We had our first lunch at the local café amid the stares of curious gapers. That time, I was wearing a business suit and he, a kelly green ensemble that made him resemble Robin Hood. I liked this. People stared in horror when they looked upon him, and then, because they saw us together, treated me as the quivering field mouse of his more pouncing cat. "He is no pussy," I wanted to tell them.
An old lady with a flat face, black spectacles, and brown polyester slacks flagged me on the way out of the diner. "Dangerous!" she hissed, clutching my arm and staring pointedly at him, letting out a quick verbalization of, "Bad luck shooter," because he and I were moving quickly from that place like I might be his arm guard, with him my very skin.
"But I am a lucky one," I called back to her as he ushered me out. I'll never know whether she heard. That night, in a mysterious absence, he left me for hours and then made a chain of daisies and arrows pointing the way to our bedroom.
"I'm like cupid," he said.
"You very much are," I said. "Where's my chocolate?"
"I feel a growing tenderness for you," he replied, his fingers tracing the rounded curve of my ass as we lay on the tile floor together, forsaking the bed. "You mean a lot to me, and if I cannot shoot things any given day, please know, I'll tell you. Even if I am the slightest bit sick, which could affect my aim. Even if I feel a tremble in my hands. But things could happen that are out of my control, as I explained. A sort of target panic every once in a long while, when I feel an uncontrollable sense of rejection. And you know these are the risks. I tell you before we begin."
I trusted him completely, trusted the strength and skill of his fingers, noted how they could privately make me cry out, moan and swoon, shriek "Come to Jesus," come rushed in another way, quickly and easily, with his concentrated rubbing. Often, I stared at his hands, how long and fine they were, how neatly tended. How could hands be so good in one place and not be marvelous in another? His hands were perfect at anything he endeavored. I was his apple girl a long time, slick and wet with the split of pale flesh. For a living, he was paid to shoot similar things off the heads of women on the Wild Man Marvels TV series, but at home I was his practice model and he shot what he wanted to shoot. He had done this activity for quite some time, talking often about the various comings and goings of his toxophilite past with tournaments and weekend engagements before the TV gig.
His assistants were all prettier and bustier than me. They kept changing. He'd complain when he got a new one. "All this height flux! Can't they just stick to five-foot-four? Damn actors' unions, fucking agencies, hell's gate producers!"
Before that, he worked in the education industry as a special services librarian who tracked and routed rare books. "When I worked as a slave to the man—" his tirades often began.
"But you are the man," I told him each time. "White. Part of the power dynamic. From a day job, you sat on your ass and that job paid more th—"
"I am not the man!" he replied, with vinegar, but this argument never went anywhere good, so I took to nodding and letting it be; I was, at least, good at that—getting better and better—a nodding welter-weight champion.
I worked as a law firm clerk since we met, but when we started dating, some two years ago, I had a new job, too. When I got home from work, I'd strip off my gray suits, my stockings, my three-inch heels, and my fine jewelry. This was our ritual. Pulling on the red leotard and green ballet slippers, I let him touch and embrace me, his favorite thing to pinch my nipples through the thin leotard fabric, to see my breasts almost but not quite on display—to dip his hand into the neckline to cup them before we walked out into the air, and to suck them while he cupped them, either through or pulled free from the sheer red fabric. This was foreplay.
We went through a bushel of apples some days. Before he nocked the first arrow in his bow, I pulled my hair back and fastened it low on my neck, my part centered clean-split down the middle like the apple would be. Nothing could disrupt the seat of the apple, he admitted, and I looked like an apple, too, he said, so there was unity in my pairing with the fruit, so much so that he felt to hit the red apple atop my head with his arrowhead, to slice it in half, was akin to separating twins.
"You have no seeds," he said, "but not to worry. I shall put my own inside you." I groaned and then I groaned. Sometimes, he fucked me in the field, not stripping me, solely moving the leotard aside as my back pressed against the grass with his hands on either side of my shoulders. When he touched me after release, his hands were hot, from shooting or otherwise. He drank apple juice every day of the apple phase. He suggested we have a daughter and name her Apple. "You know," he said, "like that famous Paltrow girl?"
