Target Practice


The black door needed painting, but only after he had unhinged, removed, sanded and primed it. That wasn’t going to happen. He had intended to renovate his man cave in the basement. Man cave, what a pretentious, Neanderthal name. Men on television used it all the time, their fucking man cave, where they hung their stupid golf caps and watched football. It was just a windowless, panelled room with a work table, a padded arm chair hauled home from a second hand furniture store, a book case crammed with military histories, a wall-mounted television, weight training equipment, and a closet where he kept his rifle, military gear, and porn stash under lock and key. When Maggie had kicked him out, he took most of the contents of cave and closet with him to the apartment, including favourite rifle, the one he had used to shoot birds in the back yard.

Neighbours! Fuck ‘em. After his return home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, neighbours had slapped him on the back, praised his heroism, and offered to throw a street party to show their appreciation for the boys in uniform. Accepting free beer in the local tavern, he had nixed the party, and managed not to piss on their admiration. Civilians knew shit about anything. None of the dead-end jobs kept his interest. He brought home chicks hot to fuck a soldier while Maggie was at work and the girls in school.

Even before Afghanistan, after each tour of duty his desire to make love to his wife died another death. In the first year of their marriage, they went at it like rabbits. She sucked his morning boner. The last time they fucked, almost a year ago, after a few involuntary grunts and shooting his load just to ease the tension, they turned their backs to each other. Maybe, seeing slaughtered civilians in villages had something to do with it. She woke up with a scowl and kept telling the girls not to hassle their father, he was too busy. A couple of times they verbally clawed each other over the kids – they were his kids, too – whatever he said seemed wrong, even offering to take them to the biodome became an issue with their mother. So, fuck it. He loved his girls, but he didn’t have the energy to fight back daily, and more and more he didn’t want to. He began keeping his distance the way Maggie wanted. That way he could pass some of the day in peace, when he wasn’t fucking in his man cave. Except Maggie kept asking for things he didn’t give a shit about, and maxing out her credit cards, wanting him to cough up the cash. Buy this, buy that. There was never enough money. Yet, and this he couldn’t explain, after several months on duty, hoisting heavy equipment, swallowing dust, nerves alert, death a hair’s breath away, soldiers bleeding from their ears, he always came home with a hard-on, but not for Maggie.

Between jobs, he bumped into furniture as he shuffled from room to room, smoking two packs a day, appreciating his handiwork, but just as willing to hack through the walls with an axe. Weekly drills at the armoury did little to lighten the load of tedium or to compensate for a sense that everything exciting, everything that made his body alive, had ceased, and he might as well be a carcass in the Afghan hills like a Taliban with a shattered skull. Billy maintained his body-building regiment and watched porn and found relief only in his friendship with his civilian buddy, Isaac, who worshipped the ground he walked on. He liked that.

Bench presses and weight lifting at least kept his muscles hard. He had to be ready for the next deployment, keep his skills honed, waiting for the call, deflect anxiety of being passed up, so he started shooting birds in the back yard. Two of the neighbourhood ladies knocked on this very door a while ago. He had answered in his boxer shorts and dog tags which he wore when working out in the basement. Not knowing where to look, although Billy caught their glances at his crotch, he made no attempt to excuse himself or dress. He stretched his arms above his head, clasping his hands, tightening his stomach, so his boxers slipped down well below his belly button. His cock stirred. He’d bang them in a minute. He invited them inside, and offered a beer or scotch which they declined.

“We’re concerned about the children.”

“Yeah, your kids. I got kids, too.”

“But the poor birds, it’s terrible to shoot the birds.”

“You’re right, I apologize. I’ll shoot beer cans off the fence instead.”

“That’s the point. We don’t think you should be shooting at all. It’s against the law, and it’s simply not safe.”

He promised to stop. Two days later, aiming for their heads, a more difficult target, he exploded crows off the clothesline. Feathers rocketed in all directions like black fireworks. Maggie had spent the evening mollifying the neighbours. She then flayed him with her voice cutting like a bull whip. “You gone fucking crazy? This isn’t Afghanistan,” she had screeched, “the birds aren’t Taliban. You want the police here?” They argued most of the night. He gave as good as he got, pounding the wall rather than smashing her face. She was lucky he hadn’t rammed her head through the glass door separating the dining room from the kitchen.  Where the fuck had their love for each other gone? Dying in Walmart’s and Sears, and Afghanistan. He smoked in his man cave and slept slouched over in the leather arm chair.

