the mass shootings in America in recent history, forty-four of the killers were white males. One was female.

I also thought of my own culpability. I consume vicious, dark material in every medium: films, music, books, etc. Our bookshelves are crammed with hardcore shit. My own “writing” is itself a nonstop bloodbath. Surely he would have absorbed some of this.

Here was my beautiful son. My heart stuttered in that small way that a parent’s heart breaks on an daily/hourly basis, my gut flipped—and yet, I understood this to be absolutely natural, all according to plan and right on time in terms of human male development.

Still, how to field it? Like every single other major “teachable”moment, I recognized this as one of them, and found myself totally unprepared.

Do I ignore this thing? Smile and attempt to shift the focus? Would I be somehow dismissing his natural flow, confusing him, suggesting I didn’t recognize his profound breakthrough, possibly identifying myself as a figure who couldn’t be trusted with his realness, marking the beginning of his retreat from me?

Do I engage? Do I go all the way there? ‘Cause I certainly could. Get down on the ground and wrastle the lad. It would feel totally rad to respond with a overwrought death pantomime—clutching my stomach, writhing, “Ahh . . . you got me, son. It’s a gut shot! I’m bleeding out! Arghhhhhh . . .” Or to return fire: “No I shoot YOU dude! I shoot YOU!” That’d be easy. Shit, I’m a potential killer, too.

But no. Instead I responded with a ridiculous intellectual parry, something far too convoluted to mean anything to my young son. Which is to say I fucking blew it, managing something like:

“Well, no. You know, we don’t . . . shooting isn’t a good thing. Huh? We don’t shoot people we love. I mean: we don’t shoot anybody. Guns are a bad thing. YOU’RE not bad, though! I mean it’s totally great to play and have fun! But you know, guns are . . .”

Babbling, treading water. At which point I bailed out, and went for crass deflection.

“Look at this funny bear! Grrr . . .”

Too late. I had lost. I had failed, and somehow I know he knew it, too.

Nils cocked his head sideways, drinking in my vulnerability and desperation, evident even to him (or so it seemed). The gravity of violence, the irresistibility of this new form of play, was bigger than both of us.

And once again he extended his stubby index finger, jammed it in my face and said:



NATHAN LARSON is best known as an award-winning film music composer, having created the scores for over thirty movies, such as Boys Don’t Cry, Dirty Pretty Things, and Margin Call. His highly acclaimed debut novel, The Dewey Decimal System, was published in the spring of 2011 and was followed by The Nervous System. In the ’90s, he was the lead guitarist for the influential prog-punk outfit Shudder to Think. Larson lives in Harlem, New York City, with his wife and son.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdays flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Nov 19, 2013

Category: Original Fiction, Terrible Twosdays | Tags: , , ,