by Wiebo Grobler
Margaret sat at the kitchen table, staring out the window, her fingers played with the string of pearls around her neck, counting each individual pearl like a rosary bead. There were 54.
It was a present from Ben for their 25th wedding anniversary. The shrill ring of the door bell caused her to jerk and clamp down on the pearls.
She slowly walked to the door and peeked through the peephole before she unlocked it. “Gladys. Come in.” “Hello, Margaret dear.” Gladys wraps her arms around Margaret.
Gladys gently pushes her friend back, keeping her hands on her shoulders and staring into her eyes. She looked tired. “I’m sorry it’s taken so long for me to come round since the funeral."
"How are you holding up?” Margaret moved to shut the front door. “I’m taking each day as it comes.” “I’m still in shock. It was so sudden. We only spoke last week.” Gladys wipes at her eyes.
Margaret nods. “Come, I’ll make us some tea.” “Oh lovely.” Gladys follows Margaret to the small wooden table in the kitchen by the window. The view from the twelfth floor was breath-taking.
Margaret switched on the stove and placed the kettle on the hotplate. Gladys removed her coat and scarf, Margaret noticed a string of pearls around her neck. A twin to her own.
The kettle began to spit boiling water, she’d filled it too much. She grabs the handle lifting it from the stove. The spilt water sizzles on the hotplate.
Tiny droplets of water danced and jumped to their deaths across the hot surface.
Gladys smiles as Margaret walks over with the kettle. Margaret carefully pours the water into two waiting cups. “Can I interest you in some pie? It’s almond and pecan,” Margaret asks.
“I’m not going to say no. We’re both past the age where we need to watch our figures.” Margaret smiles and takes a plate from the fridge. She’d already placed a knife on the table earlier.
Gladys stirred her tea. Her hair was in a bun. The back of her neck exposed. Margaret picked up the knife. Good, sharp steel.
She looked at the string of pearls. I bet there’s 54. She cut two generous portions and placed one in front of Gladys. “It looks lovely, thank you.”
Margaret sat down, her elbow on the table and her chin cupped in her hand. Two weeks had passed since she discovered the affair. Shortly afterwards, Ben died.
Forty years of marriage, and for twenty of those she had shared him with her best friend. “It’s very bitter, dear,” Gladys said, taking a sip of tea. She’d already eaten more than half.
Glady's face was turning crimson and she fanned herself with a kerchief. “It’s the crushed apricot kernels,” Margaret said, absently staring out the window.
“Apricot... kernels...?” Gladys croaks, her breathing erratic. “Yes. The cyanide only gets released if you crush them.” “Cyanide?” Gladys tried to stand but collapsed onto the floor.
“Yes dear, I was organising Ben’s things and came across some interesting letters.” Gladys couldn’t respond. Her eyes were frantic; her breathing came in slow, short gasps.
Margaret turned her back on Gladys and stirred some sugar into her tea. “Funny...” she said taking a sip, “Ben didn’t care for the taste either.”