Powder Burn Flash # 181 - Gay Toltl Kinman
A BOWLFUL OF DEATH
by Gay Toltl Kinman
"Thank you so much, Harold." Madge kept turning the red clay bowl around exclaiming over the beautifully-designed painted wreath of flowers around the outside.
"I wanted to buy two," Harold said, "but they only had this one. I thought you'd like the decoration, just the bowl for you. I know how much you love your soup."
"Oh, Harold, you're so sweet. You're the most thoughtful husband." She hugged him.
Her cooing disgusted him so he went into the garage, his only retreat. He stretched out on the sofa he'd had for years, the one Madge had ordered out of the living room because it was too "beat-up." On it, he read the newspaper, free from Madge's commentary on TV programs, or her invariably incorrect answers to quiz show questions.
Should he go back to the gift shop tomorrow to see what else they had? Just in case?
A divorce would be too cruel. She had no way of supporting herself. She had come from one marriage--her husband had died--into this one. She had no relatives. He tried to remember how he came to marry her, but the memory eluded him.
Her only friend was nosy old Mrs. Pettigrew next door. That woman was into everything. He thought of giving her a bowl, too. But no, he was doing this for Madge's own good. They would both be happier. Madge's happiness would be different from his, but he was sure it would be even better, after all she did believe in heaven.
The next day he again went to the gift shop in Old Town, a block of Mexican shops, but only to the one that stocked exactly what he wanted.
He walked past the cups and saucers and plates and bowls, all decorated with the same wreath of flowers. He looked at the red clay ware and examined the different pieces. Each bore the same trademark of the master craftsman. The durable red clay remained unglazed, imported from the heart of Mexico, and as beautiful as the belladonna plant.
In due time, as he had hoped, Madge became very ill and died. Afterwards, old Mrs. Pettigrew practically haunted him, bringing over casseroles, offering to vacuum, to do his laundry. She was as annoying as Madge, but for different reasons.
He thought about giving Madge's bowl to her, maybe saying that Madge wanted her to have it because they had been such great friends. But he decided against it.
He hoped that he wouldn't lose his temper and give her the bowl in one of his more sarcastic moods. She finally left him alone as he kept answering the door to her with no shirt and his pants half undone. He was sure her evil mind was thinking that he might grab her and attack her. The old prude, he thought and
grinned. Maybe he would, next time, just to scare her off.
One evening the front door bell rang. It wasn't Mrs. Pettigrew.
"I'm Investigator Kennedy with the Police Department. We're working on a case with the Public Health Department. It's about your wife."
"May I come in?"
"Oh sure. Sorry. You see my wife just died and I'm still a little at loose ends."
"Yes. I understand. I wonder if you would answer a few questions for me?"
"Because your wife was not seeing a physician before her death, an autopsy was done."
"Yes, I had to sign something."
"Do you have any dishware or anything made out of red clay?"
"A bowl my wife used. Why?"
"Could I see it?"
"I'll get it for you." He practically dropped it three times in his efforts to hurry it back to Kennedy.
"Yes, this is one of them. Where did you buy it, Mr. Donnewell?"
"A little shop in Old Town. I don't remember the name of it. Why, what's wrong?"
"Do you read the papers or listen to the news at all?"
"Rarely. I usually listen to music while I'm working. Working in the garage, I mean. The news is always so depressing. Murders and riots and beatings. I like to live a quiet life. I don't need that kind of excitement." He knew he was talking too much.
"Then you didn't hear about this pottery?"
"No. What was there to hear?"
"Lead in the clay. And this pottery is unglazed. Unglazed pottery lets lead seep into the food. Repeated use of it causes the user to die of lead poisoning."
"Oh, my God! Then Madge...."
"Yes, she died of lead poisoning. Did you use the bowl at all, Mr. Donnewell."
"Don't remember if I did or not. That means I'd be dead, too?" He looked at Kennedy. His face was impassive. He can't know anything, thought Harold. Or can he? Should he have said he used it, too?
"It was widely televised and several articles were in the newspaper. The pottery was recalled. It had only been sold at one shop in Old Town. We've had some deaths so far and some very sick people. Unfortunately, your wife was one of the deaths. We've been able to account for all of the pottery sold. This is the
last piece." He looked Harold in the eye.
"I feel terrible about this. After all I bought it for her."
"Yes, Mr. Donnewell. I wanted to talk to you about that. I interviewed Mrs. Pettigrew, your neighbor. It seems your wife told her that this was a one-of-a-kind bowl and that you weren't able to buy a matching one for yourself. She didn't think anything about it until after your wife died and then she
remembered about the red clay warnings."
That old busy body. He should have given her the bowl after all.
"She also says that you read the newspaper every day in your garage. I'd like you to come to the station with me as we have some more questions we'd like to ask you."
BIO: Gay Toltl Kinman has eight award nominations for her writing; several short stories published in American and English magazines; over one hundred and fifty articles; six children's books; and four plays produced. Kinman has a library degree and a law degree.