The Sweetest Things
by Dinamarie Isola
She left a box of half-eaten chocolates sitting on his dresser. Waxy and whitened along the edges, they looked inedible, if not fake. He didn’t bother to confirm what he knew to be true: the expiration date had long come and gone.
Pitching them into the trash, the mounds of chocolate dinged against the metal rim, scattering over the floor.
Even when she wasn’t around, somehow she made work for him.
I don’t need you to take care of me.
Lorelei liked to say that, but getting to her doctor appointments required crossing a six-lane highway. The simplest of outings became a mapping challenge of avoiding roads that had more than two lanes or required left-hand turns. What was he to think of her when local jaunts overwhelmed her?
Bent over, he collected the little turds of chocolate, cursing her as he threw them, one by one, into the garbage pail. Never once did she bother to protect him from his peanut allergy, which made an assorted box of chocolates a land mine of sorts. Even if the candies were nut-free, if manufactured on equipment processing nuts, he could be done for.
Maybe that’s what she wanted.
And when it wasn’t the chocolates, there was her accomplice, Muffin, the zaftig meowing menace whose pilled orange fur looked like a rabbit put through the spin cycle. When that dander-bomb wasn’t making him wheeze, there was the matter of weaving around his ankles like a snake strangling its prey.
“Son-of-a-bitch,” he said. “Scat! Before I break a hip.”
Muffin locked her green eyes on his before giving a slow blink like a perpetually bored teenager.
“That’s her way of saying ‘I love you,’” Lorelei said one night. But he knew better. That cat wanted him dead.
For an instant he considered picking the chocolates out of the trash to play the anaphylaxis version of Russian roulette. Then she’d be sorry. But he didn’t want to die, not yet anyway. Thanksgiving was a month away, and he liked Lorelei’s stuffing, even if she never could make a moist bird. Why did she always make him wait for that one day a year to have stuffing?
“Henry, I’m back,” a voice called against the thwack of the screen door. “Henry?”
He froze in place, wondering if it was Lorelei or that impostor—the one fishing around his checkbook all the time.
“Where are you, honey?”
He slid down to the floor, but Muffin took that as an invitation to plop in his lap, kicking up a plume of fur.
Five quick sneezes later, he opened his eyes to find her in the doorway.
“Are you all right? Why didn’t you answer? Did you fall?” Her chin quivered. So dramatic.
He squinted and tried to read her eyes, the curve of her lips, but everything bled together like melted wax.
“I’m fine,” he growled. His Lorelei would tell him to watch his tone. But this one said nothing.
“Come here, baby. You make Daddy sneeze,” she cooed. And just like that, the stupid cat stretched and walked over, obeying a stranger.
“Ever been to Wappingers Falls?” he asked.
“I was born there; you know that.” She bent down and scratched behind Muffin’s ear. With a jerk, she shot upright and marched over to the dresser. “Where are the checker pieces your grandson brought you? Where are they?” She spun around, then dropped to her knees and looked under the bed.
Crawling on the floor, she peered under the dresser before sitting back on her heels.
“He’ll want to play when he comes. You like that.” She slapped her hand to her forehead.
For a moment he felt sorry for this strange woman in his room, but he didn’t know why. He blinked and looked away.
Her eyes continued to sweep the room, and then she hobbled over to the trash can, still on her knees.
Rifling through the trash, plucking out bits, she said, “Why would you throw this out? It’s the only fun. Your only fun.” Her eyes brimmed but never released, her voice cracking every syllable.
Henry leaned over and grabbed one piece from her hand. He popped it between his teeth and bit down hard.
“Don’t!” she shrieked.
That voice again. It wasn’t Lorelei. It couldn’t be.
A loud crack filled his ears; the warm, sour taste of blood soaked his mouth. There had to be some hell of a nut in there. Macadamia, perhaps? He hoped.
“Stop! Your teeth!” She gripped his elbow and tugged. But he chewed until the blood spilled sticky over his lips.
“This chocolate is awfully hard, and it isn’t sweet at all.” Henry leaned over the pail and spit into it. “Just get me a bag of peanuts, and let’s get this over with.”
“Oh, Henry.” She cupped a hand across her forehead and choked out a sigh. “What am I going to do with you? Just what am I supposed to do?”
Her soft sobs soothed him in a way he couldn’t understand, as familiar as loss and death. But it was a pain that could only come out of love. And not just any love but Lorelei’s love for him.
He put an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. “I’m here, sweetness. Don’t cry.”
She rested her head on his shoulder, panting to catch her breath. And when, finally, she’d had enough of tears, she cradled his face between her palms, her gaze warming him in places he forgot he had.
Dinamarie Isola is actively engaged in exploring the craft of storytelling. Through poetry and prose, she strives to tear down the isolation that comes from silently bearing internal struggles. She received her BA in English/Writing and Communications from Fairfield University. In addition to her work as an investment advisor, Dinamarie has a blog, “RealSmartica,” to help others better understand personal finance. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Apricity Magazine, Avalon Literary Review, borrowed solace, Courtship of Winds, Evening Street Review, Five on the Fifth, Mixed Mag, Nixes Mate Review, No Distance Between Us, Penumbra Literary and Art Journal, Potato Soup Journal, Remington Review, and Tulsa Review.