Belladonna

A short story about an argument about belladonna, nightshade, both a poison and a homeopathic remedy.

Profile photo of James Souze

“Good evening, William. Usual seat?” asked the cinema owner from behind the ticket desk. He printed a ticket and passed it to the old man.

The old man walked across the foyer to the concessions stand. He moved stiffly, knees and hips traded for sport and fun many years ago. If you knew his family you would see the stoop of a stiff back passed down from his father, who got it from his father. His aunt, long dead now, had bequeathed him a photograph taken at the start of the twentieth century. William had the same nose as his great-great-grandfather and from there other family features fell into place. Perhaps when he was young he might have been handsome. Now he had ill-fitting, mottled skin and the little white hair he had left was protected by the maroon baseball cap that he always wore.

“Hi Mr. Crow. Vanilla ice-cream and a sparkling water tonight?” asked Katie. She worked at the cinema whilst at school and this was her last summer before leaving for university. “I thought I might see you tonight,” she continued. “You love rom-coms and this one stars Anne Hathaway. Your favourite, right? No, wait. I remember now, Winona Ryder first then Anne Hathaway?”

Mr. Crow smiled deeply at her. He looked her straight in the eye and Katie thought that, for a moment, she could see the 18 year-old boy he once was, flirting with her. He was her favourite customer. She would miss him, she thought. The old-man shuffled towards the cinema to escape his aching body and tired life with a rom-com movie for a few hours.

William settled into his seat and slipped off his shoes. The adverts for products he would never buy played to a small, disinterested audience. William loved the sound in movie theatres, the quality and volume penetrated his dulled hearing.

It had been a difficult few days and William was tired. He hoped that a few hours with Anne Hathaway would lift his spirits. If only? he thought and smiled wryly to himself.

Matthew was dead. The carer had found him in bed. They said he had passed away quietly in his sleep. William wasn’t afraid of dying and some days wished for it to come soon. He’d always found death, funerals and mourning too sad to bear. Another life ended.

Now at funerals he looked at young people, especially other people’s grand-children, and hoped that they would live life to the full, before it was too late. He knew that they wouldn’t; no-one did, it seemed.

William had liked Matthew, really liked Matthew, at least most of the time. The one thing William found hard was Matthew’s commitment to homeopathy. Matthew treated all his ailments, aches and pains with carefully prepared dilutions of specific powders and liquids. It looked like hotchpotch nonsense to William. He read New Scientist and had no time for unproven remedies. He kept his old body going with whatever medicines the doctor would prescribe for him.

The two friends politely tolerated and ignored each other’s views on medicine, it was easier that way. Last week they had argued. William was saddened by the suicide of a young man. The boy had killed himself with belladonna – deadly nightshade – a poison he had bought from a homeopathy supplier. William was incensed, how could the boy so easily buy a poison?

Matthew thought the death was tragic but he didn’t see the connection between the suicide and homeopathy. To him homeopathy only worked when prepared properly, after many dilutions and careful shaking. William and Matthew had argued long into the night. Things hadn’t been quite the same since and now Matthew was dead. William felt sad and ashamed.

William made his way out of the cinema, waving to the owner as he went. He never could remember his name, or the name of pretty girl who sold him ice-cream. He’d never been good with names, faces yes but not names. He used to have to recite someone’s name a dozen times when he first met them to have a chance of remembering it. He considered it too embarrassing or rude to ask someone for their name a second time so was stuck if he couldn’t remember it the first time. These days that didn’t seem to matter. There wasn’t much that he did remember day-to-day and people told him their name all the time, they often shouted it to make sure he heard them.

The memories that stayed with William were the ones that he played to himself over and over. The memories that quickened his pulse and made him feel alive. He was a romantic and often thought of lost loves, his wife and those before her. It was those women he enjoyed thinking about, especially the unrequited loves and what-ifs, they still teased him. That was why he enjoyed rom-coms, a nostalgic frisson.

William started his car, turned on the heated-seat, pushed the button to retract the roof and turned up the radio. Driving a sports car with the roof down, whatever the weather, made him feel alive. He drove home slowly, like an old-man. He always had and his children used to tease him for it.

William parked his car on the drive outside his bungalow. The security light came on and illuminated the police car, its markings reflecting brightly against the dark background. The roof of William’s car shut itself and the latch clicked shut, the windows returned to complete the seal. William switched off the engine and watched the policeman get out of his car, putting his hat on as he did, William noticed. Perhaps it hadn’t been such a good idea to switch the bottles in Matthew’s room after all.

James is a pseudonym for a local writer who, after a long hiatus, is exploring poetry again.

Profile photo of James Souze

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