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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Adrian Fahy: Red Wine and Cyanide

104_ym_redwineandcyanide_kjhannah.jpg
Art by KJ Hannah Greenberg 2024

Red Wine and Cyanide

Adrian Fahy

   With every stride, her black hair shimmered and danced. From behind a rack of silver dumbbells, Alan watched, enchanted by the sway of her hips. Divya stepped off the treadmill, turning in time to catch his gaze. At first, she looked startled, then a scolding expression fell over her face. Alan rose from his workout bench, upon which he had yet to work out, but she had already left. He decided against following her, knowing exactly what she would say.

    "I told you, we can't be seen together. Come find me when it's done.”

   Though he hadn't known her long, it felt like Divya, or at least some version of her, had always been there. When he was five years old, she was his pretty young neighbour, the one who bawled when he kissed her on the cheek. Later, she was the exotic blonde who laughed in his face when he asked her to dance. Now here she was—an athletic beauty whose dark eyes filled him with both terror and elation. Except now, the desire was mutual.

After four months of late-night calls and obscene texts, the lovers longed for something more. There was just one problem: Sally would never divorce him. Even if she did, the legal fees would be more than he could afford. What little savings he had would be spent on clothes, holidays, perfumes—anything Divya wanted. This left him at the mercy of his umbrous thoughts, which spread like strangling ivy, creeping through the cracks in his mind 'til he was forced to heath them.

   Having lurked around tenebrous streets for weeks and meeting men he hoped to never meet again, he was put in touch with a 'special' chemist. He didn't need much; three hundred milligrams of potassium cyanide would be enough. Finding a means of introducing it took little imagination.

   After showering in the locker room, Alan slipped back into his office attire: black cotton pants and a white shirt, whose buttons couldn't bear to be stretched any further. On the drive home, he stopped at a nearby petrol station. He paid fifty euros for a cheap bottle of merlot, Sally's favourite, and walked out before taking his change. Tossing the bottle on the passenger seat, he sank behind the wheel of his navy Passat.

   The blood-red spirits seemed to whisper to him, murmuring like some mournful wind. He fumbled for his keys and started the ignition, forgetting to knock the car out of gear. It thrust him forward with an angry jolt, as he shrieked and gripped the wheel for dear life.

   Careful, Alan. Remember what Dr. Collins said: stress causes headaches, and headaches cause blackouts.

   His instinct to reach for the tablets had not subsided, though he weaned off them six months ago. The side effects were wearing him down: long spells of dizziness, chronic fatigue, and most worrying of all, excessive weight gain. He told himself he could manage without them.

   Close your eyes. Breathe. Take your mind to a happier place.

   An image of Divya danced before him, her lips parted in a bewitching smile. She was waiting for him. A fresh grin spread across his face. He switched on the ignition, successfully this time, and headed for home.

   Alan drove through the narrow entrance of his little red bungalow, parking in the usual spot. He stuffed the bottle into his gym bag and hurried inside. "Hi, love," said a voice from somewhere. Alan kicked off his shoes, then scurried across the carpeted floor and into the kitchen, uttering a faint "hello."  Pulling the bottle from his bag, he slid open the polished sideboard, home to Sally's beloved set of fine China. There was a clank as he shoved a stack of plates to the side and slipped the bottle in beside them. She only had cause to look in this cabinet when she was hosting—a rare event, as evinced by dangling cobwebs hanging from the white floral cups. The last thing he needed was Sally asking why the wine had been tampered with. She would find out soon enough.

    Sally appeared from nowhere and planted a welcoming peck on his cheek. Alan flinched.

   "We're very jumpy today," she said with a laugh. She wore a mustard cardigan with red spiral patterns and grey loose-fitting tracksuit pants.

   "I didn't hear you come in," said Alan, tossing his gym clothes into the washing machine.

   “How was the gym?" she asked.

   He stood up, fumbling with the bag to avoid her gaze. "It was alright."

   He felt her eyes fix on him.

   "You look pale," she said, the playfulness leaving her voice. "Are you feeling okay?"

   He nodded. "Yeah, just a little tired."

   "The headaches aren't back, are they?" She studied his face, as if searching for some hidden ailment.

   "I'm fine, honestly."

   "Are you still taking your pills?"

   "Sally, please," he snapped.

