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Cedric’s Last Meal « Fiction365
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Today's Story by Patsy Collins

“Oh, Emily I’ve told you before that cheating men lie."

Cedric’s Last Meal

The box was outside the charity shop when I came to unlock this morning. I took a quick glance inside, spotted what appeared to be an urn and closed the flap quickly. I thought the shock of Cedric’s death was making me hallucinate.

I made a cup of tea before looking in the box again. Inside there really was an urn and it wasn’t empty. There was a plaque on the side. I read Cedric’s name and dates before dropping the urn. The lid stayed on. It was me, not the ashes which fell to the ground.

“Emily, what on earth’s wrong?” Millie asked as soon as she arrived.

I showed her the vase.

“That’s the name of your friend’s husband isn’t it? But, that can’t be right. I thought the cremation wasn’t until tomorrow.”

“So did I.”

“What are you doing with an urn anyway?” she asked.

“It was left outside the shop.”

“Well that’s not right.”

Nothing about this was right. I phoned Margaret.

“Oh hello, Emily. Got my little gift did you?”

“Why did you send it, Margaret?”

“Why not? I wasn’t keen on him cluttering up my lounge when he was alive and paying the bills. I certainly don’t want him doing it now.”

“How can you say such a thing?” I asked.

“What’s up? Don’t like people talking ill of the dead? Well I don’t like people lying and cheating.”

“You know?”

“Oh yes, I know. I suppose it’s partly my own fault, I shouldn’t have donated things so generously. I didn’t know you’d take my husband along with the other bric-a-brac.”

“It was Cedric who donated everything, not you.”

“Is that what he told you dear? I’m sorry, but adulterous men are rather prone to lying.”

“But the urn …?”

“I just thought you’d like to have him to yourself for a change. He’s no use to me now. All I need is the insurance money.”

“But it’s not really him, the funeral isn’t until tomorrow.”

“Thought it best to have it as soon as possible, to save any embarrassment.”

“What embarrassment?”

The only reply was Margaret’s laugh.

Why would she want to rush the funeral, unless she had something to hide? I recalled the evening Cedric died and realised the awful truth;  after he’d staggered home from my house, Margaret had killed him.

She’d cremated him so there was no evidence.

“It was you. You killed him, you’re evil.”“Positively poisonous, Emily dear, but don’t worry I’ll be moving away soon, you’ll never have to see me again.” She laughed again before hanging up.

Poison, she must have poisoned him I reasoned. He was always telling me about the pills and potions she made him take. He’d said they did more harm than good, but I hadn’t taken any notice.

I couldn’t let her get away with it, so I told the police everything.  I’m not sure they believed me to start with. They got interested when I explained about the urn. After that, they wrote down every word and I signed a statement. As I was leaving, I remembered his donor card.

“He asked for his organs to be used, will you be able to test those for poison?”

“Yes madam, we’ll do that don’t you worry.”

They took my details and promised they would be in touch. I went straight round to confront Margaret. She didn’t seem surprised.

“Come and sit down, would you like tea?”

“No, I’m not falling for that, you’ll poison me too. It was poison, wasn’t it?”

“In a way. Now either come in and sit down, or go away. I refuse to argue with you on my doorstep.”

I remembered what she’d said about leaving soon and decided to keep her talking so she couldn’t get away before the police arrived.

“Sure you won’t have some tea? I’m going to.”

I refused and waited in her lounge, thinking about Cedric and all the things he’d missed and would never now have a chance to experience.

We’d planned to take a trip together; he hadn’t travelled much because of Margaret’s fear of flying.

There was a photograph of them on the mantelpiece. As I looked at his awful comb over I remembered how I’d teased him about it when our relationship first began. I was horrified to learn that he’d done it because of Margaret. She’d belittled him for his bald patch and insisted he cover it. I think it was after I’d assured him that his thinning and greying hair was a sign of maturity, not weakness, that he really began to care about me.

Margaret carried her drink in with a plate of biscuits. She offered me those, but obviously I didn’t touch them. When she left them too, I realized I’d been right.

“So what have you come to say? You had an affair with my husband, don’t you think you’ve caused me enough trouble?”

I did feel guilty about deceiving her and decided I’d done enough of that.

“Margaret, I’ve been to the police.”

“How interesting.”

“I told them everything.”

“Everything, Emily?”

“How can you be so calm? Yes, I’ve told them everything.”

“Did you tell them that you had Cedric’s ashes?”

“I showed them, they’ve kept them as evidence.”

“Good.”

“I still don’t understand why you sent them,” I said.

