Credit: Leslie Herman

If there’s a gun in act one, fire it in act three. Make it loud. Make it bang. Call it a climax.

If there’s a gun in act one, fire it in in act two. Let the rising and falling action make a perfect, even-sided triangle. Make it a cartoon mountain peak. Call it isosceles.

If there’s a gun in act one, fire it in act one. We can see it there, we know what you want to do with it. There’s no need to be coy.

If there’s a gun in act one, push out the barrel and tip the bullets onto a quilt-covered bed in act one. The soft sound of their plunking. Guns are dangerous and more dangerous when the bullets are left inside.

Alternatively, if there’s a gun in act one, keep the bullets inside it. Do not fire it in act one, two, or three. Guns are dangerous and more dangerous when the bullets are left inside.

If there’s a gun in act one, describe the gun as cold. As smooth. Describe the gun as feeling heavier than it looks. Note the weight specifically. Compare it to something more familiar and innocuous. A wrench? A lead pipe? A bag with two or three apples inside of it? Depending on the size of the apples.

If there’s a gun in act one, put it in a fenced-in backyard. Let its shots in act one, act two, act three be an annoyance, as a neighbor’s dog. Wonder why the dog won’t stop barking. Wonder whether it is barking at anyone in particular. Think, Surely it will run out of barks soon.

If there’s a gun in act one, have the dog bury it in the backyard in act two. Let the gun be a bone-dead thing we forget about and that decomposes, becomes part of the earth. Or let the gun be a seed that is watered and allowed to sprout and become tree and bear fruit that we may then pick and eat or can in jars to be placed in our cellar, lined up in rows against the wall for cold times, drought times, less plentiful gun times, so that we may never go without.

Or take the harvest to the farmers’ market to sell by weight in green paper cartons, cheaper the more you buy, a half peck, full peck, bushel of guns.

If there’s a gun in act one, let it instead be a banana. Let the hero slip on the peel, fall onto the third rail of the subway tracks in act two, and, while he’s being electrocuted, let the banana shoot him in the head.

If there’s a gun in act one, flirt with the gun in act two. Treat it like a boy. Look at it, look away, then look back again. See the gun but, more importantly, let the gun see you. Know that the second time you look, you’d better be ready to put your finger on the gun’s trigger and to take the gun into your mouth as far as it will go because otherwise, why did you look at the gun a second time?

If there’s a gun in act one, in act two let the story of the gun become a will they/won’t they.

The gun is in love with you or you with it or both of you in love with each other. But know that the thing you most want in this world—to be killed by the gun in act three—is never going to happen. The closest you’ll get is a near miss. A graze of the temple, the crisp deletion of a pinkie toe, a finger snipped off like someone clipping her nails. Know that the near miss will be followed by the gun’s girlfriend or wife walking in and saying, What’s going on here? Someone had better explain this. Know that, because you love the gun and don’t want to get it into trouble, despite the gun’s inherent danger, despite how close it came to killing you for nothing, you will have to lie for the gun. You will have to say, Blood? What blood? You will have to say, I was just playing with this . . . knife. I love knives. You will say, I really did think the safety was on.

Remember that counter to if gun, then fire runs the deeper, truer maxim that only unrequited love can be romantic. The gun must be away from us, unfired, incomplete, unsatisfied, in order to hold any kind of love potential. That’s why we must keep the bullets inside the gun.

Know that you may go through act one, two, and three without ever having a gun, let alone the gun you love, fire a single bullet in your direction. This will create sympathy or its uglier, more honest cousin, pity, for you in your readers, though some, no matter how subtle your rendering of your unrequited love-pain, will still think you’re a sad sack who shouldn’t be in love with a gun to be begin with and certainly not a gun who already has a girlfriend.

And so if there’s a gun in act one, put the gun to your temple in act one, finger smoothing the trigger, just to see how that feels. Just to see how you might act in subsequent acts. Just to see how one act might lead to another.

If there’s a gun in act one, pry it out of your cold dead hand in act three, but not until late in the act when your hand will have clawed especially cold and especially dead around the gun. Snap your fingers off if need be. Let the story be about your hand not wanting to ever let go.

If there’s a gun in act one, let act three be so far away that the gun rusts, jams, seizes, so that it’s no more useful than a rock, which is similar in size and weight to a fist, the size and weight of a man’s heart, which is a pretty good thing to kill someone with.