   She started. "Alright," she said, "just wanted to make sure." She slouched over to the cooker and fumbled with the dials. "I'd better get the dinner ready."

   There was an ache in his throat as he watched her slow, defeated movements. Of course, she was worried. His violent blackouts still loomed over her, and the neuroleptics had been her only solace; what would she say if she knew he stopped taking them? He dismissed the thought and shuffled into the dining room. After tonight, it wouldn't matter.

   Alan sat at the small wooden table, the banging of metal pots and pans ringing in his ears. His head throbbed.

   Just relax. Slow, deep breaths, in and out. In and out. In....

   An angry buzzing noise shattered his focus. Divya.

   His phone thumped in his pocket. He whipped it out and opened one of the many messages flooding in.

   'This needs to be done.'

   It was as if Divya were in the room, poking his chest with her polished nails. His sweaty fingers smudged the screen as he stuffed the phone back into his pocket.

   'This needs to be done.'

   I know, I'm getting to it.

   Sally emerged from the kitchen, announcing “dinnertime” in her usual cheerful way. She carried two plates of gravy-soaked beef, soft steamed vegetables, and a side of golden roast potatoes. The warm smell of home cooking had an uneasy effect on him. He felt like a stranger who had no right being there.

   "Smells great," he said.

   She laid his plate on the table and took her seat in the chair across from him. "I made the potatoes the way you like them."

   He cut through the crispy skin and down the fluffy centre. "Delicious," he said, though his appetite was long gone. His stomach felt like a flat balloon that was stretched apart and tied into knots. The salty gravy dissolved in his mouth, but the sinewy meat was harder to swallow. He took slow, deliberate bites before forcing it down his torrid throat, chasing it with a gulp of water.

   They ate in silence. Alan watched her pare off tiny pieces of beef, add a smidgen of broccoli to her fork, and chew at least thirty times before swallowing. He always teased her about her excessive chewing. "Any meal might be your last," she would say. "Savor every bite." If only she knew.

   Sally looked up to find him staring. "Is the dinner alright?" she asked.

   He gave a slow nod. "I'm sorry I snapped at you.”

   She flicked her wrist, brushing away the past half hour. "I shouldn't have pushed you. You've just been doing so well; I'm always afraid something will happen. Did you know it's been almost nine years since you had an episode?"

She'd been counting. Who could blame her?

   "It hasn't been easy for you, has it?" he said. "I mean, you didn't even get a proper honeymoon."

   She laid her knife and fork down on the table. "I told you, none of that matters. The important thing was getting you well again."

   He didn't doubt her sincerity. In ten years of marriage, not once had she uttered a bitter word.

   "You were so excited for the honeymoon," he said with a smile. "It would've been your first holiday abroad. I remember you splashed out and bought yourself that blue summer dress."

   She laughed. "I don't think I ever wore it. It probably doesn't fit me now."

   He looked into her face, perhaps seeing her for the first time in years. She was surprisingly pale, and her budding wrinkles told an arduous story: Lying awake at night, praying the medication would work; staying in every weekend, just in case he had an episode; and then, when things were under control, being too exhausted to leave the house.

   Yet her bright green eyes shone with adoration, just like the first day they met.

   Alan said, "You know, I wanted to surprise you for our anniversary, finally give you that week in the sun." He scoffed. "The psychiatrist's bill put an end to that idea."

   She reached over and took his hand.

   "I know you've always done your best for me, Alan. You might not be an easy man, but you're a good man."

   His chest tightened. Divya's voice hissed at him: "This needs to be done." He shook his head from side to side, slowly first, then with frightening vigour. "Alan?" said Sally in a worried voice.

   "Just a minute." Alan leapt from his chair and dashed into the kitchen. Almost ripping the press door off its hinges, he grabbed the bottle of wine and yanked out the cork. A white vapour escaped, twisting through the air and fading into obscurity. Seconds later,  he was pouring the poison liquid down the sink. It swirled around the basin like a red whirlpool, emitting a final gurgle before vanishing from sight.

   He rushed back to Sally, falling to his knees before her. "Let's fly away," he said.

   She stared in worried confusion.

   "Alan, are you... ?"

   "Don't worry, I'm fine. But I want to give you the honeymoon you deserve. We can go anywhere—Spain, Italy, wherever you want."

