While attempting to liberate the last of the Parmigiano Reggiano from the curve of the rind, Edwin grated the skin from two knuckles. There was no pain, just a change in timbre, a reduction in resistance.
“What are you doing with the cheese?” said that harridan, that harpy, his wife, Charlotte, when she walked into the kitchen to find him picking through the pale mound of shavings.
“I took off some skin in the process and thought it might be hygienic to save us from eating it.”
“Oh, tosh,” she said as she pulled the day’s second bottle of shiraz from the pantry and dusted it off. “Like I’m concerned about swallowing a few flakes of your skin at this point.”
“Could I get a band-aid?”
Grabbing his hand, she inspected his knuckles, the gouges in the yellow skin revealing the white flesh. She dropped it and patted his cheek.
“There, there. An old man like you has no need for band-aids.”
She retrieved the corkscrew from the drawer and gathered two wine glasses by their stems.
“Stop picking at that and get on with dinner,” she said and left the kitchen.
Edwin muttered, stirred the sauce simmering on the stove, imagined cervical vertebrae as he snapped a handful of spaghetti and dropped it into boiling water, swept the stems and stalks of herbs and mushrooms from the garden into the bin, and set two places at the table.
Charlotte returned as he was limping to the dining room, carrying their plates, the tainted cheese melting on top. She placed a rather full glass of wine for each of them and drank deeply from hers. They ate in silence.
“You do make a lovely pasta,” she said. “Despite the privations. How long has it been since we’ve seen a delivery man? You haven’t touched your wine.”
There it was. He reached for the glass, then withdrew, picking up his fork again.
“After I finish eating,” he said. “I believe deliveries are still being made, it is just that the drivers, they talk amongst themselves, have learned to avoid us.”
“At least we have the garden,” she said. “And of course, you.”
Again, silence descended. They finished the meal without speaking, exchanging the occasional glance.
Edwin arranged his knife and fork on the empty plate and took up his wine glass. Charlotte betrayed herself with the tiniest jerk of her head upward, her fork pausing for a moment before finishing its journey.
“To us,” said Edwin. He brought the glass to his mouth and drained it. Charlotte hid her smirk behind her serviette.
“I’m afraid, dear Edwin, that I must confess to poisoning your wine.”
She picked up her own glass and took a sip.
“I know. That’s why I drank it.”
Her shock amused him.
“Shall I go climb into the meat freezer now, or do you want to drag me there yourself?”
“Yes, yes. Oh, Edwin, look at our beautiful life, our long, beautiful life. Oh, Edwin, no-one will miss a tramp. Girl scouts go missing every day of the week. Oh, Edwin, I’m so hungry. Oh, Edwin, you make a lovely pasta.”
The shock turned to disdain.
“See? This is why. You were growing tiresome. Ungrateful,” she said.
“Tired. I grew tired. The tiresome was for you, for this.” He held up the empty glass. “I just wish it wasn’t going to be so very, very painful. Is there any unpoisoned wine left?”
She pushed the bottle across the table.
“Oh, Edwin, it’s not going to be painful at all. I’m not a monster. It will feel like slipping into a warm bath.”
It was Edwin’s turn to smirk.
“I didn’t expect the poison to hurt. It’s the mushrooms that are going to hurt. Even you, my dear.”
He took a drink. It was a good bottle to end on. Almost as tasty as the fear on Charlotte’s face.
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