First Published in Nuketown

“My marriage was saved thanks to sharp-shooting.” Madge sipped her cha-tea and smacked her lips appreciatively.

“Oh, come on now! You don’t expect me to believe that, do you? You and Steve are a model couple. You never fight, your children are well adjusted, and you don’t have any sexual problems…” Delia looked at Madge through lowered lashes. They were five inches long and bright green.” At least not any you talk about.”

Madge nodded.” If I did have any I certainly wouldn’t talk about them.”

“But they would show, I mean, reflect in your marriage. What did you mean anyway, when you said it was saved by sharp-shooting?”

Madge set her teacup on the saucer and gave it a gentle shove, causing it to float down onto the table.” It was several years ago. The twins were only ten years old and Gilly wasn’t even born.”

“That sweet child! Where were you living?”

“In Palm Beach. Steve had a contract there. We had a charming apartment overlooking a golf course. It was miles from the ocean, but it was all we could afford at the time. Steve worked right in Palm Beach, and he drove to work every morning. We paid ‘mucho dinero’ in pollution penalties because we had two cars. But I always liked being able to go where I pleased, and Steve absolutely hates public transport.”

“Oh I know, I mean, I hate it too. So slow and crowded, and always on strike.” Delia drained her cup and placed it carefully on its saucer. She pushed it delicately with one finger and watched as it slowly drifted to the tabletop. She lit a tobacco-free-stick and leaned back into the soft cushions of the couch. Automatically two pillow-cats cuddled themselves under her neck and arms. They started purring softly, until Delia shushed them.” I’m dying to hear the rest of the story.”

“Do you want more cha-tea?”

“No thanks, Madge. I’m fine.”

“Well, he started coming home late from the office.”

“Bad sign, huh?”

“You betcha. I did a little spying around and found out he had a crush on a voluptuous blonde who worked at the beach paint-ball shooting gallery.”

“That must have been a shock.”

“Oh it was! Steve loves shooting. He still takes out a license each year and brings home the full quota. He’d been going to the paint-ball shooting gallery during his lunch break and the blonde noticed him. She was young and unattached. And you know how good looking Steve is.”

Delia licked her lips. “He must be a good shot too.”

“That’s why I was so upset when I found out he was taking part in the shooting contest,” said Madge seriously.

“You mean the famous Palm Beach Paint-Ball Festival?” Delia widened her eyes, causing her eyelashes to snarl in her orange frizzed hair. “Wowza wowza!”

“That’s the one. The one where the girls are half-naked and run around a three-acre target area while fifty contestants shoot at them. Each shooter has a different color. At the end of ten minutes, the judges scan the girls to see who shot the most color onto them. The winner ‘gets the girl’, so to speak. Actually, they get a fantastic date: a helicopter ride to a five-star restaurant in the Bahaman Islands and a night at the Atlantis Starlight Casino and Hotel. The girls are known for their nubile beauty. Why, one of the contestants won the ‘Miss Milky Way Galaxy’ last year.”

Delia tapped her ashes in a floating ashtray next to her wrist. “I remember that. I was sure the Vusian would win. That planet has the most stunning women. Was I ever surprised when a gal from earth won!”

“For once the telaxial-phone lines were working correctly. Everyone on earth could vote that year. It made a big difference. Anyway, to get on with my story. Steve told me he had a night out with his friends. He mentioned, just briefly, a shooting contest with his buddies. Ha! I was on to him by then. I didn’t have time to find a baby-sitter. I just grabbed the twins as soon as they were shuttled home from school and I loaded them into the car. ‘To hell with the pollution penalty!’ I shouted, and floored the accelerator. I must have gone three hundred kilometers an hour, all the way to the beach.”

“My heavens Madge, it’s a wonder you didn’t get arrested!”

Madge shrugged. “I had a marriage to save. I couldn’t let Steve win his gal. As soon as I got to the beach, I saw it was utter pandemonium. Everyone, it seemed, had brought a car. There was only one parking space left and I grabbed it. I didn’t have time to explain to the boys, I just told them to follow me and to stay close. If they had gotten lost in that crowd, I never would have found them again. I elbowed my way through to the front of the line. We got to the entry desk, and there I just bluffed my way through. ‘I’m canary yellow incognito!’ I said to the supervisor. I didn’t give a name, because I didn’t know, of course, who really had canary yellow. All I could do was pray he hadn’t already picked up his color. Well, I was in luck. Canary Yellow hadn’t shown up yet. The supervisor handed me the cartridges and told me to sign for them.”

“Wowza! That was quick thinking! You were lucky!”

“I positioned myself in the shadows, way up in the back row. I didn’t want Steve, or anyone else to see me. I’d already spotted a few of our friends. One of them was sitting not twelve feet away. The twins were terrific, they set about putting the ink into the cartridges and loading the gun. There were only ten cartridges.

“I located Steve with the binoculars I’d brought with me. When the shooting started, I looked carefully to see at which girl he was shooting. He had lavender paint. After three minutes, I saw the girl. She had several lavender spots on her thighs.

“Well, I took careful aim and shot her right in the face. It wasn’t very fair shooting, and it certainly wasn’t what anyone else was doing. They were all shooting the legs or hips, or the backside, because they wanted to take the girls out to dinner afterwards. I wasn’t concerned with that.”

Madge paused and sipped her tea.

“Steve was so shocked he shot wide, and I had nine more shots left. The girl tried to crawl behind a rock on the platform, but there were already several ladies crouched behind it, and she stuck out a bit. I shot her all ten times with yellow. She only had nine lavender spots. And a yellow face. With some red where her nose bled. Not that I cared.” Madge sipped some more tea. “Then the girl signed her name in front of canary yellow and I told her to get in the car.”

“She actually went with you?” Delia asked.

“It’s the rules. Otherwise, the girl can’t participate in the contest. She had to go with me. The scanner proved I shot the most paint on her. I drove to a nice place in the everglades and let her out of the car. Then I told her she could hike back to Palm Beach, and if she ever even looked cross-eyed at Steve again I’d get really mad.”

“Boy, sharp-shooting really did save your marriage!”

“Steve came home that evening a bit confused. He never knew I was shooting behind his back. I cashed in the restaurant and hotel reservations I’d won and bought a new anti-gravity swing-set for the twins. They promised never to say a word to their father. Such bright little boys.” Madge smiled and looked at Delia.” How are you feeling?”

Delia frowned. “A bit warm. My chin itches. What was in that cha-tea?”

“Oh, nothing much. A little something I concocted in chemistry class. Didn’t you know I was taking chemistry? Steve didn’t tell you that’s where I was on those Thursday evenings you came to see him? Well, it’s not dangerous, I assure you. However, it will make you grow a little beard. And maybe a moustache. It will be green, to match your eyelashes you dyed so cleverly.”

Madge leaned back and narrowed her uncanny, canary yellow eyes.” I hope you understand now. Our marriage is a model marriage because I work very hard keeping it that way.”

She clapped her hands and the cha-tea set floated obediently back into the kitchen.