Catherine carefully dumped the coffee grounds onto the center of the front page and then folded over the four corners, making a neat bundle. Robert didn’t like to read the news and she was always careful to remove the paper before he came down. The headline would have really set him off: CYANIDE KILLER CLAIMS ANOTHER VICTIM! STOMACH REMEDY DEFINITE LINK!
She carried the bundle of paper to the trash bin, wincing a bit when she raised the lid. Her shoulder was still sore, although the bruise had nearly faded. At least it wasn’t her face this time.
Catherine herself didn’t like the stories about violence. She didn’t approve of violence, especially when it led to someone’s death. Except maybe during a war, although it had been a war that had given Robert those “violent tendencies,” as the psychiatrist’s report had called his rages. But when she read the report, Catherine noticed the typist had left the “n” out of “violent.” From that time on, she always pictured an angry Robert surrounded by purple clouds, as he himself turned a darker violet.
Now accidents were a different story. While she didn’t like the idea of anyone dying, accidents did seem the best way to go. No one to blame, just Lady Luck or Fate or the odds not being in your favor. Sometimes people were sorry when someone else died, but other times, Catherine thought, the death must have seemed ordained by Providence.
These poisoning stories—Catherine wasn’t sure if they fell under the murder or accident heading. Sometimes the blame could be laid at the factory’s doorstep: a mechanical malfunction or a failure in the Quality Control Department. But other times they were deliberate attempts to murder total strangers, with the chances of death evenly distributed between the lucky and unlucky consumers of the product.
How many people would this latest crime claim? Catherine wondered. How many would awaken with a hangover and take a dose of medicine and never have a hangover again? How many would fail to read the article in the morning newspaper before opening the bottle and ingesting the fatal dose?
Catherine herself had been very careful, not wanting any accidents to happen in her home. After reading the article, she marked down the lot number on the list she kept hanging inside the kitchen cabinet door, and then checked their medicine cabinet. The antacid was there—its lot number matching the one in the paper—and she had brought it downstairs.
She did this every time. Like when the aspirins were reported to be laced with strychnine—that was Lot Number 4300. And the name-brand coffee holding bits of ground glass—Lot 66441. Then there was the canned mushroom soup with a touch of acid—poor mushrooms, Catherine thought when she’d added the information to the ever-growing list. They were always being blamed for something.
Noise above told her Robert had awakened. Soon he would be downstairs, demanding his breakfast and finding fault with everything she did. The coffee would be too cold or the toast too brown—all just a prelude to another round of pinching and poking until he had to catch the morning train, leaving her to soak the worst of the bruises in ice water.
Sometimes that helped. But sometimes nothing helped.
There were heavy steps on the kitchen floor, and Catherine knew by the shrinking of her skin that Robert was behind her. She turned to face him, carefully closing the cabinet door.
“I have an awful headache,” he muttered, pushing her out of the way as he reached for a glass.
Catherine trembled. She knew that the headache was a sign that last night had not been enough to dispel the purple clouds, and unconsciously she raised a hand to rub her shoulder.
Robert swallowed the water, then grabbed her arm.
“Where’s breakfast?” he demanded and shoved her again, harder. She caught her breath as her shoulder hit the wall. “How many times have I said to have the coffee ready when I come down?”
Robert gave her a final push and sank onto the kitchen chair, cradling his aching head in his large hands. Catherine looked at his hands in fascination. They were so big, so powerful—it was hard to slip free of their grasp.
“Oh, my head,” Robert groaned, and then glared at her as though it was her fault. “Can’t you do something for me? And you’ll have to call my boss—tell him I can’t come in today. I’m too damned sick. I just want to stay home.”
Home—all day. Catherine’s mind registered the words as she moved automatically to start the coffee. How could she have forgotten to turn it on? He was already so angry. And there was nowhere for her to go, even if she were brave enough to leave. She would have to come home eventually.
“Get me something for my stomach. It hurts like hell. And hurry up,” he added, throwing the saltshaker at her. “I can’t take any more.”
The morning sunshine streamed through the window, and Catherine closed her eyes against the glare. There was too much light. She could see everything far too clearly. Almost without thinking, she moved to the cabinet, reaching past the cans of mushrooms and coffee for the antacid and aspirin.
“I’ll take care of you, Robert,” she said, carefully closing the door.
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