Slings and Arrows – short fiction

‘You want ice?’

‘Crushed,’ she replied, sneering the word to emphasise the double meaning.

Of course,’ Chuck said, as he jabbed the small, silver shovel into the ice bucket. The grating sound burned his already throbbing head. He looked at Sylvia laughing with his friends – HIS friends – and decided that if she wouldn’t just piss off and leave them to it, he would get her drunk to the point where she passed out. He abhorred the way she flirted with them. He knew her games well by now – the dress a little too low at the front, her hair tumbling down her back, her legs smooth and lightly oiled for the ultimate touchability factor. As he shook the cocktail canister, he watched her glide her hand down one of those long legs, as she pretended to listen intently to the crowds banter. They were all performing to her. Of course they were… she was gorgeous. As he poured the Singapore Sling into the glass, he silently challenged each and every one of them to try and live with the bitch – that would sort the men from the boys.

He dressed the glass with a chunk of fresh pineapple, a dark cherry and a small plastic cocktail arrow. He knew that she would use it to force it through the skin of the cherry and put it to her gloss-red lips, licking the magenta membrane of the fruit – seemingly oblivious to all eyes being on her – before she slid it against her tongue, her teeth biting down and sliding it slowly from it’s skewer. He knew that at that moment, most of the men in her vicinity would shift in their seat slightly, either intimidated or turned on… both were equally pleasing to her. What did she want from him in that moment? Did she want him to grab her by the hair, drag her away and declare that she is only his? Or did she want him to watch, seethe with jealousy as a reminder of his good fortune in managing to snare her in his miserable life? In all honesty, he had gone past caring what she wanted.

He rejoined the table and pasted a smile as he passed her drink,

‘Darling,’ he said, with no attempt to hide the cynicism in his voice.

‘You’re too kind,’ she replied brightly, winking at him to further irritate his obvious bad mood. She took a sip before continuing, ‘We were talking about William S Burroughs, darling.’

‘Who?’ he said, not really caring, as he picked up his beer and drained the glass.

‘William S. Burroughs… he’s an author. You won’t have heard of him, I’m sure, but he is incredibly famous.’ The indirect put-down was lost on the casual observers, as she continued, ‘He shot his wife in a William Tell Game. He apparently said that he killed ‘the bitch’ so that he could write a book.’

‘Good job for you that I’m a stockbroker then, darling,’ Chuck said, quick-as-a-flash. ‘I have no aspirations to become an author.’

The men laughed loudly and he mentally chalked ‘one’ up on his side of the scoreboard.

‘So did he put an apple on her head and try to shoot it off?’ said John, to her right.

‘No,’ Sylvia replied. ‘It was in a Mexican bar and they were all wasted. He tried to shoot a glass off her head. It was all with her consent,’ she said, before adding, ‘although she probably didn’t consent to her face being blasted into a thousand pieces, I should imagine.’

Her adoring crowd laughed and she began to stir her drink with the arrow, a small smile playing on her lips.

‘How long did he get for that?’ John asked.

Sylvia raised one eyebrow for added effect, before answering, ‘He bribed the local police. Never served a jail sentence at all.’

A murmur spread around the table, people not knowing whether to be disgusted or admiring of the bizarre tale. Sylvia continued to stir her drink, obviously enjoying being centre stage. Chuck knew that every man sitting on his patio tonight wanted to have sex with her at that very moment. Every man apart from him.

‘Well, I’m going to get the next round of beers. Who’s in?’ he asked, scanning the faces of his friends, ‘and then we’ll start that poker game, yep?’

There was a rumble of approval around the table. Chuck took satisfaction from seeing Sylvia visibly prickle as the shift of emphasis moved away from her.

