Choosing the Right Kind of Poison

Choosing the Right Kind of Poison image 5
Choosing the Right Kind of Poison
~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp ~

The shoes were on sale; he saved eight dollars. Instead of giving the eight dollars back to his father the way he should if he was completely honest, he would keep it. He would add the eight dollars to his growing savings. He was sure he would need it later on.

He left the shoe store with the bag containing the shoes under his arm. He was on his way to the book store when he saw, half a block in front of him, someone who looked familiar. She had her back to him, but he had seen her so many times, for so long, that he knew who she was. He half-ran to catch up with her before he lost her in the throng of pedestrians.

“Mother!” he said.

She turned and looked at him. He had startled her, he could tell.

“Anson!” she said. “I didn’t expect to see you here. What are you doing downtown?”

“Shoes,” he said, holding up the bag. “For school.”

“We’re just in town for a couple of days,” she said. “I was going to call you and ask you to come to our hotel and have dinner with us.”

“How’s Tony?”

“Who?”

“Your husband.”

“His name is Richard. He’s fine. He flew in for a conference at the university and I came along with him this time. It was a chance for me to see Dr. Spaulding.”

Dr. Spaulding? Are you sick?”

“No, just routine. Just a checkup.”

“Don’t they have doctors in New Mexico?”

“Of course they do. It’s just that I’ve been going to Dr. Spaulding for twenty years and I think he’s the only doctor in the world.”

“Are you going to have a baby?”

She laughed. “No. Why would you think that?”

“Isn’t that the way it is with newlyweds?”

“Not this newlywed.”

“I figured I’d have a half-brother or -sister by now.”

“Richard’s nearly fifty. I think he’s had enough of fatherhood.”

“I can’t say I blame him.”

“There’ll be no new offspring.”

“No! Really! Why did you see Dr. Spaulding? You can tell me the truth. I’m not eight years old.”

“I told you. Just a little run down. I’m anemic. Nothing too serious.”

“Is that all?”

“Nothing startling or dramatic, I assure you.”

“You look pale.”

“I stay out of the sun as much as I can.”

“You live in a state where there’s nothing but sun, and you stay out of the sun?”

“Well, tell me. How’s school?”

“Boring. It starts again in two weeks.”

“Are you excited?”

“I think mortified is more the word.”

“You still don’t like school?”

“I can’t wait to be finished with it.”

“And then what?”

“I don’t know. I’d like to go live on Mars or, if that turns out to be a bad idea, I think I’ll probably join the circus and be a clown.”

“Whatever you do, it’d help to get a good education first.”

“That’s what everybody says.”

“Maybe you should listen to them.”

“I think I’ve had enough of school. I learned how to read and write. What else is there?”

“I don’t know where you get your cynicism. You don’t get it from me.”

“It skips generations.”

“Have you had lunch yet?” she asked.

“No.”

“There’s a good place to eat down in the next block. Let’s go have some lunch.”

They sat at a booth beside a window . She lit a cigarette and smiled. “How have you and your father been getting along?” she asked.

“He’s been in a bad mood with me all summer.”

“Why?”

“He signed me up for swimming lessons and I refused to go.”

“You refused? Don’t you want to learn to swim?”

“No!”

“Why not?”

“I hate the thought of undressing in front of all those strangers.”

She laughed and blew smoke out her nose, a trick he had always wanted to master. “You’d better not ever go into the army.”

“I won’t. They wouldn’t want me.”

“I think swimming lessons would be good for you. You’d get plenty of exercise and you’d get out of the house and mix with people your own age.”

“When you were fifteen, would you have wanted to take swimming lessons?”

“Probably not. I would have avoided it like the plague.”

“Exactly! Don’t you think I ought to be able to decide for myself on a matter so important?”

“Fifteen-year-olds usually do what their parents tell them to do.”

“Not when it comes to swimming lessons.”

“I don’t think I should weigh in on that argument. That’s between you and your father.”

“I very subtly threatened suicide if he made me do it. Take the take swimming lessons, I mean. He’s been steering clear me of since then.”

Anson! You didn’t!”

“Yes, I did!”

“You shouldn’t threaten suicide. It makes people think you’re crazy. There’s insanity in the family, you know.”

“Yes, I know. So, if I did it, it shouldn’t surprise anybody too much.”

“You wouldn’t really kill yourself, would you?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s a thought. There’s a new thirty-story building down by the park, with an observation deck on the top floor. It would be so easy to take the elevator to the top floor and take a dive. That’s three hundred feet. Nobody would even pay any attention to me until I was a pile of goo on the sidewalk.”

“Anson, that’s horrible!”

“So, how is that new husband of yours?”

“You already asked me that.”

“I’m asking again.”

“He has high blood pressure and eczema but except for that…”

“Does he still wear a suit all the time?”

“It’s his job.”

“Is he a model?”

“No, he’s not a model. He’s a businessman.”

“Oh, a businessman! I get it!”

“We’d love to have you fly out to visit us sometime. Maybe spend Christmas with us. You must see the desert.”

“I’ve seen the desert in Lawrence of Arabia.”

“The American desert isn’t quite like that.”

“Aren’t all deserts alike?”

“That I couldn’t say.”

“How are Richard’s daughters? Are they both still alive?”

“Yes, they’re still alive.”

“How old are they now?”