Target practice, though, hadn’t led to the lawyers. A few months after his return, having lost his job at a warehouse where he ran a forklift into the water cooler, he had lost track of the time. Maggie came home to discover him paddling a fat-assed co-worker over his knee with his wife’s hair brush. Funny thing, she hadn’t said fuck all, just froze on the spot like some frigging, blank-eyed statue in Cyprus, then locked herself in the bedroom. She didn’t speak to him for three days, until she informed him that she had made an appointment to see a divorce lawyer. She wanted him gone. He could have mentioned her own lover, but that would have served no purpose. “Just get out here, I know what’s been going on, and I just can’t take it,” spoken in a calm voice like an undertaker at the local funeral parlour where he had “visited” one of the young reservists who had died on the street from an aneurysm.

So many soldiers: from teenaged reservists who didn’t know fuck about the real world, to seasoned veterans with bitterness seared into their eyes, some wandering the streets like ghosts with no one to haunt but themselves, others stopping by the shelter where he had volunteered until he couldn’t stand dishing out slop to the homeless. Some soldiers, reservists and veterans alike, seemed content with their lot and beamed self-satisfaction like pigeons shitting on the statue of Norman Bethune on Guy Street. Maybe Isaac, the only civilian he trusted, was right. Maybe he didn’t like anyone very much except for army bros like Carlisle who’d watch his back.

Years of training to defend and kill had not endeared the civilian world to Billy. Some guys enlisted out of a sense of duty, a belief in the cause. He had enlisted because he wanted to fight and get out of his parents’ house. He had watched his father get drunk every evening after nine hours at a stupid job in a factory, and gnawing his knuckles over unpaid bills. After welcome home ceremonies, speeches, and hail the conquering hero parades, they dropped you like dog turds in a park trash can. Even at his wedding he had endured the rites and the reception in a bowling alley party room, hot for Maggie whom he knew in high school, and decided to marry because he had thought he wanted a family.

He remembered holding his first-born daughter with pride, but the feeling dissipated like a morning fog, and he stood looking back and wondering what the point of all was. If he hadn’t joined the army before finishing high school, he would have dealt drugs in the back alleys and broken into the homes of old ladies to steal their cash. Or, worse. Marriage held him back, the army released him. He missed the men, the nerves, the sweat, and not having to think about furniture and paying the bills or what the fuck his kids would wear to school. His missed the whores and quick shags. Yeah, he guessed Isaac was right about not liking any one.

“Then why the fuck do you hang around? Yeah, well, I know why, cunt.”

Isaac answered by saying they needed, not what he, Billy, needed, but what they needed for supper. He was going to the hospital to visit his wife in the evening.

“You’re out of food. I can do a bit of shopping and make, say, a stew or spaghetti if you want. We have no bread or milk, or even a can of beans.”

“Yeah, sure, go, but get your ass back within the hour, bitch. I’m hungry and I need you here.”

“That’s why I hang around.”

“Fuck you. Be back like I said, if you know what’s good for you.”

The front door opened. Maggie appeared dressed in jeans and a Greek blouse he had brought home with him a few years ago. He used to bring many presents for his family after each tour of duty. But not after Afghanistan. Music boxes from Germany for the girls, brass candle holders from Turkey for his wife, scarves and bangles for all of them. They didn’t seem to satisfy Maggie who resented his absence as much as she resented his return. What did it all matter, now that his wife of fifteen years stood on the threshold, her arms crossed like a shield, sucking a neighbour’s cock, and her face still vaguely pretty despite puffiness and fine wrinkles around the eyes? Her red hair lost its sheen which had first attracted him long ago. Did her lover, one of the husbands down the street, also like red hair?

“You bring the money?”

“Not even a hello? You going to let me in?”

“Only if you got the money.”

“Yeah, I got it, hell, can’t we be civil?”

“Why, yes, my hero, we can. How nice that you dropped by to help your daughters. Do come in. I’m on the phone.”

He stared at her backside, now tending to a wobble with cellulite, as she hustled down the narrow hall to the kitchen. He had spent months a few years ago ripping out cupboards and laying down plank flooring, then installing new sink with a porcelain apron front like she wanted, now scratched and stained. Sometimes a few army buddies on leave had pitched in, but he had done most of the work with his own hands. Then the washroom upstairs, hammering the old tile loose, coughing through his mask to crumbling plaster and mould behind the old tile; and the deck out back from which he had maintained his aim and expertise with the sniper rifle. Hardwood floors throughout and new windows. The only thing he hadn’t built was the foundation, exterior walls, support beams and roof.

