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Two Can Keep a Secret

by Hattie Dove

“Pappy, I’m pawning those paintings in the attic come next week.”

He sat in his disgusting armchair, half-burned cigarette in his poor grasp, dropping piles of ash on the charred patch of carpet to his left. Glass dishes gathered on every nearby surface, accompanying him along with the wretched cloud of smoke that stained and muddled the wallpaper.

The television against the farthest wall still managed to broadcast a decades-old cowboy series through a sheen of numbing static. It was a miracle if he heard the show at all, considering how his hearing aids had been gathering dust and grime above the fireplace for months now.

The younger woman in the kitchen rolled her eyes. The knife in her hands gleamed despite the low light of the kitchen, hacking away at the bloody slab of meat that laid across the counter. The sizzle of onions on the stovetop blended with the TV static and made her nose crinkle in irritation.

“Did John-boy call?” the old man asked.

“Why does it matter?”

“He’s the only one who could convince you to do somethin’, Lucy.”

Lucy’s hands stuttered in their precise cuts. She hissed through her teeth when she nicked the tip of her finger. The frustration was making her lose control. If it weren’t for the old man, she and John could get married, sell this dump and move to town. Good thing she had enough control to stop. She sucked the finger into her mouth, not at all minding the foreign animal blood on her hands while she soothed the wound.

“John-boy ain’t the one who smuggled you and your tobacco and pot ’cross state lines,” she said in a mumble.

The old man finally lifted the cigarette, three-fourths of which lay on the floor in a pile of ash. He took a slow inhale that seemed to dare his granddaughter to say something else.

Lucy removed her finger from her mouth. The resumed chop of her knife hitting the cutting board was harsher now, fueled by the strength behind her silent anger. Cuts that had been initially intended to form thick, juicy steaks were sliced into bite-sized cubes with the aggression of a well-seasoned wife beater. Static and sizzling only intensified the uncomfortable silence, even more when she turned to toss in a handful of green peppers and supply the harsh sound with more fuel.

The rich scents of dinner finally registered in the old man’s delusional and hazy mind. His attention was more focused on the action of tossing the wasted cigarette butt to the floor than turning to face his family.

“You better be puttin’ bay leaves in whatever you’re sloppin’ up back there. You still have no idea how to properly season a meal.”

Hands clenched into fists on the hideous brown vinyl that covered the countertops, eyes giving a brief glance to the shotgun above the mantlepiece that used to keep bears out of the side yard where the vegetable garden was. People heard gunshots in the mountains all the time, no one would think it strange to hear one with all those cougar warnings on the news.

However, that was all the attention the weapon received before Lucy turned to the little herb garden in the window above the sink. Reaching up to pluck some dried bay leaves from the jar they rested in, Lucy’s extended hand faltered when her focus fell to the lush plant on the far right of the windowsill.

Deep purple flowers accentuated the darkness of small, round berries that were peppered through the colonies of thin stems and veiny leaves. She’d gotten the plant only after viewing a particular painting in the corner of the attic. The one tucked behind that massive loveseat she’d been forced to hide away after her grandfather brought in that armchair. The woman rendered in oil was so beautiful, her eyes wide and so deep in color she thought she’d fall into them, the closer she looked.

The plant had been used to enhance beauty, but there was another use for it.

“Of course, Pappy. I’m sorry you haven’t been satisfied with my cooking lately.”

Lucy’s voice took on a sweeter tone as she plucked up a handful of the berries and leaves, tossing the dark orbs in with the browning vegetables before chopping the leaves finely, as she would with a cluster of basil. She pressed so hard with the knife the small slice at the tip of her finger began to ooze once more, a fact she ignored with a crooked grin tugging at the corner of her mouth. The greens were tossed in the mix as well, before everything was introduced to the cubed bits of meat and a few large bay leaves just to be safe.

“See? You can still have some sense talked into you, darlin’. Hard to believe you’re the same little tomboy I took along to that museum,” her grandfather said.

Letting the dinner sizzle and pop in the pan, the woman turned back to the windowsill, carefully turning the plant on the far right so the label reading “Deadly Nightshade” was hidden from plain view.

“I know. It’s hard to believe, myself.”

Copyright © 2020 by Hattie Dove

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