“Rachel is seven and Veronica is nine.”

“Oh, yes! Rachel and Veronica! They’re the reason I can’t come and live with you because the house you live in is too small.”

“Anson! We’ve been all through that! Your father and I decided it was best for you to keep on living with him. You wouldn’t want him to live all alone, would you?”

“I think he’d like to be rid of me.”

“When we move to a bigger place, we’ll talk about having you come and live with us. In the meantime…”

“It’s easy to keep putting things off, isn’t it? That way you’ll make sure it never happens.”

“Anson, that’s not true!”

“If Rachel or Veronica dies, you’ll be sure and let me know, won’t you? Then you’ll have room for me. I can come and take the place of the one who’s dead. Sleep in her room.”

“Anson, that’s not funny!”

“You could always poison one of them, you know. Your least favorite of the two. I can do some research on some poisons, if you’d like. You’d need to get a good non-traceable poison.”

“Anson, that’s enough of that kind of talk! Nobody is going to poison anybody!”

“Well, it’s a thought, anyway. You can mull it over and get back to me.”

“You seem preoccupied with death. Death should be the farthest thing from your mind. You’re still a child.”

In the midst of life we are in death.”

“Anson, could we talk about something else, please?”

“What else is there?”

“I’d like to buy you something while I’m here. Do you have everything you need for school?”

“Yes, mother, I do.”

“How about a winter coat?”

“It’s August, mother! Nobody thinks about a winter coat in August.”

“Winter will be here before you know it.”

“I might be dead by then.”

“How about a suit? Do you need a new suit?”

“I have two new suits that I’ve never worn.”

“Socks? Underwear?”

“I have plenty as long as I remember to do the laundry.”

“You can’t think of anything?”

“I would like to have a cell phone, but your former husband says I can’t have one.”

“Why not?”

“Too much of a distraction, he says.”

“I think he has a point.”

“I wouldn’t let it distract me! Honest! Everybody I know has a cell phone. I’m the only one without one.”

“Do all the poor kids in school have one?”

“Of course they do! They might not have any money for lunch, but they all have their cell phones.”

“Things have certainly changed since I was in junior high school.”

“I don’t need any clothes, but I do need a cell phone. That’s not too much to ask, is it?”

“Anson, I don’t think you can honestly say you need a cell phone! I think you can go on living without it.”

“There’s an electronics store just a couple blocks from here. They have lots of cell phones to choose from and I’ll bet they’re not as expensive as you think!”

“Do you want me to give you the money to buy it?”

“No, I want you to go with me. We’ll pick it out together.”

“Would it make you happy?”

“It would make me so happy!”

When his father came in from work at six o’clock, Anson was sitting at the kitchen table, learning how to use his cell phone.

“What do you have there?” his father asked.

“A cell phone.”

“Whose is it?”

“Mine.”

“Where did it come from?”

“The electronics store downtown.”

“I told you you’re too young for a cell phone. It’s too much of a distraction from your studies.”

“I know, but I met mother downtown…”

“You met who downtown?”

“My mother. Don’t you remember? The woman you used to be married to?”

“You just happened to meet your mother downtown?”

“That’s right.”

“And she bought you a cell phone.”

“Yeah. She asked me if I needed anything for school and when I said I needed a cell phone, she bought me one.”

“I told you I didn’t want you to have a cell phone.”

“I know, but mother was going to buy me one, so I couldn’t exactly turn it down, could I?”

“I want you to take it back to the store, get the money back for it, and send the money to your mother.”

“I won’t do it!”

“And tell her not to interfere again!”

“I’m keeping the phone!”

“No, you’re not!”

His father reached across the table, grabbed the phone out of Anson’s hand, and smashed it against the wall.

“What did you do that for?”

“I told you ‘no cell phone’ and I meant it! This is not going to be like the swimming lessons! If you want to go on living in my house and expect me to support you, you cannot openly defy me. I won’t allow it!”

“I know why mother left you! You’re an ogre! She couldn’t stand being married to you! She told me so! I don’t know why people like you become parents in the first place! You’re a terrible father!”

“That’s enough, Anson! Go to your room!”

“I want to go live with my mother. I can’t stand living here with you any longer!”

“Suit yourself, you ungrateful little…”

Anson didn’t hear what his father was going to call him because he ran into his room and slammed the door. He wouldn’t leave his room again. He would go to bed and stay there. He wouldn’t eat any dinner. If he never ate again, he wouldn’t care.

He had some sleeping pills he had been saving that he filched from his mother before the divorce. He poured them out onto his palm and counted them. There were twelve. He took two and after he got into bed, he took two more and then two more. He turned off the light, got into bed and kept taking the pills until there were none left. He didn’t know if it was enough to kill him, but he could only hope.

He pulled the covers up to his chin. It wasn’t even all the way dark outside. Soon he began to have a funny feeling in his head and a sick feeling in his stomach. He hoped it was the beginning of death and that it would be quick.

Before he drifted off—maybe for the last time—he saw his mother’s face with the little wrinkles around the eyes, the orange-colored lipstick, and the hair tinted the color of a red fox. At first he didn’t know where he and his mother were, and then he saw they were in a high place. Yes, they were together on top of the new thirty-story building over by the park. They smiled at each other and joined hands and jumped. The best part was they never fell to the ground but floated off together into the infinite sky, and they were so happy.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

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