It all began when I was standing at the sink.
No, no, I tell a lie. It all began much before that; even before there was a power outage.
Probably, it began the moment I set eyes on my (ex!) husband – but for the sake of this story, let’s just say that it began after supper.
Just for the record, the first time we met he’d arranged my bangs and the collar of my blouse “just the way he liked them”, and, mea culpa, I never realised it was a symptom of the way that he would try to fix my life – and me – from that moment on. I was enthralled by his attention. The snide comments and hostile criticism came later.
But I digress.
I had spent the morning and part of the afternoon in bed engrossed in the first two books of different series I had won on a television Trivia Quiz – you know, the ones where they ask questions about obscure topics…such as what the name of the character Liam Neeson played in Taken, was.
War ‘n’ Wit and Tex, the Witch Boy had…well, bewitched me.
It was getting too dark for me to see to read – and when I went to switch on the bedside lamp I realised that not only was it 5.00 pm, but there was no electricity.
I had not even had breakfast, go figure prepared dinner – and my (ex!) husband was due home in two hours.
I realised I would have to move fast to avoid the usual Grumpy Cat running commentary.
I leapt out of bed and whipped the quilt into place. I half-filled a pot with water, chucked in one chicken and one Italian herbs stock cube, some brandy, a knob of butter, the four turkey drumsticks that had been soaking overnight in marinade, a packet of mixed frozen vegetables, and a handful of frozen onion rings. Then I prepared a bowl of instant mashed potatoes, and chopped up some cherry tomatoes, olives, and garlic cloves, and doused them in olive oil (I would drain them just before serving).
The dusk and the street light gave me just enough light to work.
I put some water and disinfectant in a bucket and went over the floors with a cloth wrapped around a squeegee, and switched on the ceiling fans.
While the food cooked and the floor dried, I changed out of my pyjamas, brushed my hair and pulled it back in a pony-tail, washed and flossed my teeth, put the books away, and leapt down the stairs three at a time.
I got out the votive candles that I’d bought for the Christmas centrepiece and lit them. They made eerie shadows dance on the walls, and of course I could not help playing about with my fingers to make some shadow animals.
My (ex!) husband always insisted that I do the newspaper crossword, daily, to “work my sloth-brain”, as he so courteously put it. So I took it out and called my genius friend Samantha to give me the solutions, as I usually did; I barter with her by keeping her kids while she is with her lover. I left out a couple of easy ones, so I would be able to act as if I had just thought of them while we were having dinner. I was – am – smug about the fact that my acting prowess never failed to take my husband in.
I grabbed the sponge to give my (ex!) husband’s breakfast mug and cereal bowl a quick rub-and-rinse, but as soon as I opened the kitchen sink tap, I screamed.
I felt as if someone had taken a steel sledge-hammer to my knuckles; not all of them, just six out of ten. My joints swelled, and my fingers throbbed and turned purple.
With tears pouring down my cheeks and biting my lower and upper lips alternately, I finished the task and sat down in front of the aforesaid crossword, barely able to hold the pencil… just in time, because the next moment, my (ex!) husband’s key turned in the lock.
I went to greet him, and he kissed me perfunctorily – as he usually did, and sniffed the air – and he likewise usually did. Smells good. But you’ve put in too much onion. I said it in my mind before he actually said it out loud, word-for-word, in exactly the same intonation.
He whipped off his jacket and draped it over the chair, and undid his tie, positioning it exactly over the middle of the jacket. Creature of habit, my (ex!) husband.
He had not even noticed my fingers. I showed them to him and of course, he assumed it was my clumsiness that had injured me. I told him what had happened, and he said that after he ate, he would take me to the clinic. Selfish sonofabitch.
He sat at table, and as he expected me to do, I asked about his day so he could boast about his wheeling and dealing. I was sick and tired of this charade – but it suited me, because I quite liked being the Lady of the Manor and not having to go out to work.
He happened to glance at the crossword, and pursed his lips. Not ready yet? I said it to myself before he did. “Oh!” I said, gingerly picking up the pencil, pincer-style like a Kindergartner, and dashing off the last five words without even looking at the clues, “I’ve been thinking about them while I fixed dinner…”
So, we went to the Clinic and the doctor said it was Gardner-Diamond syndrome. My (ex!) husband asked him – twice – whether I could have hurt myself shutting a drawer because she is so clumsy… and the doctor explained patiently how veins sometimes rupture spontaneously, and the red blood cells cause the contusions, and the swellings, and the pain.
The doctor said I must support each injured finger by taping it to the one next to it, and avoid extremes of temperature, and to wear mittens if possible.
We returned home, and the rest of the evening passed as it usually did – except for the part where he parked himself in front of the television set because we had wasted the time at the Clinic. Sex, showers, and bed. Did he care that I was in pain? Did he heck. The power came back at around midnight.
The throbbing pain kept me from sleeping, despite the analgesic balm I had rubbed on my fingers (and the whiskey I’d drunk).
As I sometimes did, to escape from my dreary existence, I let my imagination run riot. I idly toyed with the idea of drawing my rouge blood cells out with a syringe… and injecting them into the butt of my sleeping (ex!) husband, to create enough pain so he would not be able to sit down for a month of Sundays.
