Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Water Tower

Herbert lay in bed that night, hearing a chorus of cicadas whine in the distance, while above him, the ceiling fan chopped incessantly at the hot air. The breeze it gave off froze the beads of sweat on his brow, tightening the skin there, giving rise to a tension headache. He ignored this however, listening instead to the steady rise and fall of his chest as he breathed, each breath stained with beer fumes. The last can of the six-pack he had chugged earlier was still scrunched inside his fist, a painful edge of aluminium digging into the soft pad below his index finger. Whether it drew blood or not was immaterial. He was too drunk to notice, anyway.
            At length, a tic in his right eye made him release the crushing grip on the can, and it fell over the edge of the bed and landed with a rustle amongst its emptied and crushed companions. With his free hand, he rubbed at his eye, aware for the first time that the can had indeed cut him, and he was bleeding.
            He saw the blood reflected in the crude light of his black and white television, which was turned on and unwatched, its horizontal hold not quite aligned, so that at any moment, there were several views of the same shot on the screen. In the light of the flickering television screen, his blood looked more like ink, dripping from a tiny flap of skin ground out by the twisted beer can. He stared at the flap of skin for ages with a curious detached manner, moving his hand this way and that, in and out of the light. A single dollop of blood fell onto his white singlet and formed a rose pattern there. He absently poked at it with his other hand, succeeding in only rubbing it further into the material. As he did so, another drop prepared to fall free; this time, he stifled it with his free hand, noticing the warm, squishy feeling of wet blood against his skin.
            Unperturbed at this realisation, he sat up groggily, aware for the first time that he was alone, possibly for good. Samantha had left last Monday morning, not bothering to say goodbye, just merely packing as much of her stuff into a sports bag that she could and heading for the door. She gave him no reasons why she was leaving, but Herbert knew all along that their time had come. Ever since he lost his job at the mine, which was no more than a month ago.
            Ever since then, the two of them could barely stand to be together. It was an alien concept for them both to be at the breakfast table at nine o’clock, when Herbert would usually at that time be into his third hour of work. It was even more alien that they shared dinner at the early hour of six. For Herbert, dinner was usually reheated in the microwave when he got in after dark, usually around nine o’clock. But what made matters even worse was that now Herbert had literally hours of nothing to do between waking up and going to sleep except sitting around and feeling sorry for himself. The promise of two hundred and four dollars a week for the dole was hardly comforting, considering Herbert got the money for doing nothing but sitting on his arse. It did nothing to motivate him, to assist him in his quest with morning newspapers, scanning the employment section in vain for a vacancy that required no real skills, considering the only skills Herbert had involved extracting coal from the earth.
            Last Monday was five days ago. It was now the small hours of Saturday morning, and Herbert was hammered like a fart, lying in his own sorry filth, unshaven, stinking of booze and cigarette smoke, with a single dollop of crimson blood smeared into his singlet. And all he could think about, all that occupied his mind, was a single image that meant very little to him, but formed the very crux of his life…

…the water tower stood over thirty metres high, right in the middle of town. It pointed to the heavens, an obscene thumb gesture, or the world’s largest metal cock. It dwarfed everything else in the town, standing like a beacon in the sky, Gulliver in the land of Lilliput. In the daytime, it was an eyesore, demanding no attention other than a hurried glance at the crude red arrow that indicated the present level of the water. At night, however, it shimmered with ethereal beauty, a huge ghostly creature that clanked and whistled with the breeze.
            To gain access to the winding steel steps leading to the tower’s peak, you had to jimmy up one of the struts. Once in position, you simply swung over to a steel ladder that hung some two metres above the ground. Up this ladder you’d scurry, conscious of the slippery, scuffling sounds your boots made, and two metres later, you’d reach a platform. From here, four sets of steps wound around the perimeter of the water tower’s base. They were made from rigid welded steel with little patterns on them that resembled fallen grains of rice to stop feet from slipping. They made little noise as you walked on them, though you walked on them with care, because if anyone heard you, then you could be arrested for trespass.
            But trespass was the last thought in Herbert’s head whenever he dared take a nocturnal trip along those four flights of steps. In fact, the very idea of trespass added to the sensations of coming up here in the first place!  What could be more thrilling than sneaking your date onto the highest plateau in town, and going for it hell and tongs underneath the stars?  Herbert often fantasised about being sprung with his pants down, mounting a local girl—one of the rich farmer’s daughters who, despite their nefarious ways, were always beyond reproach—and causing a furore. But anybody who was somebody in town would be fast asleep in bed at this hour; and white trash like Herbert couldn’t score with a rich farmer’s daughter even if he paid one of them. But that didn’t stop the fantasies, nor did it detract from the thrill of sneaking a lusty vixen onto the highest monument in town and fucking like teenagers.
            The stairs finished with a platform similar to the first, and was where Herbert usually stopped to take a gauge of the situation. For first timers, this was the moment when their doubts reached their zenith, given that they were now something like twenty metres above the ground. Quite often, in a fit of drunken bravado, a lot of girls make it this far, only to find out that they have no head for heights, or that in their state of intoxication, the world spun out of control. It was here that Herbert, through slurred words of honey, convinced his date to advance before him through the “Tunnel of Love,” as he liked to call it. The said tunnel was at the very centre of the water tank, and consisted of a hole about a metre in diameter. Threaded through this was a ladder, which shot straight up through the hole, for at least two metres, though from underneath looking up, it looked as if it went all the way to the heavens.
            If Herbert played his cards well enough, then his date would gladly accept that if she slipped or looked as if she would fall, then Herbert would catch her. So she would climb the ladder before him, leaving him to trail behind. Nine times out of ten, his date would wear a dress, and inching slowly up the ladder—the process sober would probably take a little over thirty seconds—Herbert would have an untainted view of his date’s intimate apparel.
            Only one girl was able to thwart what he considered a masterstroke of genius. And that girl was Samantha Moss. Mind you, it was the third time out of the four that Herbert took her up there that she cottoned on to his ploy… Her revenge, if you dared call it that, was to walk up the ladder on the fourth time in a pair of jeans. But before that, she was keen to lead the foray up the ladder, allowing Herbert to enjoy the view as he eagerly clambered after her. The first time had been really special—it always was with a fresh date to impress…

