Always Faithful

This post can also be found at McDroll’s blog.

Another piece of flash fiction. I’ve been trying to get up one of these a week. This one clocks in at just under 1000 words and I really wish it were better, but I fear it’s not.

Please to enjoy.

“I think we found her a new doctor. That last one didn’t think she needed the shots. He was a quack. He said she could get by with some over the counter medication.”

“Well, that’s good, Dad.” Jacob sounded disappointed, far away like he’s only half listening.

He knew it was boring, all the talk of medications and doctors and what they’d try next. He also knew Jacob thought his mom was faking it or addicted or  just too lazy to get out of bed. Roy figured his son was probably right about a lot of it. He just. Well, it just wasn’t worth the fight. Not anymore.

“Um. Well, she needs her meds. And I need to make her sandwich.”

“Nice talking to you.” The accusation, the question – couldn’t his mother make her own sandwich? – hung unspoken on the line that was no longer a line but rather some nebulous satellite transmission Roy couldn’t understand.

“Yeah. Love you, Son.”

“You too.”

Generic conversation, all they ever had anymore. Most lasted about ten minutes, but sometimes they ran long. Roy could tell Jacob was busy doing other things during those calls, that he was letting the old man rattle on just because he was balancing his checkbook or unloading the dishwasher and not really listening. Jacob had stopped really sharing anything, really talking about anything. Never really told him how the kids were or what he and the wife had been up to. Roy sometimes felt he might as well call some customer service rep in India for all the reception he got.

Hard to blame the boy, though.

He shuffled off to the kitchen, sticking the little phone back in the pocket of his cargo shorts. The weight caused the shorts to sag slightly on that side and he hitched up his belt, marveling at how quickly his body was changing.

Louise’s lunch consisted of the same thing every day. She was convinced if she ate anything but whole Pepperidge Farms wheat bread with “store turkey” from the A&P, she’d get sick. She demanded a single leaf of iceberg lettuce and a single slice of Kraft American cheese product with two tablespoons of Miracle Whip slathered only on one slice of the bread. The slice of tomato had to be the perfect shade of whitish pink or she claimed it was “too darn sweet” and wouldn’t eat it, asking, “what are you trying to do, kill me, Roy?”

Oddly, despite being able to taste the difference between the plastic Kraft and the plastic rice cheese their daughter had left in the fridge, she’d yet to notice the thin basting of diluted thallium sulfate he’d been adding to the turkey for a month. The thallium he’d gotten from an old war buddy who’d made a habit out of collecting things he probably shouldn’t. She’d noticed the sickness, but since she’d been pretending to be sick for years, it wasn’t like she could explain the difference to anyone without outing herself.

He’d taken her in for a few new meds, though, just to be safe. Her latest doctor didn’t even seem to ask what was wrong, just which pill she thought she needed and handed her a script. He’d come recommended special by one of the church ladies with a not-so-secret Xanax problem.

When she insisted he make her a new sandwich because the lettuce was two smaller leaves instead of one large one, he’d complied. He always complied. He’d been trained to do nothing but comply since high school, and some would argue even before that. He lived to serve. And he’d served. Faithfully. His country. The local car dealership. The Masons. And Louise. He’d been serving her for forty-two years.

In that time, he’d watched her deteriorate from a part-time pill-popping mom to a strung-out-for-days-on-end addict who shopped for doctors like other women her age shopped for comfortable shoes. And yet, she wouldn’t let him so much as have a Coors Light after mowing the lawn anymore. “That stuff is for drunks,” she’d told him countless times, most recently after he’d come home with the scent on his lips after a neighbor’s cookout. He hadn’t even known she’d bee awake after her “cocktail” shot; she’d made him stay in the garage that night because of “the smell.”

He’d have guessed she’d have died first. Probably everyone else figured the same. Even her sister called to say she didn’t plan to see her again until the funeral. Louise’s mother had told him a million times to “stop enabling that woman.” Both the kids refused to come visit because she grumped and fussed and wouldn’t let them wear perfume or use scented soaps except for her stash of “roses begonia” that she got at Wal-Mart in the late nineties.

As he made a new sandwich, he figured if he did it right, he could make it to the funeral himself.

Three months before he’d gone to the doctor. Routine stuff. Came back not so routine. Older doctor, looked all tore up about it, said it might be related to his Agent Orange exposure all those years ago, that several of “the boys” had come up with similar problems lately. Said if he filed all the right paperwork in time, there was a slim chance he might be able to leave a little settlement for the wife and kids.

He’d filled out the paperwork, made sure the kids were in his will, and gone to see his old war buddy that afternoon.

When he’d come home, she’d yelled her head off. How dare he “be gone for six hours without calling.” Yes, he decided, as he added an extra layer of poison to her turkey, if he did it just right, he could make it to her funeral, too.