When she spoke, her voice was higher, more charming, ‘Oh, my goodness, gentlemen,’ she reached deeply across the table, causing her dress to fall forward, revealing glimpses of her perfect breasts, ‘I do apologise,’ she continued, pulling the wrap around her, one strap from her dress slid over her lightly tanned shoulder and rested on the soft skin of her arm ‘I should not be interrupting your boys night in now should I?’ With that, she uncrossed her gazelle legs, a glint of stiletto dazzling in the reflection of the brightly lit patio, before standing slowly to loud protestations from her husband’s guests…

‘No, Sylvia!’ ‘It’s a pleasure to have you hang around with us,’ ‘You are like a breath of fresh air Sylvia!’ ‘Stay finish your drink Sylvia, we don’t mind at all!’

Sylvia turned slowly towards Chuck. He was not fooled by her display. Both of them could have predicted the outcome of her testing their adoration of her. But he smiled back, refusing to let her humiliate him in front of them all. She spoke with a school girl lilt to her voice, ‘Oh Chuck. What am I to do? Would you prefer it if I went inside?’

‘Yes, fuck off!’ Chuck wanted to scream at her. Instead, he walked over to the table and put the beers down. He knew she was revelling in the flash of anger in his eyes, but through gritted teeth he allowed her to claim victory by relenting, ‘Not at all, my darling. Stay with us and lighten the conversation of this heathen mob.’ He walked back to the bar to get himself a beer, changed his mind and poured himself a double Scotch.

She walked over and kissed his cheek. A spark of static stung his skin as their faces touched. She turned on one foot and returned to the table. He watched her sashay back to her seat, her arse full and swaying, the satin dress moulded so precisely that it was obvious to all she was wearing no underwear. Despite his anger, he felt himself harden. He watched the men’s reaction to her; her tinkling laugh showering them like jewels, her skin begging to be stroked, her eyes inviting them to take her to bed. She was the most bewitching woman they were ever likely to meet. And she was his.

‘Charles!’ her voice broke his thoughts like a pick axe. Her voice was as painful as chewing glass to him after all these years. Whenever she called him Charles, it was like she was scolding a child.

‘What?’ he said too quickly.

She paused momentarily, a knowing smile playing on her lips. ‘Darling, another drink would be divine if you have the time.’

‘Coming right up,’ he replied.

Her voice drilled through his skull again, as she entertained her crowd,

‘Of course, the assumption is that Burroughs did away with her as the ultimate ‘coming out’ party. He was extremely open about his homosexuality after that time, writing Naked Lunch, which gave him his place in the literary gliteratti.’ Her voice sounded brittle – accusatory even. How many times had she thrown insults at him about his inability to satisfy her in bed? Once there had been no stopping them; their love life had started passionate in the extreme, with many close calls of being caught in the open air or in the darkest corners of various nightclubs. It had been a real shirt ripping, back scratching affair but then her obsession with her looks became more extreme. She would constantly bemoan the fact that she was wasting her life with him, constantly blame him for nature taking it’s course. She had been too vain to have children. He used to wonder whether a family would have made her more secure with who she was.

The night wore on. He watched her glide her hands down Anthony’s shirt sleeve, her fingernails glinting in the light. He watched her lick her lips, slowly, whilst staring deeply into James’ eyes. He watched her bite not one cherry but three, four… he lost count. The conversation circled around her, light jovial. Chuck barely said a word. He observed the scene with a heavy heart, his mind urging him to stop the torture of this life. The grass is greener they say…

‘What do you think Chuck?’ asked John.

‘What do I think about what?’

Sylvia prompted him, ‘Do you think that Burroughs knew he was going to kill her? Do you think it was his bad aim or his subconscious? Do you think that split second that he fired that gun he purposefully dropped the mark?’

Chuck stared intently at her. His head was still pounding from the result of having drunk most of the afternoon, ‘I’m sure most married couple have their moments,’ he said with resignation, ‘I’m sure the thought momentarily crossed his mind.’

Sylvia returned his gaze – both of them with their eyes locked refusing to give way. In their earliest courting, Chuck had been convinced that they had communicated just by looking at each other. At this moment, those eyes were telling him exactly how much she hated him.

