That Beautiful Feeling
Edgar Allen Poe had favored the idea of poetry as appealing only to the sense of beauty. Curtis agreed. Curtis also believed that life itself should be beauty, and today his feelings were close to being blissful. The park showed as a haze of enchantment around him, but there wasn't really any exaltation or great sense of poetic discernment in his mood. The foliage, flowers and the colors of the dashing children were wonderful if ill defined, like one explosion or splash of expressionist paint.
It was a pity the illusion wouldn't last. A minute or a moment here and there and things would fall flat before him. He wasn’t a poet and currents of emotional splendor didn’t run in his mind. As it was, the good of his life was the odd lucky flash, always left unexpressed.
This time it was sunlight mirrored by windows that put his feet flat back in reality. He was approaching the old stone building at the end of the park walk, which was his place of employment. It was a grim place in his thoughts, and many cobwebbed things were in it. He thought of it as the prison of his life. His wife was a fixture there, although she didn't work there. She had a special lack of beauty. Mainly she was a mistake of youth; being a fool, he'd married a plain girl his parents approved of . . . and if the flower of beauty fades, the weed of plainness mutates. Even the thought of Ann was a blow to decency, and he would always try to think of her as just a word to spare himself the picture.
Now the word tumbled in his mind and with it came the second stage of sobriety, appearing as grayness at the end of the grim tunnel. Yes, today he was getting rid of Ann. Down the road there would be pretty women and a part of his soul would be saved. Not that he was doing it for lust. Just being with a refined lady would be enough, and he didn't mind the idea of paying for it.
Good old Amtac, and good old Jake, he thought as the security guard let him pass through the turnstile to the elevators. Yes, good old Jake and his love of reminiscing and the past. In fact it was because he was such a bore that he'd earned the name good old Jake. There wasn't anything that didn't remind Jake of the way it was in 1966. But all the suffering Jake had put him through had a payoff. Jake was a little on the dishonest side; he'd used Amtac equipment to invent a new drug. He'd even tested it on Amtac lab animals. If Jake was found out, he'd be shuffled out in a hush-hush affair. They'd never let it get out that he was testing a sort of designer strychnine on animals, killing them horribly.
Why did Jake do it? Well, it was because a pal of his from '66 was a two-bit actor that wanted a drug that'd make his face twitch like he'd been dosed with strychnine, only without harming him. Jake failed of course. Jake always failed. His new drug killed rabbits faster than bullets could.
Now, it has to be the perfect crime, Curtis thought as he unlocked a heavy metal cabinet. Edgar Allen Poe, the clever fellow, had favored thinking things through before going ahead with them. And Curtis pictured the upcoming events all while fancying he was Poe thinking through a plot. It was beauty of a sort. He would pop home at lunch, slip the colorless, odorless liquid in Ann's drink and she'd die. She'd convulse like she'd taken strychnine, and the homicide fellows would check for that. But there'd be nothing. It was a new drug of unusual composition. Ann's death would be listed as natural, and for sure, Jake wouldn't open his mouth about it.
Sunshine broke through; ice cracked in his mind. He watched people pass on the street. It was the little things that made them happy. That he knew. Only a fool would think happiness was within. Surround yourself with those beautiful little things, and you'll be happy. Yes, he knew the secret of life, and his joy would be real. The reality of beauty would be his, and in a way, he pitied those poor deluded idiots out on the street. They were probably happy about going to work or something equally ridiculous.
Ann served him some tuna salad. Ann was such a dear, and he ate with relish, knowing she would never suspect the truth. She looked at him with motherly eyes; in her pasty-faced kind of way, she adored her husband. Then she took a sip of lemonade and the situation exploded. The table went over and china shattered as she began to twitch and dance like a marionette. Curtis ducked back, feeling satisfaction mingle with surprise. He could see her face twisting like a demonic mask. It was the only hideous sight that'd ever made him smile. Ann was still shaking, bent double on the floor when he dashed out and returned to work.
Curtis wasn't at all surprised when a policewoman arrived at Amtac, but the color quickly drained from his face when the news wasn't of a death. His hands shook, yet he took what pleasure he could from the policewoman's pretty face as she drove him to the hospital. On the way, he learned that a repairman had found her as he'd planned. But why hadn't she died?
“The doctor thought you should be at her side,” the policewoman said as they entered the emergency wing, then what light he had left in his mind turned to gloom as they approached the end of the hall. A doctor beckoned and they went in to find Ann surrounded by the usual intensive care equipment. Her face was covered by a mask and he thought he could hear her mumbling feebly, “Curtis, Curtis.”
“Why is she wearing a mask?” he said with genuine surprise in his tone.
Rather than answer, the doctor gently removed the mask. “We're not sure what she ingested, but it has destroyed her facial muscles. They won't relax and resume their natural state. You're lucky to still have her. She'll recover of course, but I doubt her looks can be saved.”
“She's a dedicated woman,” the policewoman said. “She's been calling your name all afternoon.”
Curtis turned to stone and remained silent as Ann's hideous face rose up, killing his dreams. He knew his future was hell. “Curtis, Curtis,” she mumbled and at first he choked, then he shook all over like he'd taken some of the drug himself. Falling to his knees, he wept.