FoundlingReview

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      Sammie saws through the loaf of sourdough bread.  It sounds like my scruffy face scratching against a microphone.  She smiles at me and continues to work the bread over.  An even slice falls on its side.  She lays it on a bread plate and hands it to me.  It’s too thick, but I have bigger problems.  She’s trying to kill me.

      “I have margarine or unsalted butter.”  She looks at me like I’m supposed to answer her statement.  There was no upward inflection, how am I to know it was a question?  After a long moment, where I concentrate more on planning an escape route than which creamy substance to smother onto my too-thick bread slice, she turns back to the pudgy loaf of bread.  She saws her own piece, it’s thinner than mine.

      I take my dull rounded knife and poke the spongy center of my slice.  There’s nothing hard in it, no razor blades or crystallized sodium hydroxide.  She asks me why I’m prodding my bread, and I laugh.  Nervous laughter gives away everything.  Maybe I should just tell her to shoot me in the head and get it over with.  I recover and say I’m amazed at how soft the bread is, like my mom used to make.

      The ends of her mouth stretch to touch her ears.  Her smile is plain.  She looks downward to her salad and begins stabbing at the wilted mustard greens.  There is a small mole below her left ear.  She tries to hide it by wearing dangling earrings.  Her hair color lies somewhere between drab brown and stringy blondish.  If it were a hair dye you could purchase, they would call it Bland Ambiguity.  It has a nice ring to it, but doesn’t mean anything.  Everything about her is so bland, so plain.  But so clever.  

      She stuffs her slice of bread into her mouth and bites down.  The crunch of the crust pops like sparrow bones in a cat’s jaws.  And then she asks me the ultimate question.

      “What’s wrong?  You’re not eating.”

      Her face is frozen.  A glob of unsalted butter glistens in the corner of her mouth.  She’s waiting.  She’s waiting for me to say that I know she is trying to kill me.  I know the butter is laced with Strychnine.  I know my wine is saturated with sleeping pills and my mustard green salad is topped with Rosary Pea seeds and Jasmine berries.  And if none of those work, I know a frozen leg of lamb will do just fine.  Then she can feed the murder weapon to the detectives like in that Roald Dahl story I read when I was ten.

      She’s still waiting for my response.

      “I’m sorry,” I say, with a dangerous stutter.  And then I tell her that I’m allergic to mustard greens and that I should have told her before, but never thought it would come up.  “I just know that you worked hard on this salad, and I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”

      She pouts her lip and tilts her head, as if to give the left side of her neck a short break from holding up her head.  “That’s really sweet.  But it’s okay, let me take this from you.”  She grabs my plate and disappears into the kitchen.  This is my moment.

      I switch our glasses, but immediately notice the lipstick print on her glass.  What if she notices there is no lipstick print on her new glass?  The risks too great, I place her own glass in its original spot.  Time is running out.  I can hear her preparing something.  The main course.  When all else fails before, the main course is sure to succeed.  The pièce de rèsistance of the murder mystery dinner theatre.  There is no way to avoid it, unless I run screaming from her apartment.

      She bursts through the door with a covered tray in hand.  She lays it on the table and uncovers her masterpiece.  It is roasted rosemary duck, and she is very proud of it.  The brown carcass is still sizzling.  She holds a gravy boat over the unlucky fowl and pours a bright red maple syrup-like substance onto the meat.  When it filters down to the metal pan, the sizzling reaches a crescendo and she ‘ooohs’ at the delicious sound.

      “You know how long it’s taken me to get this dish right.  But I must say, tonight is the best I’ve ever made it.”  There is a glint in her eye.  I’m the only person in the world that can catch so subtle of a spark of homicidal menace.  Is it because I suffer from paranoia?  Maybe.  But it has kept me alive for thirty-three years.  And maybe it will keep me alive until tomorrow.

      She hands me a plate full of vegetables and chunks of bleeding syrup duck.  It looks like rotten human flesh, drenched with fresh blood.  Is this a coincidence?  How can she be so obvious?