"We are not married," I said.
"I thought you were more modern," he replied.
"It's about child support," I said. "You know, should we split." I didn't tell him that I didn't want his baby, which was true. I didn't want any baby. The fucking things screamed. I was sure I wanted nothing to do with them. "I'm just saying," I said.
"That is not positive thinking," he said. "Take care of your green shoes. They're muddy."
Apples were only his newest obsession. Before this, I stood in the field with an eggplant on my head, in a purple leotard, with the same green shoes. He had gone on about eggplants, such deep purple luster, such perfect nutty flavor, such resemblances to the classically painted bodies of women. "Eggplants are actually berries!" he had told me then. "Botanically speaking. Big violet berries. And their seeds have nicotine! Did you know that?" I heard a lot about eggplants those days.
But he was done with eggplants now. "Apples," he told me one night, several months into the newest trend, "were a favorite of ancient Greeks and Romans, were introduced to America by early settlers, who brought seeds. We gave the Native Americans apples, maybe like the way they gave us corn. Apples are magnificent fruit. And it's like I'm your teacher. By splitting the apple on top of your head, I accept your gift." When we walked in from the fields each night, we never ate the apples he split, but left them for the birds. "Nature will take its course," he said. He had straight blond hair that fell over his eyes, which he often blew upward to clear his vision.
Things went on this way. Then one day at the law firm we had a new case. The family of Emma Gold versus Claus Belifrade AKA Fruit Shooter, regarding her sudden lapse into a coma after being lacerated in the head with an arrow. I felt sick and flabbergasted. I looked at all the photos from the shoots, at the blood on the ground the day she was pierced in the forehead, at the pictures of her laid up in her hospital bed, head wrapped in white. I had never watched his show, preferring to think of myself as his best, his real muse or his true mistress for his art—but in the film clip they had for court, she was dressed as a kiwi, in an electric green leotard, with green shoes, a thin blond girl with Hollywood ginormous tits standing at attention, her long hair flowing out behind her. And then she was hit. And then she fell. Crumpled, more like. A little round O of a moue on her lips, so surprised! It was good the show had not gone on live that day. I mentioned this lawsuit and footage to Claus at home that day, like one would mention a reel of orphan footage in Somalia, like: Isn't that terribly sad and shocking?
"I know about the lawsuit," he said. "But there are several differences here. Emma did not tie her hair back. This was distracting. She is not the lucky one like you are. Distracting. I work when I'm sick—at work—but never here with you. It was an unhappy accident, really. They'll throw her case right out of court."
"Will they?" I asked. "My firm is fighting it. We could win."
"You should tell your boss to drop the case," he said. "The media owns everything. It's a global tipping point. They call what they can do and waive off the damage. There's no way the family will win. Emma signed many liability waivers before starting with the network. Honey, this is a losing suit. Really. Cases like hers, in this climate, they've been thrown out before. If it weren't so distasteful, they could film agreed-upon teenage rape scenes and get away with it."
"Agreed upon rape?"
I nodded. That's what I did.
He was right about the lawsuit, even after poor Emma Gold began her life as a shut-in with constant care, which the jury was somewhat swayed by, because the terms of the contract were explicit. They even kept a video log where she calmly answered each question about her willingness to take risks in return for her salary and a spot on network TV with bonus potentials.
From me, each day, the apple fell halved from my head. He got heady with his count. "I have now shot close to triple eight hundred fruits from your head!" he said one evening as the stars sparkled around us. "We should film me shooting you! You must have magic hair, hair that deflects any arrows, calls the arrows into the fruit, whispers to the wind, giving directions."
"I believe in you," I said. "This explains my stillness."
"I believe in you, too, and I love that you believe in me," he said. "It steadies my hands." Then he swung me around in his arms, planting kisses on my face, my shoulders, the neckline hem of my red leotard, the hem of it near my thighs, and higher, and lower.
