The Poison Bride
When the famous poetess passed out in her mashed potatoes on Christmas Eve, 1978, her husband rolled his eyes and her two children carried on glumly chewing. It was a semi-regular performance, the passing out act. George wondered how he'd ended up marrying the silly bitch.
Once on a literary tour, they'd been besieged by girls who seemed to regard him with envy for having such unfettered access to their mentally unstable idol. He'd happily switch places with any of them, or the middle-aged sad-sack men who worried at her ankles at luncheons. Two years ago she'd had a brief affair with an English teacher. To George's dismay, she came back to him.
A minute passed and the kids, whose expressions these days were normally blank, started to look nervous. Amelia Porter might have been a dab hand at a sonnet, but she still needed oxygen. George had another glass of mulled wine. He wouldn't be surprised if she'd learned to breathe through her ears.
Another minute passed. He sighed, plonked down his glass, pushed back his chair, and hauled his wife out of the mash. Normally he'd have seen her eyes darting up and down in a process she called "lamp-lighting".
This time, though, her eyes were still. Wide-open, too. Just two rings of hazel brown enclosing black pupils. 'Shit' muttered George, and let her fall back in the potatoes.
The police arrived not long after. The surviving family was gathered in the living room, fairy lights blinking on and off as last year's Doctor Who Christmas special played on the Ferguson color TV. George stared at his children, whom he'd allowed to share a box of chocolates. The chocolates were a traditional gift from their mother, to be eaten just before bed on Christmas Eve, to give them sweet dreams. Nora was eight and David ten.
In years past his arguments with Amelia had been loud and brutal. The last time they'd fought like that, she'd come at him with a kitchen knife and he'd punched her in the face, as hard as he would have a man.
'Has your wife attempted suicide before?' asked the lead detective. George laughed. He couldn't help it. He'd been taken into the kitchen while a social worker stayed with the kids. 'I'm sorry' he said. 'It's just that my wife was very unstable. She last tried to kill herself six months ago. I was half-expecting to come downstairs Christmas morning and find that she'd stuck her head in the oven with the turkey.'
'You sound very flippant. If you don't mind me saying.'
George looked towards the living room. He lit his pipe and watched as Nora took a strawberry cream from the box. Her mother's favourite. 'There hasn't been much love between us for a long time.'
'And lo, my husband comes
with bloody arrows in his hands.
The tribal drums
cry out across the sands.'
'Poetry fan, officer?' George was glaring at the detective now. He just smiled. 'Not really' he said. 'But my wife is. She's got a signed edition of The Housewife's Guide to Infidelity, the one with the pistol and wedding rings on the cover.'
'I commissioned that cover' said George, smiling a little himself now. He remembered that he'd been his wife's editor for twenty years, since the late '50s, and how when she'd walked into his office he'd thought she was a secretary. 'I can certainly type' she said, with that sly smile he'd found so irresistibly erotic. 'But I type poems, not memos.'
'The gun we used was her father's' said George. 'Small-caliber service pistol. The one he shot himself with.'
A constable came in and handed the detective a small plastic baggie, with a vial in it. He whispered something to the detective, who turned to George. 'It looks like she did it with this' he said. George stared at it and mumbled something. 'What was that, sir?'
George was turning pale. He rushed to his study and brought back the proof of his wife's upcoming book. The detective saw that the bottle in the baggie was also on the cover, below the title: The Poison Bride. 'That seals it, then' he said.
'Wait a minute' said George, flipping through the book until he reached a certain page. He read aloud.
'She gathers up her young
and takes them with her, in a dream.
The medicine will bring
them, in a boat of strawberry cream.'
George ran to the living room and the detective followed. They arrived just as the social worker started screaming. David looked on in shock, with chocolate on his lips, as his sister started writhing on the floor.