‘The Cutter’, by Adam Ouston


Photograph by Guwashi999. Reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

You are not going to believe this but one day vultures started descending on Hobart. It was almost lunchtime and I was sitting at my desk in my office on the twelfth floor of the government building on the corner of Collins and Harrington. And although I had a view over the whole city that took in West and North Hobart, I didn’t see them approaching. Who knows where they came from. I only saw them coming down from high up, punching through the clouds, claws out, wings out, dropping in like deadly props in an expensive, murderous theatre production. Hundreds of them. Thousands. I don’t know. And what were they doing? Don’t laugh: they were eating people.

Yes, that’s right: eating them. Landing on their backs and shoulders and taking chunks of skin and flesh and hair and even brain. You know what you’ve seen in movies and documentaries and heard in stories about vultures waiting for their prey to die? Circling for days as their future victim stumbles exhausted along a desert highway? Forget it. They came down on the living and they came fast.

At the time—who could forget the day: July 15, 1991—I was in love with a woman named Cerie. She had the unbelievably good fortune to have the surname Double. That’s right, almost as absurd as the vultures was her name: Cerie Double. How could I not have fallen head over heels? And yet, despite her actual name, I had a pet name for her: The Cutter. And this was because of her love for Echo and the Bunnymen. She had their posters in her room above her bed. She sang their songs everywhere we went. She bought me CDs and made me mixtapes. The fact that she was a hairdresser only made the name more fitting. It now occurs to me that I may not have actually called her The Cutter at the time, and that it is a name I am projecting onto her from the future. I don’t know. I can’t remember exactly.

Anyway, it was five to one on a Tuesday and I was supposed to meet The Cutter for lunch at one and I was running late. I’d made a reservation at an expensive French place on Murray St that specialised in uncooked meats. Good restaurants were scarce in those days, and we’d been to this one before. It was relatively early in the relationship—we’d being seeing each other only a few months—and so I wasn’t afraid to spend the money. Besides, as a government employee I was on a good thing. I could decide my hours. I could accumulate holidays. I could work the system and be paid well for it. They encouraged it, you know. Still do.

So I had money and I was in love and the restaurants were always the good ones. But on the day in question I was late and I had to get to this particular restaurant—La Montagne, it was called—on the other side of town and the vultures were pouring down like some sort of end of the world rain. It really was chaos. People were ducking for cover under awnings, crawling under parked cars, dashing into takeaway shops or record shops or offices or bookshops or cafes or whatever place they happened to be passing at the time. In other words people were being thrown together with people they’d never have met otherwise. This is how love begins, you know. More or less. Who knows how many times it started that day. And although some people were good at self-preservation, others were not.

Some just weren’t thinking straight at all. Maybe it was because of the panic. Or maybe it’s just that groups of people are stupid. Well, at least it seemed stupid to begin with. You know what they did? They started putting up umbrellas.

I could see it all from my office on the twelfth floor. While one person was being mauled by a huge bird, his neighbour was whipping out her umbrella. All around the intersection below, they were opening like tiny sinkholes. I have since been to Tokyo, and many of you will know about the famous Shibuya crossing. What you do is you go upstairs at Starbucks and look down on it. Well, think about that madhouse of an intersection, only think smaller and with lots more blood. That’s what it looked like. Even though it was a sunny day in the middle of winter. Mainly it was the women who had umbrellas because women tend to carry small ones in their bags. The men had nothing and so it was the men who copped it the worst, torn to shreds, though the vultures did not discriminate: if there was a woman without protection she was fair game too. Maybe the most unbelievable thing of all was this: it worked. Seriously. if you had an umbrella they wouldn’t attack you. Of course, I didn’t have one. And being lunchtime and me being late meant that the office was deserted, which also meant that I couldn’t borrow one. As I was trying to think what to do I got a phone call from The Cutter who said she was already at the restaurant. She’d arrived early, before the vultures started coming down. She had something to say to me. But she told me not to come. It was too dangerous. It’s not worth it, she said. I’ll tell you tomorrow, she said and hung up. Besides, I thought, vultures are clever; they’d soon work out the whole umbrella thing. And I was right. After about five minutes, then they were going straight through them. Instead of shields the umbrellas became targets. It was insanity. Seriously. Blood everywhere. People screaming. Cars crashing, running down pedestrians. Sirens wailing in the distance. It was hell, let me tell you. And the noise, you wouldn’t believe the noise. All this plus the excited, nuclear bomb wail of those birds. Not the blast but the fall, singing all the way in. That’s right: the noise was a weapon in itself. Went right through you, even up there in my office looking down it ripped right through me.

