On Monday afternoon, Keely Sands found out she had terminal cancer. Two days later, she decided to kill her boyfriend.
Now, even she had to admit that it wasn’t the most obvious choice of activity for a dying woman. Getting her affairs in order? Certainly. Giving away favorite belongings to friends? Absolutely. Making sure she went through as painless an experience as possible? No doubt about it.
But Keely had never been obvious in her thirty-one years of life, and she wasn’t about to start now. As a child, she preferred to stand on the sidelines while every other child played baseball or raised their hands in class. As she grew up, she was described as having wheels turning behind her eyes; always assessing, never venturing forward. She liked it that way. It meant that nobody could predict what she would ever do.
Because of this, she indulged her whims on a semi-regular basis. It was for people like Keely that the expression "watch out for the quiet ones" was invented. In fact, she’d met her boyfriend, Dan, in the midst of one of her most recent indulgences, when she’d gone to the shooting range for the second time. He was her instructor, and quite good at it: she knew they would go to bed together the minute he stood behind her to make sure she was holding the revolver correctly.
Their relationship was fine at first. He’d stop by her place for Saturday afternoon sex and give her firearm advice for free. Through Dan, she learned that she had to hold her hands on the gun slightly apart, because if they were right on top of each other, she would lose in accuracy what she gained in control. He taught her to have a choosy eye for detail. If the gun didn’t feel right in her hands—no matter the reason—then she wouldn’t be nearly as effective a shooter. So they spent hour after hour comparing makes and models, even years of issue on the model. One time, Dan had come over in a very excited state. He’d just found out that the 1998-issued Lugers were being recalled, something to do with a problem in trigger release. Hadn’t she just bought that model only a couple of weeks earlier?
Yes, she’d replied, indeed she had. And when she checked on it a few minutes later, dry-firing it, she had felt the peculiar twinge of the release point. It wasn’t quite right. It wouldn’t be as predictable as the manufacturers wanted.
She never told Dan, but she kept the gun. And now, she decided it would do perfectly well.
At first, the diagnosis had come as a shock, hearing the verdict from the doctor’s somber lips. Sure, she’d felt nauseous for the last few weeks, and wanted to sleep all the time. True, her lymph nodes seemed larger and her throat ached more than usual. But perhaps it was just a bad flu. Not ovarian cancer that had spread so rapidly it left her only weeks to live.
She’d asked the doctor how this could have happened so fast. An obvious question, but even Keely asked them when it was necessary.
The doctor had responded with a simple shake of his head. That was the problem with ovarian cancer. It spread silently for months, years, and no one ever noticed until it was too late.
Like Keely, the cancer had been stealthy and silent, waiting for its chance to strike.
It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.
Others might have raged against the world, broken down in a sea of self-pity. Keely, on the other hand, coped well in a crisis. When her mother died in a car accident fifteen years earlier, she’d grieved, certainly she had, but she’d never blamed anyone. She’d never turned against God, because she hadn’t particularly believed in its existence. She’d remained strong. It never occurred to her to be anything else.
As she drove home from the doctor’s office, mentally discarding all the second opinions, support groups and counseling she was supposed to contact, she thought of the things she’d never done before. Luckily, Keely had realized most of her dreams, accomplished most of what she wanted to do. She’d had drunken, reckless sex in the ballroom where her high school prom was held—just minutes before the chaperones were due to walk in to get things ready. She’d been the anonymous tipster on a piece of gossip that led to the national ruin of one of her most hated college classmates. She’d run away from her job at only a week’s notice to travel to Australia in her mid-twenties, and enjoyed the trappings of the Outback immensely—especially the young guide she’d impulsively traveled with after meeting him in a bar one night.
But somehow, she’d never had the courage to be particularly bad. The idea of killing someone had first entered her mind when she was thirteen, but she hadn’t recognized the impulse for what it was and forgot about it. The idea returned after her college graduation, when she fell into a job with a particularly hateful supervisor, but was once again set aside.
At those times, Keely hadn’t been ready. She would have made some stupid mistake and received the one thing she wanted least: attention.
It was different now.
The relationship had long soured. All Dan wanted to talk about were guns, and ammunition. She’d tired of the conversation two months ago but hadn’t bothered to let him know. It wasn’t important for Keely to love talking to her boyfriend of the moment, but she hated sameness. And with Dan, everything had become mind-numbingly familiar. The same conversations, the same programs on TV, the same sexual positions. If she possessed a different temperament, Keely would have screamed long ago.
Instead, she planned.
She realized how easy it would be. Even though she hadn’t spoken to Dan in a week or so—in fact, the last time, she’d made it vaguely clear how little she desired to see him again—it wouldn’t take much coaxing to make him come over to her place. She’d tempt him with the usual things. They would watch the football game, then talk about his students and how terrible they were, how none of them ever hit the center target. He would ask why she didn’t go to the range anymore.
I don’t have the time, she’d say. I’m rather busy. I have a new project I’m working on. And to prove it, she’d talk about her latest interest, whatever she decided it would be. Probably skydiving, because once, for the hell of it, she’d mentioned that she might like to try it someday. No doubt it would impress Dan if she said she had.
Keely decided she wouldn’t tell him about the cancer; Dan was the only person who might remotely care about her living or dying; otherwise, no one would know. She had no desire for the I’m sorrys or the how-can-I-helps. She didn’t want support and she didn’t want pity. She just wanted to accomplish her goal.
Eventually, she supposed, they’d have sex. For old time’s sake, she would say. Then, as usual, Dan would fall asleep first. With no idea that she kept the recalled Luger in the second drawer of her dresser, tucked amidst her pajamas and nightgowns. She’d pull it out, and assume the position he’d drilled her on time and again at the shooting range: knees bent, hands slightly apart from each other, with her right hand above her left.
Perhaps he’d look at her, confusion and bewilderment filling his eyes. Then terror at the realization that Keely had set aside the most important rule: never point a gun at anyone unless you were going to use it.
She’d hesitate for just an instant, the frisson of fear traveling up and down her spine.
But Keely knew herself better than anyone, certainly more than Dan did. She’d stay still and keep her middle finger on the trigger, remembering to pull on it with extra force and slightly angled to the right.
One shot would have to do, two at most; any more and it wouldn’t look professional.
Dan had been an excellent teacher. Perhaps, in his own way, he’d be proud of how good a student she was.
Keely picked up the phone and dialed the number she still knew by heart. After a briefer-than-usual conversation, she waited. Fifteen minutes later, the doorbell rang. She opened the door, and there was Dan. Hair slightly mussed, shirt rumpled, holding a bouquet of yellow roses in his right hand. Her favorite.
She smiled, and welcomed him inside.
It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.