She was rosy cheeked and healthy. Giggling and happy. She was not the kind of kid who cried throughout the night or the type who didn’t eat. She had brought them happiness. Elizabeth who worked as a pharmacist and her husband Brian, an entrepreneur. They were happy until that day when Brian was feeding her a bottle. One minute he was making baby faces and she was giggling and the next she was unblinking, unmoving, cold. And then everything changed.
She wondered when she lost herself. She looked in the mirror, she had a straw like figure and dull skin—no longer yellow, glinting in the sun like real gold. Her eyes were red and swollen and she was still wearing yesterday’s T-shirt. Sticky on her skin from all the sweat from their earlier fight. She tacked a long forelock of hair covering her left eye to the back of her ear and wondered where the feminist, bohemian woman went too? The avant-garde, free spirit who no man could lay hands on. She didn’t want to turn the same gaze on herself. She had also laid hands on him but she did not want to be judged that way.
She stared at the mirror a bit longer not wanting to get into the exegesis of why things were happening the way they were. She distracted herself by combing her thin hair while trying to keep her mind blank but the more she tried the more it filled up with things. Wanted, unwanted, loathsome, frightening. The autopsy said it was food poisoning but she insisted it was the nicotine from her husband’s smoking.
She went to the drawer and picked a bottle of Nightshade. She wanted to feel beautiful. She had been using it for a long time. She had come upon it when she was starting out as a pharmacist. It was meant to be used as an ointment for joint pain but she used it as a cosmetic instead. She called it, Beautiful Woman because of the reddish color it gave her cheeks. It was also fatal when ingested. She loved that about it, the dual purpose it served. It was a beauty product and a poison at the same time. A dangerous beauty. She smiled grimly at the thought and rubbed it on her cheeks and remembered the first time she met Brian.
“My name is Beth,” She had said, waiting for him to reciprocate with his name but he just raised an eyebrow. “It’s short for Elizabeth.”
“That’s a beautiful name, Elizabeth. You know, they are princesses and Queens named after you. Don’t cheapen it by calling yourself Beth.
She smiled, a broken smile remembering that remark. It was both a rose and a thorn. It said, ‘Hey, you’re good enough to be a Queen but not confident enough to hold the title.’ She felt her bottom lip quiver and broke down into a cry, loud and sonorous. Tears bellowed from behind her eyelids in quick succession like water from a river after heavy rains. She held the nightshade in her hand and imagined feeding it to him and her mouth curved into the shape of a banana.
His head felt light. Like a balloon pumped full of helium. It threatened to leave his shoulders and float away. He steadied himself on the couch his buttocks trying to find the most comfortable position but failing. He switched from the sofa to the floor. He liked the cold on his bum. It was a distraction from the crying he was hearing in the bedroom. He knew the right thing to do was to get up and comfort her. Tell her that things would get better but even he did not believe they would.
He knew how it would play out if he got up from the floor and ventured to the bedroom. He would try to touch her and she would push his hand away the same way you do when you discover a spider on your body. He would move even closer and hold her face with one hand and just when he thought he had seen a light in her. A light that said I want to work things out. She would slap him and he would hold both her hands so she couldn’t do it again but then she would start kicking and a fight would break out and it would go on and on till someone got badly injured.
He dug his elbows into the sofa cushions, it pulled his biceps and gave his mind something to think about beside her. He did not want to open that door. Not even a crack. He tried to bury the thought but he could feel it coming from a distance. The swoosh of a big wave just before the hurricane. He moved his hand from the couch and dug deep into his Levis jeans and came out with a packet of Embassy lights. He then dug into his other pocket and came out with a lighter. He puffed the first smoke ring and wondered where that boy went too. The one who treated Elizabeth like a queen. The one who couldn’t lay a hand on a woman. That boy disappeared a long time ago. The time he started thinking less of himself. He thought about leaving it all behind but the baggage that bonded him to Elizabeth felt too strong. It would haunt him into his next relationship, into the afterlife even. He was a broken man. Unfixable. He puffed out another smoke ring.
She dried her tears and got into a shower-robe. She was going to do it today. She had thought about it over the whole week. Nightshade would be her weapon of choice: odorless, colorless, undetectable. It would be a poetic death, she thought. Killed by your wife’s beauty. A dangerous beauty. She bathed. Dried her hair, dubbed her cheeks with beautiful woman and put on an ivory mini skirt, her favorite silk blouse and an apron and headed to the kitchen. It had long stopped being functional. They ate in restaurants or ordered takeout. She opened the freezer, there was chicken. She went to the pantry there was oil, onions and canned tomatoes.
She found him seated on the floor. The air heavy with cigarette smoke. “I told you to be doing this shit outside.” She almost screamed but then she remembered that in a few minutes it would all be behind her. Food poisoning, she would say and she would be at peace again, smiling with her whole body and not just with her mouth like she was doing lately. She placed the plate of chicken and rice on the table. Forcing a smile, almost breaking her face. Then she squatted to his level her mini pulling upward to reveal her lack of knickers.
She touched his shoulder with one hand and took the plate with the other. She tried not to overdo it. Ever since they started fighting, Brian had gotten extremely paranoid. She moved the plate closer to him. “I thought you might be hungry, I made something for you.” Brian took the plate with both hands and she got up and sat adjacent to him: watching, calculating, her heart jumping in her chest. Brian steadied himself. Picked up a spoon and dug a bit of rice and stew. Elizabeth watched him with glee.
From where he was seated he could see that her legs needed shaving. They had been arguing and fighting for weeks over what had happened. He knew his wife. She was not the kind of person who, after weeks of being recalcitrant woke up one day with a water under the bridge resolve. He looked at her. Ivory mini skirt, her favorite silk blouse, knickerless and red cheeks from her favorite cosmetic, what was it again? The one that he couldn’t kiss her cheeks when she was wearing it. Yes, Beautiful Woman. She was almost angular and elegant—was it not for her precariously thin frame and faded skin she would have looked exactly the same way she did back when they were dating.
She was trying to tell him something unspoken with her dress code, ‘Honey, finish your food quickly so that we can take this to the bedroom.” But her unshaven legs betrayed her. You see, Elizabeth was the kind of woman who was neat to a fault. Spending hours in the bathtub shaving before any bodily fluids were exchanged. He smiled after he caught on. He took the spoonful and watched Elizabeth’s eyes go wide as if she was watching a thriller. He moved his hand halfway then teased the spoon on his mouth before throwing it together with its contents towards her at full tilt.
She bobbed down and missed the spoon but before it could hit the floor, she was on top of him: scratching his face, calling him names, saying it was his fault that their daughter died. “It was all the smoke from your damned cigarettes that clogged her tiny lungs.” He picked her up and threw her on the sofa. When she tried to get up again he punched her and she fell back on the couch. He got up and left the house while she screamed, “Help me. Help me. He wants to kill me.”
She stared at the mirror. She had a black eye and a split lip. She had this urge to look beautiful again. Her Nightshade bottle was empty she had used too much on Brian’s food. She got into a fierce frenzy. Opening up draws, throwing things on the floor, banging doors. She went to the pantry on the top shelf where she kept her daughters formula. She looked then she saw something that made her look again. Her Nightshade, empty against her daughter’s formula. She went back to the sitting room and stared at the plate of food on the table. She sat where Brian was seated, picked up the plate and a spoon and started eating the food. One spoonful and then another and then another, till her world went dark.
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