Their drunken giggles punctured the still night as they stood at the very base of the tower. Looking up from here, with the night sky as a backdrop, the tower looked much, much taller. With the amount of bourbon and cola Herbert had sizzling around his body, the tower seemed to sway back and forth, tossed by some wind that Herbert couldn’t feel. Beside him, swaying a little herself from drunkenness, Samantha stared up at the looming tower.
            “Ever been up there before?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper, though it sounded like a shout in the still night.
            “Yeah, once or twice,” Herbert lied. Once or twice, per date, he should have said; and it was true. He couldn’t count on his hands how many times he had clambered up the steel ladders with someone in tow, someone eager, full of drink and hormones in that crazed hotchpotch broth of excitement.
            Samantha was looking good tonight, and she was wasted beyond belief. What surprised Herbert was how little alcohol it actually took to get her wasted. Of all of his dates, she was the cheapest. He told her so as they wound their way here from the pub.
            “Cheap, eh?” she drawled, leaning on him when she was about to crash to the ground. “You think I’m cheap, eh?  You think a nice gal like me is gonna let a creep like you call me cheap?”  She then flipped up her dress, the moonlight catching the soft silk of her panties, which were white, glistening like morning dew. Through them, Herbert could see the narrow patch of shadow that was her sex. She held her dress thus for the quickest of seconds, before lowering it again, a smirk printed across her face. “Now that’s cheap,” she told him, nodding with herself in agreement. Then she turned around to look at the tower. “How do we get up here?” she asked.

On top of the tower, the town looked like a child’s Lego village. From here, you could see every possible building in town. Samantha surveyed the tableau below her with glazed eyes, her hand on Herbert’s shoulder to balance her. She had insisted that they go to the edge of the tank to look out over the sleepy town. It wasn’t until they were there, no more than a few inches from the lip, that Samantha realised just how high up they were.
            “Wow,” she whispered. “It feels like you can reach out there and touch something with your hands!”  She whistled softly between her teeth before turning to face Herbert, her excitement high. She jumped up and down on the spot a couple of times. “This is wonderful!” she cried, throwing her arms around Herbert in a bear hug. “Thank you for sharing this with me!”
            “No problem,” Herbert replied, returning the gripping hug, revelling in the feel of her firm bust pressing against his chest. Through the skimpy fabric of her dress, he felt her heart thumping in a machine gun pattern.
            They kissed softly, Samantha’s hands running along Herbert’s back, plucking his shirt from where he had tucked it into the seat of his jeans. His hands explored the length of her back, from her thin hips, right up to the base of her neck. His fingers pressed and kneaded, stroked her silky tresses, ran up, and down along her back, bringing to his attentive mind the information that she wore no bra. This information engorged his already eager organ. By the time her nimble fingers delved down there, stealthily sliding down the zipper, his rigid cock pulsed with every beat of his heart.
            As quickly as they started, they disengaged, but only for the time it took for Herbert to steal inside his jeans pocket for a condom. No sooner had he produced the rubber did Samantha take down his pants, her eager hands holding his stiff organ like a club. Mesmerised, she watched him roll the rubber over the length of his cock, and then, he eased her onto the cold metal of the tank.
            He thrust her dress up high over her thighs, hearing her gasp as the cool night air tickled the inside of her legs. Almost instantly, the sweet, warm smell of musk rose to his eager nostrils, and he could feel the aching inside his groin. She wiggled her hips as he eased her panties off, wincing as the cold steel of the water tower claimed her bare white buttocks.
            They made love then, beginning quietly, lest someone overheard, but then, as their eagerness climbed like a barometer with their passion, they began to moan and grunt. Five minutes later, Herbert blew his biscuits. He slid off her, feeling the cold on his own naked bottom as he lay on his back, his hands manipulating the rubber sheath off his swiftly fading erection…

…the scene played over and over in his head now; more so than it did when Samantha shared his bed. Only now, the erection that accompanied it was hardly pleasant. Every throb of his heart was reciprocated by a thump of pain in his groin. He looked down and saw the crimson head of his cock peeking out from the fly of his crinkled boxer shorts, the fronts of which were stiffened with dried semen from previous ejaculations.
            Without thinking, almost like a robot, he tugged his shorts down to his knees, and with the fleeting images of Samantha lying atop the water tower with her dress pulled up over her hips, he jerked himself off and went to sleep.

