[critiques sought - thanks]
Sunlight splashed water colors through the stained glass onto the marble floors of the church.
“Heavenly,” said Mrs. Smith. The longtime parishioner took a closer look.
“They are like paintings in an art museum,” said Betty Albert. The sisters, Miss Albert and Mrs. Smith studied each window they passed holding up the flock fluttering behind them.
Samuel knew the windows cost a lot of money, money Mrs. Twindle spent with deliberation and purpose when she commissioned the work. The first window depicted the baby Jesus cradled in his mother’s loving arms. Soft, sweet faces gazing with adoration at one another done in soft pastels of blue and yellow and pink. At the bottom of the window, at eye height for anyone that mattered, a bright red square, repeated in each window exactly the same, proclaimed in bold, black letters, “Gifted by Mrs. Twindle.” Twelve windows in all, each designed to illuminate the generosity of the great patron, Mrs. Twindle.
The font of this generosity stood at the front of the church with the minister, the toes of her shiny, black patent leather shoes pointing like an arrow at the brass plaque in the marble floor that echoed her generosity with the windows, “Gifted by Mrs. Twindle.”
The minister gushed in Mrs. Twindle’s ear as the people came to genuflect at the beneficent stature that was Mrs. Twindle. They touched her hands with their fingertips, as if hoping to be cured of their ills. She smiled upon them like the Madonna in the first window gazed upon her godly son.
Samuel stood in a corner near the doors, out of the sunlight, the blue-grey of his wiry hair and beard blending into the blue-grey of his collared shirt and worn dress pants. He stood in mirror image attitude of Mrs. Twindle, feet together, hands clasped at the waist. But where he was all shadow and blurred edges, she stood crisp and sharp: dyed black hair that shone like her shoes, tailored, bronze Chanel suit, 50’s style makeup.
Mrs. Twindle was the church’s savior. She accepted the accolades of the people with calm, the perfect saint. They expressed their gratitude for her generosity in rebuilding the church after the fire had destroyed it, bringing them back from the ashes.
She smiled her Mona Lisa smile. Only Samuel knew that she was calculating how each and every one of them would be expected to repay her. Mrs. Twindle bought, she did not donate. She owned and it would not be long before her spiritual brethren discovered this.
The window directly across the aisle from the adoring mother protectively cuddling her baby, showed mother cradling her broken son, blood pouring from his heart and staining her hands and dress. Samuel remembered other times when a son’s blood was on a mother’s hands.
He shivered and looked up at Mrs. Twindle. She slowly lifted her right hand and crooked a finger at him. He didn’t want to go but that finger moved and his feet moved. He shuffled forward.
He stopped in front of Mrs. Twindle and The Reverend Toddy, leaving enough room for people to pass between them.
“Yes, Ma’am?” Samuel’s voice was as dull and grey as he appeared.
Mrs. Twindle looked Samuel up and down. She made a production of opening the shining silver clasp on her black, patent leather purse. Samuel saw his reflection in the side of that purse, distorted and rippling. As he raised his eyes, Mrs. Twindle’s hand rose from the purse interior. Samuel felt the blood drain from his face. He looked into Mrs. Twindle’s face with its secret smile as she handed him the wire bristled hair brush. The backs of his thighs tingled and burned.
“Try to do something with your hair,” said Mrs. Twindle. “The little boys’ room is downstairs in the basement.”
The head of the brush poked Samuel in the chest. He didn’t move to take it. Mrs. Twindle put it in his hand, raking her manicured nails across his fingers as she released it.
“Go on,” she said. “You are not afraid of the basement, are you?” Her capped teeth blinded Samuel.
He shuffled towards the basement stairs.
“He is a bit slow,” he heard Mrs. Twindle tell the minister, who giggled in response.
Samuel held the brush like a knife. He envisioned jamming a spear into Mrs. Twindle’s heart.
The basement served as the church’s community room. The bathroom stood at the very back corner of the basement. The lights were off and Samuel had a hard time finding the light switch. His breathing turned ragged as he swiped and pounded at the wall on the left. His fingertips met damp paint.
He gripped the door on his right with both hands, his fear making him sick to his stomach. He worked his way around the door, closing it slightly, blocking off the pale light from the basement proper. In the four inches between the wall and the door frame, he hit the light switch. The florescent lights blinded him like sunlight when a drowning man breaches the surface of the sea.
Standing between the door and the wall, he looked across the room to see himself in the mirrors above the sinks. He looked like a frightened old man. Happy Birthday he mouthed to himself.
Mrs. Twindle had reminded him this morning while he put on her make-up and brushed her hair. Not with presents and a cake but with the story of his birth.
“You almost killed me,” she said, as she did annually for 27 years. This year she had a surprise for him, though.
“You missed your chance, then.” She locked eyes with him in her vanity mirror. “You have been a coward from birth. You will not pull it off.”
His hand paused mid-stroke, the knuckles of his hand turning white as he gripped the brush handle tighter in his fist. He didn’t respond. He tried never to responded to her taunts. Speaking his mind carried consequences.
“I told Minister Toddy about you and your little plans.” Mrs. Twindle reached up and stroked Samuel’s cheek, her cotton-candy pink nails scratching across his skin, trailing red marks.
“He suggested I have you evaluated.”
Samuel moved the brush through her hair.
“I would like to talk to a psychiatrist,” he whispered.
