Shooting Cupid by Tory Hartmann
The idea for this story came from a postcard on www.postsecrets.com. One card had a face-down cupid with the caption, “I shot cupid. It was self-defense.” I wondered who would be so desperate to run away from love. . .
“All rise for the Honorable Finneas Fairbanks. Court is now in session.”
The judge, a gangly man with silver shoulder-length hair, pushed his glasses back on his nose and surveyed the courtroom as though it was a thorn in his side. “Cases today, bailiff?” The judge squelched a yawn.
“Yes, Your Honor. Just came in.” The bailiff arched an eyebrow and lowered his voice. “We have the death of a cupid.”
The judge perked up. “Proceed.”
Deeply ashamed, Melody Matthews lowered her eyes to her lap and, for the first time, noticed the feathers clinging to her black skirt. Oh my, she had never checked herself over—there had been no time. After it happened, emergency vehicles descended on the lake, there were police, statements, and of course, tears. Now she was in Crisis Court, where as everyone knew, anything could happen.
Michelangelo was so wrong. Cupids were treacherous little beasts, bent on their mission, oblivious to the pain and suffering of others.
“Your name!” the bailiff repeated.
She looked up. “M-Melody M-Matthews.”
“Read the charges, bailiff,” the judge said, settling back in his padded chair.
The bailiff cleared his throat. “Melody Matthews is hereby accused of the murder of Cupid. Witnesses will include her estranged husband, John Matthews, and Cupid.”
The judge squinted. “The one who was shot?”
“No. He’s dead, Your Honor. Another one. There were two.”
The judge poked his hand out of his black sleeve and waved it around.
“Prosecutor, what have you to say?”
“Your Honor,” the prosecutor said approaching the bench. “We have here a clear case of Murder in the First Degree. If it pleases the court, I have photos.”
Tilting his head back, Judge Fairbanks peered through half-moon glasses and gazed from one picture to the other. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. Dreadful. Simply terrible.”
“I would like to point out to the court the entry of the gunshot wound. See here, Your Honor?” The prosecutor put his finger on one of the photos.
“Bullet fired from the front, exits the back, which killed Cupid.”
A surge of nausea made Melody rest her forehead in her hands. The incident played in slow motion across her mind’s eye, and she once again saw a hideous mass of twisted wings, the limp body, half human and half something else. Cupids were so cute when they were little. Fuzzy and white with pink eyes, the naïve bought them as pets, but when cupids got older, their cherubic faces and velvety bodies morphed into heavy-jowled rheumy-eyed creatures that scolded and screeched. No way to train them, some owners grew tired of the noise and smells and released them into the wild. Feral cupids were a dangerous lot.
“Your Honor, I would like to question John Matthews.” The prosecutor walked over to the evidence table and rested his hand on John’s picnic basket. “Mr. Matthews, you were with the accused today?”
“Could you tell us what happened this afternoon?”
Seeming to relish center stage, John raised his chin and began. “Yes sir. I asked my wife . . . she still is my wife, the divorce isn’t final . . . anyway . . . I asked Melody out to the lake for a picnic.”
“A picnic. How nice. Go on.”
“I brought her favorite foods, even brought crystal glasses and a bottle of wine.”
“I see. You were making it romantic.”
John smiled that drop-dead gorgeous smile she knew only too well. “Yes.”
“And why did you want to meet with your wife?”
“I wanted to call off the divorce.” He looked at Melody now, and she could feel his eyes on the side of her face. “I want her back,” he whispered. Melody wouldn’t look at him. He raised his voice. “I’ve changed. I really have.”
“And then what happened?” the prosecutor prompted.
“She got angry. Belligerent. She told me she didn’t love me, wouldn’t give me another chance.”
“Another chance?” Melody cried out. “He had ten years of chances, Your Honor! And that’s not what he said to bring me out there! He told me he wanted to talk about the children. He tricked me.”
“The accused will be quiet!” Judge Fairbanks rapped his gravel.