The morning light stabbed his eyes, infiltrating through the moth eaten curtains that he was going to replace before the mine closed. Just the weekend before, Samantha and he had gone material shopping; something Herbert had never considered doing before, or ever again. He felt utterly stupid as Samantha dragged him around textile shops, choosing colours and comparing textures and asking if Herbert wanted a floral pattern in his bedroom.
            “Of course I don’t want pansy flowers in my bedroom!” he roared, but seeing her face smile as her trap ensnared him, he could only love her.
            Her enthusiasm carried him begrudgingly from store to store, where he smiled shyly at clerks who talked in the arcane language of curtain making, a language far removed from that used by miners. Samantha not only understood the language, but also spoke it fluently. It was on that day that Herbert learned that a bobbin was a spool of thread in the bottom of a sewing machine, and not a British cop.
            At home, with various doodles on a leaf of A4 paper, Herbert asked, “Where do we get the money to cover this?”
            Samantha had smiled, her eyes locking onto Herbert’s, riveting them in place. “Why that’s easy,” she almost whispered; when she talked like this, Herbert was compelled to concentrate on what she said, simply because if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be able to hear her. “I’m going to get me a job at the corner store. The owner just advertised yesterday, and I put my name down.”
            “Oh you did now?” Herbert smirked, captivated by her delicate features. She had lovely brown eyes, doe eyes, wide, and innocent. Dark hair framed her face, which was oval shaped, with a thin nose with a few stray freckles here and there. She was a thin girl, though large in the bust area. Most of the time, however, she kept her bust under control, wearing large shirts, or bust reducing bras. It was her one hang-up, having a large bust, and she was self-conscious whenever Herbert’s gaze lingered there too long.
            Most of the time, she was also shy, not taking Herbert’s compliments without colour flushing her cheeks. Like many women these days, she believed she was ugly, and no matter how hard Herbert tried to tell her otherwise, it was one argument he could never win. With thoughts such as these flittering through her head, she often dressed down, choosing clothes that all but hid her figure, clothes with dour colours and plain patterns.
            If he knew naught of Samantha’s sexual history, he could almost swear that she was still a virgin. It was a rare skill for a country girl to give this impression without wearing a throat to ankle dress with an impenetrable bodice. Not unlike their city counterparts, country girls experimented with carnal pleasures, more so than country boys it seemed. But that was only because country boys were too knackered after a day’s work to do more than drink beer and fall asleep somewhere. This lethargy more than anything else was the reason why country boys are often dubbed “slow.”
            “Whose car are you gonna use to run into town every day, eh?” Herbert had asked, though he was not really suspicious. He just wanted Samantha to get that impression, because just like her, Herbert liked playing little games of entrapment.
            “I thought I’d get a lift into town with Martin Price,” she said calmly, not taking the bait, for unlike her, Herbert’s baits were never subtle.
            “Mm,” he mused, or pretended to muse. But he was no fool. To afford all the changes Samantha planned, Herbert would need extra money from somewhere. Besides, he was sick to death of hearing how bored Samantha got when Herbert was working in the mines like a slave—it was like they were married or something!

Herbert gunned the motor of the ute with the odd door. The original sat in the shed with a huge dent in it where Jumpy Jones had kicked it with one of his engineer boots. He had kicked it not once, but four times, each time harder than the last, so hard that he had broken the big toe in his right foot. But he hadn’t felt it at the time because he was as pissed as a fart. Only in the morning would he have realised the sense of his folly and felt the pain, as Herbert felt his now, squinting into the morning sun as he drove towards town.
            His breakfast churned steadily in his guts, almost as if his intestines were in the spin cycle of a washing machine. The two aspirins he had taken with his morning coffee did little to stem the jackhammer that spliced his temples. Neither did the faulty suspension of his ute, another victim of his drastically reduced salary. As of the same day Samantha did a runner, Herbert’s ute was due for servicing. It was yet another raw twist of the thorn called life that dug deep into his skin.
            Town was five miles away; a long drive with a hangover. He felt every bump and corrugation in the road, and no matter how he tried to dodge potholes, his vehicle seemed determined to find them all. By the time he was in town, his forehead was flushed red with heat and sweat stained neat circles in the armpits of his shirt. Summer was a real bastard in these parts, unless you were rich enough to have air conditioning in your car.
            Herbert made a beeline to the pub, intent on restocking the beer he had chugged down the previous night. Two hundred and four dollars a week, minus bills, minus the food bill and the cost of petrol for his ute, left him with about thirty-seven dollars, which was just enough for a carton of beer, some smokes, and a newspaper. Presently, that meagre sum of cash was burning a hole in his pocket, as much as the hangover was burning a hole in his forehead.
            The pub was quiet even for a Sunday morning. Its worn façade of plastered cement, yellowed with age, looked like a sick old man in the bright sunlight. In fact, the building had next to no charm, other than the promise of ephemeral bliss on a Saturday night. Looking at it in the sobering light of Sunday morning—when all godly people should actually be in church—Herbert could see through the illusion it had supplied for most of his adult life. Nevertheless, such truth could hardly dispel his needs.
            The ute door whined as he wrenched it open. He glanced briefly around the car park, wondering why the steadfast barflies weren’t in residence. The answer was written in black marker on a sheet of paper taped to the front door:

Closed due to a death in the family.

