Thursday, February 23, 2012

Flash Fiction Challenge -- Poison Sandwich

Yay, another challenge! You can find it here. Considering one of my known writing issues is all those scenes where my characters sit around eating, this is right up my alley.

The bread was obviously poisoned. Kendra was the only one who ate the 12-grain. The child ate wonderbread, or the local grocery store's equivalent brand, because she was ten. The old woman ate that cheap white stuff too, because her gums couldn't tolerate the lumpy bits. So they had to buy two kinds of bread every time they went to the store, and often the bread went stale before it was gone, because who wants a sandwich every day.

So the old woman knew Kendra was the only one who ate the 12-grain bread, and she infested it with whatever mould made the medieval people go mad, that infested their grain silos and made them hallucinate religious experiences and eventually sicken and die. The old woman knew
Kendra would pick off the green bits, leaving tendrils of poison still deep in the bread to be eaten, grow in her gut, seep their way into her brain. She was too cheap to throw the whole loaf away, and if the old woman found it in the trash she'd just fish it out, put its replacement in the freezer until this one was gone. Kendra was fated to eat this poisoned bread.

She put two slices on an over-large plate. No point using a cutting board, potentially infecting the child. It wasn't her fault the old woman wanted Kendra dead. The old woman had brought an insurance policy on Kendra. That was always a sign a murder was pending.

Usually people blame the mayonnaise, but Kendra knew that was safe. The old woman, her mother-in-law, liked it too much to let it be wasted when Kendra died, no matter the windfall.

The old woman's son had gone to the war, and Kendra and the child had moved in and he'd never come back. But three of them in this apartment, it was too many people. They always blamed the mayonnaise, because of the raw eggs, but this had come in a jar and there were no raw eggs that Kendra could tell, so no botulism. And the old woman liked it, so she wouldn't have infected it.

The child didn't like condiments of any kind on a sandwich. She had her mother's hair -- dark, thick curls, and her mother's skin -- golden even in the winter, but she had her father's eyes, hazel with short thick lashes. There was no question, even the old woman couldn't argue, who the father was. Though sometimes she made accusations.

It was the mustard you couldn't trust. Its vinegar scent, and the heat on the tongue could mask any number of poisons. Cyanide, Kendra figured was in it, to kill her quickly.

"What are you up to in there?" the old woman shouted through from the bedroom where these days she spent all her time. "Shouldn't you be getting to work soon?"

"Just making a sandwich," Kendra called back. No hot dog carts worked her section of the red-light district. And she didn't expect she'd be bringing a thigh-high boot full of money home tonight. She'd sit down in the alley and never get up, most like.

"Cassie in there with you?" the old woman yelled.

"I'm just watching, grandmamma," the girl hollered back.

"Well then, you come on back through here and sit with me and let your mother get ready for work," the old woman said in only a slightly quieter tone. She normally wanted to savour every moment of peace and privacy she could before Kendra left and the child got lonely and needy.

A slower poison would be in the ham, thallium maybe. Kendra had noticed her hair getting thinner, strands in the drain when she washed it. Maybe it was just stress.

"You got the last piece again," Cassie said, ignoring her grandmother.

"Don’t' lick your fingers if you touch that," the old woman said to Cassie surely, not Kendra.

"I'm not licking nothing," Cassie said back. Her fingers were already in her mouth for safekeeping.

She always got the last piece. Maybe there was another package, and a piece was always being moved to this wrapping, the infected one.

And the cheese. It was hard and slightly nutty, and the fine white powder on it must be arsenic, with its bitter almond smell. What a fascinating tale Kendra's hair would tell when she was dead. This was the slowest acting poison yet. No one else ever ate this cheese. It was her special cheese, as everyone else ate the individual-wrapped kraft slices.

"Nice cheese for a nice person," Cassie said.

"Don't you touch that, either," said the old woman from the other room.

Normally it wasn't so powdery. Today must be the day, then, when Kendra was supposed to die. Kendra could smell the metallic waves off the cheese, the slight grit. But she put it on the sandwich anyway.

Even the lettuce was questionable. It and the tomato, maybe they had come from special pig-fertilized, e-coli infested fields. Kendra laid them on the sandwich, put extra mustard on the top slice of bread, stacked it ready to eat.

"Across, not diagonal," the child whispered, even though she and Kendra never cut their sandwiches that way.

"I'll take it through," she said, and before Kendra could stop her, grabbed the plate that she must know couldn't be for her grandmother. "She'll never refuse it if it comes from me. Now, go." She gave her mother a quick hug and pushed her fake fur hooker coat at her.

Kendra walked out into the dusk, wrapping the fluff around her empty belly. Right now, it didn't feel so bad.

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