“Who wants dessert?” Irene asked.
“Got more than enough room for dessert don’t we, you barely served anything,” Tom sneered.
“You better have made the chocolate cake I asked for,” Kip added.
“Of course I did, sweetheart,” Irene said.
“I’ll have some, everything else was so good,” Kaylee said softly.
“Must have been, you shoveled it down fast enough,” Kip said to her, causing Tom to laugh so hard he spit food crumbs all over the table. Kaylee blushed deeply.
“You ate half my breakfast,” Kaylee mumbled.
“You mean my breakfast, I paid for it,” Kip said. “You said I could have it.”
“You going to get dessert, or we going to sit here and starve?” Tom said to Irene.
“Of course, honey,” Irene said, excusing herself to the kitchen.
She removed her homemade chocolate cake from the fridge, made with a recipe that had been passed down in her family for generations. Handmade butter cream coconut frosting topped the decadent, perfectly dense and oh so moist three-layer innards. It really was a magnificent confection; her husband and son would probably say it’s the thing she does best. She cut four pieces from it, placed them on their individual saucers and added a fork to each.
Irene then opened the cabinet and removed the small syringe of highly lethal poison she had hidden there last week. It was a single dose, just enough to kill one human adult. She had acquired it rather easily (though not cheaply) on the internet, a fact that alarmed and rather dismayed her. Really, she feared for the state of the world today.
She injected the poison directly into one of the pieces of cake. It was supposed to be tasteless and odor free, she did not want it ruining the flavor after all. She did all this with a calm and methodical serenity; a kind of mundanity that surprised her. Perhaps it should not have. She had no qualms this, no second thoughts. This had been meticulously planned, there was no backing out now.
She brought the four pieces of cake out to the table, careful to put the tainted cake in front of its intended victim. It wouldn’t do to give the wrong person that piece, after all. She smiled sweetly as she passed them out.
“About time. Best part of the night, trust me,” Tom said to the table. “Her cooking ain’t the best, but she can make some cake.” Kip laughed, a high pitched shrill that Irene had never grown to love.
“I thought it was very good, Mrs. Duke,” Kaylee said.
“Thank you, dear,” Irene said. In the few short months Kaylee had been with Kip, Irene had watched her self-esteem plummet. Kip had confided he was going to ask her to marry him, and Irene feared she was emotionally beaten down enough to say yes.
Truth be told, she rather reminded Irene of herself. She had often wished that she had someone there before she decided to marry Tom, someone who could somehow warn her of what her life would be like. But young people who think they are in love rarely listen to reason.
She could not tell the future, of course. Perhaps Kip would get his act together, perhaps he could grow into a good man who would treat his wife with the dignity and respect she deserved. She could not entirely blame him, though. His father never taught him to do those things.
She played her role too, she knew that. It was the kind of devastating truth you only admit to yourself on your darkest days, knowing you failed as a parent. Kip would be no better, she feared. She saw it all so clearly, the bleakness of the life ahead of the poor girl. Surely it would be a mercy to set her off that path before it even began?
“This tastes a little different, have you done something new?” Tom asked, spewing bits of chocolate cake all over the table as he talked. “Tastes a bit funny.”
“No dear, it’s the same recipe I’ve used all my life,” Irene said.
“Tastes fine to me,’ Kip said. “Sure you got your dentures on right, old man?”
Kip laughed loudly at this, Kaylee adding a nervous chuckle in support. Irene did not laugh, and the furious look on Tom’s face was all the reason one needed to know why. Tom hated being mocked, and would punish all slights, real or perceived.
He stood angrily. “You don’t talk to me that way boy. You understand me?” His voice boomed with rage, and something else. Embarrassment? Betrayal?
Kip was too long a victim of Tom’s (and too long a coward) to do anything but hang his head and nod it slowly. “Sorry Dad,” he mumbled under his breath. Kip had no problem bullying those smaller or weaker than himself, but always shrank in the face of a real threat.
Tom was a hard man to love, though he had not always been that way. When Irene met him, he was everything she had always wanted in a man. Strong as an ox, handsome and chivalrous, he had swept her right off her feet. The signs started early, they always do, but she wrote them off as anomalies. There is always an excuse when you want there to be one, she knew that now.
Tom had turned out to be mean, ignorant, and aggressive when he did not get his way. His love and devotion turned into fear and control, whatever warmth he had fading into a cold sort of familiarity. It happened insidiously, right under her nose, this transformation from happy marriage to loveless prison.
Tom had always provided though, to the best of his ability. He made a modest salary, but his work as a union mechanic at one of the country’s largest auto manufacturers afforded him excellent benefits. The company provided full care for any medical issues they had, and they were very generous with their vacation time as well.
They also provided a sizeable life insurance bonus, mandatory for him, but optional for the family. After weeks of nagging, Tom finally went through the process of adding Irene and Kip to the policy. It was finalized just last month. Tom’s policy was a long-standing one, but if something were to happen to either of them, well, it would look suspicious indeed.
Finally, after the others were almost finished, Irene decided it was time to eat her own piece. She brought the cake up to her mouth, hesitated ever so slightly, and ate it. She let it dissolve in her mouth, savoring the flavor. Did it taste different? Probably a trick of the mind, but she thought it was the best cake she had ever eaten.