Bride Sniping

November 22, 2009 at 6:53 pm | Posted in Short Story | 4 Comments
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Marty did not want to hand in his gun.

Marty cradled the Ruger Sportsman lovingly, Circassian walnut cool against his cheek. In the lush park below, a puff of earth appeared beside the carved fairy tree.

Deidre gathered his grimy jacket around her knees. ‘Jesus Marty, can we go now? You said “one shot” – that’s three! I’m cold, and we’re going to get caught if we stay any longer!’

Counting to ten in Latin, Marty laid his weapon with exaggerated care on its carry sheath and faced his girlfriend. She looked away as he stroked her bra strap, then put her hand over his. Marty slid his fingers around her throat, his voice quiet and measured.

‘You insisted on coming, remember? I explained to you in detail the importance of today’s exercise. You said you understood my pain and would support me during this difficult time. I’m almost finished. You can either stand by me…’

‘Or what?’ Deidre plucked at his iron grip, tears welling.

Marty stilled and his eyes clouded.

She shuddered. ‘OK baby, I’ll support you. I’ll wait. I’m sorry.’

He endorsed her capitulation with one look and returned to the business of the day. Taking a cloth from his bag, he carefully wiped his hands then pressed them to his face, exhaling slowly.

New laws would soon separate him from his beautiful machine. After agonising deliberation, he’d decided not to seal it in his bedroom wall. Though the risk was slim, discovery would mean jail and he wasn’t going back there for anything.

Settling face down into the travel rug, Marty clutched his rifle and peered past the air conditioning units. The barren roof of the office tower was deserted, as it had been since dawn. Deidre curled into a ball between his splayed legs, warming them pleasantly.

He breathed carefully: in while looking away and out with each return to the sight. Gradually his concentration returned, along with the sense of solemnity he desired.

**********

The Fitzroy Gardens are a paradise for brides: rolling meadows, mighty avenues, follies and ponds. Dozens marry there each year. Hundreds more come for photographs. As a consequence, the gardens have become Melbourne’s premier bride sniping ground.

It began during the recession. Intersections filled with menacing youths, smearing car windscreens with jagged rubber devices. Oblivious to protest, they extracted change from red-light maroons, then fled before two-minute tides.

With the traffic-light market quickly cornered, the poor had to seek alternatives. One Saturday, a dishevelled woman approached a regal bride at the end of her photo session.

‘I’ve just taken two dozen behind-the-scenes shots of your lovely party.’ The dishevelled woman produced a film from her battered Pentax.

The bride regarded her sternly. ‘Yes, I saw you. I wondered why you were creeping around in the bushes like that.’

‘They’re yours for twenty bucks.’

An excited bridesmaid scampered up. ‘What’d you get?’

‘Oh, the best man tripping over the Esky; you pinning the broken strap; the chauffeur pinching a champagne. That sort of thing.’

‘And you want twenty?’

‘Yeah.’

The bridesmaid fished a note from her purse and traded it for the roll, which she pressed into her sister’s gloved hand.

‘Present, babe; from me. Who knows? Some of them might be ace. And what’s twenty bucks on your wedding day?’

‘Too right,’ beamed Melbourne’s first bride sniper, before darting away.

The craze spread like wildfire. From Collins Place to the steps of Parliament, photo sessions were plagued. Canny snipers raided opportunity shops for frocks and morning coats. Thus camouflaged, they became the bane of professional photographers.

Police were disempowered after early arrests led to lawsuits from snap-happy relatives (whose only crime was poor dress). Composition went out the window, ruined by strangers in frayed formal clothing – leaping, grinning and holding ancient cameras aloft to capture every Special Moment.

**********

Martin Banff had been a bride sniper. An honours degree in arts had earned him only a brutal factory job. Desperate for a better life, he took a redundancy package and failed miserably in a lawn mowing franchise – flogging his recalcitrant ride-on to death in a hailstorm.

He next tried pizza delivery, only to be savaged by the wolfhound of an incautious pensioner.

Too proud for the dole, Martin decided to use his expensive Canon rather than pawn it. He targeted an early morning wedding in his best suit and was immediately arrested. He was the first victim of bridal party fight-back, in which family friends pointed out unfamiliar faces to hired guards (who checked identities before calling police).

Martin was given the option of prison or a fine. Too ashamed to contact anyone, he chose incarceration.

On his last morning, four assemblies of sweat, tattoos and missing teeth held him down while a fifth went sloppily last. Marty’s atrophied personality shattered. He returned to society with only mismatched shards. And the human immunovirus.

He secured a cleaning job and a paper round. He rented the cheapest flat. He saved. A disinterested member of his father’s shooting club for years, he started honing his skills with the weapon he’d received for his eighteenth birthday.

He grew to understand and respect it. Then he fell in love with its latent power and began polishing it behind bent venetians in a nightly ritual of obeisance.

He picked up a girl at an early opener pub and told her he was infected. She didn’t care. A fragment of his former self insisted on condoms. Each night Marty sat smoking in the shadow of his rusty balcony – watching tar-bound trees and car parts and vowing revenge on those responsible for his heinous prison experience.