This had been his home, a decent place for his daughters to grow up in this rat’s nest of a neighbourhood. He was stupid to let Maggie throw him out because he had boned a bitch in the basement, well, more than one. Or because she wanted new living room furniture. Maybe, if they had managed to re-ignite their own passion, the way it used to be years ago, his wife wouldn’t be screwing a soft-bellied, neighbourhood hubby. Maybe, if she had let him play rough now and then and not always want sappy romantic bullshit like movie lovers, he would have behaved himself, but no one understood the roads a soldier walked. A soldier’s blood craved action, Jesus Murphy, it gave reason to live. Genghis fucking Khan didn’t slash his way through Asia, only to return home and wash dishes, or take his kids to school. Isaac understood. Isaac made him feel strong and valuable. In the washroom mirror, his eyes returned his gaze without recognition, two washed-out, blue eyes dead as opaque marbles in the dirt.

Who was Maggie talking to on the phone? You’d think she’d give him the time of day now that he had arrived with money in his pocket. She laughed, more a series of snorts and giggles; someone on the other end was tickling her fancy. Yeah, like the bus driver down the street who tickled her fancy when her husband had been risking his life and saving the free world. Well, some of that, but  he like many a soldier had boned more than one bitch while saving democracy. Not to mention the cunts he banged in the man cave, and the married couple who still wanted to play dominant bull and submissive cuckold in their condo downtown, although Maggie didn’t know about them. Isaac did, but Isaac belonged to him in ways Maggie could not. The thing his: he didn’t have to pretend love with them, just dominate and fuck them senseless. Then get out. Like a soldier.

Where were the kids? It was after four so they should have been home. Between tours of duty he used to walk the four blocks to school with them every morning, and waited for them at three every afternoon, until one day he became preoccupied with pounding a sweet pussy in his cave. He heard the girls shouting: dad, dad, you home? He placed a finger over the woman’s lips, hustled into his jeans, locked the door, leaped upstairs, and forked out cash from his wallet, telling the girls to go to the store for milk, canned peas and fish sticks. Buy yourselves a treat. Standing on the stoop, he watched them dawdle and giggle hand in hand down the street. For the life of him couldn’t even begin to get hot again for the cunt downstairs.

He didn’t know how to be a good father, but, yeah, he loved the girls, alright, and would rip off the head of any fucker who messed with them. They were his daughters, even if he didn’t always hand over the big bucks for school supplies, clothes, and summer camps. He didn’t want to let them out of his sight. Dressed only in his fatigues, his torso exposed to the cool autumn breeze, he must look like an idiot, so he waved when they turned around as if sensing he had been watching. Blending in the sky like birds flying out of sight, they were too far away for him to see their faces, and he was left standing half-naked with a soft dick in front of the black door which now needed painting.

He would bring something special home to them after his next tour of duty because they deserved it. Slamming the front door hard behind him, he wanted to smoke, but his fags were downstairs. Rubbing his crotch, he pictured the bitch in the cave sitting on the cushiony chair eagerly sucking his cock. He loved deep-throating, but few could manage it well enough to his satisfaction. She would have swallowed his load which he preferred, less messy that way. He would have liked to get her cunt juices gushing over his fist, and imagined Isaac there licking it, but imagination failed to arouse his dick, and desire shrunk to the size of a shrivelled pea rattling in his skull.

Maggie wouldn’t be home until six, but it was time to end the game. The bus stop was a block away. Maggie’s lover could well be on duty. Time to end the game: the phrase stuck in his mind like an iron post in cement, where it still lodged. It was too late to do anything with the bitch in the cave. Shit, where had the time gone? That was two years ago. Two years, and he was stuck in a dumb repetitive job at the small engine plant, working the evening shift, smoking his lungs out in a dingy apartment, and, yeah, well, there was Isaac who would never desert him. Isaac, his trusted civilian cunt.

Maggie had since kicked him out. The good times in the man cave had crashed down like a landslide. Something had to end: everything had to end. He had even lost interest in acting out the domination fantasies of his married couple, although he fancied stomping on the lawyer husband, and had been thinking of one last session, getting Simon to grovel at his boots, belt him black and blue just for the fun of it, shove the barrel of a gun down his throat until he gagged, terrify the shit out of him, drench him in piss. One last time for that, why not? And bring Carlisle and tell Isaac to join them, one last fuck fest with the cuckold pig and his slutty wife, and then leave. He wasn’t supposed to be here, waiting for his wife to yell at him. He was supposed to be cleaning his rifle in the barracks or patrolling a scorched highway in Kandahar with his fellow soldiers. Maggie still gabbing on the phone in that hyena-toned chuckle of hers, he checked the railing as he mounted the stairs. It was loose and should be repaired.

