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How to Be Safe

by Tom McAllister

How to Be Safe by Tom McAllister X
How to Be Safe by Tom McAllister
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  • Published:
    Apr 2018, 240 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite
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Print Excerpt


With some time to kill, the shooter parks his car outside One Brother's Pizza and he thinks: It's just a slice, a slice won't slow me down. He thinks: A slice may even be good for me. He thinks: This is a choice, I'm making a choice and nobody in the world has any say over whether or not I make this choice.

Last night, he forgot to eat. Even after a full month of planning, there were loose ends to tie up, there were final considerations. He hadn't wanted to leave a note, but while he lay in bed not sleeping there were so many words in his mind desperate to escape and he could feel them crawling like cockroaches out of his mouth and so he decided to record them in his notebook. Later they will find his notebook and call it a manifesto. The media will try to analyze it and explain it, but they are dull and they cannot be trusted to understand.

Next door to One Brother's is a small insurance agency with an oversized window, in which a pretty middle- aged woman sits as if on display. Her desk faces away from the street, but her body is turned so that he can see her profile, the cold curve of her cheekbone, the skin beneath her jaw sagging like an ill- fitting mask. He stands only three feet away from her, separated by the glass like a prisoner at visitation. Her blond hair is cut in a bob and swept stylishly across her forehead, and she wears a blouse and skirt like something a mannequin at a high- end department store would wear. Her legs crossed with her cell phone resting in the valley between her thighs, she stares down intently at her crotch, occasionally laughing and swiping fingers across the screen. She looks like a well- adjusted version of his mother. Like his mother if she'd had better parents and gone to a good high school and been able to earn an associate's degree in something. If she would just look up from her phone she would see him and they could make eye contact and have something like a human connection, they could hold hands and have a picnic and dance in a field to a Billy Joel song and smoke cigarettes together under the moon, but she is playing a game with bright colors and cute cartoon birds, and in those brief moments when she looks away from the screen she seems to be thinking about something unpleasant, a fight with her ex- husband or her son's college applications, or maybe trying to convince herself that the weird mole on her neck is nothing and she's going to be fine.

The phone on her desk rings and she pivots to answer it, turning her back to him.

She will see him on the news later and not even know how close he'd been to her, how she could have saved everyone if only she'd taken the time.

Across the street, there is a gas station flanked by a ten- foot- tall brontosaurus statue, the dinosaur smiling grimly as if he's just become aware of the extinction of his species, of the incurable loneliness that will plague him until he dies. It's a pretty dark joke by the proprietors, he thinks, a reminder that the fuel pumping into patrons' cars is the liquefied remains of millennia of once- living things, some long extinct. Every car is full of dead things, churning and grinding and conveying people from one place to another and eventually the people are dead too and replaced by other people. The monetization of large- scale death, the repurposing of extinction.

He enters One Brother's, where the pizza is laid out like jewelry in a glass case. He points at a slice with pepperoni and the man behind the counter slides the slice into the oven to heat it up, then turns his attention back to the TV in the corner of the room, which is tuned to a talk show that must be made for children and adults who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. The panel of hosts is debating the proper etiquette for farting in a restaurant; the audience laughs like a roomful of dope fiends who have just gotten their fix.

Excerpted from How to Be Safe by Tom McAllister. Copyright © 2018 by Tom McAllister. Excerpted by permission of Liveright / WW Norton. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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