      She eagerly trims a bite from her plate, dips it in the blood, and engulfs the meat like a vegetarian recently inflicted with the zombie virus.  A bead of the syrup rests on her lower lip and I don’t need to say that she looks like a vampire, it’s too obvious.

      She looks at me like a vampire and tells me to ‘dig in.’  Just like she will when she buries me in the backyard.  It has rained lately, the ground should be soft.

      I look at the dark meat on my plate.  I skewer a broccoli stem onto my fork instead.  My breathing becomes noticeably erratic.  I try to control my sweating.  I don’t want to die looking like I’ve just traversed a desert.  I shove the veggie into my mouth and swallow it nearly whole.

      She is disappointed.  I tell her it is very good.

      “Yeah, the vegetables are good, but that’s the easy part.  Try the duck.”

      I’m caught.  There’s nothing left.  Despair settles in.  Outside of faking a heart attack, I’m stumped.  My mind will not produce any solution beside the obvious one.  So I set down my fork and look her in the eye.

      “You’re trying to kill me.”  

After the fourth time my parents tried to kill me at age twelve, they sat me down and told me I was sick.  So I started therapy.  They tried to kill me three more times after that.  On the third attempt I decided to practice something my therapist had informed me to do.  I told them that they were trying to kill me before I began to eat.  My father, a bald philanthropist with permanent bifocals, looked me in the eye and said, “Yes, we are.  So would you please eat so that we can bury you.”  
      “What are you talking about?” Sammie says, the bead of blood sauce still there.

      “I can’t make it any clearer.  You, are trying, to kill me.”

      “Is this because you don’t like duck and you don’t want to hurt my feelings?  Because if so, I think there are better ways than accusing me of premeditated murder.”  

When I looked at my mother that night so long ago, she smiled, nodded her head, and gently whispered, “Start with your peas and it won’t hurt so bad.”  I remember thinking that maybe I’m not crazy.  They really are trying to kill me.  When I finished my meal and remained quite alive and well nourished, I became disappointed.  I told my therapist about the event and he replied with, “Maybe they got the portions wrong.  Poisons can be very tricky.”  And with that, I was cured.  

      And still am.  Because tonight I am not crazy.  She is trying to kill me.

      “Is this a game?”  She rests her fork on the side of her plate and glares at me.  “Because it’s not a fun one.”

      I remain firm.  “It’s my life insurance, isn’t it?”

      “Life insurance?  Are you serious?  This isn’t funny anymore!”  Tears begin to form in her eyes, but I remain stoic.  “I spent so long on this meal.  I wanted tonight to be really special for us and you’re ruining it with your stupid joke.”

      I begin to break.  I hate to see girls cry.  It’s like watching a puppy get hit by a truck.  I don’t want to acknowledge that maybe I’m crazy again.  If she would just tell me the truth.  Then I could eat and die, and she would stop crying.

      “I’m sorry,” I tell her.  “I’m being stupid.”  She dabs her eyes with a napkin and remains silent.  I situate a bite of duck on my fork and ingest it.  It is delicious.  

      And then it starts to burn.  I look at her.  She has a plain smile, but an evil grin.  The burn worsens and I fall out of my chair, content and satisfied.

      At least I’m not crazy.  




Jonathan is a full-time student, dabbling in a little of everything.  He has a Bachelor's degree in English and History,
and is currently finishing an Associate's degree in Respiratory Therapy.  He plans to pursue a graduate degree in
Counseling.  Jonathan has written many short stories and two novels.

 


The story began, as many do, with the first line.  "I know she's trying to kill me.  But how?"  I enjoy reading books and case studies on psychological issues, and paranoia is one of my favorites.  I wanted my narrator to be a lifelong paranoid who ruined what could have been a lovely dinner for a special occasion.  It was not until I reached the end of the story that I decided to allow my paranoid narrator to be correct for the
first time in his life.

 





  


Copyright 2009