In his older daughter’s bedroom he sat on the puffy quilt and stared at the posters tacked to the walls. Shirtless pop stars with ripped abdomens, and fantasy animals, and Justin pretty boy Bieber. When he was her age, he had pinned Penthouse and Sports Illustrated babes on the wall, despite his mother’s protests, but at fourteen he was already big and could shout her down. She always backed off. These girls, his daughters, Phoebe and Julie, they would grow up behind his back. They’d live a life he’d never see. He’d protect them as long as possible, but he’d vanish eventually like that pink unicorn prancing on the wall. Billy opened the closet, examined all her clothes, most of which he had never seen before. He took two twenty dollar bills from his wallet, the last of his money, and placed them folded in half inside Phoebe’s ballerina jewelry box where she’d be sure to find it.

“Are you up there, Billy?” Maggie shouted up the stairs.

He had told Isaac that he didn’t mind giving Maggie money to help out; he wanted to give his girls the money, only he didn’t have as much as his wife constantly said he did. He had debts from way back, and gambled at the casino more than he should have. Cash for drugs and booze and rent, nothing left. What the fuck? What was the point of being around at all when he walked like a shadow among civilians? He couldn’t hold down a job without wanting to punch his boss in the face, and would rather suck up his own puke than push a cart in a grocery store, or attend parent-teacher conferences at his kids’ school, or listen to Maggie whinge about the cost of living. If he stayed, he’d drink himself stupid with old civilian farts or former soldiers in the neighbourhood tavern. God, if only the army would send him back.

At the top of the stairs he looked down at Maggie who stood at the bottom, her hand on the newel post, her words screeching up in the dim light of the hall. With his rifle he could take instant aim from this angle and shoot her through the head like a bird on a wire: couldn’t miss. He didn’t want to shoot his wife, but with her voice pecking at his brain he imagined cocking the trigger, and squinting one eye the way he did when he got a bead on his target. A week-long military exercise at the Valcartier camp had been announced at the armoury: field practice for reservists. If he could get time off work, he could shoot as much as he needed to. Taking one slow step at a time, holding on to the rail, he descended, coming closer and closer to Maggie’s rapid mouth.

He couldn’t quite hear what she was saying because his skull resounded with ricocheting bullets shot from his semi-automatic rifle, blocking all other sounds, but he steadied himself by focussing on her dark eyes as if they were his target. Maggie stepped back when he reached the bottom. They stood face to face, silent except for her quick breathing. There had once been love in their green depths, as green as the eyes of his favourite Hamburg whore who put out at bargain basement prices for Canadian soldiers. Fick mich, fick mich, danke. Fuck me, fuck me, thank you, she practically screamed when he fingered her clit. He remembered telling Isaac all about his escapades with his German hooker and her talents, especially her skilful tongue.

Without knowing names and places, Maggie often threw his overseas infidelities in his face. Anyway, she had all the facts she needed for a divorce. Her life wasn’t easy, he could see that, but he no longer cared. Digging into a pocket, he pulled out the folded envelope containing three hundred dollars which Isaac had given him, even though he hadn’t asked. Take it. You need it more than I do. His cock stirred by the gesture, he could have fucked Isaac there and then on the sofa out of gratitude, but he just gave his friend a playful sucker punch in the gut.

Maggie sighed as she counted the bills. Glancing into the living room, he noticed the brass Turkish candlesticks on the stone mantel he had himself placed over the phony fireplace. In one corner they used to set up the Christmas tree, and from the mantel he had hung the girls’ stockings filled with candies and little gifts. She reached 200 and was still counting the money out loud. Without speaking, he opened the black door, checked the roof tops on the other side of the street as if searching for snipers, almost jumped off the stoop to the sidewalk, remembered that Isaac would be spending the night, and did a quick pace march down the street. He didn’t look back when Maggie called his name.

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Kenneth Radu's stories have appeared in many online magazines, most recently in the Northville Review. He has published many books (fiction, poetry, and a memoir), the latest being a volume of short stories, Sex in Russia (DC Books). A new collection entitled Earthbound is also forthcoming from DC in the fall of 2012. He lives in Quebec, Canada.

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Christopher Coffey makes his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A longtime resident of the Midwest, Christopher graduated with a degree in art from St. Olaf College. That was a long time ago he hasn’t come too far since then. He hopes to grow up some day and become a real person with a webpage. But for now he mostly wishes he was anything that he is not.

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