The Old Damned Fool


By Anthony Lukas



She was singing to herself when the old man came into the kitchen. He used to enjoy her singing when they had first been married, all those years ago, but now he mostly found it irritating. He grumped to the table and she turned from the stove with, "Breakfast almost ready," and kind of cheery smile.

He sat down in the chair that he had been sitting in for almost forty years, and surveyed the pills she had lined up at his place. Blood pressure, blood thinner, heart rhythm and he forgot what else. She kept it all straight for him. Even changed to this capsule form that was easier for him to swallow what with his throat muscles acting up as they had been the last few months. He coughed and cleared his throat loudly and spat phlegm into tissue he always carried. He felt a little dizzy this morning.

The old lady cringed at the noise. All of his bodily noises just set her teeth on edge. Well, she smiled to herself, not for much longer. And he's the one who decided it years ago, she chuckled.

"What's funny?" he grumbled.

"Oh, nothing, nothing. Just remembering what you used to say." She put his breakfast in front of him. He took a forkful.

"What did I used to say?" spraying bits of egg onto the table.

And not much more of that, she thought.

He stopped eating and put his hand to his chest. "Don't feel so good." He shook his head. He felt like he was in a kind of fog. "Maybe just coffee," and took a sip. Then he remembered, "What did I used to say?"

"When we were younger," she said. And still in love, before we grew to detest each other, she didn't say.

"Younger?" he said. He didn't remember much about being younger any more. The present occupied his thoughts pretty much. Remembering what pills to take. And regrets. Lots of regrets, eying her across the kitchen.

"When we were in our twenties and thirties, Horace, and there was some old person in front of us in line..."

"What line?'

"Any line," she snapped. She took a breath. "When we'd be in the supermarket or something and there was some old person in front of us taking forever, fumbling around for money or something, you'd say, 'Mary, if I ever get like that, just kill me.'"

"I said that?"

"Or we'd be behind an old man in line at McDonalds or something, and he couldn't see the menu and the counter person would have to explain everything to him, you'd tell me, 'When I get like that, just put me out of my misery.'"

"Huh, don't remember," he said, looking at her, and it seemed to him she looked a little fuzzy. Got to get new glasses, he thought.

"Well, you did. A lot," she said. For years and years, she thought. She'd always laughed it off. He'd stopped saying it some years back, but she remembered. As they grew weary of each other over the years, she remembered. She remembered the day he shouted at her that she wasn't much of wife, that she wasn't dutiful like she should be, and she remembered what he had always said and she resolved to be "dutiful."

"Why are we talkin' about that?"

"Well, remember last week we were at the SavingsMart and you couldn't find your credit card? Had a whole line of people behind us."

"Well, I found it. It was in the wrong pocket and..."

"And," she interrupted, "at the gas station when you almost pulled away with the gas hose still in the car?"

"Well, you had distracted me with your talking. You're always talking when I'm trying to do something."

"And you're always forgetting to close the garage door — "

"Well — "

"And at the Rib Shack last month, it was so busy and you kept changing your mind and that poor waitress — "

"I just couldn't remember what I'd decided on! So what?!" He could feel his heart racing, he panted a little. Have to catch my breath, he thought.

"Remember how you would curse when you got stuck behind some old 'geezer' driving too slowly on the highway? 'If I ever become a stupid old geezer, just put me down,' you'd say."

"I don't — "

"And last month you got pulled over for impeding traffic, doing 25 in a 45 zone, with your right hand blinker on for a couple of miles?" She laughed.

"I was looking for a street! So I was going a little slow, so sue me!" He was angry and wanted to leave but his legs felt leaden. "What of it?" he managed to say.

"You are all of those old people you hated when you were young, all those old men you made fun of. You are them!"

He couldn't quite catch his breath. He stared at her, her face covered with a triumphant smile, a smile he had grown to despise. He watched her spoon her sugar into her coffee and stir, clinking on the sides of the cup the way he hated. And she knew he hated it, damn her. "Why are you saying these things to me?" he wheezed.

"So you understand. You admit you're now one of those people you thought were useless and in the way?"

"I..."

"Doesn't matter, anyway," she said. "You are them. And as your dutiful wife," clink, clink, "I have done what you have told me to do."

"Wha — ," he managed.

"I've been subtracting a little something and adding a little something to your capsules."

He tried to focus on the bottles in front of him. His pills?

"For months I've been opening those capsules and taking out some of the medicines and filling them up again with strychnine." She smiled at him over her coffee cup as she drank, watching him stare at her with his stupid eyes as she refilled her cup and spooned in more of her sugar. His stupid eyes followed the movement of her hand, before he straightened, refocused on her face.

"What are you saying?" he croaked.

"I'm saying, you damned old fool, that I have fulfilled your wishes. You wanted me to kill you when you became like them. Well you are and I have." Again she smiled her triumphant smile. "And with all your ills, whose going to think you died of poison?"

He stared for a moment or two then slumped down in his chair, making a noise in his throat. Almost done, she thought, adding just a bit more sugar to her coffee. Clink, clink. She was feeling a little light headed at the thought of it. The noise continued as he stared at her. Then, in mid sip, she realized he was laughing.

He croaked and wheezed. "I found that box of strychnine up in the cupboard," waving vaguely with his hand. "And I've been adding it to your damned — ," and his mouth continued to move but no sound was coming out. Then his eyes became still and he gently slouched forward in his chair, his head coming to rest in his breakfast. "Sloppy to the end," one part of her mind was thinking, while another was thinking "what was that he was saying" and yet another part was thinking how it was getting kind of hard to focus on the old damned fool. Clink.


Anthony Lukas is a former attorney and former deputy district attorney. For the past 18 years he has owned and operated a chocolate shop. He began writing stories about two years ago. In July, 2013 omdb! published Death of Mr. Putnam. The author has also been published in Bewildering Stories.


Copyright 2014 Anthony Lukas. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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