The glow of the television danced across their faces as Gordon tugged at the corner of his cardigan. He shimmied into position and straightened the glasses he wore when he wanted to see the TV properly. Enid had made herself a cup of tea and was dunking a Scotch Finger biscuit.
Into their living room came theme music for the television newsbreak as Enid gave her biscuit an extra dunk. A serious man with an earnest face and a serious suit looked into the camera.
‘Good evening,’ he said. ‘Tonight, a new development in the war on terror as President George W Bush addresses the US.’
Gordon and Enid said nothing. Really, what each of them wanted was for ‘Hornblower’ to start. They didn’t care too much for speeches by American Presidents. Not on a Sunday night, at any rate. It was, believed Enid, quite thoughtless to be making speeches on a Sunday.
‘The President has named what he referred to as rogue elements of the international community calling them an axis of evil,’ said the newsreader.
Gordon shifted slightly in his seat, partly because he was feeling a little warm and partly because the tuna mornay was making him flatulent.
The television showed footage of the President standing at a podium, his hands gripping the lectern as if it was a steering wheel. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he intoned. ‘This axis of evil can no longer be tolerated. A confederacy of free nations will demand that these rogue elements be brought to heel. Liberty demands it. The American people demand it. And the free nations of the world demand it.’
Enid wondered whether Gordon really thought she couldn’t tell he was quietly breaking wind. Thirty-two years of tuna mornay and he still thought he could fart without his wife knowing.
The newsreader reappeared, saying, ‘The President named Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Gordon Campbell of 12 Sunshine Court, Doncaster as parties to the axis of evil.’
Enid drew in her breath so sharply that it whistled, while dropping her biscuit into her tea. It splashed up over the rim of the cup and onto the saucer. She struggled to put her cuppa down and shouted, ‘Gordon! What have you been doing?’
Gordon’s mouth was wide open. At the sound of his wife’s indignation, he managed to lift his jaw up just enough to deny everything.
By the look on Enid’s face, it was clear that she didn’t believe him. ‘Have you been writing nasty letters to the local paper?’ she demanded.
Gordon could feel the colour rising in his face. ‘Not a one!’ he cried.
‘Well what is it then?’ she demanded. Even though the room was dark, you could tell her face was growing purple with frustration. ‘Why has President Bush named you as being part of an axis of evil?’
Gordon thought about this for a moment. ‘Where to begin?’ he wondered. He didn’t always attend to his recycling the way he should have. After all, now that he was retired, he thought he’d earned the right to cut a few corners.
Sometimes, when he was driving his Toyota Crown, he deliberately didn’t let cars merge into traffic. It resulted in the tooting of car horns and frantic one-fingered hand gestures and, when he felt especially vigorous, he even returned the one fingered salute.
Then, of course, there was the time a couple of summers ago when he watered his lawn with the hose in direct contravention of the water restrictions. But he’d been so careful about it. Even getting up at four o’clock in the morning so that no one would notice.
‘It could be so many things,’ he answered honestly.
Enid slapped her hands on her lap in exasperation. ‘What will people say?’ she cried. She patted him on the shoulder and said, ‘Perhaps you should turn in for the evening? We’ll sort this whole thing out tomorrow.’
Now Gordon was really angry. He had been looking forward to watching ‘Hornblower’ right since the last episode had finished.
The following morning, Gordon’s feet searched for his slippers while he yawned so widely it stretched the muscles in his mouth. By now, the paper should have been delivered. Although whether the paper boy had managed to land it on his front step, the bushes or the roof was another matter altogether. He opened the front door, only to be blinded by a bright light.
‘What in blazes,’ he started to say, as microphones were thrust at his face.
‘Mr Campbell!’ yelled the mob. There were voices coming from all directions and bodies jostling for position.
‘For pity’s sake, settle down!’ he yelled. ‘And you,’ he added, pointing. ‘Get off my roses.’
A man dressed in a sharp suit with a thick layer of make-up on his face fired the first question. ‘Mr Campbell, any idea why the President has named you as being part of the axis of evil?’
‘Look, I’ve no idea what he’s going on about. I can only assume he’s gone off his rocker.’
A barrage of flashes exploded as he finished his answer.
‘Is it true,’ continued the reporter. ‘That you have weapons of mass destruction, including biological and chemical weapons?’
Gordon screwed up his face as he answered, saying, ‘What a lot of rubbish. Where would I put weapons of mass destruction?’
The reporter lowered his microphone and said, ‘Well you do have a double garage and our research indicates that you’ve only got one car. A Toyota Crown. Am I right?’
Questions came from everywhere. ‘Is it true that you moved a large cache of biological weapons from your shed last Saturday?’
‘Last Saturday?’ repeated Gordon. ‘That was potting mix, you moron!’
‘Do you prefer a diplomatic solution or is war inevitable?’
