by Jan Christensen
The Antidote was first published by Minnesota Ink (part of Writer’s Journal) in 1994.
Judy mixed the drink with care. A shot of gin over ice in a tall glass, fill with tonic and add a wedge of lemon – just a teaspoon of arsenic – stir. She mixed the second drink with equal precision, but without poison. She took two paper cocktail napkins and walked to the living room, noticing with detachment that her hand wasn’t even shaking.
After setting the glasses down on the coffee table, she sat in her blue lounge chair. She flipped the lever and her bare feet rose as she settled herself more comfortably. Ordinarily, with her usual late afternoon cocktail, she would take a sip now; but she waited, her hands in her lap, twisting a napkin.
Her life was a shambles, the pain of daily living had become too much. She had to drag herself out of bed in the morning, force herself to go to work as a receptionist at the real estate office. At forty-two, her life was stalled with nothing to look forward to and only pain to look back on. She needed to take charge, to do something to change matters. She’d heard that the antidote to depression was action.
The front door opened with a bang and Tommy came into the living room, blue eyes bright, blonde hair tousled from the April breeze.
“Tommy,” she exclaimed. “There you are. I’ve been waiting.”
“I know, Mom.” He flopped down onto the faded sofa. “And I need to talk to you.”
Judy glanced at the cocktails and then her eyes went back to Tommy who put his feet on her scratched coffee table, almost knocking over a drink. He lit a cigarette. She waved her hand through the smoke he blew her way. “Must you?”
“Aw,” he complained. “All you ex-smokers are alike. Listen, I need a thousand bucks quick. You got it?”
“No, Thomas, I don’t. You took my last thousand in savings two months ago. What is it now? Another gambling debt?”
“Yeah. But I’ll give it back to you. I just need it to pay off the guys and get started again. You know.”
She stared at him a minute, then looked at the drinks and said, “Just like you’ve paid back the other four thousand you owe me? Do you know how hard it was for me to save that money on my salary? And I told you last time that I didn’t have any more saved.”
Tommy stubbed out his cigarette and looked at her with disgust. “If you hadn’t of divorced Dad, we’d’ve had all the money we need.”
She pulled the lever on her chair, put her feet flat on the floor and leaned toward her son.
“I should have stayed with someone who knocked me around so you could have enough money to gamble with? I don’t think so. Give me a cigarette.”
He smirked as he tossed the pack and lighter to her. “Come on, Mom. I know you’ve got more money stashed away for an emergency. And this is an emergency, believe me! These guys can get mean.”
“I imagine so.” Judy blew out a stream of smoke. It tasted so good. “No more loans until it’s all paid back. I told you that last time. Get a decent job, Thomas.”
“And be happy, like you?” He stood up abruptly, almost knocking over the coffee table. The drinks sloshed. “Come on, where’s your stash? I’ve only got till nine tonight to pay ’em off.”
“I told you –”
He grabbed her wrist and pulled her out of the chair.
“Ow, Tom, cut it out! I really don’t –” He backhanded her across the mouth, letting go of her wrist at the same time. She fell back into the chair, her hand automatically going to her cheek. Anger burned her throat and eyes, a cleansing, white hot anger. Tommy’s face was an ugly contortion, his eyes slits, his lips pulled back over bright white teeth in a mad grimace. He looked like his father. Late afternoon sun motes fell slowly onto the shabby rug, onto the whole shabby room. But it wasn’t worn because she couldn’t afford nice things, it was threadbare because she had spoiled Tommy, and now – and now, he would never be right, would never be the son she’d dreamed of having.
“I asked you where you kept your savings, Mom. Answer me!”
“Okay, Tomas. I’ll go get it. Please, just calm down.” She huddled back into the chair. “Why don’t you have a drink while I go to the bedroom?”
“I’ll be right back.” She stood up slowly and backed out of the room.
In the bedroom she sat on the edge of the bed and finally began to shake. He’d taken the one with the arsenic. It had been fate; she wasn’t to blame. If he hadn’t drunk it, she would have. She’d let him choose, so it wasn’t her fault. She’d wait five minutes. All her senses seemed heightened and she stood up and started pacing the small room, her hands twisting in front of her, her bare feet noiseless on the worn carpet.
Judy looked at the clock. Only one minute gone. She stopped a moment and listened. No sound came from the living room. Maybe she should – but no, it would be too late anyway. She sat back on the bed. Another minute passed. She needed a cigarette. Biting her lip, she stared at her hands. She’d count to three hundred and then look at the clock again. Turning her face away, she began counting slowly to herself, listening…listening.
When she next looked, six minutes and five seconds total had passed. She hesitated a moment longer, then slowly made her way to the living room. Her son sprawled on the couch. His mouth and eyes were wide open, a look of contorted surprise on his face. The room smelled of vomit. The glass sat empty on the coffee table, moisture puddled at its bottom. A memory of him as a baby flashed through her mind. Tears threatened, but she looked away and took three deep breaths. She had more to do.
Slowly, Judy went to the kitchen and got a clean glass from the cupboard. She mixed the drink with care. A shot of gin over ice, fill with tonic, add a wedge of lemon, the teaspoon of arsenic. Stir.
The back door opened. “Hi, Mom,” Linda said. “I need –
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section.