“It was silly, but I thought it would make you happy to have them for a while, so you could grieve properly.”

“Why would you want me to be happy? You didn’t let Cedric have anything he wanted. You did your best to humiliate him. Why would you care about me?”

“Oh, you are mixed up. I don’t care about you, I just felt that I owed you something.”

“After what I did to you?”

“More because of what I’ve done to you.”

“Because you made the man I loved miserable and then killed him?”

“How did I make him miserable?”

“You were too controlling.”

“Oh, Emily I’ve told you before that cheating men lie. I didn’t control him, I’d long ago realised I had no say in what he did. He just used me as an excuse when his lady friends got too demanding or he didn’t want to take them somewhere. He did that with all his other girls. I expect he got so used to his lies it was hard to stop telling them.”

“There were no other girls. He was faithful to you, until he fell in love with me. He didn’t want to cheat, but he couldn’t help it.”

“Really, you do amuse me. How else did I mistreat him?”

“You didn’t let him spend any of his money.”

“Cedric was too mean to spend money on anyone. He spent it on cruises. We spent a fortune on holidays because he couldn’t get up the nerve to get on a plane. He’d spend it on himself too, those ridiculously tight trousers and the leather jackets so that he could kid himself he was still trendy. And that ridiculous comb over, really dear, I don’t know how you could stand that.”

I was too surprised to reply to this. She’d forced Cedric to dress as though suffering a midlife crisis and here she was, blaming him!

“He had his own bank account and I never saw the statements. I’m afraid he just didn’t want to give you gifts or pay for meals out.”

“It wasn’t that. He loved my cooking. He could only eat the plainest foods because of all your allergies and dislikes, but gradually I was getting him to try new things.”

“My allergies?”

“Yes, you’d made such a fuss about them he was almost paranoid. He carried your spare epipen everywhere because he was so worried you’d have an attack. He even described the symptoms to me and explained how to use it.”

“Really, how thoughtful of him. I suppose he told you I won’t eat spicy food too?”

“That’s right. He showed me the cook book he’d bought, hoping you’d learn to be a bit more adventurous. You insisted he got rid of it, so I bought it. I saw he’d marked a page and so I cooked the recipe for him.” I had to stop to blow my nose at this point. “It was his last meal before he died.”

“Did you tell the police about your last evening together?”

“Yes, I told them everything. How he seemed nervous when he arrived, he kept patting his pockets and seemed reluctant to eat anything. I realize now that you must have poisoned him before he came out and he was feeling ill. After just a few mouthfuls of the chicken sate, he’d complained that his lips were burning. Poor man, he was so used to the bland food you gave him that even a mildly spiced dish seemed hot to him.”

“What happened then?”

“He started to look ill; he was anxious and not really making sense. He asked what was in the sauce. When I said not to worry, it was mainly chicken and peanuts with hardly any spice he became distressed and began mumbling about you. He left and he died that night. I should have realized as soon as he was dead that you’d killed him. I let him come home to die, it’s all my fault.”

“Well yes it is, but you shouldn’t blame yourself, you weren’t to know.”

“Why did he have to die?”

“I realized you were in love with him. I thought if you insisted he leave me, he might do it. Cedric was always such a weak man. I didn’t want him, but I did want his money. I was worried he’d divorce me and I’d lose the house.”

“You killed him for the house?”

“Don’t be silly. I didn’t kill him.”

“Liar.”

“Well yes, I have told lies, although not as many as Cedric. I’ll be honest with you now. After I left his urn outside your shop, I called the police and said it had been stolen. I told them that I thought you’d killed him. I suggested they test the organs that were removed for donation.”

“They’ll prove you killed him.”

“Not me Emily. Are you sure you won’t have one of these biscuits? They are rather good.”

I looked more closely and could see that they contained peanuts. I remembered Cedric telling me that just a small amount would kill within hours and knew she was trying to commit suicide. I watched as she took a bite. I wanted to stop her, but she’d killed before, perhaps if not herself it would be me next. She took another bite.

“You know, Emily, if I had a peanut allergy then by now my mouth would begin to burn. Gradually my lips and throat would swell. I’d need antihistamine just like the epipen Cedric couldn’t find before his last meal to reduce the swelling; otherwise, it would just get worse until I couldn’t breath.” She took another bite. “My lips aren’t burning. Cedric’s were, weren’t they?”

“But that means …”

“That’s right. I didn’t kill him; you did.”

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Patsy Collins lives on the south coast of England, opposite the Isle of Wight. Her stories appear in magazines in the UK, Ireland and Australia. To learn more about her and her writing, please visit patsy-collins.blopgspot.com

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