            Herbert stared at the crude message, feeling his head throbbing in time with his heart. A single bead of sweat broke free from his hairline and drew a long channel down the side of his face. But like a true soldier, he swallowed his disappointment, scratched an itch on the base of his neck, and strode purposely back to his ute. Once inside, he rested his sweaty forehead against the steering wheel, realising suddenly that he wanted a smoke and that the only place to get them now was the corner store.
            The thought was hardly comforting, but what was the worse thing that could happen?  So what if there was a chance Samantha would be working today. Did it matter?  He stretched his mind back over the last gritty month; at no time while they were together did she ever work on a Sunday. Saturday maybe, but never Sunday. In her opinion, Sunday, being only a half-day’s work, was not worthy of making the five mile trip.
            Herbert smiled. That settled it then. She would hardly change her mind even if she lived closer to town. He gunned the engine, popped the ute into gear and drove off, feeling the strain of his headache finally abating.
            The corner store was just that; a store at the junction of the two main roads that quartered the town. It was a neat affair, with the typical bat wing doors and the wire cages imprisoning the blurb pages of all the local rags out front. These flapped in a tiny breeze that blew in from the east, tossing the scent of the wheat harvest into the air.
            Herbert pulled his vehicle over in front of the store and eased himself out. He jumped onto the sidewalk from the roadside, and bounded towards the bat wing doors. Inside, the air conditioner was working overtime, and tendrils of cool air wafted through the swinging doors outside. Herbert soaked in this coolness as he plunged into the corner store. He was about to march straight towards the cigarette counter, but stopped when a fleeting image tugged at his periphery vision.
            She was bending over a palate of newspapers, a Stanley knife deftly slicing the blue binding strips, and for the fleetest of seconds, he could see her thighs, clad in shimmering tan pantyhose, before she rose to her feet, her skirt falling down to a more respectable level. Though the glimpse was momentary, it was enough to cause Herbert’s heart to race.
            “Hello, Herb,” she said, smiling warmly, though her eyes weren’t committal. They took in the form standing before her, and Herbert could feel her repulsion emanating towards him, borne on the waves of cold air conditioned air.
            “Sam,” he replied, his gaze now intently on his scuffed boots.
            “Come for yesterday’s paper?  The employment section?”
            The words floated in the air, loaded with menace. Herbert moved his gaze from his boots to her shoes, neat little black leather things with cheap metal buckles. From there, he traced up her calves, going up only as far as her knees before he dropped his eyes again. He felt heat spreading over his cheeks.
            Samantha turned to a pile of newspapers underneath the display desk, rummaged nonchalantly through the piles of yesterday’s news, until finding the one that had Herbert’s name etched on the top. She passed it to him gingerly, leaning over from her waist in an unconscious effort to put as much distance between them as possible.
            “Could I have some cigarettes, too?” he asked meekly, and dared a glance into her face.
            It was the same face that he remembered, but somehow different. There was a knowledge there that hadn’t been there before, a certain look that pierced the façade that Herbert once possessed when he was employed. The façade of security and dependability, of being somebody worth knowing, all of which was robbed from him when the mine was liquidated. He knew she saw through this now, saw through it the same way the rich girls looked through him. She was above him now, moving up the caste ladder, while he slid down. In her face, in her entire countenance, came the look of maturity. She was no longer the innocent fawn, looking untouchable in comfort clothes. Now she was powerful, intimidating; a new woman.
            She led him now to the cigarette counter, her stride confident. Herbert heard the swish of her thighs sweeping together, the sound of pantyhose rubbing together. When he lifted his sorry gaze from the floor, he was staring at her arse, swinging like a pendulum left and right, a decisive wiggle that was hardly there before.
            Behind the counter, her power only increased. He could only watch in amazement and pitiful longing as she reached above her head for the cigarettes, not needing to ask what brand. He could see the outline of her bra as her breasts heaved forward, pressing against her crisp white shirt. And despite the flushes on his cheeks, he stared, wishing he could bury his head there once more.
            Beyond the counter, where the shop joined onto the living quarters, Martin Price could be seen talking on the telephone. At the moment, his back was towards Herbert. He wore a crisp shirt of the same stark white colour as was Samantha’s, tucked into a pair of navy trousers. Even as he watched Price’s back, he felt a stab of servility there. Price was, after all, everything Herbert was not: young, good looking, professional, the archetype of success. He had neat hair styled with great precision, straight, white teeth set into a perfect smile. And he had a job.
            Herbert scowled, digging a sweaty hand into his pocket to extricate some loose change for the cigarettes and the newspaper. He tossed over a ten-dollar bill, and dug inside his front pockets for some coins for the paper. But the further he dug into his pockets, the further away the coins slivered. He managed to wrench free a dollar coin, and one ten cent piece, and passed these sullenly to Samantha’s outstretched hand. It was at that moment that Price finished his telephone conversation. He glided into the store, all smiles and pristine pressed shirts, and a fucking Donald Duck tie for God’s sake!
            “Herb,” he said by way of greeting, the smile smeared thickly onto his face.
            The coin, which was almost in his grasp, slipped away from his thick, sweaty fingers, and plunged deeper into the base of his pocket. Fuck! Herb’s mind moaned, and despite the efforts of the air conditioner, found heat standing out on his face. His hand dug and prodded, creating an obscene bulge in the front of his pants.
            Price by then had turned his attention to Samantha. “That was my mother,” he said. “She’s coming up from Melbourne tomorrow, and wants to meet you.”
            Herbert glanced up briefly at that, sweat now stinging his eyes.
            Samantha replied: “Oh, that’s sweet.”
            And before Herbert could even hook his finger around the stray ten cent coin and flee, Price had sidled up to Samantha, his arm wrapped about her shoulder. He drew her close, planted a small, but polite kiss on her cheek, which she battered away modestly, as the Eternal Virgin should.
            Herbert swallowed a sick, syrupy chunk of phlegm that had somehow appeared in his throat. As he did so, his finger clasped the elusive coin. He wrenched it clear, his motion jerky, like a Punch and Judy marionette. He reached over the gulf between Samantha and himself, aware now that the flight of his hand was being watched intently by all three people in the store. Samantha extended her own hand, palm upwards, where the dollar coin winked with the other ten-cent piece, both coins catching the fragmented light of the overhead florescent tubes, reflecting it into Herbert’s eyes.
            He scooped up the cigarettes and the paper, and without looking up at either Price or Samantha, headed hurriedly for the door.

