BY NANCY BOYCE
Copyright is held by the author.
SHE HAD done her mother a favour.
Her mother endured the pain from her illness and suffered each day in silence. But she found the silence deafening — her quiet mother, the untravelled back road. There was no whirring pump bringing water from the well, no buzz of electricity, not even a ringing phone to interrupt her thoughts. She’d go crazy if she stayed any longer. She had escaped this place once, had made her way to Toronto. When her step-father died and her mother fell ill, she returned to their family home north near Huntsville.
She knew that she had to end the suffering for both of them. It had been easier than she thought it would be — a bit more of this medication, a little less of that. There was no funeral; no family or friends to attend. Her only living relative, a cousin, lived in Toronto. The two families had parted ways when she was a child.
She had spent the past week formulating a plan that would keep her out of the back woods forever. She closed the cabin door, certain that she would never return.
Nothing existed at that moment except for her and the juicy peach. Angie took another bite and slurped up the juice, but it still ran down her hands and onto the counter. The click of stiletto heels on the tile floor brought her out of her reverie.
“Get that out of the house!” Pamela shouted.
Angie stuffed the last chunk of peach into her mouth and wiped her hands with a paper towel.
“I specifically told you no peaches in this house,” Pamela said. “What are you trying to do, kill me?”
“But Pam, I don’t remember peaches being on the list,” Angie said.
“It’s Pamela. I swear, Angie, you have a mind like a sieve.”
Angie could hear Pamela wheeze as she went into the living room.
“Michael, my medication!” Pamela called.
Mike came running out of his office, inhaler in hand.
“It’s okay dear, you’ll be fine,” Mike said. He gave his wife the inhaler and sat next to her, massaging her back and whispering calming words.
Pamela regained her composure and her breath and stood abruptly letting Mike’s arm drop.
“Please speak with Angie. Either she learns to obey the rules of this household or she’ll have to leave,” Pamela said.
“I’ll speak with her right away, dear. Now, off you go or you’ll be late for your bridge game,” Mike said as he ushered her out the door.
Angie hadn’t forgotten. She knew Pam said she was allergic to peaches, to any kind of fresh fruit, but she hadn’t taken it seriously until Pam started wheezing.
Angie was busy wiping down the counter with vinegar when Mike came into the kitchen and sat at the breakfast bar.
“You need to be more careful,” Mike said. “She’ll insist on firing you if there’s another incident.”
“You know how much I want to stay,” Angie said, sighing. She placed a hand on Mike’s. “I’ll do my best to remember all the rules.”
Angie had taken the job as their full-time housekeeper a couple of months before and lived in a small granny suite behind the garage.
“Remember this above all else,” Mike said, “Pamela’s worst allergy is to peaches. I don’t know if there’s more pollen on the peach fuzz, but touching a peach is enough to send Pamela into anaphylactic shock.”
“Anpha what?” Angie asked.
“Anaphylactic shock, it’s a severe allergic reaction. The symptoms can be breathing problems from blocked airways, anxiety and low blood pressure. Sometimes I don’t know if it’s psychological or physical, but I worry that it could kill her,” Mike explained.
“Why does she need you to keep her medication?” Angie asked.
“I don’t know, I think she likes to be looked after,” Mike answered.
“She can’t work because of allergies, can’t grocery shop, can’t clean, but she comes and goes as she pleases. You’re like a prisoner here, working from home to be at her beck and call. It doesn’t seem fair,” Angie said.
“I have to look after her, Angie. I worry about her.” Mike squeezed Angie’s hand and then let go. “I’m so glad I have you here to talk to,” Mike said.
Angie looked down, trying to think of the best way to phrase what she wanted to say.
“Mike, I have something to tell you. I’ve been debating whether I should say anything. I wanted to stay out of it, but I care for you and I hate seeing you used,” Angie said.
“Used?” Mike said, angrily. He stood and glared at Angie.
“I’m sorry, Mike. Last week when I went grocery shopping, I was driving by that little boutique hotel on George Street and I saw Pamela kissing another man,” Angie said.
“No! There must be some mistake,” Mike said.
“I’m certain of what I saw,” Angie said.
Tears welled up in Angie’s eyes. She put an arm around Mike. He leaned into her and let her embrace him.
Angie kissed Mike’s ear and whispered to him, “I’m so sorry.”
They both stood there crying and embracing. Angie kissed Mike’s neck and then his mouth. He pulled her closer and kissed her back, a desperate kiss. Suddenly Mike pushed Angie away.
“No, this isn’t right, not now, not like this,” Mike said and then he left the room.
“Did you wash down everything in the kitchen?” Pamela asked.
“Yes, all scrubbed with vinegar. It won’t happen again, I promise,” Angie said.
“I’m going upstairs to have a bath and a nap. Did you change my sheets?” Pamela asked.
“Yes, I did,” Angie answered.
