She looked at me, eyes startled, lips slightly parted. There was a milk moustache on her upper lip.
"Say that again?"
"What you just said."
"I didn't say anything."
"I could have sworn I heard you say you were going to kill me."
"I thought you said 'I'm going to kill you', clear as day."
"I never said that."
After a pause, she went back to the paper and her coffee. I unplugged the toaster. I carefully scraped the plastic from around the plug. When I could see wire, I tucked the toaster back into its recess atop the counter.
"That was weird," she said.
"Me, thinking you'd said that."
"You know, 'I'll kill you' or whatever it was that you said."
"I didn't say that," I let the annoyance snarl in my voice.
"I know," she replied, gazing at me strangely, "It's just weird that I'd think that you did."
"Yeah," I said, turning my back and carefully flexing the crack in the coffee maker so that the burner coil showed through. I replaced it, carefully, just a little bit away from the puddle of water by the sink, and plugged it back in. I moved the radio to a precarious perch next to where the dishes were set to soak.
She was silent as I carefully poured some bleach into an unlabeled bottle and placed it in the fridge next to the jug of filtered water. She read her paper while I loosened the trim rail and the handrail at the top of the basement steps. As I was carefully removing the ground wire from the light switch she said:
"What would you do if I died?"What indeed.
She was looking at me narrowly.
"I guess I'd try to get through it. You know, move on?"
"How long d'you think it'd take to get through it?" Her voice trickled with ice.
"I don't know," I tell her blithely, "At least ten minutes." I finished rubbing the vegetable knife against the warm chicken breast I'd left out the night before, and put it back in the fridge.
I looked over. She had that hangdog look on her again. My hand flexed on the handle of the knife.
The sugar was in a small white bowl that looked precisely like the small white bowl of rat poison, which strangely enough is a white crystalline powder. I pushed it to the back of the shelf, pulling the poison forward.
"Look," I said mildly "Why do you want to think about that stuff anyway? I'm far more likely to go early than you are."
"Oh, don't talk like that."
"It's my business honey. I'm male, for starters, slightly overweight and at my age that's as bad as being obese, family history of heart trouble and cancer both ... heck, we'll be lucky if I make it to fifty."
"You're forty-nine now," she said.
"So I'd better make this a great year, then," I say, suddenly buoyant as I checked to make sure the pilot light on the oven was out.
"Didn't you tell me the most common cause of untimely death in women is accidents in the kitchen?"
I grunted noncomittally. Then I turn. She's looking at me with another face. It's raw and full of mean glee. Black with it. Suddenly, like someone hit a switch, she's herself again.
"I packed you a lunch, sweetheart," she said abruptly. She never packs my lunch. I took it anyway, knowing that it was going into the round file at work as soon as I get there.
I checked the pockets of my jacket for spiders, and my shoes for poisoned blades. Then I headed out to the car.
"I'll see you tonight," she called.
"Don't bet on it," I trilled to myself.
The puddle on the driveway was subtle, might have been an old one. I pondered looking under the hood. After all, it'd only just been repaired. No matter. I put my briefcase in the trunk, using the opportunity to examine the gas tank, then check the underside of the car. For a moment something in the trunk tore at my eye, dragging it back to its bright yellow cover with that moronic little graphic on it.
The car started okay. The brakes felt a little spongy, but it was no surprise. I pulled out my cell phone, then thought better of opening it and sniffed the air. Just for safety I opened the window.
My daily alerts popped up, and there it was. It was our anniversary. It happens right around this time every year. Only this time I'd remembered it. There was a small package on the bedside table with her name on it, containing a small but mankilling scorpion. In the bathtub were what looked like bath beads but were in fact capsules of an odourless, colourless gas that is totally harmless unless in contact with water, which it turns into an extraordinarily potent acid. The crystals in the jar of bath salts had similar properties.
I perked up. This could be the day. Maybe today the house would be silent and empty when I get home. Or better yet, perhaps there'd be an ambulance and a tired-looking old detective on the lawn when I get home.
I was at the foot of the hill when the steering locked full over to the left. I abruptly swerved across two lanes of traffic, got clipped by a delivery truck, smacked into the edge of the overpass abutment and plunged down a forty-foot drop.
The air bag deployed about ten seconds after I landed, breaking my glasses. The car was standing on its nose against the concrete wall of the bridge that passes over the railway tracks.
I heard the honking of an air horn. Struggling frantically I cleared away the broken windsheild and swept the airbag's deflated carcass out of the way. A diesel engine was sliding my way, propelled only by the weight of the train behind it. Its brakes were locked, and sparks were bursting from underneath it.
I reached under the seat. The escape tool wasn't there. I scrabbled with my fingers against the floor. After a seeming eternity I grasped it, and with one fast strike I chopped through the seat belt.
I tumbled through the windshield, landing on a railroad tie in an ungainly heap. My legs didn't quite want to work. I could feel air being pushed ahead of the big diesel. Looking up I saw gape-mouthed morons across the bridge above admiring my agility.
I threw myself to the far side of the tracks just as the train barrelled through the wreckage of my Lexus. I could almost hate her for that. I tried to catch my breath as the massive machine ground to a halt. Between the slowing groups of wheels I could see the far side of the track, swept nearly clean of the carcass of my car. And the little yellow book: Automotive Power Steering Priciples and Practice
After an endless time of reports and papers, traded business cards and e-mail addresses, it was too late to head in to the office. Larry said he'd bury it as a sick day. Magnanimous prick. Refusing a lift from the cops, I plodded uphill home.
She's in the kitchen.
"Clever girl," I say.
She turns, knife in rubber-gloved hand:
"You!" she says cheerily "The coffee maker was good, very good. I got a bit of a shock, but I didn't figure it out until I saw you'd moved the radio."
"That's my smartie," I say, "Come to Poppa!"
She rushes me with the knife. I do a fallback-disarm, so that she winds up in my arms. I kiss her on the nose.
"None of that now," I say "It's Friday night."
"But it's not after four."
"So? I'm home from work, aren't I?"
"You got there?" Clearly she is disappointed at the prospect.
"No, no ... sheer genius darling. Did you mean for the train to be there?"
Her smile is impish: "Wouldn't you love to know? Now take me to bed and let's get the weekend started. But watch for the scorpion--it's somewhere on your side of the floor, I think."
As I carry her in and dump her unceremoniously on the bed, I reflect at how the perfect partner can truly give one a new zest for life.