‘Shut up,’ Gordon answered, becoming annoyed.
‘Will you allow UN weapon inspectors to check your shed?’
‘Bugger off!’ he yelled, his patience finally strained. He picked up the newspaper, which was rolled in plastic, and waved it above his head. As he did, he felt a cool breeze wrap around his nether regions and he realised his dressing gown was open and the front of his pyjamas agape.
The news people scattered over the garden bed, trampling it as they went. Gordon pulled his robe together and retreated back inside the house. The newspaper unravelled to reveal a large photo of himself under the headline ‘EVIL IN THE EASTERN SUBURBS’. He looked at the photo. Caught off guard, staring and looking startled from behind his glasses. Even Gordon had to concede he looked at least a little bit evil.
He realised that Enid would be upset by it, so he put the newspaper in the rubbish, ignoring the recycling pile completely, and put the kettle on.
‘Good morning dear,’ he heard from behind him.
Enid shuffled into the room with her pink nightgown on. Gordon always thought it made her look like an escaped licorice all-sort, but never said anything. She lowered herself into her chair with a sigh and switched on the television. There, before her eyes, was her own home.
‘Good morning everyone,’ said the television person. ‘This morning, Gordon Campbell remains defiant, refusing to allow UN inspectors access to his shed and referring to the US as a nation of infidels.’
Gordon couldn’t remember saying any such thing. Although it certainly sounded like something he would say.
‘We take you now to the scene and a news conference that was held just a short time ago.’ The newsreader paused for breath. ‘We wish to warn viewers that the following story contains images that some people may find disturbing.’
The pictures were of Gordon from just a few minutes earlier, waving his rolled-up newspaper like a mad-person, his dressing gown and pyjamas hanging open. The TV station had pixilated his groin area, which made Gordon feel slightly violated.
‘Oh Lord,’ mumbled Enid.
Gordon could feel the blood draining from his face. It was one thing to be named as an international renegade. It was quite another to have the family fun-farm appear on the morning news.
Gordon looked into the face of his bride of thirty-four years. He hadn’t seen her look this upset since he accidentally taped over her collection of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ to record the cricket.
‘Perhaps we should cancel the newspaper and not watch television until all this blows over.’
Gordon wasn’t impressed at this.
‘Or,’ she continued. ‘We could hire a video and watch that instead.’
He raised an eyebrow and asked, ‘What kind of video?’
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ she answered. ‘Maybe we could get something with Clint Eastwood.’
‘Can we get a Dirty Harry film? Maybe Magnum Force?’
‘Oh Gordon, I’m not sure. Those films are so violent….’
Gordon said nothing.
‘Alright,’ she sighed. ‘We can get a Dirty Harry film, if you like. Although you know I prefer Dead Pool.’
‘We’ll see what they have,’ he said, beginning to stand.
He sat behind the wheel of his Toyota Crown and pressed the button that opened the carport door. It began to open and he craned his neck over his shoulder. As the door lifted, he could see a gaggle of reporters and photographers quickly rustle to life. Gordon pressed his foot heavily and the car lurched backwards. It rocketed up the driveway, which caused a particular news crew to scatter like chickens in a yard. Once at the road, he turned the wheel so tightly that the tyres made a screeching sound. A flash of cameras and barrage of questions greeted him. His face screwed up, he lifted an erect middle finger in their direction before roughly changing gears and driving off down the street.
When he got to the video store, he walked past the clerk, who was staring up at the screen with his mouth slung open. Gordon didn’t think the clerk looked old enough to be missing school. He moved to the action aisle where most of the Clint Eastwood films were kept. Or the good ones, at any rate. He couldn’t find Magnum Force, so settled for Sudden Impact. He began to shuffle his video card out of his wallet while the truant video clerk continued staring at the screen, his mouth open like a rabbit-trap. Gordon set down the video on the counter with his membership card lying on top. He also had a discount coupon from the supermarket.
He waited for the boy to respond, but he continued to gawp at the video screen. Gordon cleared his throat, to no effect. Then he tried it again, this time sounding like a distressed engine. He picked up a packet of chewing gum from the counter display and threw it. It hit the clerk directly on the head, which caused him to turn around.
‘Hello sir,’ he said, sounding like a robot. ‘And welcome to Slick Flicks. What can I do to assist you?’
Gordon didn’t answer the question. He simply tapped his finger on top his card.
The young man picked up the card and swiped it. ‘I see you have a coupon as well,’ he said. ‘Altogether, that comes to twenty eight dollars.’
‘To rent a weekly video?’ yelled Gordon. ‘You’re not using a calculator to get that figure, are you?’
‘See for yourself,’ the boy said, turning the computer screen around. Gordon, however, couldn’t read the screen without his glasses and turned it back towards the clerk.