“Would you?” Mrs. Twindle watched Samuel in the mirror as he finished her hair. He placed the wire bristled brush in her outstretched hand. He stood behind her, an old grey ghost reflection of her. Their images in the mirror reminded him of the portrait in Oscar Wilde’s novel. At sixty-two, Mrs. Twindle looked younger than Samuel.
“What would you say to a head doctor?”
Samuel felt his skin shrivel as Mrs. Twindle watched him.
“Would you tell him our secrets?” Mrs. Twindle’s skin was smooth as stone, unblemished, pink, tight. There were no worry lines around her bright, beetle-black eyes.
Samuel smashed his lips together. He scrunched his eyes closed, blocking the triumph in Mrs. Twindle’s eyes.
Mrs. Twindle’s laugh came to him in the restroom. It echoed her laughter from this morning. His hand shook as he brushed his hair. At first, he thought it shook from fear but the more he brushed and the more he thought about it, he thought maybe his hand shook from rage.
Killing Mrs. Twindle today would be the greatest gift he could give himself. He had been thinking about it for months; years, really. He wasn’t sure how Mrs. Twindle had figured it out but she was clever. He must have left a clue somewhere. Or maybe she just read his mind. She always knew what he was thinking. She was always in his head.
His hair looked exactly the same as before he brushed it, but his hair didn’t matter. He cleaned out the brush, an involuntary sob leaving him as it did each time he touched this implement. He put it in his pocket, keeping a hold of it as a reminder.
He shook the bottle of pills in his other pocket. He liked the idea of poisoning Mrs. Twindle. She would suffer. The iron supplement pills sounded like he had a rattlesnake.
Perhaps he could push her down the stairs. No. He would kill her today and she was already down the stairs. Pushing her up the stairs would only result in skinned shins. Not good enough.
He was back to his very first choice, spiking the church’s bug juice with antifreeze. He just had to figure out how to get it to Mrs. Twindle and not to all of the other parishioners. And maybe not get caught. Not getting caught ought be part of his plan.
The antifreeze was in the supply closet a few feet away with all of the cleaning supplies. Mrs. Twindle’s money had paid for these items, too. Samuel imagined Mrs. Twindle dying from her own antifreeze: her money finally being put to good use.
He’d have to get into the supply closet without anyone suspecting his purpose.
He walked past the refreshments table and bumped into it, knocking over several cups of fruit punch. Empty twenty ounce, red Solo® cups rolled into the spilled juice.
The white-haired woman behind the table yelped in surprise as the white plastic tablecloth overflowed with red liquid and red plastic.
“I’ll clean it up,” said Samuel. He went to the supply closet and came back with paper towels. He righted the cups. He wiped up the red juice.
Mrs. Twindle came up to the table. She placed her hand on Samuel’s arm.
“I hope Samuel is doing a good job cleaning up this mess, Miss Enid.” Mrs. Twindle pinched Samuel on the back of the arm.
Miss Enid glowed from the attention given her by Mrs. Twindle.
“I, yes, thank-you,” she said. She took a deep, warbling breath. “Ma’am.” Miss Enid was at least eighty years old.
Mrs. Twindle ran her hand across Samuel’s shoulder, down his back and across the pocket holding the brush. She pressed the bristles into the flesh of his hip before heading to the ladies’ powder room.
Samuel could follow her in there, push her head into the pink toilet bowl and drown her in the blue sanitized water. She would end up with a mask that the undertaker would have a hard time covering with makeup.
“She is so sweet and kind,” said Miss Enid.
“It does look that way,” he said. “Can I help you serve tonight?”
“Why you are sweet, too. I would love your help.” She removed the soiled table cloth.
“Where do you keep the punch?”
She pointed to the kitchen area next to the supply closet.
“You will find all you need in there.”
“I’ll just put these extra paper towels back in the supply closet.”
“While you are in there get the extra drink pitchers out. They are stored in there. They will look so much more fancy while we pour than those ugly cans.” Her head bobbed up and down as she spoke. “Yes, quite festive for this special day.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Samuel, “special for this special day.”
After putting the paper towels on their shelf in the closet, Samuel found the dark purple glass pitchers still in their cardboard box. He turned each pitcher over and pulled the stickers off all but one. In that one, he poured antifreeze. The color of the glass disguised the color of the liquid.
He replaced the four pitchers in their cardboard box. In this way, he could take them into the kitchen and no one would see the liquid already in one of them.
The cans of juice stood ready on the kitchen counter. Samuel opened the first can. He emptied the juice into the pitcher holding the antifreeze while it was still in the box. Once full, he poured the rest of the can’s contents into the next pitcher. Once all of the pitchers were full, he took them out of the box.
He took two of the unpoisoned pitchers out to Miss Enid where she began serving the people milling about her table. Samuel went back into the kitchen for the other two pitchers. He held the antifreeze pitcher tight in his right hand. He placed the other pitcher on the table, then picked up a couple of empty, red plastic cups.
“That boy will be the death of me,” said Mrs. Twindle to Reverend Toddy. The minister nodded in agreement.
Samuel crossed the room towards Mrs. Twindle carrying two full red cups.
Mrs. Twindle and Reverend Toddy turned in unison as Samuel approached them. Samuel handed a cup to Mrs. Twindle. Samuel raised his red cup, tipping it towards Mrs. Twindle in salute. She mirrored Samuel.
“Happy Birthday to me, Mother.”