No matter how much arsenic Ann slipped into her food, her mother simply would not die.
This was partly due to Ann’s original hesitancy. On that first night, she sprinkled the poisonous dust sparingly into Mrs. Natic’s tea, careful to wash the spoon and teacup thoroughly afterwards, grinning with the genuine hope that she might rid herself of her matronly problem. Of course, that hope dissipated the next morning, when Mrs. Natic’s reedy voice issued from behind the guest room door, demanding coffee with a pinch of sugar, no more than a teaspoon, which she was only insisting on because Ann always oversugared her coffee, and she felt it was about time that Ann learned to keep a house properly, which meant sugaring an appropriate amount. It was enough to convince Ann to start using the arsenic as a main ingredient.
The second arsenic administration was the hardest. Ann wasn’t sure how to interpret Mrs. Natic’s continued wellbeing — after all, her mother was still with her, healthy as the hills, which might prove the existence of some benevolent God who frowned on matricide. But then again, her mother was still with her, criticizing her, wasting her precious time, and what else was she going to do with the excess arsenic, anyway? She laced Mrs. Natic’s chowder with poison, and extra chili powder to cover the taste.
As Ann saw it, Mrs. Natic fully deserved to die. She wasn’t that bad a mother, all things considered (though she could’ve used the belt a little more sparingly). But when she moved into Ann’s house — after cuckolding Mr. Natic and being thrown out on the street— Ann was practically forced to contemplate murder. Every morning Ann woke to her mother’s pathetic cries for breakfast in bed, and every afternoon she listened to her mother bemoan the size of the furniture (too big) and the wood it was carved from (too dark), and every night her mother found something wrong with the floorboards, or Ann’s needlepoint, or the way the wind outside crept through the crack in the parlor window. The whole situation was a fiasco, and Ann felt that it was her duty to get the old broad out of the picture. Hence the arsenic.
A week of constant poisoning passed, but no matter how many sweet arsenic flakes Ann mixed into pie crust and sprinkled over salmon, Mrs. Natic only reported minimal discomfort. Fed up, Ann increased the dosage. By the second week, Mrs. Natic complained of chills. Three days later, she reported experiencing diarrhea. Mrs. Natic requested a doctor’s visit when she could no longer stand to attend meals; the doctor diagnosed Typhoid fever and Ann started bringing her mother dinner in bed. When Mrs. Natic complained of stomach pains, Ann rejoiced; when her feet and hands began to tingle, Ann could almost smell Death in his black cloak, coming around the bend. But that was last Thursday, and a lack of further developments meant Ann was running out of steam.
To make matters worse, on Monday, something had shifted. When Ann had gone to check on Mrs. Natic before bed, the crone had asked to hold Ann’s hand, and all of a sudden, with those gnarled, emaciated fingers in her grasp, Ann noticed her mother’s eyes — doleful, apologetic. It must be because the poisoning had taken so long, she reasoned; that must be why her mother’s movements were suddenly frail, not pathetic, why her complaints were distressing, not deplorable. It made Ann queasy, this unanticipated softening.
The next morning Ann boiled oats with more arsenic than usual, angry at herself for her sudden weakness. She couldn’t give up now; she was so close. She brewed herself a cup of coffee — with a tablespoon’s worth of sugar — to steel her trembling fingers. Yet as she entered the guest bedroom, Mrs. Natic croaked out a comment about Ann’s unclean apron, and Ann had to stop. She looked from the thin figure swimming in blankets to the poisoned oatmeal and back again. Something ugly, like remorse, crept into her throat and lodged itself there.
She placed the gruel on a side table and reached for the hand of her mother — her only mother — for the last time.
Mrs. Natic was pronounced dead two days later from Typhoid fever. Ann buried her with the remainder of the arsenic and remembered her whenever a breeze passed through her empty home.