“You’re late, you’re late; you’re very, very late.” I said in a mocking tone as I watch Kirsten hurry about the house throwing together her things.
“Well you’re not much help David,” she said exasperatedly, “Anyway I’m acting in Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ not ‘Alice in Wonderland’ at least get your inter textual references right.”
“And you landed the part of the manly Paris, good one Kirsten,” I teased.
“Well it’s not my fault that all the guys in this country town were too scared to audition. You could have too you know.”
“Oh that stuff is so last century,” I said as she was just about to walk out the door. “And don’t forget your palm cards.” Adding them to her already overflowing arms, she muffled a thank you and struggled through the door.
“Oh!” she exclaimed as soon as she got out, “Have a look at this pie, David. It seems like you’ve got a secret admirer, just leave some for me when I get back.” And with that she was gone.
“Wow, look at that. It’s freshly baked and everything,” I said surprised. “Look there is even a note beside it. Now what could this lovely person want to write to me.” In nice neat cursive handwriting I read “Can vengeance be pursued further than death?” I was stunned and completely confused. What I had previously looked at in delight suddenly became detestable to me and I quickly closed the door without touching the thing. Was it poisoned, or spring loaded as a booby trap, maybe it was just a practical joke or did it contain a bomb. I stood there leaning against the door knowing that I could not hold out against my inquisitive nature long. I had to know, one way or the other. It took a few moments of agonising curiosity before I went back on the porch and brought it inside.
“Well you seem harmless enough but I better check that there isn’t anything inside you,” And the best way I could think of doing that was too get out my knife and fork and carve myself a piece. There it sat steaming on my plate, with cherries spilling out and the juice slowly seeping. Cherry pie! My mouth watered, but I dared not eat it. How did they know that was my favourite. Then my mind set to work trying to deduce the identity of my eccentric anonymous benefactor.
“Whoever did it has an impressive set of culinary skills and beautiful patient handwriting not taught anymore in school,” I pondered then my mind immediately flashed to old Mrs Margret who lived at the end of the street. Ah this would be her perfect weapon of choice and my suspicious mind suddenly recalled a possible motive for this crime of hers.
Once in my young days when I was charged with political ideology I had taken it into my head to be the source of change in my neighbourhood. I saw potential; I saw what could be, what should be, no what had to be the future! And I drove towards it in a single minded focus fuelled by my vision. It started with me raising the forbidden topic of politics at the kitchen table. When that was met by awkward silence and unblinking stares, it didn’t deter me. If anything it motivated me further. I became determined to educate, no liberate was the word I used, to liberate my whole neighbourhood from their ignorance. So I launched a door knocking campaign. I thought that old Mrs Margret (yes we still called her old even back then) was the ideal first candidate for my new campaign. So I boldly walked up to her door brandishing my pamphlets and knocked confidently. As she opened the door she smiled sweetly and said, “Well you’re a tad early, my cookies will take another fifteen minutes yet. But please do sit down. How did you know that I was baking today?”
“Well I came, no I didn’t come because of your cookies,” I stuttered caught off guard by her unexpected greeting. “I came because there is a matter of great urgency that needs to be addressed in our great nation of Australia.”
At that she eyed me warily and stiffened when I produced my pamphlets. At this I took a mental note and decided to leave my lectures in support of communism and feminism for another day. Instead I picked what I thought would be a harmless topic. “Yes indeed,” I said, “The change I’m promoting will prevent the waste of hundreds of daylight hours which no one can enjoy. The sun rises at four o’clock in summer but we have it in our power to make it rise at five or even later. So that we can wake up and enjoy it. All you need to do is sign this petition for daylight savings.” At this I trusted my petition along with my pamphlet right under her nose.
“Daylight savings,” she said incredulously, “Daylight savings! Are you mad boy, why would I want to save more daylight? Just look at them curtains over there. See how the sun’s bleached them, and that’s with the normal amount of daylight. Can’t imagine what even more sun would do. I’d have to change all my curtains, my mother’s curtains they were. No sir, no daylight savings here. I don’t want them and I don’t need them.” And at that she showed me to the door with surprising vivacity.
I could have been the start of new revolution to sweep the planet yet it was not to be. For my confidence was dashed at that exchange and it was never again rekindled. Ever after that it seemed that old Mrs Margret had forgotten our exchange yet I noticed that she never seemed to be in when I went to see her and she never again offered me her cookies after church.
I was sure it had to be old Mrs Margret. She had the motivation, method and opportunity. I was just about to call Mr Schulz the police officer when in an epiphany I stopped. “Oh! How could I be so thick? Of course it has to be Mr Schulz.”
My mind immediately jumped back to the incident that had irreparably rifted our previously great friendship. I just finished a hard day at work and decided to reward myself with a few stubbies at the local pub with the mates. That was a great night but you know what they say, ‘what happens in the pub stays in the pub’. Anyhow it was about eight hours later when the owner finally threw us out. I was too drunk to even sit up but somehow I half stumbled half crawled to my car to drive home. But I got caught by Mr Schulz on the way back home.
