The first time he poisoned me was at a kitchen table just like yours. I tried not to disappoint him with my reaction. I waited several seconds before requesting a suitable amount of ipecac. He nodded at first, but edged the bottle out of reach.
In the remaining seconds, I imagined a neighbor knocking on the door, then an EMT, then a team of EMTs pumping my stomach and handing me a lollipop when they were through, nudging me on the shoulder like attaboy.
All in all it was painless. Minor discomfort at worst.
You must be thinking: Poison! In the twenty-first century? But we weren’t just gamboling about. We were on a schedule. Every precaution was taken. Nobody was culpable.
Sam once appeared on a game show and had cleaned up, enough to quit his job and concoct new ways of controlling his environment. This was his selected method.
Most friends never show up these days. But Sam and I were entangled.
Plus I was straining to believe in my own presence. Even the portrait framed in the hallway casts a dubious stare at my existence. I wasn’t sure if I was making a dent in the world or if my time was receding in value.
After several months of customarily presenting myself before the poison cup, he texts me a questionable message: Everyone I’ve seen today contains the same number of appendages.
That’s all I will ever hear from him.
Legend has it Sam passed. Or faked his own death for financial purposes. Either way, the news dismantles me. It tampers with me more than any substance labeled with a Mr. Yuk sticker ever could. Needless to say, I do not manage to tame the urge of routine.
I text Sam’s number just to see what’ll happen. I start with: Hello there.
This is it. Here we are.
Who is this?
I collect myself. Any composure I can muster vanishes before I make the next move.
But then another message appears.
Is this the window washer guy?
I do not have any formal training in window washing, but this only seems like a challenge.
I’ve always been lucky when it comes to strangers.
We arrange a time. I learn this person’s whereabouts.
I don’t stop there. Our subject today will be washing technique. Then the proper tools. I gather some microfiber cloths and a squeegee.
Her house is at the end of a suburb, right where it meets cow pasture. I drive by a few times and stake out the premises before our appointment. I watch cows cluster near a fence. Each hoof reverberates through my consciousness as it lands on solid ground.
When the day arrives, I’m eager to see what I have to show for myself. Maybe we’ll trade secret gestures or maybe I’ll never see her again.
Miranda and I walk around the exterior.
“What did I tell you?” I point at a distant window. “A protuberance like that needs vigorous scrubbing.”
I tap the vinyl siding to prove it.
For no particular reason, she leads me inside and shows me a heart-shaped box.
“This is where I keep my candies. I leave them out for friends…and for Dorothy.”
She doesn’t explain who Dorothy is. We move on.
“Yup, this project will take several days,” I say out of nowhere, “there’s no question about that.”
There is, in fact, a question about that.
She pulls a check out of her blouse.
“That should cover it.”
I fold the check into my pocket and loop my thumbs around my belt.
If this arrangement doesn’t work out, I can always join the cows beside her property. I can live a new kind of life, one that doesn’t involve time. I will low at minivans and scooters as they pass by. The cows will take a turn at flaying me, pulverizing my meat, and shaping me into little round patties.
Claire Hopple is the author of five books. Her fiction has appeared in Wigleaf, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Peach Mag, Forever Mag, and others. She grew up in the woods of Western PA and currently lives in Asheville, NC. More at clairehopple.com.