Outside, his hands shakily lit a cigarette, and blew smoke everywhere in dirty, nicotine stained clouds.
            The motherfucker! the voice in his head screamed, sounding like a foul mouthed five year old.
            In his chest, he felt a constriction, and it squeezed tight for a few seconds, before ebbing away with the beating of his heart. He drew cigarette smoke greedily into his lungs, almost as if it were the last cigarette he was to ever have in his life. Some short seconds later, he started the ute, his hands still shaking as he popped it into gear and released the parking brake.

She was only gone for a week, his mind prattled endlessly. The litany began half way through his journey home, a journey that passed by with uncanny slowness. He chain-smoked three cigarettes in that short trip, lighting the fresh ones with the butt of the old ones. By the time he popped open the door, his mouth tasted like an ashtray, and his hands and clothes reeked. At least the shakes were gone; he didn’t look like Mohammed Ali anymore.
            He went inside, his mind horribly lucid as it brought back memories. In his mind’s eye, he could see Samantha sitting at the table, could hear her laughing, could smell the perfumes she wore. The memories were like the stinging nettles of a box jellyfish. They wrapped themselves around every available portion of Herbert’s body and soul that was free, and stung. In the kitchen, he could see her laying out his evening meals. In the lounge room, she was sitting in his favourite chair, feet on the worn ottoman, newspaper spread before her in an impersonation of his once favourite Sunday morning ritual. And then, he staggered into the bathroom, and imagined he could smell her soaps and her shampoos.
            Lastly, he wandered into the bedroom, where many times in their relationship they had made love. The bed was ruffled up, indeed, had the appearance that a lot of wrestling had previously taken place, wrestling that may or may not have led to lovemaking. But it was all a lie. The bed had been messed up since Samantha left only because Herbert couldn’t be bothered making it. The only sexual action he was getting since then was when he flogged the bishop, and even from where he stood, he could see the stiffened scuffmarks where his sperm soaked into the sheet.
            He leaned against the doorframe, suddenly weak at the knees. All around him was the evidence of an entire week of neglect and slovenly behaviour. Clothes were scattered everywhere, along with crushed beer cans and scraps of food. On the cabinet that had once housed Samantha’s collection of cosmetics, a plate topped with fatty congealed lamb chops sat, the meat more than likely rancid, waiting to assault Herbert’s nostrils with its insidious stench.
            She’s just a woman, he told himself, and not for the first time since she left. Get a hold of yourself, man. But it was easier said than done. In reality, the main reason why Samantha meant more to him than any other squeeze was because he had spent more time with her than any other squeeze. By being unemployed, he was able to spend more time with her. She wasn’t just a weekend thing, or a quickie on a Friday night, either in bed or…
            …or on the water tower.
            He had taken her up there four times. That was the record. Four times. Even the time when she wore jeans, they had screwed. That last time, she had allowed him to enter her doggy style, something that she always seemed afraid of beforehand. She was special simply because Herbert had gotten to know her. But having done that, they had grown sick of one another, or at least that’s what Herbert thought it was.
            Surely that’s what it was?
            But could he be sure?
            Herbert stared down at the gelatinous mess of lamb chops on the plate, unaware that he had crossed the room to where they were. They stank too; the dirty, rancid, cloying odour of putrefaction. Herbert felt his gorge rise, and brought his hands to his mouth, aware as he did so that he was holding a piece of white cloth in his hands that at first he thought was a handkerchief.
            He stopped then, the need to vomit gone. Instead of a handkerchief, he was holding a pair of gossamer thin panties; Samantha’s panties, he realised with a jolt. They had been jutting out of the drawer where she packed them so neatly, folding each pair into a neat bundle before laying them down. The little ritual had been magic to watch, as well as the impressive display of knickers. This particular pair was transparent enough to read a newspaper through. To prove the point, he brought them up to his eye level and looked at himself in the mirror.
            He smiled then, like a boy sprung with his sister’s bra hiding beneath his pillowcase. He almost flung the panties aside in embarrassment, but stopped, not wanting to rid himself of the lovely texture of silk between his fingertips, or the smell they gave off, the faint aroma of woman. He opened the drawer they had been deposited in, but it had been totally cleaned out.
            This pair of knickers was all he had left of Samantha.
            He stewed on this for a few seconds, before scouting the room, randomly opening closets and drawers and wardrobe doors. He even went out to the laundry to find the dirty clothes hamper. The only underwear there was his. Returning to the room, he went to the big double door closet, and flung the doors wide. Inside, he was immediately hit by the smell of old clothes. Filled with a sudden urge to find anything of Samantha, he begun tossing clothes out over his back. All sorts of clothes fell out; jackets, ties, dirty odd socks, a pair of flares he had once worn in the halcyon days of the early eighties. He found old pictures of old girlfriends, old editions of stick books like Playboy and Penthouse; he even found some old dirty pictures he had taken of one of his girlfriends on one of his many excursions to the fabled water tower. It was her idea, and Herbert was stoned at the time and thought it would be grand. The only problem was that it was the middle of winter. Sure enough, his girlfriend of the time had nice tits
            (not nearly as nice as Samantha’s)
            but even nice tits looked awful covered in goosebumps.
            He couldn’t remember her name. Or where she went after leaving him. Or if she knew he still had these pictures, which he didn’t know about until then. He was just about to tuck them back into the box he had found them in when something long like a walking cane fell from the very back of the closet and rapped him nastily on the knuckles.
            “Shit!” he exclaimed, dropping the dirty pictures in his haste. He forgot about them the moment he saw the sleek, beautiful form of his hunting rifle, the barrel pointing its silent black ‘O’ of a mouth right at him. “Shit,” he said again, his throat suddenly dry.
            He pulled it out, running his hands over it. Like a whore on an erect cock, he rubbed it ecstatically. “I thought I sold you, beauty,” he whispered. Suddenly everything fell into place.

