by Sheila Crosby
Simon got home in time to give his wife, Lucy, her morning coffee. He thought he was safe, but when he handed it to her, she blurted out, “Kate said she saw you with Lorraine Sleet last night. And you came in so late. Were you with her?”
Simon looked like a puppy that had just been kicked. “Oh Lucy! Lorraine’s just a client. How could you think I’d betray you?”
“Kate said you were kissing her!”
“Of course I wasn’t. Can’t you trust me?”
All women wanted sincerity. Learn to fake sincerity and you were laughing. Soon Lucy was apologizing for her “groundless” suspicions. “I’m so sorry darling. Not being able to get pregnant makes me paranoid.”
Simon patted her hand. “I won’t visit Lorraine any more. You’re far more important to me than my career.”
It worked like a charm. Lucy immediately insisted that he kept seeing Lorraine. Lorraine would think it hilarious. He’d tell her in bed this evening.
And then he held Lucy’s hand while she drank her tea. He’d crushed a contraceptive pill into it, same as every morning, and she didn’t suspect a thing. Getting the pills illegally was a hassle, but much better than having screaming kids underfoot.
Simon had only married Lucy because she had a rich, widowed mother. Queenie! What a name for a mother-in-law.
The next time they went round to her mother’s for dinner, the old bat started banging on about her latest fad. She’d started collecting wild food – dandelions, rosehips and what not. Lucy lapped it up. Silly cow, thought Simon. Both of them. He was tired of waiting for Queenie to fall off her perch. If only there were some safe way to speed things up!
Queenie handed it to him on a plate. She continued, “- and this prejudice against fungi is quite ridiculous. It’s easy enough to distinguish good from bad.” Lucy’s eyes widened. “But mother!” she pleaded, “Your eyesight isn’t good. You could make a mistake and kill yourself.”
“I wish! thought Simon. Could he add slug pellets to her mushrooms? No. If the autopsy showed slug pellets, they’d know it was murder. And he’d be the chief suspect.
“Nonsense,” said Queenie crisply. “When I get home I check them most carefully with a magnifying glass. I won’t poison myself, never fear.”
So if Simon added a toadstool after that, she’d never notice. And if toadstool showed in the autopsy, what would they think? Only that Queenie had made a tragic mistake. Plausible enough.
He’d better disguise his sudden interest in fungi though. “I love mushrooms,” he lied. “The only reason I don’t eat them is that Lucy doesn’t like them.”
Lucy often gave him mushrooms after that. He always managed a smile as he forced them down.
Queenie loaned him a book. How disappointing! There were plenty of fungi that would give you violent gut-ache, several that might kill, but very few reliably deadly ones. And it had to look roughly like a mushroom or even Queenie would notice.
Eventually he found what he wanted.
Eating one Destroying Angel was deadly. There were no symptoms until after the poison was absorbed, so the stomach pump was useless. It even looked like a mushroom. Queenie’s elderly eyes would never spot the white gills or the scales on the stem. He could easily cut that frill off the bottom. And it was in season all autumn, growing under trees.
“Perfect!” he crowed.
“What darling?” asked Lucy.
“Oh nothing, sweetheart. These fungi are fascinating.”
Lucy went back to her cross-stitch.
Simon read on. Death occurred after two to ten days of great suffering. Well, no omelets without smashing eggs. He must find Angels!
“Darling, I think I’ll try jogging in the mornings.”
He combed the local woods while “jogging”. Autumn wore on and the mornings got colder. Only the thought of Queenie’s money kept him warm.
On Halloween he hit a golf ball into the rough. Cursing, he went searching for it and found two Destroying Angels growing under an oak tree, pure white and elegant. He picked them and wrapped them tenderly in his handkerchief. They would make him rich.
He faked a phone call to get rid of his golf partner. Sitting in his car he pulled the frills off the stems. Then he popped round to Queenie’s and asked to borrow the toilet. The downstairs restroom was reached through the kitchen. Yes! There were mushrooms in the fridge. He added his darling Angels to the mushrooms. Now all he had to do was wait.
Next day all he could think about was Queenie and the Angels. Had she eaten them? Was he rich yet?
He went home early. Lucy met him at the door, crying. His heart leapt. “Mother’s in hospital!” she sobbed.
He pulled her face onto his shoulder so she wouldn’t see his delight. “Tell me about it,” he said. Her prattling would give him time to calm down.
“It was such a shock – ” Lucy began.
“Dear, dear.” Simon was wondering which sort of car he’d buy. A Porsche or a Ferrari?
“- She fell down and broke her hip just before lunch.”
Simon didn’t hear. He made soothing noises, but he was dreaming of fast cars, Hawaii, Gucci…
“Once I got her to hospital, I had to sort out her house. I brought all the perishable food home because I haven’t had time to shop, but I felt like a thief.”
“Poor Lucy.” Simon still wasn’t listening. Wonderful Angels! He’d always fancied a Rolex… Lucy pulled away from him. Time to pay attention.
“- and I only just got in,” she was saying. “So I’ll cook something quick. You must be hungry.”
Ten minutes later they sat down to dinner. Plain omelet for her, and mushroom omelet for him.
Simon smiled. Soon he’d have the perfect excuse to hate mushrooms. And he’d never eat them again.
Published in Jotter’s Pad , October 2001