“Sorry, Your Honor,” Melody whispered. Silently, she berated herself for her lack of self-control, the way John could make her go over the edge.
John smirked. “Where were we?”
“I tried to tell her how different I am now. I’ve joined Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous . . . plus counseling. I’m so different now! But she wouldn’t believe me. Then there was a noise. Up in the tree. Laughter. Giggling, really. There were two of them.”
“Two of what?”
“Cupids. Old and scruffy, but cute. I remember smiling at her and then smiling at them. I thought . . .”
“That if one of them shot her with an arrow that . . . she would fall in love with me again.”
“I see. What happened next?”
“My wife became furious. She screamed at me, accused me of terrible things. But I’m the father of our children! She began to run along the edge of the lake, and the cupids flew after her. I called to her to stop. I knew if she just looked at me while a cupid shot his arrow . . .” John wiped an eye and sniffed. “. . . that she would fall in love with me again.”
The prosecutor’s voice dripped with honey. “Go on.”
“But she wouldn’t stop. Melody turned and confronted the cupids. Told them to turn back. When one of them aimed an arrow at her, she pulled a gun from her purse and fired.”
“Thank you.” The prosecutor turned to approach the judge’s bench. “Your Honor, it’s very clear. This is a case of a murder in First Degree. Killing a cupid is the same as killing a human. Why, they are human, aren’t they? They talk, they love us. . .
After a few taps of the gavel, the judge spoke. “It is in the finding of this court—“
Melody jumped to her feet; the indignity and unfairness of John’s testimony stung like fire ants. “Wait! Where’s my attorney?” Frantically, she looked around the courtroom. “This isn’t fair!”
“Killing a cupid isn’t fair either,” the prosecutor simpered.
“You can’t make a decision before you’ve heard my side! Why, it was self-defense.”
“Self-defense?” Judge Fairbanks said looking over his half-glasses. “Against a cute little cupid?”
The prosecutor stepped between Melody and the judge. “We have all the evidence we need, Your Honor. We have a dead body.” He pointed to the photos as though they themselves could send her away for life. “And a witness.” Like a weather vane, his arm switched direction and pointed to John. “And I almost forgot! We also have the gun.” He walked over to the evidence table, opened a plastic bag, and raised a shiny gray pistol. “Is this your gun Miss Matthews?”
“Yes. That’s my gun.”
“You always have one in your purse?”
“My husband’s a gambler. With the debts he has and the characters around night and day? I learned to carry a gun and to use it.”
“So you admit to killing Cupid.”
The prosecutor smiled like a pit bull. “Your Honor, again, I think we’ve heard enough.”
“Crisis Court is supposed to be fair!” Melody shouted. “Where’s my representation?”
“We’re informal here. Just tell us what happened,” the judge said.
“I thought he was dead,” said Judge Fairbanks.
Melody held her hands together to stop them from visibly trembling. “The other cupid, Your Honor. There were two of them.”
He turned to the bailiff. “Summon Cupid.”
The bailiff rose. “Would Cupid come to the stand? Cupid? Is there a cupid in the courtroom?”
A demonic giggle, unpleasant as fingers on a blackboard, seemed to rise from the floor. Wings flapping madly, a bottom-heavy cupid flew over the court railing, landed in front of the judge and yelled, “Tah dah!” as though he had saved the day. Then Cupid ran around in circles, his webbed feet slapping against the floor, his chubby bottom naked for all to see.
“Please,” Melody said, her eyes following Cupid’s trek around the room.
“Can you answer some questions?”
“Maybe,” Cupid screeched while he hopped from the floor, to her table, to the railing, and back to the floor. Stirring the stale air with his madly flapping wings, Cupid began another dizzying lap.
“Please, Cupid,” she said watching him bounce around the room. “Tell them what happened today.”
Breathing hard, Cupid finally came to a stop. Melody dragged her chair to the center of the courtroom. “Please. Hop up here. . . Thank you. Can you state your name?”