On our previous date, two nights before, I’d said this to The Cutter: I am in love with you and I want to know what you think about that. You know what she said? She said this: Don’t be absurd. But then she held my hand across the table and kissed my fingers. I am not a novice when it comes to love, and I have been hurt in several of the standard ways, but this was confusing. And that’s what she was like, you know. One day she would play with me like a puppy, and the next she would ignore me like a cat. It was as though all the mysteries of the cosmos where housed in that one body. They crashed into each other like asteroids and caused violent galactic events, starbursts and black holes and solar flares and the metric expansion of space. When we made love she would always guide my head down in between her legs but when I did the same she would refuse and stiffen. One night when I tried it yet again she said this: Martin, no, it reminds me of my father. And so after that I didn’t push. But then there were times when I’d arrive at her place and she’d be naked, lying on her front on the floor and she’d say this: Do what you want with me, and if you want to come in my mouth that’s all right too. But on those occasions I did not take advantage of her weakened state. And sometimes she would just cry, mid-conversation, mid-sentence.

At first I thought she was crazy but after a while I saw that there must have been a reason for it and that she would tell me if she needed to. Or maybe there was no reason at all; some people simply cry. Other times she would laugh and of course those were the times that I relished most. And in one instance I was the one who cried, during a movie or a song or perhaps I was just sad—I can’t remember—and she looked at me as though I was disgusting. As I said: it was confusing, and despite not being a newcomer to love I couldn’t work out any of it.

One day I turned up at her salon with a bunch of flowers. Her chair was in the centre island which had about six on the go simultaneously. The funny thing was that the walls were completely mirrored and so even though I saw her as soon as I entered, I could not say for sure which version of her I should hand the flowers to. They were all singing along to Echo and the Bunnymen and they were all busy snipping away at the head of a well-known politician and they were all wearing black and they were all beautiful and they were all named Cerie Double. I felt a bit light-headed and had to sit.

And now whenever I hear that band it makes me dizzy. No joke. And on the day of the vulture storm I felt the same dizziness as I stood at the window watching the carnage below. The band wasn’t playing but here’s the thing: whenever I thought of her I thought of that music, and whenever I thought of that music I had trouble with my balance. Still do. It’s that dizziness you feel when you’re really high up or when you’re starting to get drunk or when you think you’re at home and you open the front door and find someone else’s furniture filling up the place. But I wasn’t that high up and I hadn’t been drinking and I was not dreaming. The telephone rang again and when I answered there was only silence and so I thought it was a hoax, and just before I hung up I heard her breathe and then she said this: Please come. I looked down at the street and it was covered in corpses and birds and blood and guts. And so despite the vertigo and the music haunting my inner ear, I made my way into the elevator and went down to the lobby and then I headed across the faux-marble forecourt toward the glass doors. But as the doors opened I stopped because my boss was being disembowelled just outside, and years later—must’ve been ’95 or ’96—I opened the newspaper and there was a small black and white picture of The Cutter looking a little older and now with blond hair and underneath in bold font it read: missing.

The Cutter first appeared in The Lifted Brow: Digital, Volume 13, Issue 1: The Noise Edition.

Adam Ouston is a writer living in Hobart, Tasmania. His work has appeared in places such as Southerly, Island Magazine, Picton Grange, Voiceworks, Crikey, The Lifted Brow, The Review of Australian Fiction, and the anthology Transportation. He is the recipient of the 2014 Erica Bell Literary Award for his manuscript ‘The Party’.