Winners: Ryan Stone - Catching Tigers
Short Story 1500 - Shortlist
I was carrying a tiger snake in a hessian sack when I came across my old man and Mrs. Bennett out on the salt flats. I saw a flicker of light in a place there shouldn't have been any and went to investigate. First I saw a car, then I heard moaning. I dropped onto my guts and slithered over the broken ground like I was a snake myself.
Drought choked the Australian outback, but patches of straggly bush managed to poke through the dry lake in places. Not much, but enough that I could get close and stay hidden. I lay the hessian sack beside me, checked it was still tied, and made a peephole in the bush. My school tuck-shop lady was naked, on her hands and knees, backing up to my dad. His skinny arse was bare and almost as white as the dry lake bed he was kneeling on. Each time he pushed forward into Mrs. Bennett, I could see her heavy tits swing beneath her like ripe fruit. My old man had his eyes closed. He was thrusting and slapping with more life than I'd seen him display in years — certainly more than he brought to those rare occasions when I'd hear a slow, steady beat from his and mum’s old bed in the night. No gasping cries of "God!" ever came from my parent's bedroom the way they rang out over the salt flats.
I lied to myself that I was hiding to avoid the beating my dad would dish out if he caught me. They were making so much noise I could have slipped away unnoticed. The truth is that I'd never felt as turned on as I was at that moment, the sun beating down on my back while a grown woman bucked and writhed, completely oblivious, only a few feet away.
With one last cry of "God! Oh, Jesus!" my dad collapsed onto Mrs. Bennett and shrunk back to his former self. She stayed on all fours for a bit longer and used her hand to finish the job. When it was done, she wasted no time in extricating herself from under dad's flaccid form and getting dressed. Then she moved back over with her hand outstretched. Dad rose up onto an elbow to hunt through his discarded slacks, found his wallet and handed over a few notes. "That was something else," he said. "I bet you haven't been fucked like that in a long time."
Mrs. Bennett took the cash. "Yeah, Norm. It was great. You're a real man." My dad seemed satisfied and lay down on his back, shielding his eyes from the sun's glare. I wondered if he'd missed the spiritless tone in Mrs. Bennett's voice or if he just didn't care.
That evening, I sat down to dinner with my oldies and my little sister, Gertie. Dad was his usual insubstantial self, so different from the bareback rider of that morning.
"Jimmy's got another snake in his room," Gertie told Mum.
"Jimmy! How many times do I need to tell you I don't want snakes in my house."
"It's only for tonight, Mum. I'll take it to Doc Jones before school."
"It's all stripy like a tiger," Gertie said.
"Jimmy! God help you if you've brought a tiger snake into the house," Mum said, her voice rising a notch.
"It's locked up tight, Mum. I swear. Doc'll give me twenty for a tiger."
"Twenty dollars! You're risking your life for that vet, and all he can manage is twenty measly dollars?"
"It's for your birthday present," I tried.
"What does Doc Jones want with tiger snakes, anyway?"
"He makes his own anti-venom to treat dogs with snake bites. The stuff costs a fortune, and they'd never use it to save a dog." Mum loved dogs.
"Make sure it's gone by morning. And if it gets out overnight..." Mum let her glare finish the thought for her.
Before bed, I checked that my snake was secure in its aquarium and then curled up myself. It didn't take long before Mrs. Bennett invaded my thoughts, peeling off her canteen uniform to stand over me. I tried to imagine the weight of those breasts on my chest, the feel of the curly hair between her thighs.
I waited in line at my school canteen the next day. Once I was close to the front, I could see Mrs. Bennett serving behind the counter. She looked up to take my order with a cheerful grin.
"What can I get for you, love?"
"I…I... sold a snake to the vet," I said. "I caught it yesterday, out on the salt flats.
"The salt flats?"
"Yeah. Have you been out there lately?"
"No, Jimmy, I can't say that I have. What would you like?"
I lifted my gaze from the front of her shirt to her face. "Ah, nothing. I've changed my mind." I turned and walked away.
It was a slow walk home from school. The sun was hot, my bag was heavy. Underneath my shirt I was sweating like a hooker in church. I was kicking a stray pinecone along the footpath when a car pulled up beside me, window down.
"Hey, Jimmy." It was Mrs. Bennett in the same station wagon I'd seen out in the salt flats. "Do you want a ride?"
My skin stuck to the hot vinyl seats when I left an arm or leg in one place for too long, but it beat walking.
"So, you were out in the salt flats yesterday?"
"A few snakes."
"Did you know I've got a special gift, Jimmy?" She caught me off guard. "I always know when a man wants me."
"Ok”. I could feel my face growing hot in the already-baking car.
"How old are you, Jimmy?"
"Sixteen, ma'am. Seventeen, end of this summer."
"Have you been with a woman before?"
"Would you like to? With me, I mean?"
"Yes, ma'am.” I wondered when my voice got so small.
Mrs. Bennett pulled into her driveway.
"What about Mr. Bennett?"
"He's not due home for hours, even if he happens to come straight home. Don't worry." She took my hand and led me inside.
Afterwards I lay on my back, unsure where to look. Mrs. Bennett lit up a smoke beside me.
"I don't have much money," I said.
She rolled over to look at me, one breast falling onto my shoulder.
"I knew you saw more than snakes out in the salt flats."
My blush betrayed me.
"You've still got a lot to learn about the world, kiddo. Yesterday was something I do for men like your dad from time to time. Today is different. Today is all for me."
She finished her smoke and pulled me back to her heat. And God! Oh Jesus! I knew I would always want more.