   Her mouth slacked as she tried to keep up. "How will we afford it?"

   "I've got some money saved away. Please, just let me do this for you."

   She bit her lip and appeared to enter a silent parley. He didn't have long to wait for an answer. Lurching upward, she flung her arms around his neck.

   "Let's do it," she said in an excited squeal. "There's so much to organize. What will I wear? I need to get my outfits ready."

   She turned and made a dash for the bedroom. As she went, her legs folded, and she toppled down, smashing through the glass coffee table. The jagged shards ripped her sleeve and tore through her flesh. Alan ran to help, almost balking at the sight of her bloody limb. Dozens of sparkling splinters lodged deep in her arm, winking like devious stars in the sky.

   He tried coaxing her to her feet but it was no use. Her body refused to cooperate. She laid back on the glass-covered floor.

   "I heard you rummaging through the sideboard earlier," she said in a hoarse whisper. "I didn't want to say anything, but I was worried you'd scratched the China. When I found the bottle of...I hate it when we row. Just a glass."

   No. She was confused. He had saved her from this; he had saved both of them. This was all supposed to be over.

   "Sally?"

   Her face made an odd twitching movement. It spread to her entire body as she started to convulse. He tried holding her while she thrashed about, a sick burbling noise sounding from her throat. Then, in a matter of moments, it was over. She lay before him, perfectly still. A hot tear streamed from his face and melted into her ghostly white skin.

   "Sally, what the hell did you do?"

   At this time, two shadows appeared at the window. Alan struggled to stand as the floor pivoted from left to right.

   It's happening.

   There was a knock at the door. "Alan? Alan Bergin? This is the police. We have a warrant for your arrest."

   Not possible. You're having an episode.

   The boundaries of the room closed in on him. Soon everything would vanish, including himself. The knocking grew louder. "Alan, we know you're in there; this is your final warning. Open the door. It seemed so real, even as the walls around him dissolved. The door rattled on its hinges. Someone was kicking it in.

   It didn't matter. The world had already faded to black.

   Peering through the front window, the police officers spotted the body of a woman, her right hand soaked in blood. After kicking down the front door, one of the officers, the eldest of the two, immediately checked her pulse. Deceased. While he called it in, his colleague investigated the banging noise coming from the next room.

   Taking slow, cautious steps, the young officer found himself in the suspect's bedroom, which looked like it had been ransacked. Someone had pulled the drawer from its dresser and scattered the clothes across the floor. Crouched at the foot of the bed, his head buried in a pile of garments, was Alan Bergin. He shot to his feet when he spotted the officer. After a violent struggle, both men managed to pin him down and get him in handcuffs.

   In addition to violating the terms of his restraining order, Alan was also detained on suspicion of murder. He was incoherent at the time of his arrest, muttering, "She needs her summer dress. She can't leave without it."

   Alan's phone was later examined for evidence. Police found a series of harassing messages dating back four months, all sent to Divya Burman. Divya, who issued the restraining order, made contact with Alan earlier that evening. Her messages read:

   Don't bother saving this number; I'll be changing it immediately.

   I had hoped you would respect the restraining order, but clearly I was wrong.

   Seeing you today brought everything back. For my own safety, I decided to call the police.

   I'm letting you know so you will have time to talk to your wife, should you finally wish to do so.

   I don't think you're an evil man, but you are very unwell.

   This needs to be done.

Adrian Fahy is a writer living in Tipperary,  Ireland, inspired by everyone from Dostoevsky to Stephen King. “Red Wine and Cyanide” is his first publication. While he is just starting out, he already has many stories in need of a good home. He hopes you enjoy his work! 

KJ Hannah Greenberg is eclectic. She’s played oboe, participated in martial arts, learned basket weaving, and studied Middle Eastern dancing. What’s more, she’s a certified herbalist, and an AP College Board-authorized teacher of calculus.

Her creative efforts have been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, once for The Best of the Net in art, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty-five books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.

Channie’s latest book is Eternal not Ephemeral, Eternal not Ephemeral: Greenberg, KJ Hannah: 9798852494016: Amazon.com: Books, a collection of fifty tales, including "Absinthe for Aliens," "Isabelle," "Transitory Unease," and "Special Teeth," which were originally published in Yellow Mama or Black Petals. 

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2024