Monday morning he rose with the sun, fresh and alert. He ploughed through the piles of clothes on the floor and into the bathroom. In twenty minutes, he washed the stench of a week’s worth of beer and cigarettes from the pores of his skin, scraped the long hairs of a week’s worth of bumfluff off his cheeks and chin. He even combed his hair and brushed his teeth. Satisfied that his body was cleansed of a week’s depravation, he dressed in a nice shirt and an even nicer pair of slacks, both of which he rescued from the cupboard where he had found the hunting rifle.
            A new man, he drove with the radio on, singing along to John Farnham and Cold Chisel and some other Australian act to make up the threesome. He arrived in town just as the main street shops began to open. He watched the drama unfold with uncurious eyes, while at the same time, noting everything. First off the rank, the butchers. They arrived in separate cars, but as one, moved to where their shop waited, all of them nodding greetings at Herbert who nodded back.
            Next, the auto mechanic strolled across the street from his house to his workshop, dressed in his immaculate pair of stained overalls. Following him was the woman who worked in the post office. After her, the primary school teacher jaunted by in her tiny van, her six-year-old son gawking nonchalantly out at the world. Many others followed; the stock and station agent, the fuel station men, the banker in his neat pressed suit, and the man who owned the Rod ‘n’ Rifle store. Lastly, there came a red and white four-wheel drive, which eased itself slowly into the parking bay outside the shop.
            Out of the vehicle leapt Martin Price. He dashed around the other side of the car, where Samantha was dressed today in a loose dress. Neither of them noticed Herbert, but that was only because they were late. This was confirmed by Price, who after a quick peck of Samantha’s cheek glanced at his watch. “We’re late! We’re late!” he cried, too much like the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland for Herbert’s comfort. They disappeared as suddenly as they came, leaving Herbert alone in the street.
            After a short pause, Herbert stretched, a yawn escaping his lips. With one last glance at the red and white four-wheel drive, Herbert followed in the wake of the gun shop owner. But not before turning sharply on his heel, flicking a cool glance at the water tower, thrusting like a giant phallus towards the sky.

Every morning thereafter, Herbert awoke with the sun. He showered, shaved, broke his fast and dressed in neat clothes. By eight o’clock, he was in town, his ute parked somewhere inconspicuous. And then, he would just watch the charade of people going about the process of opening their shops. It was all very automated, a well rehearsed script.
            Herbert watched it from every direction, and every conceivable angle. He even dreamed it out in his head at night.  The schedule was roughly the same each day of the week, weekends included. The act became so repetitive that Herbert could almost set his watch to it. Sure, sometimes some of the actors would appear a little bit early, or a little bit late, but all that showed to Herbert was that he was dealing with people. Besides, the comings and goings of everyone else was not Herbert’s business. No, he could ignore them, using them only as guide lines towards the important goal he set himself. As far as he was concerned, the only thing that mattered was that the red and white four-wheel drive consistently pulled up at the front of the shop near enough to the same time, which it did, and Martin Price and Samantha Moss got out.
            He watched them through the cold glass eyes of a pair of binoculars. He saw every loving glance, every intimate touch. He watched them kiss and cuddle. Witnessed one time when Price placed a loving arm around her waist, and pulled her near to him and nibbled on her neck. Every day, they kissed before they unlocked the door and went inside. It was as if they knew that Herbert was watching them and were performing just for him. Only it was Herbert’s secret alone. Herbert’s obsession, a seed he planted, which was now germinating, sending shoots up through the surface of the earth, growing higher every day, under the shadow of the water tower.

