Mary Jones

Prompt: Reprieve

strawberry cheesecake

She had a great palate and was executive chef for a large hotel chain, until she was accused of murdering her father, mother, brother, three aunts, their two sons, and the girlfriend of one of the sons.

Now that her lawyer and best friend had overturned her conviction, she changed her name and moved to a larger community, getting a kitchen job in a new restaurant with a strange name. There were surviving family members who might not agree with her reprieve from hanging, so it seemed best to dissolve into an anonymous landscape, at least for a time.

Mary Jones. That was her new name. She liked it. She liked her job in the restaurant kitchen, doing prep and clean up and dog’s body work. She loved the zen of julienning carrots, peeling potatoes, removing pin bones from filleted fish, keeping work surfaces sparkling clean and ready. She liked her boss, Hugo, who treated her with a distant professionalism which she found very attractive.

It was a busy Friday night dinner service when someone in the restaurant died suddenly. There were screams and cries from the dining room that Mary was the first to hear. Perhaps she was attuned to the sounds of pain. She was one of the first on the scene, finding a woman on the floor beside one of the white linen covered tables, a young man, possibly her son, crouched over her and howling like an animal.

She felt her adrenaline surge. That part was natural, wasn’t it?

The woman was taken away on a stretcher in an ambulance, as if she could come back to life. Mary knew death when she saw it. In fact, there was something about that night that spoke of epiphany.

Mary had a taste for death. There was no point in denying it, or looking the other way, or pretending otherwise. While she would never admit to murdering her extended family, she was not averse to admitting to the thrill of death.

It was a dangerous taste, like a craving for fugu, the Japanese dish prepared with extreme care lest the violently deadly parts of the fish should touch human lips. Mary had a craving for life fugu.

So when Hugo asked her to package up some mushroom fettuccine for his wife, a cop who was ill and recovering at home, Mary thought a little dose of arsenic, that old-fashioned poison, might liven things up, especially since during her arrest and pretrial incarceration, the police had been rather unsympathetic, choosing to believe she was guilty and treating her as such, even before the evidence presented at her trial. Hugo’s wife might be a very nice person, but a cop was a cop.

Hugo’s wife was too ill to eat that night, apparently, but was the poisoned dish put in the refrigerator for future consumption? Would Hugo be tempted and lazy one night, and fall ill? Would his weakened wife finally feel hungry and suffer a relapse, possibly a fatal one?

Mary waited. Have you ever had a craving, maybe for fresh buttered popcorn, or a rare steak, or strawberry cheesecake, or a Bloody Caesar cocktail? And had to wait—but know that eventually, what you crave will be before you, and that the first taste, the first bite, will be a little piece of bliss?

Mary knew that feeling. She had a new life and a new taste. She waited.

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Space and Grace

Prompt: Hike

machu-picchu

By the time Diane Crosby got to Carmen’s downtown office, the storms had retreated, leaving the streets flooded. Some people had abandoned their vehicles right in the middle of the avenue, so that as the firefighters manned the pumps and the sun came out, too hot, and started to dry the pavement, traffic was snarled and slow.

“You made it,” said Carmen. “I thought you might get caught in that.” She gestured to her office window and to the street, four floors below, where steam was rising from the sidewalks, and pedestrians picked their way through the parked cars and fat firefighter hoses.

“Had to sell my car,” said Diane. “Took the bus and walked.”

“Well, looks like you may be able to buy a new one,” Carmen said, picking up a document from her desk. “The details are being worked out, but looks like a nice settlement is coming your way. How are you feeling?”

“Just fine, have been fine forever. What details? How much?”

“About a quarter of a million,” said the lawyer.

“Oh my eff god,” said Diane. Now, the food poisoning had been horrible, the sickest she had ever been. She’d contemplated the joys of dying and drifting off to stomach-pump-free heaven. She thought of the man she had escorted on the cruise that day, his oily face and sagging paunch, and what he wanted her to do, and how she would never again need to make ends meet by catering to people who were the opposite of friends, people who paid for her company, paid for her to be beautiful, sycophantic, and sometimes, naked.

The money would go towards tuition and debt. Then she would take a vacation; she was thinking of tackling the Bugaboo Ascents, or if funds permitted, hiking some of the Machu Picchu trails. She wanted fresh air, isolation, peace, space, and grace before she started her law career, possibly in the very practice in whose offices she sat. Perhaps Carmen had represented people like Diane Crosby before. Diane would represent people like Diane, when she passed the bar. People who worked hard and got screwed anyway, sometimes literally.

Meanwhile Carmen was putting on a Burberry raincoat and fishing out her keys. “I’ve got a Land Rover parked just around the corner,” she said. “It will get through this mess. I’ll give you a lift.”

“This is the best,” Diane said. It was the best. Chauffeured home through a storm by her lawyer, who had just won her a big settlement and changed her life forever, in a glossy silver Land Rover, which was the truck Diane Crosby would have when she was settled in practice, earning money helping people like Diane.