Joan sat numbly by the hospital bed. She couldn’t believe what had happened, that it had come to this. She began going over the events of the past few months in her mind.
Jason had left her. She suspected he was cheating on her, but while she didn’t confront it, it wasn’t really happening and life could proceed at what passed for normal. She never really thought he’d leave, they were still getting on ok. It was him who hadn’t wanted children and he’d said he had all he needed and, as it turned out, a bit on the side. He’d had a fling before, so him taking such a drastic step had shaken her to the core. Not to mention the fact that the house would have to be sold and that she’d be essentially homeless.
And then the job loss. Everyone knew the business was under strain but the administrators had told them that jobs were safe for now. She’d have been looking for something else had the truth been known. Probably why they lied.
Divorced, jobless, homeless. She was relieved when her brother, Alex, suggested she move in with him, it took some of the pressure off finding somewhere to live. His wife, Angela, had died several months earlier. Everyone assumed that it was the stress of another miscarriage, and at her age too, chances of falling pregnant again getting slimmer and slimmer, though no one suspected her of being suicidal.
Joan would pay her own living expenses of course, and when she had another job, look for a place of her own. Unless this arrangement with Alex worked. She’d had her doubts that it would, but hoped she was wrong. She wasn’t.
She thought Alex might have changed since they’d lived at home together with mum and dad, and he had, but not for the better. It’s funny how people can be so different behind closed doors than they are to the world at large. Everyone thought he was so lovely, so funny and charming, and he was, just not to her.
He’d always had a cruel, narcissistic streak and she’d borne the brunt of his rage and ranting a couple of times in the past. She’d put it down to him being drunk, but then don’t they say that drunks always tell the truth?
Nothing she did was good enough for him. She wasn’t looking for a job the right way, her resume mustn’t be well written, she obviously wasn’t selling herself in interviews. He didn’t seem to believe there weren’t many job opportunities for middle aged women with a limited skill set. She busied herself with retraining and looking after Alex and the house, but that wasn’t good enough either. The course she’d chosen was a waste of time, her cooking was lacking, she didn’t iron his shirts the right way, she bought the wrong toilet paper. And then, when he came home after a couple of drinks it was worse. She became stupid, ugly, boring, no wonder Jason left. There was no need for him to say it, it was what she was feeling anyway, but it was constant, relentless. Had he treated Angela this way too? She’d seen a light in Angela slowly dim over the years. Everyone had put it down to the general attrition of life and the quest for a child, but now she knew it was Alex too. She could just imagine what he’d have said to her.
And then he had told her with such gloating pleasure that he had run into Jason. That Jason’s partner – she hated that word – was pregnant, that he was glad to see Jason so blissfully happy. She felt something deep inside her snap. Something that was so stretched and thin and just couldn’t take the strain any longer. She’d decided to take action, to teach this malicious, arrogant bully a lesson. For Angela and dammit, for herself too.
The thought came to her in an instant. And it had been easy. Saturday morning, when she always skipped breakfast and went straight to her pilates class – ‘gawd knows what for, you’re still as awkward and ungainly as a baby elephant,’ was the typical parting remark from Alex as she left the house. He, as usual, had been out foraging for mushrooms to add to the gourmet breakfast he cooked himself on weekends. He was always very careful, took his Fungus Field Guide with him, but it was oh so easy for her to refer to the book and find what she was looking for. And even easier to slip it into his frying pan as she walked through the kitchen and out the back door.
She had never hoped, let alone expected to get away with it. But here he was slipping away, day by day, minute by minute, his body slowly shutting down and the police were consoling her, telling her that as far as they were concerned it was an accident. That they would recommend death by misadventure to the coroner. That he had simply picked the wrong mushroom, Deathcaps look so much like the edible type. If only he had had a book to show him the difference. A book like the Fungus Field Guide that was now nothing but ash in the fireplace at home.
She allowed herself to smile.