But before his ideas could crystallise, Tasmania’s Port Arthur massacre triggered a revolution in gun laws.

Marty had neither the time nor the resources to identify his targets. Morose and irritable, he spent hours with his rifle, bitter that their brief affair was almost over. Like meeting the perfect girl on school holidays and knowing he’d never see her again, Marty decided to make the most of his remaining time.

The Ruger was beautiful. Sleek and compact, its oil sheen was a potent pheromone to the fluttering thing in Marty’s brain. Cool even in summer, the blued steel clove to his face whenever he sighted: at the television, the toaster, a neighbour’s silhouette or the pulsing temple of his sleeping girlfriend.

Each leapt large in the powerful scope, free from fetter and his to dandle without interference.

He did not want to hand in his gun.

**********

Marty took a sick day on the last Friday of the amnesty. Restless and depressed, he hired Lawrence of Arabia, again. For the seventh time he watched Peter O’Toole stagger from Turkish headquarters, beaten and raped almost to death.

Later came Marty’s favourite scene. Mounted on a white stallion, beneath the disapproving glare of Omar Sheriff, Lawrence regarded a fleeing enemy column and screamed with spittle-flecked mouth and wild eyes, ‘No prisoners! No prisoners!’ Unable to resist his passion and conviction, his entire army joined him in massacre.

Marty brooded in the gathering darkness. Lawrence’s tormentors hadn’t been part of the column. Yet his revenge had been absolute. Perhaps the death of any bride would grant Marty the catharsis he craved. One shot, one life – and goodbye to his lovely, lovely Ruger.

The following day was Saturday; the office building he cleaned nightly would be deserted. The roof overlooked the place where he’d been arrested.

**********

Marty pocketed his jeweller’s screwdriver. The scope had taken a knock during the fifteen-flight ascent. Nerves were doubtless interfering as well. After this last adjustment, however, he was confident of accuracy.

He panned to a grove of elms, far from grey suits and gay dresses. Pale leaflets trembled in a gentle breeze.

The possums lay curled together like caterpillars. Marty selected an old, grey male. With a harsh PFFFTT! the bullet rocketed from the Ruger’s silencer. Marty observed the distant impact and the insane scramble of bloodied, sunblind animals. The sight was fine.

The bride was tall with sharp cheekbones and almost horsy teeth. She was handsome rather than beautiful; features to last long after pretty faces had gone to pot. Marty watched her laugh and converse with her entourage.

The rotunda ceremony had been brief; now champagne sparkled. The solid groom stood next to his wife, arm round her waist as if to stop her growing any taller.

Licking his lips, Marty settled his crosshairs over the woman’s heart. Her décolletage rose and fell. Abruptly, she stooped to kiss an elderly man – the father-in-law, if size ran. Marty switched aim to the back of her head. Annoyingly, she then left the rotunda to embrace a knot of friends.

Marty regarded his gun and suppressed a choke of sorrow. Behind him, Deidre snored softly. Sunshine streamed onto his unruly hair, the effect mildly intoxicating. First it heightened his sense of loss. Then, as he basked, it made him feel light-headed; even reckless.

The week had been serious and depressing. Now he was safe in his hiding place. His would be the first crime of its kind in Australia. Surprise guaranteed escape. Could he not have a little fun before consigning the Sportsman to destruction?

With mounting excitement, Marty targeted the groom’s champagne glass. How tempting to take it out first, just to spice things up. He grinned, then gasped as the flute exploded into a cloud of particles. His mouth fell open.

‘What the F*CK?’

He checked the safety, which he’d applied automatically on taking out the possum. He looked at the crowd. There was consternation, but not panic; the groom was uninjured. Had he gripped the glass that tightly? Marty shook his head at the coincidence then rose to his knees and stretched – scanning the horizon to refresh his eye.

Deidre murmured a sleepy protest and pulled a corner of the rug over herself. To his right, Marty noticed a breath of steam drifting from a pipe in the neighbouring roof’s air conditioner. Eyes wide with disbelief, he crouched back into cover and levelled his binoculars at the pipe, just in time to see it withdraw.

He wrenched his gaze back to the wedding party. The bride lay among bent heads, carmine blooming rapidly on her breast.

Stunned, Marty turned to see a dark figure sprinting to the stairwell. Through blinding rage he brought his weapon to bear on the fleeing assassin who had stolen his idea and ruined his revenge. Leading slightly and allowing for the breeze, Marty fired.

And missed.

The round smashed into a louvered window, echoing loudly. The figure dropped, rolled and came up scanning for the source of attack. Marty froze, monitoring his target’s fervent search. From St Vincent’s Hospital came the wail of ambulances.

Concentrating on his opponent’s next move, Marty tried to ignore a strange flicker of light playing over the opposite roof. Then the sun dazzled him and the penny dropped. The scope! Its caps were off! Marty lowered his weapon in panic and the reflection flicked over the face of Bruno De Souza, who immediately fired at the sparkling source.

The bullet slammed into Marty’s cover, releasing a vicious jet of coolant. Deidre sprang in terror from the screaming plume. Bruno saw her vault and was surprised at her sex. Without hesitation he drilled three rounds into her body, cocked his head toward the sirens and reached for the door to safety.