We stood on the same level field when he finally shot an arrow that went over my head without grazing the apple. I heard it whistle as it passed. "Fuck!" he shouted, trying to track where it landed. "Fuck! Fuck! Shit!"
And then he calmed. He caressed me without taking me, rubbing my arms as if to warm them. "Do you believe in me less today?" he asked grimly, and then said, "No more arrows tonight, okay sweetheart?"
I began to secretly watch his show. I rented old episodes. I watched every bit of the footage I could find. I was so proud. How elegant he looked in the black velvet suit wardrobe picked for him. How debonair he was on those strange fields he shot from, blowing the blond hair from his eyes as he did at home, before shooting various objects, often very small ones, from the heads of some elaborate vixens wearing next to nothing. The videos all seemed quite similar. Except one day, I discovered a stash on his desk that was labeled with the show's title and DRESSING ROOM. They were dark and hard to view. He had some hinky net-cam set up. Maybe the footage was from security cameras. On each tape was what appeared to be motion-activated footage of him and his co-stars standing close together—footage where they spoke quietly. In the first clip, I heard him tell the woman, "I won't hit you. Not to worry. You have arrow-proof hair." To others, he said similar things. He stroked each of those depicted, caressing them like prize produce.
I went to visit Emma at her facility and spent a good while staring at the scar on her face where the arrow had entered her brain, where the hair had just begun to grow again. She could not talk. She slobbered. Every so often, she said something unthinkably close to "Kiwi," but it could have been "Come here," or it could have been "Gimme." I put my face close to her mouth, drawing my ear as close to her lips as possible—but her vocal chords went silent. She just breathed, in and out, as if almost sleeping, and then thrashed her head back and forth for some time. She's a vegetable, I thought, then wondered how close a vegetable was to an apple. Turns out, it didn't matter.
Claus came home that day and announced, with a flourish, "We go next with bananas, my love! Bananas! This will require you to wear a metal headband that holds the fruit upright on your head! But not to worry! I have made this device from a hanger and zip-ties. This way, when the arrow pierces the fruit, it can clearly be seen to do so. I'm not sure if the arrow will get stuck. Did you know banana plants, though very tall, are not trees? Did you know both banana skin and fruit can be eaten? That they have pseudo stems?" He handed me a yellow leotard. This time, he handed me new brown shoes. "The green no longer goes."
I felt the green still went, but later that week, I stood on the field wearing the brown. A cold wind blew. Goose bumps gathered on my bare legs and arms, and I stood erect, with the weird metal headband giving me a near-headache as the banana stood upright within it like a displaced penis, my own tall banana crown. In the distance, wheat waved in the fields. I looked at Claus in his red sweater and pair of jeans.
I remembered the footage I saw that day of a girl in his dressing room as he wore the same outfit, a new girl, thin, brown, svelte—the footage recent—"I won't do bananas," she'd said.
"Why not," he asked, moving his hands slowly from her waist to her breasts to her shoulders, with his usual arrogant punning about prowess. "You do my banana quite well."
She slapped him. "You're an ass," she said. I had never seen her on TV. Her refusal could mean everything. But I had not refused him. I gave him everything he wanted; I began to regret that as I stood in my yellow leotard and brown shoes, trying to be a twin banana to the one on my head, trying to see his face clearly in the distance, trying to make a decision about all this that would feel like a huge letdown or a huge relief—and then he did something that helped.
He lowered his bow and wiped the sleeve of his red sweater across his nose. It could have been an itch, but seeing this happen, watching him as he nocked the arrow, seconds later, I instinctively fell to the ground, hugging the earth, and "Get up! Get up!" he shouted. But I would not. "Please, get up," he begged. "Are you okay?"
I kept nodding, but I wasn't moving. He knew I was not listening then, must have known, because he threw down his bow and arrow in disgust, and then, in full view of me, with red nose running clear and yellow, unchecked, onto his lips and chin, began to sneeze.
Title graphic: "Take Aim" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2011.