And, sometimes, the sanest of us do the wickedest of deeds
And weep in repentance till the heart bleeds.
What would you feel if you knew you had only ten minutes to live? If you knew that in just ten minutes, your eyes would turn inside-out, your organs would fail, your body would stiffen, and you would die a nameless, ignominious death, leaving all those tasks undone, all those dreams unaccomplished? It would be the most excruciating ten minutes of your life. If you weren’t sure about your impending death, you would wish to die already.
Well, what would you feel?
But Parker Greene only felt thirsty—very, very thirsty.
The thirst began as a tingling sensation from the back of his mouth, then started to prick at the palate, and finally moved down his throat. He felt the rough-edged discomfort of wanting something to sip—it could be any liquid, it just needed to have the fluid consistency that could enliven his throat. In a few minutes he would turn blue and it would be all over, but why did he have to suffer this inexorable thirst before he popped out? Maybe it was part of the process.
He sat on the floor and tried to swallow his saliva to compensate for the dryness, but it didn’t work. He didn’t have any saliva left.
Almost gasping for breath now, he looked up at the bed. And then he began to forget about the thirst.
The first thing he saw of her was her feet. They were tiny and cute, and he had always remarked about how dainty they were. Just like the tight feet of a Japanese geisha, so fair and so delicate. But they had now turned blue. Like the rest of her body.
He slowly craned his neck to look at her.
She lay on her back on the bed in completely consuming and everlasting sleep; and she was a sick shade of blue, but still she looked lovely to him. He could see a portion of her face. An open eye still pleaded to him, begged him to save her, and the lips that had now turned dark blue were slightly parted, as if they were making a final request. Quite fittingly, her dress was dark blue too, and it was beset with shiny satin threads. It was a special dress he had gifted her that she wore only on special occasions. Could dying be considered a special occasion too?
But she didn’t know she would die. She was, in fact, surprised when she saw him at the house—this house, away in the woods, an investment they had made when things had been better. He had stood at the door with a smile on his face and a bouquet of very special roses in his hand. But the smile was just a façade—in his mind was dark, bottomless anger, anger for all the secrets this beautiful form had hidden behind his back. And the roses were just an illusion—within their thorns was the essence of poison of a thousand venomous snakes.
Plotting his wife’s murder had pained him more than his own impending death did. Berenice had been his sunshine for three years. She had taken him out of the depths of despair and drug addiction. She had sobered him up, and then given his sober life true meaning and joy. The beautiful caregiver that she was, she knew what life meant. Not only did she live each moment to the fullest, but she made everyone around her live to the fullest too. With her by his side, even the withdrawal had been easier; he had been born again.
But recently, Berenice had been drifting away. He had sensed it. A new man had entered her life. He was Timothy, his own best friend, with whom he grew up in that small neighborhood, and who knew every one of his secrets. Why did Timothy have to do this to him? Timothy, dear old Tim, of all people! Timothy always had had better luck with women. They were silly putty in front of his charming ways, and he molded them whichever way he wanted. He had seen that happen countless times before, in bars and clubs and even in the real estate firm where they briefly worked together. However, he did not expect Timothy would seduce his own wife with his easygoing charm.
Berenice was all he had—and she had been slipping away like dry sand from his fingers.
Lately, Timothy had been coming to their house often. What rankled him more was that these visits were mostly in his absence. There were small signs that he noticed—two water rings left by two glasses on the coffee-table, two dining table chairs pulled out irregularly, the stubs of his favorite brand of cigarettes in the ashtray, the big prints of shoes on their suede welcome mat, and once even the commode lid was fully open. She spoke of Timothy more often too, and when he asked probing questions, she just laughed them off. Something was definitely brewing between the two.
He thought he would confront Berenice about it, but what would be the use of it? No self-respecting woman would accept that she was in an extramarital affair. No one could elicit that out of her. For a while, he chose to ignore the dalliance, hoping it would be just a passing phase. That she would return to him.
Then one day she asked him what gift he would like for his forthcoming birthday, and he actually thought she had begun caring for him again. He sensed the warmth in her question, like there was no one else she cared for.
He would have happily chosen to live with that illusion. As long as Berenice loved him and was with him, he could choose to be a little blind to her ways outside. True love is forgiving, and he could forgive. But then the next day he overheard something that did not sit well with him at all.
It was a phone conversation, and he did not need to know who was on the other line. Berenice took the phone and moved out of the room, but he tailed her, and stood outside the door and eavesdropped.
And he heard it—she was planning to meet him at the cottage in the woods. She doubly promised him that she would be there. She told him that Parker wouldn’t know of it; he never went that way in the woods anymore.
The affection in the voice, the silent whispers, the planning behind his back—it all added up to a monstrous surge of anger in Parker’s chest. He felt he would explode. He could not have this scheming going on. It ate him from within, his head felt fit to explode. He had a sick feeling in his abdomen as if it would rupture with anger.
But he checked it.
He had learnt to keep his anger within himself.
He would have the final strike though, there was no doubting that.
Parker Greene had spent the previous evening visiting an herbalist’s shop that he had once seen in a shady corner of the town. The herbalist’s fliers had proclaimed that he had all kinds of medicines for all kinds of illnesses, however lethal they may be. He had also proclaimed to have a cure for cancer. But the thing that had caught his eye was the small line at the bottom of the flier—stocking all poisons and their antidotes.
He did not want the latter, and he paid a hefty price for the former.
Then, in the early morning when she had left, he stayed behind. He bought a bouquet of special roses from the florist outside his church and started to meticulously daub their thorns with the essence of the poison he had bought. The herbalist had told him that one drop would be enough to bring a slow painful death in a few minutes, and death would be quicker as soon as it hit the bloodstream.
When she had seen him at the door of this cottage about an hour ago, she had a puzzled expression. He was certainly unwelcome. Parker had hoped to catch both of them together and he had brought the remaining poison in its bottle, but that eventuality did not arise. She was alone when he knocked.
Still with the smile on his face, and without a word, he had offered her the roses. She had said something that he did not quite catch, and took the roses. He had made sure they hit their mark. He had seen the poison-smeared thorn pressing into her white flesh. And then he had seen her retracting horrifically, grasping her throat at once, falling on the bed and twitching to her death in the most merciless manner.
Then it hit him.
The loss. The tragedy. The end of everything that meant anything to him.
Berenice was gone—what was left for him? He cried with a hollow sound. He sat on the floor, froglike, with his head buried between his knees, refusing to see her fallen form, and saw the darkness within himself.
There was nothing left for him.
Slowly, he took out the remaining poison from the bottle still with him and placed one unholy drop of it on his outstretched tongue.
The impact wasn’t as immediate though since the poison didn’t mix into the bloodstream all at once. It took its own time, making him suffer every imaginable pain of his death.
And when his vision was starting to become blurry and he realized that his suffering would soon come to an end, he heard the knocking on the door.
He had closed the door behind him as he entered and the windows had never been opened. The knocking continued, almost insistent. For a moment, he got a nagging feeling that he should open the door, but he couldn’t even open his eyes now.
When his tongue began to hang out, and his body collapsed to the ground, unable to ever rise again, he heard Timothy.
From a slight opening in the window, Timothy shouted out:
“Berenice! Berenice! Open the door. I have brought the decorations and invites for Parker’s surprise birthday party tomorrow.”
The Death of Parker Greene also appears in Neil D’Silva’s short story collection Bound in Love.