by James Turner
Billy kept his anger shackled to a tree at the bottom of the garden.
Previously, it roamed the house, finding comfort when it was at his side. On the regular occasion he found himself drunk, Billy would tease it with his boot or cigarette butts. He’d kick it if it became too riled, to watch it whimper softly into the corner.
Gloria changed all that.
She moved her python tattoos and denim shorts in after they met at the liquor store downtown. Billy’s fury stalked the rooms, snapping at her bare legs.
“It don’t belong indoors,” she eventually told him as they lay on the bed, their eyes heavy. “It’s not normal.”
“It’s their home,” Billy said, rubbing the scar tissue on his hip. “I need them here.”
“But you’ve got me,” Gloria said, as their eyes closed.
When he was young, Billy kept his anger in a box under the bed. Bringing it out to create war and pain whenever his father came home drunk or a kid teased him at school. One day he came home to find his father had thrown the box in the trash, telling him to go outside and play. Billy had to find his anger in other places, in the neighbor’s gardens or down by the lake.
Billy awoke one morning to hear Gloria screaming. He had no memory of the night before, but already knew what had happened. In the kitchen he followed a trail of blood to the living room where she was laid out on the sofa, blood pouring from her leg. Eight stitches later, she wanted it gone for good.
With Billy’s anger out of sight they were happy, days rolling on the sofa, listening to the sound of the waves and making up the answers to crosswords.
Once her stitches were removed and the wound was fully healed the scar tissue was covered with a tattoo, a bright yellow python that twisted round her calf, biting her lip as the fresh skin was filled with ink.
“You should get one too,” she said, squeezing Billy’s hand. “A small one on your arm.”
“I don’t know,” Billy said.
Later that night as his arm burned, awake beside Gloria, he rubbed the skin raw. It eventually settled though, and he thought that would be that. Then one balmy night he heard an agonizing roar through the open window. No sound he had heard before. Whatever he had chained out there was different now, neglected and alone it had become desperate. Billy covered his head with the pillow and tried to block it out.
Gloria slept through it, day after day, as Billy sat in front of the television smoking cigarettes from end to end.
“Do you want to sit out on the porch and make paper airplanes,” Gloria said one morning.
“Not today,” he said, eyes fixed on the images on a screen.
“Come on, Mr Grumpy,” she said, pulling his arm.
“I said no,” he said, pulling away, looking down at that python on his bicep.
Two nights later, he could not listen to any more, and, taking his father’s pistol from a box under the bed, he went out into the neglected undergrowth of the back garden. The anger that he had known and kept close for so long was now alien to him and the feral cries out in the darkness kept his steps short and nervous. Finally he came to the tree trunk where he had applied the shackles and held up the pistol in his shaking fist. It was silent, then with a rattle of chains it leapt up at him. He could feel the power and hot breath envelope him, that fury that had been hiding came bursting out once more and he screamed with pure rage, fighting it back, before firing six bullets into its fiery guts.
The next morning he awoke in bed, Gloria leaning over him, watching his eyes flicker. He felt that it was still close. The python bulged as he pulled his arm from the sheets, his anger still warm in his hand.