If there’s a gun in act one, let its firing in act three become so inevitable as to become predictable. Let the inevitability become a hum over which the real story is laid, let the inevitability be like the dog’s bark echoing throughout the neighborhood, but not close by, not even one door down, not so annoying and disruptive that you need to do something about the dog, not so disruptive that you need to take care of the dog, i.e., take the dog out of its yard in the middle of the night, drive it out of town, tie it to a tree, etc.

Despite knowing that if gun, then fire, despite knowing that it’s not just inevitability but persistence, a kind of insistence, a drive and purpose like gravity, know that if gun, then fire will outlive you, know that if gun, then fire might even kill you. Nonetheless, grind your wheels, if only a little, against if gun, then fire. You might, for example, take the gun somewhere you’ve never been before in act two. You will have to drive or walk or bike (you cannot fly with a gun, they do not allow it in carry-on and we don’t have time for checking bags). For example, you might drive or walk as far east as you can go. Which means, eventually, depending on where act one begins, hitting a mountain, an ocean, a cliff. Take the gun and, assuming it’s still a gun, throw it as far as you can throw it. Loosen up your arm, rear back, make it a good one. Keep the bullets inside of it. At the edge of the water or cliff, the top of the mountain, the bubbling mouth of the volcano, you may see others doing or just having done the same thing. Give a nod, perhaps even do a secret hand signal, a tug of the ear, a swipe of the nose, but say nothing. Do not smile. Do not congratulate yourself or the others for the long journey to the gun’s obliteration. This is something you and the others should have done a long time ago, long before act one even began.

If the gun in act one has become a banana in act two, let the gun, instead, be a banana clip. Something plastic, built to break, something that went out of style in the mid-90s. Something that people now only wear ironically. And so let the banana clip be a kind of joke that cannot hold up to the weight of scrutiny, the roll of our collective eyes.

If there’s a gun in act one, and in act two or three, the gun is no longer a gun, then fire it, that is discharge it, for not holding up its end of the bargain.

If in act one the gun has become a banana, use the banana to kill as many children in the school as possible. Show up hours or days or weeks in advance and plant the banana and dozens of other bananas in hidden corners of the school, where they will eventually (at some point in the now distant-seeming act three) rot and cause a horrible smell to disseminate throughout the school, thick as smoke, sending the teacher and children and lunch workers pouring out of the building like vital fluid from a wound, pinching their noses or the noses of their friends.

Give the parents, the teachers, perhaps even one child the chance to say, We were supposed to be having our science fair today. It was such a fun, exciting thing we were going to do. But now this. I guess we’ll have to have the science fair tomorrow or the next day. We’ll just come back tomorrow.

If this, then end the story now, leave the children looking ahead to, but not quite getting, the science fair. This will put them in a state of insecurity (what if the same thing happens tomorrow? What if there are more bananas?) but also of hope, which is a good state in which to leave things—that is to say complicated, perhaps only slighter wiser, potentially, probably a little sadder than before.

But if you’d like to raise the stakes, if you’d really like to make the story worth telling, send one kid to the emergency room because they thought he was having an allergic reaction to the bananas. Instead have it turn out that he had begun hyperventilating on account of pinching his nose too tightly. Let it be a mistake. Let it just be that everyone is overreacting to the incident with the bananas.

If the gun in act one has become a banana in act two, keep one banana—a last-resort banana—tucked into the back of your jeans with your shirt pulled over top. When all the other bananas have spoiled, have split their soft guts onto the floor, peel the banana, put your finger on the trigger of the banana, and force the remaining children and teachers closest to you to each take a bite. They might turn their heads or even begin to cry for the awkwardness of something shoved into their mouths without their permission, but just do it. Bananas are for eating, and so make them take as many bites as they can, but, and this is important, be sure to save the last bite for yourself. It is, after all, your banana.

In order to erase ourselves in act one or two or three, to make disappear the men behind the gun, if there’s a gun in act one, give everyone a gun in act one. Let it be assumed that all men and women are gunned, holding, packing. So in act three when guns are drawn, yours pointing at his, his pointing at hers, hers pointing at hers at yours, it will be no surprise. It will be a given that those guns were there all along, and so if gun, then fire will serve as a least common denominator for our stories, the point from which we start all stories, as language, as body, as breath, as the clearing of a throat just before speech.

Because it will sometimes be satisfying for people to say, Yes, he was always strange. Always standoffish. Antisocial. He always was. For them to say, His family always did love bananas.

It will also be satisfying to say the opposite. To insert, despite If gun act one, then fire act three, the baffled character of ourselves, the tortured mother, the ravaged sister survivor standing in the parking lot, saying, I never in a million years. I had no idea. You just cannot predict something like this.