‘What do you think I am?’ he thundered. ‘A rocket scientist? You read it.’
The clerk looked hurt. ‘It’s four dollars for the video, with a one dollar discount because of the coupon, and it’s twenty five dollars for the replacement video.’
‘What replacement video?’ he asked.
‘The replacement for the video you rented but didn’t return.’
So far as Gordon knew, his rental record with Slick Flicks was utterly unblemished. There was not so much as a late return on his record.
‘That’s an insult!’
‘Well it says so right here on the computer,’ pleaded the clerk.
Gordon was stunned. ‘Which film is it?’
The clerk looked at the screen for a moment. Gordon could tell he was concentrating because his lips were moving. ‘It says here that you borrowed a copy of Top-Heavy Biker Babes with Guns and that you haven’t brought it back.’
‘Top-Heavy what?’ he spluttered. ‘Is that a pornographic film?’
‘It’s an adult film, sir,’ said the boy. ‘We don’t use the term pornographic in case our customers are offended.’
‘But I have never rented a pornographic film in my entire life!’ he said.
‘Adult, sir.’ The clerk leaned in, saying, ‘Perhaps it wasn’t you that rented Top Heavy Biker Babes.’
‘That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.’
‘Maybe your wife used your card.’
Gordon’s face lit up like an alarm. ‘My wife does not watch adult films.’
‘Whatever you and your wife choose to do in the privacy of your own home, sir, is really none of my business. If you people like pornographic films, that’s up to you.’
‘I thought they were adult films?’
The clerk shook his head. ‘I don’t care what you freaks want to call them.’
Gordon banged his fist on the counter and left his card and Clint Eastwood behind as he stormed out. When he pulled into the driveway, he was surprised to see that the reporters had all disappeared. ‘Maybe they thought I’d gone into exile,’ he muttered to himself. He walked into the house and straight out to the back yard. He was about to open the shed door when he heard someone call his name. He looked up to see the head of his next door neighbour perched on top of the fence.
‘What do you want?’ he growled.
‘Just wanted to see how you were,’ chirped Vincent Sabatini.
‘You must be loving this,’ answered Gordon, shaking his head. ‘I’ll bet you’ve already been down to the bowling club. I just hope you realise the effect this is having on Enid. It will be the death of her.’
‘My friend,’ whispered Sabatini. ‘You misunderstand me. I simply wanted to see if you were alright. And to ask you and your wife over to dinner at my house.’
It was unlike Sabatini to be polite, at least to Gordon. But he accepted all the same. ‘Alright,’ he mumbled.
‘I thought we could watch a movie after dinner?’ From behind the fence, Sabatini held up a video. ‘I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. Top Heavy Biker Babes with Guns? It looks pretty good.’
‘It was you,’ he whispered. ‘You were the one who borrowed the film and didn’t return it.’ Sabatini grinned. ‘You were the one who had me named as part of the axis of evil,’ he seethed. Sabatini nodded. ‘You were the one who gave my address to the media,’ he cried.
‘No, I’m afraid that wasn’t me,’ answered Vincent. ‘But the rest was me.’
‘Why?’ repeated Sabatini. ‘For thirty years we’ve lived next door to each other. When you used to have a dog, you tossed the turds into my back yard.’
‘They would have been good for your garden!’
‘They weren’t good for my sheets!’ he yelled back.
‘What about that little poodle of yours? He’s a shitting-machine!’
‘You walk around the bowling club as though you’re boss-cocky. You broke water restrictions. You cut me off when I was driving and then stuck your finger up at me, like this!’ Sabatini raised his finger towards his neighbour. ‘Well now it is my turn to finger you right back.’
Vincent Sabatini didn’t say anything more, because a burst of water hit his face and caused him to drop off the fence. This, however, was not enough for Gordon. With the garden hose in his hand, he leapt up and kept spraying his neighbour. He even pressed his finger against the nozzle to make the water come out hard.
‘That’s it Sabatini, I’m coming over.’
Gordon swung his leg over the fence, dragging his hose along with him. As he did, he was spotted by the reporters who had regrouped on the front lawn. He heard one of them yell something about an ‘invasion’ and a general clatter of alarm. Gordon landed in Sabatini’s back yard with a thud. He thought he saw his neighbour by a lawn mower and let fly with a blast of water. He heard a whimper, and turned quickly to see Sabatini huddled in the corner of his carport. As he raised the hose and aimed it at his neighbour, he could hear the sound of helicopters overhead and the thumping feet of troops as they burst into the living room of Vincent’s house.
There was a cry and everything went dark. The sound of breaking glass rang out like an alarm and he felt a weight come down between his shoulders. Before he knew it, he was face down in his neighbour’s yard, his cheek against the grass. There, right before his eyes, was a gigantic turd. It looked like a dog’s, like a dog’s.