“Just a regular random alcohol testing stop,” he said pulling out the breathing tube, “Now sir please breathe into this.”
“Oi year’ll have ta move.” I managed to say before my guts heaved puke out of the window splattering his shoes. “Sorry ‘bout that sa,” I said fumbling for my handkerchief.
“Oh don’t worry about that,” he said patiently holding out the white tube, “Now like I said, please breathe into this for me.”
“I juse breathe in ‘ere?”
“Yes,” he said holding the tube steady for me as I splattered and wheezed as best I could through it.
“Oh dear, this really is much too high. You should know better than to drive in a state like this,” he started to reprimand but then his eye saw something, “And what is that in the passenger’s seat?”
“Tha there‘s a drip of me own brewed wishky,” I slurred, “Ya want some? I’ll give ya some real cheap.”
“No I will have to pass. It is illegal to make the stuff let alone sell it. But I was actually asking about those slips of paper.”
“Dem are juse a bit of fun for the youngins. Give dem a chance at betting on the sly, ya see,” I said. “For a fee ‘course.”
“I’m afraid that is not allowed as well. I also noticed that you are missing your back license plate. What happened to it?”
“Oh tha been goan for months noa,” I confessed, “aven’t been payin the rego neither, but year’ll wont tell anyone will ya.”
“Well what about that engine of yours?”
“Yeah I supercharged it not long ‘go noa. Turbo engine with maxed specs. Me nephew loves it, I let him drive it ‘round the place all da time.”
“P-platers are not allowed to drive turbocharged vehicles.”
“Well good thing he too youn for his license then. But I noa tha this looks bad, so ere’s a fifty for you to forget all this ever appen’d”
“Ah you’re a good bloke on the whole David. You don’t cause too much trouble, I’ll let you off this once and keep your bribe. Consider this a slap on the wrist. After all it is far too dangerous for you walk home in a state like this. It is much safer if you drive.”
As he was getting into his car behind me I put my car into first gear and lurched forward. I just managed to swerve unto the road wrestling with the steering wheel to stay on it and somehow managed to get home. But I later learnt that when I had started my car the tires had skid on the gravel road sending up a shower of pebbles some of which struck Mr Schultz’s car. It didn’t even crack the windshield just nicked a bit of the paint. But I saw as I looked back in the mirror his face dark as thunder, which explains the whooping big bill I got the next day. I didn’t even know it was possible to be fined that much, I’m still paying it off.
As I sat there with the pie growing cold before my eyes my mind remembering incident after incident that could potentially motivate someone to become a pie poisoner. I came to suspect everyone I knew in this town. I didn’t know who I could trust. It seemed everyone had a grudge. No not everyone. My next door neighbour had just moved into her house yesterday. I could trust her at least because I haven’t had time for her to hold a grudge against me. She was the only person I could trust, the only one who couldn’t possibly be the pie poisoner. I needed someone to talk to so I went to her house and knocked. “Kate,” I called, “There is something I need to talk to you about.”
“Is it about the pie?” she replied opening the door, “I did want to leave an impression.”
I stood there horrified for one brief second before running back as fast as possible and locking the door behind me. My mind was whizzing with possibilities; was she a serial killer who sort refuge in a small country town, or perhaps a former master chef who had been denied a glamorous career and seeking revenge. Maybe she was a crazed food technologist who had escaped from an asylum or possibly she was a world renowned scientist who needed human trials for the toxin she was developing. As I was thinking all these thoughts I was startled by a knock at the door.
“No you can’t come in!” I shouted frightened beyond my wits.
“Well I don’t know what’s got you so worked up,” Kirsten said as she unlocked the door and came inside, “And before you ask, the play was a disaster. Everything was going perfectly until the last scene where I, being Paris, faced down Romeo before the fateful duel. But I had lost my last palm card it must have fallen on the ground somewhere. It had my last line on it. So I tried to remember it as best I could, I know it said something about vengeance and death, but I was filled with stage fright and I couldn’t get a word out.”
Then I realised what had happened. “Was your line, ‘Can vengeance be pursued further than death?’” I asked.
“Yes that is how it goes, but how did you know?”
Then I related the whole story to her from beginning to end and just as I was finishing there was another knock on the door.
“Oh that will be Kate, I saw her coming over when I arrived and I’d say that you owe her an explanation,” Kirsten said as she went to open the door, “Do come in, we were just about to start on your pie. Thank you so much for it.”
“Well I just wanted to make a good impression,” she said innocently, “You know I’m used to living in the big city. But out here everybody knows everybody and gets along so well, it’s like suspicion and grudges don’t exist out here. I love it.”
All I could do was look down at my plate and eat my humble pie.
Merci pour la lecture!