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suspense by Donna Dawson

“Where’s the onion bulbs?” Agnes ranted at Bentley.

He tried hard to shut out the acid tones. Her voice wasn’t that loud but it cut through the humid air like the snap of a piano string. Scrambling through the garden shed, he searched into the corners of each shelf.

Where are the onion bulbs anyway?

He was sure he had them. Nuts! He didn’t even like onions. But every year he was expected to buy them, plant them, tend them and harvest them for her. Every year he obliged. It was easier than saying ‘no’.

“Bentley! Have you found them yet?” Her calls pierced through the aged and graying boards. He didn’t want Agnes to enter the shed.

“I’m coming dear.” He hollered back to her, knowing that to ignore her was folly. Agnes hated being ignored. “I’ve just misplaced the bulbs; that’s all.”

“Well do hurry, Bentley. I’ve got just the right spot for them. Alongside the pear trees this year, don’t you think?” She stood in the open doorway and he tossed a nervous glance in her direction.

“Yes, my dear. I think that would be a lovely place.”

Shuffling to the end of the building, he pushed his hand to the back of the last shelf, a rough-hewn board perched on rusting brackets, where an assortment of bulbs and corms were stacked in their paper bag wrappings. A shadow of a smile lifted the corner of his mouth and he scooped up a worn package filled to the top with brown papery skinned bulbs. A few stray ones appeared to have dropped from the bag and as he added those to the top, his smile widened. Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing that he tended the garden.

“I noticed that some of last year’s onions were still on the shelf, my dear. Would you like me to cook them up for you?”

Agnes turned her head a notch sideways while keeping her eyes on him. She seemed to assess his generous gesture. Bentley never cooked. A nod was her answer and he scurried past her as though he couldn’t wait to complete the garden task and get to the kitchen.

To say that they worked side by side would be a stretch of the imagination. Bentley was used to having Agnes stand over him while he worked. The issuing of orders was standard fare and the watching of every move he made was something that he had long ago grown to tolerate. With each bulb placed in the ground Bentley felt Agnes’ eyes boring into him. With every step toward the end of the row, her words weighted down on him.

“It’s not quite straight Bentley, dear. You need to move that one a bit further to the left. No, more than that, dear. Yes, that’s right.”

Each movement received an opinion and Bentley couldn’t wait until the task was over. The last onion found its place in the correct position directly under the stretched string that marked the row and he stood and arched his back in a stretch. The smile tugged at his lips again as he felt the three bulges in his jacket pocket and as though even his thoughts were lorded over by her, Agnes asked about the remaining bulbs.

“You didn’t plant those onions you promised to cook me, now did you?” She craned her neck to peer into the sagging brown bag lying in the dirt near his left shoe.

This time he did show the smile and patted his jacket. “No, my dear, I put them here. I’ll just go wash up and start the frying pan.”

Bentley didn’t wait for permission but snatched up the sack and headed straight to the back porch. He resisted the urge to look back yet wondered what the expression on her face would be. He never walked away from her like that and yet, he simply couldn’t resist this once. Her retribution would be delayed—perhaps canceled altogether if he did things right.

Washing his hands well, he pulled the bulbs out and slipped on the rubber gloves that Agnes insisted he wear when washing dishes. With a small paring knife that lay on the counter, he peeled, chopped and loaded his treasures into a frying pan. It was all he could do not to whistle as he plopped a dollop of butter on top. Bentley cranked the stove to high just as Agnes opened the porch door and he scooped up the peelings and deposited them in the compost pail.

“Now don’t burn the blessed things, my dear! They smell a bit strong, don’t they?” Bentley watched Agnes pull in a nose full of steaming air.

“Likely just the age of them. Sometimes they get a bit spicy over the winter, don’t you think?”

Bentley stared at the sizzling dish and watched as the pieces turned brown.

“Would you like me to pop the bread into the toaster or will you do that?”

Again, he received the strange look. In silence, Agnes pulled open the loaf of bread and dropped two slices into their slots. A moment later they jumped from their beds and she slathered them with butter.

Bentley lifted the frying pan in his gloved hands and emptied it onto her plate. He stood in silence while she ate and then he removed the gloves and filled them with bleach.

“What are you doing that for?” Agnes chewed the words out around a mouthful of food.

“It was time they were cleaned. That’s all.”

Bentley dumped the bleach down the drain and set the gloves on the sink. He watched her scrape the plate clean. He smiled again; planting season would be a disappointment for Agnes this year, but not for him. Then Bentley sat back to wait for the crocus bulbs he had cooked to kill his wife.

Copyright 2010 by Donna Dawson

Donna Dawson is the pen name of Donna Fawcett. Fawcett is a creative writing instructor for Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. Her latest suspense novel, Vengeance, won two Canadian national book awards. She maintains a website at Donna Dawson.

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