“Cupid.” Monkey hands fiddling with a miniature bow and arrow, he pantomimed shooting the judge and silently laughed, showing his rotten teeth.
“How do I know who he is talking about since the deceased and the witness have the same name?” Judge Fairbanks complained.
“Do you have another name, Cupid?” Melody asked. “A nickname, perhaps?”
Wiping slobber from his chin and flinging it, he stared at her. “Fatso.”
The prosecutor leaned forward to help her out. “—you killed?”
“He was my friend,” Fatso said clearing his nostrils in a most unbecoming way. “We called him Stupie. Stupie Cupie.” He nodded in quick jerks.
“Today, by the lake, what were you two doing up in that tree?”
“Eating licorice ropes.” Fatso smiled and plucked at a piece of red licorice from his quiver, and with both hands, stuffed all of it into his wide open mouth, then chewed with his mouth open.
“Where did you get the candy, Fatso?”
Smacking his lips, Fatso gave her a licorice grin. “From him,” he said pointing to John.
“I see. So you were up in the tree waiting for me because John gave you licorice.” She stared into his watery griffin eyes. “You were bribed.”
“Dunno. What’s bribed?”
“That’s when someone gives you something valuable so you’ll do something for them in return.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Fatso nodded with certainty. “Bribed.” He bit off another hank and spoke with his mouth full. “I like bribes.” A slobber of red saliva drizzled off his chin.
“And to get those licorice ropes, what did John want you to do?”
“To love-shoot you.” Fatso’s smile was ruby and juicy.
“He wanted you or Stupie to shoot me with one of your arrows?” She glanced at John and liked the way he shifted uncomfortably. She was right, John put them up to it.
“Yeah, yeah.” Fatso’s head bobbed like it wasn’t quite attached to his soiled feathery neck. Holding out his bow, he reached into his quiver, pulled out another piece of licorice and twiddled it around and around. “Yeah, yeah. Stupie shot a couple of love-arrows. Yep. Yep.”
Melody walked to the bench and spoke directly to the judge. “So you see, Your Honor, I didn’t want to go back to my former life, moving each time we couldn’t pay the rent, dodging bill collectors.” She turned to John. “Tell them why we couldn’t pay our rent, John.”
John wasn’t listening. He was communicating with Cupid, pantomiming the shooting of an arrow, then smiling and nodding.
“John! I’m asking you a question. Why did we have to move thirteen times in eight years?”
Cupid reached for the bag of jaw breakers John offered, pulled out a large blue ball, and tucked it inside his cheek. The bulge made on eye close halfway.
“Answer the question, Mr. Matthews,” Judge Fairbanks said. “Pay attention. This is a trial here, not a candy store.”
“I’ll tell you why, “Melody said turning back to the judge. “Because he would gamble our rent money. Oh, he said they were safe bets, but our money disappeared. There were debt collectors. To stay afloat, I had to hide my paycheck. He even gambled the kids’ lunch money!”
“Ooooooo. No lunch money?” Fatso jumped off the chair and began to waddle around the courtroom. “That why you killed Stupie? No food? That bad, but Stupie dead. Sad. So sad. Ohhhhh dead.” Fatso fell to the floor, tucked his wings, rolled his head forward, and became a big dirty ball.
Melody leaned over him, the smell of unwashed cupid, a cross between a duck yard and a manure pile. “Fatso? Please get up. Just a few more questions.”
“Your Honor, this woman is torturing this innocent creature. What good can come of this? His friend died today; this poor thing’s upset, and rightly so.”
The judge banged his gavel in agreement. “I will not allow you to harass this defenseless creature. We’ll have the Committee for the Preservation of Cupids on us like a flash, that’s why we’re in Crisis Court where we can take care of these things quickly.”
“Your Honor, this little creature is not defenseless. He and his kind run around shooting people with love potion causing them to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. I am better off without my husband. Oh, it’s been hard these past eighteen months to raise the children by myself. John put the cupids up to this. All I want this particular cupid to do is truthfully tell the court what happened today.” Melody reached down to grab his furry hand and bring him to his feet.
