‘I’m sorry, ma’am. Can you tell me what happened?’
Maddi Bellucci sits calmly. She stares down at her hands, watching them change colour – blue, red, blue – by the light of the ambulance outside.
The paramedics are no longer in a hurry. In fact, one has made Maddi a strong cup of tea and is speaking to her in soothing tones. ‘Ma’am, is this your house? Ma’am, is that your husband? Ma’am, can you tell me what happened?’
Maddi closes her eyes to steady her breathing. She looks quite convincing.
‘Hi, Luca,’ she called, hearing the front door close. Maddi was busy with the delicate process of tempering melted chocolate back to its original snap and sheen. Now that she was on leave, this was the most scientific act she had performed in weeks. It was, she told herself, as satisfying as her real work.
‘Hi,’ he said shortly, taking his seat on the kitchen stool. From there, Luca could watch his wife in the kitchen with the satisfaction of a man who, now that his wife was home and expecting, had everything. Tonight, however, he was troubled. He reached for the Scotch and soda Maddie handed him, drinking deeply.
They were silent for a while, as was their usual way. Luca was often tired after a long day’s work; he used the drink to unwind. Maddi found his silent company an improvement over the silent solitude she endured every day. She went on with the scraping and tasting, idly rubbing her belly when various toes and elbows nudged her from inside.
She smiled. ‘She’s active tonight. She likes chocolate.’ Maddi dipped her finger in and licked it, sure that the chocolate had reached optimal temperature. She poured a little onto the marble board and began scraping it into curls, thus finishing the dessert they would take to his mother’s tonight. She had just enough time to clean up though, unfortunately, she spilled chocolate down her dress and had to take a quick shower.
When she returned, she found her dear husband dead on the kitchen floor.
‘It was my biscuits,’ she sobs, having no trouble producing tears.
‘Biscuits?’ asks the paramedic.
Maddi nods. ‘Yes. My husband is allergic to peanuts. I read that if a mother eats peanuts while pregnant her baby won’t be allergic so I … I made peanut butter biscuits.’ She takes a moment to sob before continuing. ‘I hid them in the pantry so he wouldn’t find them. He must have gone looking for a snack while I was upstairs and … and when I came down …’
The paramedic sitting by Maddi shares a significant glance with the other by the supine corpse. The other pulls out a phone.
The police arrive 20 minutes later.
‘I’m sorry, ma’am’ says a kindly officer. ‘Can you tell us what happened?’
Maddi, admittedly, left a few things out. They were as follows:
‘Hun, what’s up?’ she had asked, watching him stare into the bottom of his glass.
She waited a beat, noticing the muscle twitching at the corner of his eye.
Perhaps he was tired. She looked at the clock. ‘Hun, we should leave in 10 minutes. Do you want to change?’
He did an unusual thing then: he poured himself another drink.
‘Are you very tired?’ Maddi asked.
‘Yes, very tired. And hungry.’
‘Because,’ she continued as he went to the pantry, ‘if you’re too tired to go to your mother’s it’s not too late to cook something here. There’s plenty of food …’ She stopped. His phone lit up. He was too busy searching for snacks to notice.
Good luck telling her, my love, just be honest and you’ll be fine. Why not meet me again tomorrow-
The screen faded to black.
Maddi began to shake. ‘Hun—’
‘Maddi,’ he said firmly, ‘just…’ He sighed. He finally looked at her. ‘I have something to tell you.’
Her heart pounded painfully. The baby jerked, perhaps in response to her wild heartbeats. She felt a sort of muffled white noise inside herself.
‘It will be a bit of a shock to hear,’ he went on, ‘but we’ll just have to get it over with.’
Maddi stood perfectly still then, watching her husband reach into the pantry for crackers. A chill ran up her back and over her shoulders.
‘There’s a box of biscuits in behind the pasta,’ she suggested calmly. He hadn’t had sugar in weeks. Perhaps tonight he would like to indulge.
She focused solely on the biscuit in his hand, then in his teeth and then it was gone.
In an instant he was down, and there he lay; still as in sleep.
She blinked. Alright, so he’s dead.
She was having trouble deciding whether it was her fault. Legally speaking, of course. What if it was? What would they do with her?
She ran her hands over her belly. She might not have wanted it, but it was here and now entirely hers. What did they do with the babies?
Extraordinary, how quickly the mind can clear. She didn’t waste a moment. She picked up the bowl of melted chocolate, stood quietly for a moment, and placed it on the edge of the bench. It hung on for a moment as though reluctant to let go. On its way to the floor it spilled warm liquid chocolate down her dress.
‘Oh, no,’ she told her husband. ‘I’d better go rinse off.’
She stepped over him and ran upstairs to shower. They were running late for dinner.
All I am going to do, she told herself on her way down, is get the cake from the kitchen. Then we will get in the car and go. Perfectly ordinary. And if, when I get downstairs, I should come across anything unusual, or tragic, it would be a complete shock.
She had herself quite convinced. Therefore, by the time Maddi got downstairs she was humming quietly, wondering what pretentious Italian fare her mother-in-law would serve.
Naturally, then, when she came across the purple, swollen visage of her husband it was a complete shock. She reacted accordingly, kneeling by him and shaking him, calling his name and weeping. After a while, she went to call for help.
Maddi is staring in disbelief at her mother-in-law. She had brought along a young woman who sported Luca’s nose. Maddi can’t quite fathom what her mother-in-law is saying.
‘My husband was a very cruel man,’ she is saying, defensively. ‘And it only happened once.’ She clutches the young woman to her, tears welling. ‘I had to give her away. Luca only found out a week ago. He was…’ she breaks off in a wail.
The young woman continues. ‘He was going to tell you tonight; he was going to introduce us.’ She smiles sadly. ‘I never got to know him.’
Maddi clears her throat, begins to shake. Just her fingertips.
The investigating police officers feel there is a certain ambiguous nature to the death of Luca Bellucci. The coroner is called.
When he arrives, he completes his examination carefully before making his way to the hysterical widow in the living room.
‘I’m sorry, ma’am, but can you tell me: what happened?’