It was Monday morning again; the sun was due to rise in an hour. Herbert had awoken at midnight, and had walked into town. It took three hours, but the time passed him by swiftly. He wasn’t nervous, indeed, he felt strangely calm. He felt calm even with the rifle in a carry bag slung over his right shoulder. The stock flapped back and forth, whacking him in the back several times. Though it sometimes hurt, it felt strangely comforting. Over his left shoulder was a knapsack. Inside the knapsack were all sorts of goodies. His breakfast for one. Binoculars, some suntan lotion—not that he thought he would have need of this. All of these things were minor, however, compared to the last two items he had packed inside the knapsack.
            He sat now on top of the water tower, watching the golden light tease the eastern fringes of the sky. Beside him, sat the rifle, sleek, powerful, charged with quiet menace. Next to it was the knapsack, open like a gutted fish. He could make out the shadow of the binoculars, and the lunchbox that he had packed his breakfast into. The bottle of suntan lotion had spilled out of the gaping zipper maw. It lay neglected on its side like some dead animal.
            The two mystery objects Herbert had fished out already, and both of them were sitting in his lap. The first of these items was the most practical. There were about two hundred of them sitting in a flip top box, minus the five or so Herbert had practised with on Saturday afternoon. Two hundred brass capped soldiers, about two inches long, with hollow tips to extract the maximum amount of damage. Herbert had asked the owner of the Rod ‘n’ Rifle store for some bullets that could stop a wild pig. The Rod ‘n’ Rifle guy had been so eager to please. He almost fell out of his pants to assist Herbert with his order. “You’ll have some happy hunting with these bastards!” the guy had exclaimed.
            “Yeah, you bet,” Herbert answered stoically. He couldn’t understand the guy’s enthusiasm then, though now it was steadily falling into place.
            The second object of great import was now crushed tightly in the fist of his right hand. The silk was a continual arousal, had been ever since he found it. Samantha’s panties glowed in the oncoming light of dawn, not as fiercely as they had on his first dawn raid on the town. Gradually, it had lost all of its sheen as Herbert soaked the translucent fabric with his sweat and his semen. At night, he would lie with it trapped underneath his engorged cock, and would pretend he was fucking Samantha as he had on top of the water tower. The only problem with this method of wanking was that he rubbed his cock raw if he did it too long. Even now, it chafed in the confines of his underpants.
            He sat now, panties squeezed tight in his hand, nearly two hundred bullets in the box in his lap. The feeling was odd, and somehow reassuring. He hadn’t bothered to ask himself last week why he bought so many bullets. As he was walking into town tonight, he allowed himself to dwell on the question. A rather sarcastic voice in his head had the best answer so far for it. It said simply, in case you miss. But that was no real answer.
            Only now, with the sun peeping over the edge of the horizon like a little kid did he think he knew the answer. It was very simple, and yet, portentous.
            Last night, just after blowing his biscuits, he drifted off to sleep. As was usual, his dreams centred on the events of all of the mornings of the last week. He was watching the people going about their morning duties of opening shop, and not unlike all of the times before, they moved like automatons.
            But then, something changed. The change was subtle, but telling. It wasn’t a physical change, but rather, a change in the atmosphere. Herbert was suddenly nervous, but there was nothing he could do but allow the procession of people to pass, to move into their shops. But they didn’t move into their shops; instead, they paused just outside, and they all turned around to look at Herbert.
            It was then that Herbert realised that he was naked and that he had a massive erection, and this erection was covered in red blotches that looked like carpet burns. In his hand was a pair of panties, but they couldn’t have been Samantha’s… could they?  For instead of pristine white knickers, the pair he held were frightfully discoloured, complete with yellow piss stains on the front, splotches of crusty semen and on back, a dirty, brown-green skidmark. With a cry of disgust and anguish he tried to cast them away, but they were stuck to his hand.
            “No!” he cried, shaking angrily at the offensive undergarment, but there was nothing he could do to shake it free.
            And then, he heard a loud rumbling noise, and as he turned around, he saw the red and white four wheel drive pull up before the corner store. Price got out on his side, and turned around to face Herbert. He smiled his infectious smile, before bowing low, a move made awkward by the bulge evident in the front of his pants. As was usual, he went around to Samantha’s side of the car, and she got out, one leg at a time.
            “Oh, honey,” Price told her. “You’re the cheapest date I’ve ever had!
            “I’ll give you cheap!” Samantha said, and like that time at the base of the water tower, she lifted up her dress. But instead of wearing white panties, Samantha was wearing no knickers at all.
            She smiled now at Herbert just as Price had done, and as Herbert watched, she turned away to face the way she had come, leaning over the bonnet of the car and showing herself to the throng gathered behind Herbert. Without needing an invitation, Price got behind her, his priapic prick thumping with pleasure, and began to hump her doggy style.
            In that moment, the people behind Herbert began to laugh. At first, it was a couple of giggles, and then, splutters of rapture, before it became a full-fledged chorus of ecstasy. Samantha turned her head around to face Herbert, her eyes half closed in pleasure, but her mouth curled into a sardonic grin. “They all know, Herb,” she said, through gasps of heavy breath.
            “Know what?
            “Know what indeed.”  Her smile curled up some more, before her lips parted, a gasp wrenching from deep within her.
            “What? Tell me!
            “I’ve been fucking Martin Price ever since day one, Herb. What do you think of that?
            “And do you know something else, Herb?  Everyone here knows, Herb. They know how I’ve cuckolded you, Herb!
            She suddenly collapsed forward as a wave of orgasms washed over her, but even as Martin Price began to shudder with his own explosion, the crowd began to chant a one word phrase over and over again…
            Cuckold! Cuckold! Cuckold!
            …and it followed him up into consciousness.

