This is the fourth installment in a Valentine’s Day series of shorts by Jennifer Weigel in which unsuspecting lovers succumb to deadly gases. You can read the first three installments here:
Joe looked lovingly at Dianne. Even after all these years, she never ceased to amaze him. The kids were grown and had flown the coop, they had both retired, and now it was just the two of them in the great big house. Dianne continued to play homemaker and was making Mexicali rice for dinner, sitting at a stool at the countertop sautéing some leftover chicken from the night before with some salsa.
“Can I help?” Joe asked.
“Nothing for you to do honey,” Dianne called back.
Joe reached in his pocket and caressed the carved wooden heart hidden within. He liked to bestow Dianne with trinkets to show she was loved, sometimes it was a card or a box of chocolates, or a pair of fancy earrings, but this time was special. There was no special occasion, just a profession of his feelings for her.
Joe had taken up woodworking upon his retirement and had been whittling away at this heart in his spare time as he learned the trade. He had burned their initials “JMS & DAS Forever” into it the smooth surface once he had sanded it down and then polished it to bring out the natural wood grain. It was the first real thing he had finished. Dianne knew nothing of it.
She had finished her cooking and was dishing up the meal, scooping a bed of rice onto each plate and then blanketing it with the chicken and salsa mixture before adding some shredded cheddar cheese to melt over the top.
“Can I at least get the table ready?” Joe asked.
“Sure, it’s just about time,” Dianne replied.
Joe arranged a fork, knife and spoon at each place setting along with a glass containing three ice cubes and water from the tap for each. He placed the wooden heart atop Dianne’s folded napkin before helping to bring the plates in from the kitchen and set them down.
As Dianne sat at her place, Joe remarked, “That’s for you. I carved it myself.”
She picked up the wooden heart and looked at Joe.
“I wanted you to know how much you mean to me,” he continued. “After everything we’ve been through together, the kids and grandkids, this house…”
Dianne turned the heart over in her hand, studying the smooth surface and running a fingertip over the initials. “Oh honey, it’s beautiful. Thank you. It’s been quite the adventure!”
As they leaned in and kissed one another, a faint odor crept in from the periphery. It smelled old and stale, like corn chips and wet gym socks masked with lilac perfume. At first neither noticed, and still later neither said a word about it hoping it would just pass and unsure whether it was something they did.
Finally Dianne spoke, “Honey, what is that terrible smell?”
“I don’t know,” Joe responded.
Dianne sniffed at her meal and glanced back towards the kitchen. It wasn’t the food and she hadn’t left the stovetop on.
It seemed to be coming out of the air everywhere, like a thick invisible noxious cloud. It was pungent but even worse, it was a bit disorienting. Joe and Dianne both felt dizzy and a little nauseous. Dianne had enough sense to press her LifeAlert button around her neck before she staggered and fell to the floor, but by the time the paramedics arrived both she and Joe were already dead.
You can find more of Jennifer Weigel’s writing by visiting her website here at Jennifer Weigel Words.