To Kill a Sparrow
Story by M.P. Kenny (Ireland)
Published in issue 32 of The Ofi Press
Derek sat across the table from his wife ruminating over the past few days.
‘So the poison didn’t work,’ he thought.
He drummed his fingers on the table. His wife, reading 'Take a Break’ was oblivious to the glares of contempt he was sending her way. ‘Cup of tea love?’ she said dropping her magazine and rising to put on the kettle.
‘No,’ he grunted. Sonia glanced over at him as she took a cup out of the press and dropped a tea-bag into it. Picking up the kettle she moved aside the dinner dishes that were waiting for Derek to wash. She wasn’t an unattractive woman, though nothing about her now stood out. She was, he supposed ‘non-descript’. He had found that word in one of the stories in her magazines and it had appealed to him.
Sonia hummed as she waited for the kettle to boil. Her arms were crossed, her breasts resting on them. She looked out the window at their back garden. Derek studied her. Thirty-one and she wore the same slippers as his Gran. She insisted on wearing them. She would come in from work and seek them out, sighing in a way that made Derek’s skin crawl, when her feet slid into them. The slippers were accompanied by a grey, woollen cardigan that appeared to be made of ropes. She magically turned monochrome when she put it on.
His eyes ran the length of her body. She had lost weight recently which made her shrink more into her clothes. Her mascara had left smudges of black under her eyes, emphasising the bags that were there. Her dark hair highlighted the paleness of her face.
He thought back to when they met. She hadn’t a hair out of place then, wouldn’t be caught dead without lipstick on her full lips. He had walked taller when she linked his arm, his heart swelling with each admiring look. His gaze moved to her fingers. She never even painted her nails now.
‘Yeah,’ Derek answered rubbing his hands over his face. His bristles scratched his palms. He was knackered with the whole exercise. He leaned his elbows on the table, automatically adjusting his tracksuit bottoms over his stomach to avoid discomfort. It was Sonia he went to with any niggles he had. She always knew what to do.
She had told him exactly what to say to Peter O’Driscoll in work when he wouldn’t stop teasing Derek about off-loading the wrong container onto the shop floor. Derek had read the sheet wrong. Easy mistake, but every day it was mentioned over lunch much to the great amusement of the other lads. Bullying was what Sonia said it was and it shut Peter O’Driscoll up when, under Sonia’s instruction, Derek had threatened him with legal action.
‘Grand love, just tired,’ Derek said smiling at her. Sonia walked past him carrying her tea into the sitting room. She patted him on the shoulder as she left.
‘You coming in?’ she called back.
‘Be in now love,’ he replied. Derek glanced at the clock. Eight o’clock – Fair City. When the programme was over she would begin the process of getting ready for her second job. She had every minute of the day accounted for. She was constantly on the run. This was one of the many reasons he wanted her dead.
They’d married five years ago and apart from the odd crisis every few months about wanting kids, she had been a great wife. It was just that lately life was boring with her. Sedate. (Another word he had looked up). He couldn’t leave her. She wouldn’t leave him. He was stuck in a marriage that wasn’t bad enough to leave but not good enough to stay in. He felt trapped, but if he left her he would be the bad guy. He liked how Sonia’s mother told her she had pulled herself a great one in Derek, that she had sorted herself for life.
He just felt he could do and be much more. Sonia held him back. He wanted to travel, work abroad, work his way around the world. He pushed his empty ice-cream bowl away from him and sat back in his chair, exhaling loudly.
Sonia laughed at his ideas.
‘Are you mad?’ she had said of his suggestions. ‘We have a mortgage. We’re trying for a family. We’re in our thirties and most of all,’ she had paused here for breath and emphasis in a way that infuriated him, ‘we most definitely don’t have the money.’
‘Yeah,’ Derek had said, ‘but aren’t all them reasons more reasons to go?’ He had stood beside her his arms spread out as if to impress the big, wonderful world waiting for them.
‘Go while we can, while we’re young enough to enjoy it,’ he had said.
Sonia had laughed, shook her head and left the room. ’Pipe dreams Derek,’ she said patting him on the chest as she went by.
That was when the plan formulated in Derek’s head. He would kill her. He would make it look like an accident… Blame someone else. His problem was how to do it. He fainted at the sight of blood so any skin breakage or violence was out. He had spent sleepless nights thinking about it until he came up with the solution. Strangling her seemed the most intelligent option. And so he began his plotting.
Sonia had a night job cleaning offices in the nearby industrial estate. She usually didn’t finish until eleven o’clock at night. For two weeks Derek hid behind trees or parked cars. On one such night as he watched his wife and half-a-dozen other women giggle their way through the estate, he noticed he had company. He had looked up from his crouch. Three old dears stood over him. Two golf umbrellas were placed on each of his shoulders.
‘Dirty pervert,’ was all he heard before they proceeded to hammer their umbrella’s down on his head and shoulders.
He fell in the door half an hour later. Sonia half carried him to the kitchen. She calmed him down as she cleaned the scratches on his face; she even gave him one of her Valium. She wanted to call the Gardaí when he told her about the four men with steel bars who had mugged him. He managed to convince her to let it go as the gang hadn’t managed to get his wallet.
She held him extra tight later when they were in bed.
It was while lying on the couch the next morning with frozen peas stuck on his swollen ear that he got the idea of poison. The plan came easily and beautifully to him. He would tell Sonia he had found rats in the garden; buy the poison, pop it in the pot with the potatoes as he mashed them and Bob’s your uncle. He would eat everything else but his potatoes and happily watch his wife’s demise. Happy with his plan he had tossed the peas onto the floor and sat up on the sofa ready to enjoy ‘Jeremy Kyle’.
What he hadn’t factored into the equation was the arrival of his mother-in-law on the night in question. He also hadn’t been prepared for his neighbour banging the door down just as they sat around the table to eat. Sonia had left her dinner and went to placate the neighbour. Derek watched his mother-in-law heap his lovingly primed mash with a sprinkling of spring onion and poison, into her mouth. His hand covered his mouth as she scraped her leftover mash into the dogs bowl. As his dog ravaged the food, Derek’s hand moved up his face to cover his eyes.
By the time Sonia made it back to the table her dinner was cold. Before she could get a chance to re-heat it her mother began complaining of cramps. Around the same time the dog commenced walking around in circles at the back door omitting a strange whimpering sound. Baffled, Sonia opened the door. The dog had shot out to the garden as her mother, groaning, struggled to get out of the kitchen chair. The sheen of perspiration on her forehead gleamed under the evening sun. Derek covered his face with his hands.
They had spent most of the night at casualty. Derek joined Sonia there after he had taken the dog to the vet. The car was destroyed. He had gagged the whole way to the hospital. His mother-in-law was sent home the following morning.
Derek sighed. He scratched his head and tugged his earlobe as the familiar theme music began on the television. Licking his index finger, he began dabbing it on the table, picking up the stray bits of Flake that had escaped his bowl when Sonia had sprinkled it over his ice cream.
His mind galloped through ideas, none practical. Sighing again, he dropped his arms at his side. His eyes travelled the room resting on Sonia’s magazine. He leaned over and pulled it off the worktop. Flicking through the pages, he searched for inspiration.
MP Kenny has lived in Dublin all her life. She works in a primary school. She has recently won 1000words flash fiction competition. Another of her flash stories was published in the August edition of ‘The Casket of Fictional Delights’ journal.
Image: "Furryscaly" by Matt Reinhold.