Ah! This would be the other meaning of Blood Doping, as per articles with facetious titles such as If I Did a Bag of Lance Armstrong’s Blood, Could I Bike up a Mountain? (without the rider ‘and what if said blood were spiked?’)…
I concocted plans to inject him with air, to create an embolism. Probably, though, I’d be rumbled, if they decided to do an autopsy, because he did not have a dickey heart. Maybe I could kill him with insulin…Reversal of Fortune style, but I’d make sure my approach would work. But there was nobody, of all my friends who have diabetes, whom I could trust to give me a pre-drawn syringe, and keep mum about it. Oh, to delegate the whole enchilada to a hit-man. Or a cat’s-paw.
And that’s when the idea hit me. My (ex!) husband usually spent Saturdays entrenched in the greenhouse, fiddling about with his beloved orchids. He sold each bloom at about €50 a pop. Not because he needed the money, but just because he could.
It was Monday. Time enough. Maybe… My plan was sketchy…it was a long shot…it might not work… but it was worth a try. No one would suspect me, what with my quasi-disabled hands and restricted movement-span.
When replenishing my kitchen freezer from the one in the basement, I had noticed a wasps’s nest at one corner of the ceiling. They’d probably been grateful for the box of newspapers I saved for the once-a-month recycling collection, because it meant they did not have to forage far for material with which to build it.
I poured a good measure of honey inside a big bin bag, and made my way downstairs. There were no wasps flying about, and I heaved a sigh of relief. I manoeuvred a table just under the nest, keeping one eye open for the insects, and placed a chair on the table.
Then, I cautiously climbed on the table, and stood on tiptoe, on the chair, placing the opening of the bag over the nest. I knew I was risking a broken leg or two, but I was on an adrenaline high and nothing could stop me. Using the outside of the bag to shield my hands (I thought it would be better not to use gloves, since there would be some kind of residue on them), I detached the nest from its anchors and nudged it into the bag.
There was such an angry surge of buzzing that I nearly overbalanced. Apparently, the wasps were quick to notice the honey, and they quietened down almost immediately.
As best I could, I held on to the neck of the pulsating, droning bag while putting the furniture in its place again.
Next stop: The Greenhouse.
I took the bag and went in through the back door, just in case one of the neighbours was looking out of a window; and anyway, the orchids were nearer there than the front entrance.
Gently, very gently, I upended the bag and out rolled the nest, sticky with honey. Some of the wasps had died a sweet death by drowning – alas, there was nothing I could do about that. The others appeared lethargic. I hoped they would recover in time to carry out their duty.
I have always been taught that unless you act aggressively towards wasps, they will not attack you. So I kept calm when some of them flew toward me to examine me; and true enough, I was not stung.
I grasped the bottom of the bag and turned it inside out, making sure that no wasps were stuck to the plastic, turned it back sticky side in, and folded it into an oblong small enough to fit into my jeans pocket. I left the greenhouse, walking backward, in slow movements, just in case, and nonchalantly walked around two blocks, hands in pockets – discarding the bag into the street litter bin farthest from the house.
The strain nearly killed me.
Just as the wasps killed my (ex!) husband.
Around the time he left for the greenhouse, as I had planned, I was standing, not a hair out of place, at the delicatessen counter at the supermarket, selecting cheeses for the weekend, as I always did.
It had been my original plan to walk back casually, do some light chores, and then call him on the intercom to say that dinner was in ten minutes. I had stopped scheming at that point, since I would then play it on the wing, so it would appear to be a spontaneous thing.
However, my plan was dashed when one of the neighbours met me halfway. She had been running, and her words came out in between her gasps for air. Wasps… husband… urgent… stings… come… ambulance… swell… heart-attack…
I really should be nominated for an Academy Award.
I grabbed her by the arm and shook her, asking her to explain what she was on about. Taking a deep breath, she said that she had heard shouting and the sounds of breaking glass, and had run out of the house just in time to see my (ex!) husband reeling about in the middle of the street, wheezing and lurching, holding a hand to his throat. His face and hands were covered with angry red welts. With great difficulty, he had whispered my name and “supermarket”.
She had pounded on the door of another neighbour, explained the situation and told her to call for an ambulance, and ran to fetch me. It had been faster and easier than I thought it would be. Indeed, I later found out that wasps do not die after stinging someone, since their stingers are not barbed like those of bees, and are therefore not pulled out of their bodies when they attack.
I was told that probably, since the attack on my (ex!) husband happened in an enclosed space, the whole nest had been mobilised to sting. In these cases, unless antihistamine treatment is given within minutes, the victim dies of severe anaphylactic shock.
It could be that he had swatted one of the insects, and it had released a pheromone that warned the others that there was a threat, and caused them to attack him.
I will never know. Not that I want to. The Coroner’s Report states “death by misadventure”.
Stories of an American couple's adventures in Italy
'Ghandi x' Nghid' (I have something to say) is a blog that focuses on current affairs and personal reflections - Andrew Azzopardi