She reached into her purse, not once dropping her eyes from his. ‘Well, let’s test that theory, shall we?’ she said, producing a small silver pistol with an ivory handle.

Chuck jumped up from the table, pushing his chair out behind him. ‘Where the fuck did you get that?’ he shouted.

‘You work late a lot Chuck. I thought it would be a wise precaution as I’m here on my own so much,’ she replied calmly, amusement playing in her eyes.

The other guys around the table seemed non-plussed by the production of the firearm and it was inspected with approval, passed around the table like a trophy.

Chuck walked over to the bar and poured himself a scotch. He drained the glass in one gulp and banged it down onto the sideboard. Sylvia’s voice was clear, challenging,

‘You’re trained Chuck.’ she said. ‘You would be able to shoot a glass off my head no problem, wouldn’t you?’

‘It was bloody years ago that I did my training! I was 17 for chrissakes!’ His voice was filled with exasperation. In truth he felt a panic building in his stomach – a burning sense of inevitability.

Sylvia spoke calmly, ‘Oh come now, it was only last year you went clay pigeon shooting with Alastair. He told me how much of a crack shot you were. Told me you didn’t miss a single disc. Told me how amazing it was that each one was dead centre, split in two.’

‘The stakes were a little less high.’ Chuck said quietly.

‘Well, I have every faith in you, my darling. Go on, it would be fun…’

To Chucks astonishment some of the guys started volunteering to do it themselves. Sylvia laughed but refused their offers. She just kept staring at Chuck. After a few moments, she stood up, walked towards him and placed the gun on her outstretched palm. Chuck looked into her eyes, glanced back at the guys who were grinning like idiots and then slowly he took it from her.

Sylvia moved towards the low garden wall, taking another sip of her Singapore Sling as she walked. She turned and used both hands to carefully position the glass onto her head, her dark curls cascading down, diamond earrings dazzling as they caught the light of a nearby lantern.

All the men started whispering. Chucks forehead glistened with nervous sweat. Sylvia stared at him – a deep intense stare that reached down to his heart, squeezing it until it hurt.

Chuck positioned himself in front of her, raised the gun and pointed it towards the glass. He knew he should keep looking at the glass but her eyes were boring into him. Her eyes were speaking to him. What were they saying? Why was he doing this? What was she thinking of?

He looked back to the glass and back down to his wife’s eyes again. She was screaming at him with those eyes. He looked at her lips that had spat so many insults, the lips that at that very moment, he wanted to see move and tell him to stop, but they were fixed into a smile – not the slightest quiver. He looked back to her eyes. He finally knew what they were saying…

‘Do it.’

So he squeezed the trigger.

The sound of the bullet being expelled was followed quickly by the sound of shattering glass – the glass which fell to the floor along with Sylvia.

The men raced from the table. One shouted ‘Chuck, what the fuck have you done?’ Chuck remained rooted to the spot. Unable to move. Unable to see her past the throng of men huddled over her. At that moment he didn’t have a single thought in his head. It was like his mind had been completely wiped clean.

Until he heard a whisper in his ear. He snapped his head to the left and there was Sylvia, supported on one side by John. Her hair still had small shards of glass in it, a slight cut to her face where a splinter must have ricocheted. Chuck took a breath. He couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t the first he had taken since the moment he pulled the trigger. His voice came out as a hiss, ‘What did you say?’

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She leaned in again, her face close to his ear, the smell of alcohol and cheap perfume causing him to feel nauseous. ‘I said ‘Gutless‘.’

All the other men were looking at them, disbelief on their faces. He straightened his back, lifted his chin and finally replied.

‘Yep… but not gutless enough for you, it would seem.’

With that, he dropped the pistol on the table and walked away – through the house, into the street and down towards the city lights.

Sylvia’s body was found three days later, naked on the bed, with a single gunshot wound to her head. The coroner returned a verdict of suicide.


Copyright Kiersty Boon 2008

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