Marty stared aghast at Deidre’s broken form, then took fresh aim. Bruno’s headless corpse tumbled heavily down two flights before slithering to a halt.

The police helicopter descended, wheeling angrily at Marty’s pot shots. Marty knew that Special Operations would be along shortly. He snapped in a fresh clip of ammunition and looked back at the gardens.

A brace of gleaming limousines had just arrived for a shoot.

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Like Sh*t to a Blanket

November 8, 2009 at 1:37 pm | Posted in Article | 4 Comments
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FauxBaby

I staged this faux memory to appease my parents. Though the baby wasn’t ours, they hung the photo over their mantlepiece anyway.

Assuming you have a choice, how do you decide whether to have a child? Though lacking experience, I have some observations which may be useful.

Population

Thomas Malthus was on the money when he wrote: ‘the betterment of mankind is impossible without stern limits on reproduction’.

The earth is a finite resource which is rapidly being exhausted. More people means more damage, especially when only one in ten thousand births produces someone who gives a sh*t.

The economic goal of sustained annual growth is the philosophy of the cancer cell. Since there are already way too many consumers on the planet, we arguably have a duty not to replace ourselves.

The Chinese ‘One Child Policy’ has prevented countless births, though not always through contraception. Achievement of the common good by personal trauma is no substitute for education and choice. The West would truly be won if we could only manage to put equal emphasis on both.

Fear

Those who maintain the world is too dangerous to bring a child into are correct. Not because it is, but because parental phobias transfer to their offspring – rendering them unfit for any environment requiring tolerance and flexibility.

Selfishness

People who say they’re too selfish to raise a child are also correct. And honest.

Innate Drive

I have no right to address those who feel a biological urge to reproduce. It exists. My only advice is that you examine your motive to ensure it is truly innate, since social factors play a major role in this area.

Parents and grandparents can bring enormous pressure to bear, especially if they’re bored, lonely, mired in tradition, dissatisfied with their achievements or obsessed with immortality (see below).

Religious dictates similarly skew the stats and should be ignored at all costs.

Stress

Next door’s baby is possessed. It projectile vomits, manifests nine personalities, howls through the night and makes its father query his sanity. I see him sometimes when I’m giving the hydrangeas a sprinkle before the sun gets on them. Nerves so shot he begs one of my Styvies rather than attempt a rollie.

While I grant that human resilience may partly be due to the drop-forge nature of child rearing, the conjugal screaming matches that rattle my porcelain ducks cannot be uncommon. One in two Australian marriages fails (and that’s just by legal definition). How many breakups are due to the corrosive demands of progeny?

Couples who imagine a baby will enhance their relationship should be required by law to watch five episodes (any five) of The Bold and The Beautiful before proceeding.

Sh*t

This is a cliched but, by golly, powerful argument for the negative. I did mobile discos for ten years, drove taxis for two, worked factories for seven and have clubbed for three. Not in any of these arenas have I encountered anything so hideous as baby sh*t. It sticks like Napalm, permeates like creosote and regenerates like a hydra.

How anyone could commit to a world featuring this element is beyond me. Surely the priceless idiom: ‘it stuck like sh*t to a blanket’ must stem from infant excrement? Unless I’m moving in the wrong circles…

Speech

Some say hearing a baby’s first words is one of life’s finest moments. Indeed, the rhythm guitarist from ‘Fluffy’s Chain’ rates this over the high of our first gig. Of course, if the first words are: ‘f*ck off’, this takes the shine off things. You should therefore consider the environment in which you will raise your child.

Play

This is where kids clean up. First, because they make you feel inventive. Second, because they then leave you for dead in terms of inventiveness.

When a friend brought over her seven-year-old daughter, it was with some satisfaction that I produced a vial of ‘Slime with Maggots’ (oh, to be at the pitching meeting for that one…). The child watched me exhaust my permutations for the toy, then swiftly tripled them. Several I have been too afraid to attempt since.

When the nine-year-old son of my Age of Empires rival visits, it’s open slather in the alternate universe of Lego. How I wish I had the courage to tip my bricks nightly in front of ‘Wheel of Fortune’. It’s such fun! But you can’t unless there’s a kid around, or you’ve dropped acid. And then those little people with their crazy hook hands and superior smiles can really freak you out. The same goes for the Fuzzy Felt ‘Carnival Fun’ Edition. What a bugger those demonic merry-go-round horses are so pivotal to every tableau. Only children have the imagination to work around them.

At Christmas, the potency of the play phenomenon is increased ten fold and even my flinty heart softens at tykes going bananas in pyjamas.

Immortality

All our cells die except those which go on to create new people. By having a child we cheat death – literally ‘living through our kids’. Whether you have your mother’s lips, your father’s palms or your nanna’s sense of adventure, you are a part of them that has not expired. And on rare, unsettling occasions, you can feel their blood coursing through you as they view life through your eyes.

That’s got to be some trip.


If you’re having fun yet, you may wish to

Whatever the sum, I’ll be jolly grateful.


 

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