Pamela was already walking up the stairs when Angie said under her breath, “And I even left something special on your pillow, just like a fancy hotel.”
Mike was working in his office when he heard his wife scream. Pamela hadn’t bothered to say hello when she returned home. Mike couldn’t concentrate. How could he confront her? He didn’t want to face the truth. If Pamela was having an affair, it would be the end of their marriage and he wasn’t prepared for that.
Mike ran up the stairs taking two steps at a time. Pamela was slumped at the edge of her bed. She was gasping for air. The peach on her pillow had rolled off and under the bed.
“What happened?” Mike cried.
Pamela didn’t answer, only wheezed loudly.
Mike fumbled through the medicine cabinet. He couldn’t find her medication. He flew down the stairs and back to his office where he had left more medication in his desk. He was back to the bedroom in a couple of minutes. Pamela was coughing and wheezing and tears streamed down her face. Mike stood in front of her with the inhaler in his hand.
“Where were you this afternoon?” Mike demanded.
“Whaa?” Pamela gasped.
“Are you having an affair?” Mike asked.
“Mike,” Pamela pleaded.
“Tell me now. Are you having an affair?”
“How could you,” Pamela said, softly. She fell across the bed and the wheezing stopped.
“Pam, oh Pam,” Mike cried.
Mike turned Pamela over and sprayed the inhaler into her mouth. He ran to the top of the stairs and called to Angie, “Call 911!”
Mike had never practiced resuscitation, but felt he had to try. He alternated pushing on Pam’s chest and breathing into her mouth.
“Breathe, damn it, breathe,” Mike shouted at her.
Mike worked as long as he could before he collapsed exhausted onto Pamela. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled as the paramedics entered the room.
“Michael Dunn, you’re under arrest for the murder of your wife, Pamela Dunn,” the police officer said. He handcuffed Mike and led him out to the cruiser.
Angie cried out after them, “No, this must be a mistake.”
The detective held Angie back. “Ma’am, are you a relative?” he asked.
“I’m their housekeeper,” Angie answered.
“I’d like to ask you a few questions about the day of Mrs. Dunn’s death,” the detective said.
Angie and the detective sat in the living room. Angie leaned over with her head in her hands, crying softly.
“May I have your name, ma’am?” he asked.
Angie looked up. “Angela White,” she answered, “but please, call me Angie.”
“How did Mrs. Dunn seem to you on the day of her death? Did you notice any breathing problems?” he asked.
“Yes, Pam had some problems earlier in the day, but that was quite a few hours before her death. She went out for a while and seemed fine when she returned home.”
“Did Mrs. Dunn carry her inhalers with her at all times?” he asked.
“I don’t really know. I suppose so. Mike normally looked after Pam’s medication when she was at home,” Angie explained.
“Did you notice anything unusual about Mr. Dunn that day?”
“He was a bit agitated,” Angie answered.
“Where were you at the time of Mrs. Dunn’s death?” he asked.
“Here in the living room, I was cleaning.”
“Did you overhear any of what happened?” he asked.
“A word here and there, I had no idea Pam was having an attack.”
“Can you be more precise, what exactly did you hear?”
Angie looked away from the detective. “I don’t want to get Mike in any trouble. He loved Pam.”
“Angie,” the detective said in his attempt to have her look straight at him, “what did you hear?”
“Mike was shouting something about an affair,” Angie answered.
“We have reason to believe that Mrs. Dunn received her medication post-mortem,” the detective explained.
“Post what?” Angie asked.
“Post-mortem, meaning after death,” he said.
“Angela, please come in and make yourself comfortable,” Angie’s lawyer said.
“I’m sorry this whole process has taken so long. The insurance company wouldn’t settle until the trial was over and Michael Dunn was convicted for the murder of his wife,” he continued.
“I’m glad that it’s settled and I’m anxious to get on with my life,” Angie said.
“Well, as you know, the matrimonial home is rightfully Mr. Dunn’s, but he could not collect on the insurance policy. That would be rewarding him for a crime, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes, people shouldn’t be rewarded for crime,” Angie agreed.
“Were you and your cousin close?” the lawyer asked.
“No, we weren’t close. My father, Pam’s uncle, died when I was very young. My mother remarried and we moved away. I guess that’s when our families lost touch,” Angie explained.
“That’s unfortunate, considering you were Mrs. Dunn’s only living relative,” the lawyer commented.
“I’ve followed her for years in the society pages of the paper. I did look her up after my mother died, but our lives were so different. Still, it was nice to have some family in my life,” Angie said.
“So, what are your plans for the million dollars?” he asked.
“I’ll buy a home and invest the rest. I have appointments with both a real estate agent and a financial advisor,” Angie explained.
“That sounds like a very intelligent plan,” the lawyer said.
“I’m not as dumb as some people think I am,” Angie said.