Still sucking noisily on the jaw breaker, Fatso rose to his haunches, then flew to the railing near John, and stared back at them while blue slobber oozed from the corner of his mouth.
“Who gave you the licorice ropes today?” Melody asked.
“He did,” Cupid said, snagging John’s candy bag and emptying it into his quiver.
“So you see, Your Honor? John bribed them to shoot me, but I dint want to go back to my former life.” Distracted by the tittering behind her, Melody turned to see John and Fatso leaning toward one another, whispering. Fatso’s high-pitched laugh sounded like a rusty gate. Incredulous that John would bribe the cupid right in front of the judge, Melody screamed, “Stop! Your Honor, he’s going to—“
Cupid’s bow, the sound of an off-key G string. Instinctively, she ducked. Cupid’s arrow grazed her hair.
Judge Fairbanks banged his gavel with gusto and shouted. “No love arrows in my court! Put down that bow Fatso, or I’ll hold you in contempt.”
“Missed. Fatso missed,” he said, scrambling after his only arrow and tugging it out of the wall. Sinking to a calloused knee, he drew the bow back and fired again. Melody jumped to the side.
“Get her, Fatso!” John shouted.
“Order in my court!”
“Call him off, John!”
“Phooey, Fatso miss.”
“Look at me, Melody!”
Melody averted her eyes. “I will not go back!”
“Look at me!”
Cupid shot again, but the arrow wobbled and fell short of its mark. Melody picked it up, hoping to toss it, perhaps to the judge’s bench or toward the bailiff. Fatso raced in and they began a tug-of-war, pushing and pulling the arrow back and forth while jaw breakers bounced out of Fatso’s quiver and scattered like crazy pin balls.
“Stick her with it!” John shouted coming closer. “Look at me, Melody. Look at me.”
There was no way she was going to look at John and chance getting stuck by the poisonous love-tip of Cupid’s arrow. Surprised at Fatso’s strength, she held on with two hands, but he used the arrow as a lever to lift himself up. Spraying her with his noxious breath, he put one foot on her knee, another on her hip and thrust back all his weight. She couldn’t maintain her balance and the two of them, still fighting, toppled to the floor. John leaned over to watch the spectacle. “Ouch!” Fatso cried looking up at him.
Melody scrambled away and noticed Fatso’s face relax as he gazed up into John’s eyes. “Fatso like John,” he said. “John have pretty smile.” A trickle of blood dripped from Fatso’s shoulder, but he paid no attention. “Me like you, John. Me like you a lot.”
“Yeah? Well that’s great, Fatso. You had your chance and blew it.”
As though John was a tree, Fatso climbed up onto his back. “You mine now. Take me home.”
“Get this thing off of me,” he said trying to remove Cupid’s choke hold. “Bailiff, get this thing . . . “
“Me love John. John mine.” Fatso nuzzled his neck, leaving a trail of blue slobber across his white collar.
“Order in my court! This was a despicable display of premeditated disregard for the law, and I will not have it.” Judge Fairbanks pounded his gavel like he was hammering nails.
“Your Honor, get him off of me!”
With a thoughtful touch to his chin, Judge Fairbanks said, “I can see what happened today. Ms Matthews is correct, her encounter with the cupids was, indeed, self-defense.”
“Your Honor! He’s choking me. Get him off!”
With one more mighty bang of his gavel, Judge Fairbanks continued, “The case against Melody Matthews is hereby dismissed. Good luck to you, Mr. Matthews.”
“No, wait! Help me! Can’t someone get him off?”
“John nice. John mine.” Cupid reached up and combed John’s hair with his monkey claws, then patted him roughly on the head.
Melody tucked in her blouse and straightened her skirt. “Thank you, Your Honor,” she said with a trembling voice. Before she left the courtroom, she glanced over at John, still wrestling with the love-smitten cupid. She didn’t hide her smile. Some things in life were perfect.