At a quarter to nine, the first movements were made. As per usual, the three butchers arrived, and crossed the road together. Herbert followed their progress through the sight of his rifle, levelling the crosshair with each of their heads. The post office woman was next, walking down the street with a parcel she meant to post, unaware that it would never make it to its destination. In her haste, she almost bowled over the banker, who had comically stooped to tie an errant shoelace.
            The auto mechanic crossed the street at ten to nine, turning back briefly to wave to his wife. In mid wave, he spun and mock high-fived the school teacher, who nipped past in her tiny van. Of all the people Herbert observed, only she and her son lived to tell the tale.
            The stock and station agent arrived just before the Rod ‘n’ Rifle guy, who stood for a long time behind his Jeep scratching his nuts, thinking he would go unobserved. Little does he know, Herbert mused grimly. At length, the whole charade was played out, and now they only awaited the star and starlet.
            They arrived on schedule, the red and white four wheel drive cutting a dashing figure into the heart of town. Herbert focused his crosshair on the number plate, watched it stop with brake lights flashing before the engine was killed. Just as the car stopped, Herbert thumbed the safety, peering down on Legoland as a scientist would over a petrie dish. His heartbeat slowed dramatically, his palms and throat dried out. A smile suddenly parted his lips.
            Price, as per bloody usual, got out first. He stretched his arms at the new trading week, and Herbert was tempted then and there to blow his fucking head off but decided against it. Something deeply wicked inside him wanted Samantha to see her lover’s brains smear all over the sidewalk.
            Somewhere down the street, Price heard a hello shouted at him. He turned briskly and waved, but whoever he waved at was gone before Herbert could sight them with his scope. Instead, he flicked back to the four wheel drive, where Samantha had eased one of her stockinged legs out of the door. Today, she was wearing a mini skirt, and from where Herbert sat, he caught an eye full of Samantha’s long, lovely thighs. Had he been standing in the doorway of the corner store, he reckoned he would have got a most wonderful snatch shot. But he wasn’t here to be a peeping tom. He had business to do.
            At length, Samantha alighted from the car, went straight into Price’s arms. Along with the short skirt, she wore a white halter-top that Herbert had never seen before. It hugged her breasts, lifted them up, giving them the roundness and shape that had always embarrassed her before.
            They kissed, almost as if they couldn’t stand five seconds without lip contact. Again, Herbert steeled himself against a premature shot. He instead focused the scope so that he could stare into Samantha’s unsuspecting face. This too had suddenly changed. She had wore little make up when she and Herbert bumped uglies. Now, her face was smothered in it. And setting it off was a deep crimson slash of lipstick on her lips. He wondered vaguely if she would scream when Price’s head turned into mush, but decided against it. She was always a rational girl, if now primped up like a country harlot.
            He watched them exchange another petite kiss, before finally separating, much to Herbert’s immense relief. If they had continued their tonsil hockey, he would have obliterated them on the spot. But no, his patience was rewarded when Price fished in his pockets for his keys. In another few seconds, they would make for the door in single file—Price, then Samantha—or at least, that would be their plan, but Herbert knew otherwise.
            He levelled the crosshair so that it was centred on Price. Herbert’s first thought was to make it a clean shot through his chest, but he realised if he did this, then he’d hit Samantha as well… and he wanted her to wear a bullet all of her own. So instead, he raised his aim a little higher than Price’s chest: to his head.
            And then, stilling his breath, which was the calmest it had been all month, he counted slowly to three and pulled the trigger. The shot rang out, loud and true, a flat resonation in the still morning. Everyone heard the shot and instinctively flinched—everyone, that is, except Price, whose head bulged obscenely to one side as the bullet entered just below his temple. At first, Herbert thought he was not going to fall, but then, slowly, like a tower of cards, Price’s legs buckled from underneath, and he fell onto the pavement. Only then did Herbert see the intricate spray of Price’s blood all over the front of the corner store.
            Samantha stood there for a full five seconds, seemingly unmoved by what had transpired, and then, it suddenly dawned on her. And despite Herbert’s thoughts to the contrary, Samantha threw her hands to her face and uttered the loudest of screams, the sound of her pitiful wailing reaching Herbert long seconds after leaving her obscene painted lips. Her screaming fit lasted no longer than ten seconds. In that time, just before the first people flooded the streets wondering what the hell Samantha was busting her lungs about, Herbert trained the gun onto Samantha’s stricken face, aware now of a swathe of crimson spattered across her face and all over her tight halter-top. Herbert pulled the trigger again.
            Samantha screamed no more, but instead, sagged forward, over her new lover, just as the first people arrived in the scene. And Herbert, steadier than ever, spied through the scope of his rifle, bringing it to bear again, and again and again… the flat resonant shots trumpeting the testament of his failings…

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