BLOODY VALENTINE CONTEST HONORABLE MENTION
“God, what is this pain?” Henrietta rubbed at her belly. She felt bloated from drinking all that stuff during the lab tests and she hurt. She suspected appendicitis but her insurance, thanks to that cheap policy Henry opted for, wouldn’t pay for anything without endless referrals and out-patient testing. “A person could die before they find out what’s wrong,” she moaned.
Henry sighed. “There you go again, Dear, always exaggerating. I’m sure there’s nothing wrong. Don’t blame my insurance. If you weren’t always having a heart attack or a brain aneurysm, or an exploding appendix we could afford a company with better coverage. Henni, I can hardly afford you!”
Henrietta grimaced, half in pain and half from hearing that sickening term of endearment. Why does he persist on calling me that cutsie name, she thought and ground her teeth. In her own mind, she hadn’t been his little Henni for the past 20 years, and she wasn’t too sure about the 10 years before that either. “Look Henry, I’m in pain, but if the tests come out normal, well, then I’m going hiking in the mountains with the girls.”
“Ah yes,” Henry said and sighed again, a gesture that Henrietta was starting to hate even more than she hated him. “The girls. Don’t you think well-passed-middle-aged women should stop referring to themselves as girls. And hiking in the mountains? Last year was dumb enough when you all went skydiving. Seriously, how could a hypochondriac such as yourself and your old, and I do stress old, friends do all those extreme sports. If you have a death wish, my dear, why don’t you just stop having all these medical tests and allow yourself a fatal disease.”
The pain in her gut flared. She clutched herself and got out of the easy chair. She had to get away before she said all the things she longed to say, drop dead being foremost on her mind.
She walked into the kitchen to grab antacid tablets and noticed his pill bottle on the shelf. She stared at it for a while chewing her lip. Should I, she wondered. Could I? It would teach the son of a bitch a lesson.
Grinning, she emptied the pills from the amber vial into the junk drawer and refilled the container with aspirin, which just happened to match the discarded meds in both size and shape.
Yep, teach him a lesson, hell two days wasn’t going to kill him. A week or two would, but she’d only be gone two days. She’d switch them back once he started to feel sick. Ok, not just sick, but really sick. Then she’d switch them back. Of course she would. After all, she didn’t really want him to drop dead. Did she?
She quickly skirted away from the thought of blissful widowhood. Nope, they had agreed on better and worse and they had discovered way too late it was mostly worse. Sure they hated each other, had for thirty years, but she’d be lost without him… financially.
She had stayed home raised the kids, couldn’t really use the computer except to surf the net and send email. She was a dinosaur, a woman on the edge of extinction. Was that why she and her friends flirted with death every August? To fight extinction, because every moment she felt really alive kept her going for the rest of the year.
Ignoring the pain, she packed for the weekend until the the phone interrupted her. As she walked back to the living room she heard Henry saying, “Thank you Doctor, I’ll be sure to tell her right away.”
“Who was it?” she asked wondering if he’d tell her or let her wallow in fear and agony.
“It was the doctor at the lab, He said everything is fine, probably just a bug or something.”
“Oh,” she said fighting relief and disappointment. “That’s good I guess.”
“Yep,” he agreed. ”A clear bill of health. Again.”
Grabbing her bag, she left. During the four hour drive she was annoyed that she still hurt so much but smiled every time she thought about the pills in the junk drawer.
About three hours into the hike the pain got worse. And then got worse some more. Suddenly, she couldn’t stand, fire sliced through her and she doubled up. Agony ripped her and she felt herself stumble, lose her footing and tumble down a ravine.
She heard them screaming her name but she hurt too much to answer. She tried to take deep breaths, tried to remember the pain of childbirth, tried to assure herself that if she could survive that twice then she could survive anything.
Henrietta started to feel calm, so calm in fact that she didn’t really feel the pain as much. She couldn’t hear her friends anymore and she really didn’t care. She thought of her children and felt for her cell phone. She flipped it open, wondering who to call when she saw the missed call from a little over seven hours ago. Her fingers were cold, numb but she pushed the message button and heard, “This is Doctor Singer, you have acute appendicitis. I will call your home number as well. Get to the hospital ASAP!”
She stared at the phone, watching it blur into darkness. “At least five hours from civilization,” she muttered feeling the tears on her cheeks as she realized she wasn’t a hypochondriac after all. No, she was an as-good-as-dead ex-hypochondriac.
She sobbed as she clung to her consciousness like a life preserver, knowing that when she let go it would all be over. She thought about the call Henry had answered and frowned. “So you actually killed me, you sonofabitch!”
Then she remembered the pills she’d switched and chuckled.
“Well Henry, that makes us even,” she mumbled and smiled an ironic little smile as darkness swallowed her.
Diane Arrelle, the pen name of South Jersey writer Dina Leacock, has sold more than 250 short stories and has two short story collections: Just A Drop In The Cup and Seasons On The Dark Side. Retired from being director of a municipal senior citizen center, she is now co-owner of a small publishing company, Jersey Pines Ink LLC. She resides with her husband and her new cat on the edge of the Pine Barrens (home of the Jersey Devil).