It is a parent’s job to keep their children safe from harm. The world is a terrible place for anyone to grow up in. Even the luxuries of a third world country offer many dangers and debaucheries.
-- Hari Patel
It was a sixty-year-old, aging house in downtown Toronto, away from the main streets. The house was clean, as a maid service had driven in that afternoon. They had left a golden sticker sealing the roll of toilet paper in both bathrooms. A receipt and feedback checklist had been left upon the kitchen counter.
One of the homeowners was cooking. He was alone in the house. His attention fixed upon the stove timer as it counted down the last few minutes that the lasagna had left.
The man’s freckled hands were still holding a peeler and carrot. He lay them down next to the clean knife he had set aside. As the oven began to chime, he put on oven mitts and approached it. Within, lay a steaming tray of store-bought beef lasagna. The man put it on the stovetop to cool. Oven mitts came off. Beside the stove, he began to cut the carrot. His bare arms were hairy, with a red somewhere between the carrot and the lasagna’s tomato sauce coating.
The sound of a car driving into the driveway.
He worked around the papers, never bothering to read it. Raw carrot sticks fell into an empty bowl, and they were joined by a splash of water. He placed the bowl upon the kitchen table.
He walked into the kitchen and grabbed two plates from a cupboard. Then, he opened a drawer and withdrew cutlery for two. Two drawers down, he took out a large utensil with a flat edge for serving and cutting the lasagna. It had the look of a trowel.
Kali wanted to be outside, working in her backyard. She wished she could be digging and planting in the vegetable garden. She’d be out all afternoon. However, the land was covered in ice and the hard soil was hard. And, always, there was something missing. The yard was small. The garden was smaller. She wanted a flowerbed.
Hari had convinced her that it was best to grow vegetables and, in doing so, to try their best to maintain a local diet. They both found it unreasonable that the grocery stores were filled with vegetables flown in from around the world, when some of Canada’s best farmland was close by. However, it was being used for housing development. And, there was a certain carbon debt to consider when one’s vegetables were trucked up from the United States or flown in from Australia.
He’s a man of ethics, and I admire that about him, she assured herself. She was upstairs, in the study, reading. However, she was not focused on the harlequin romance novel in her hands. Instead, she kept looking out the window, down at the garden. The snowy yard was empty, and the snow fell over it in dunes. It looks almost… baked.
“Y’re right, hun!” the man said definitively. He spoke with a brogue, “Shall I put it back in the oven?”
Hmm… Detective Wallace looked thoughtful. Finally, “No, let’s eat. I’ve had a bad day at work.” She stopped leaning over the lasagna, and took her seat.
He took her hand, forming a circle over the table and around the steaming lasagna. Together, they said a brief blessing over the food; “With this food you make us strong. To you our life and love belong. Thanks be to God. Amen.”
A gust of cold wind. The crashing of a door.
“I’m sorry, Gwain, I thought I’d closed it firmly enough,” Miss Wallace said as she parted hands with him and rose from the table. When she reached the door, she closed it before any more snow and wind got inside. She did not notice that her footprints up to the door outside, and upon the entranceway carpet, were too fresh given the falling snow and temperature inside. Precious warmth.
The curry simmered on the stove, shrimp and potatoes stirred together in a blend of rich spices. The table was set for three. Kali came downstairs quietly, in casual office clothes. Then, she remembered they were celebrating. She had a few spare minutes, thus she scampered upstairs to find one of her prettiest sari.
“Where is our son?” The booming temper of Hari Patel.
Not his best mood, Kali thought as she heard him shout, to nobody in particular, from the kitchen. She was upstairs, in their bedroom. The mirror reflected her trim figure, and the elegant clothing. Kali turned slightly, and decided to replace her hairpin.
The bejeweled butterfly clip was fragile. A wing had chipped off in the midst of unexpected lovemaking. However, she had glued it back on and maintained its elegance. Carefully, she clipped it into place with the aid of the tall, bedside mirror. Then, she withdrew the auburn fastening that had held everything in place. Though a few black strands of hair fell loose, the butterfly managed to clasp most of it neatly.
I look wonderful, Kali observed. She spent her last few moments before dinner relishing the vanity of the evening; the sleek, violet sari. And as the clock chimed seven, she quickly turned and started towards the stairs, “I’m on my way!”
Hari was seated, with an impatient frown. He wore a fine shirt. The letter from the publisher was at one end of the table, to be admired. Opposite the letter, a plate setting lay alone, empty.
“If he comes home smelling like hemp again, I’m gonna give him a—“
“Hush, darling. Let us enjoy this fine evening.” Kali took her most soothing tone, and her arm reached for the dimmer switch. Ashok…
It was a shock to Mary Wallace, when she noticed the maid’s note. Her son had been clean, or so she thought, all these years. He had been to parties. And he had experimented. However, she found it unbelievable that he might have a substance abuse problem. At least the maid had thought they were pharmaceuticals. Nevertheless, she had thought it was her duty to report it. And it was then, that Mary had the urge for another bite of comforting lasagna.
Did they overcharge us? Gwain Wallace read the stunned look on his wife’s face, and knew not what it meant. As she handed him the note, his pharmacist’s eye, accustomed to reading the cryptic writing of doctors, quickly deciphered the maid’s cursive script. He stood up from the table, and followed his wife upstairs, to their son’s room. The job search hasn’t been this hard on him, has it?
The note referenced the exact location. A violet-shaped bowl sat on a low shelf in their son’s closet. Within, lay four obsidian black capsules. No numbers inscribed. Several flat edges, and an overall oval shape.
Gwain Wallace stood more than a full six feet from the hardwood floor. He crouched, to his wife’s level and with a quick look at the pills, “Not from any pharmacy, package or supplement. At least, not a North American one. Got any favors left at the crime lab, Mary?”
She smiled awkwardly, “Plenty.”
Plenty. Twelve black pills, overshadowing the painted center of the violet.
Gwain took four.
Mary took the bowl, with the remaining eight. And then, she realized the absurdity of what they were doing. Their son was twenty-four. Even if he went to the occasional party, these could be anything. She frowned, “Male enhancement pills from the net?”
Gwain looked smug, “Our son?”
“You’re right,” she mused. “Not our son.” Not Gavin.
“Let’s begin with an amateur investigation to satisfy our curiosity. It’ll only cost us one pill.”
“Alright,” Mary agreed with mild reluctance in her voice.
His fingers clenched the plastic halves of a single pill and pulled them apart. They slid away from each other, and then locked against something inside. His fingers twisted them, and they came apart over the corner of the bedroom’s desk.
Gwain brought the halves closer to eye level, turned so that nothing fell out.
“I see nothing,” she was sitting on her son’s bed. “Tissue?”
The pharmacist nodded.
Mary pulled a tissue from a box on the desk, folded it twice, and flattened it against the desk. He tried to pour the contents onto the tissue. Nothing.
“If someone has already emptied these, there will be trace amounts in the shells,” Mary suggested.
“What if the active ingredient is part of the shells?”
Mary folded the edges of the tissue up around it, incase there was anything on it. Then, she took the pill halves.
They left the room. And neither of them noticed the tiny sparkle hovering millimeters from the desk, at the spot where the pill had been opened. They hit the light switch, and it continued to shine, innocently giving off its own light. It scintillated, continuously, now as bright as any star in the sky, visible from the bedroom window.