Toxic Cocktail

An offering of flash fiction where an evening garden party takes an intoxicating twist for two of its star-crossed attendees…

by: Mike Hickman

Puppy looked at him with such malevolence that Neil could almost feel the jaws at his throat, and the heat of the crimson geyser as his jugular was severed. He met the bloodshot stare head-on before returning to his drink, which definitely was not the orange juice and lemonade combo that Pauline had claimed it was. “I know the feeling, mate,” he mumbled, “believe me.”

If it wasn’t for Puppy’s growling, Deadly Denise might have overheard him. As far as Neil could ascertain, she was a research chemist working on toxic cleaning goop. He could, perhaps, have pretended he had business to discuss with the other garden party attendees he didn’t know. Or he could have sought out Pauline, wherever she was in the house. “Go and do your bit by Denise,” she’d said, when she’d handed him the drink. “You’re best dealing with her early,” she’d said, her eyes narrowing in that sly way of hers that proved she was still capable of focusing. “As you know, I’m better later on.”

“So, you see,” Denise expounded, “these videos on the internet — these TikTok things — where some fool takes every cleaning product known to man and sprays it all over their bathroom. You know what the most likely outcome of that is?”

Neil did not.

“Swift asphyxiation from chemical fumes, that’s what. They never tell you that in their life hacks, do they?”

The drink didn’t move like orange juice and lemonade. Neil had broken out in a sweat and the staring, snarling dog trapped in its pen at the bottom of the garden was giving him ideas. What had Pauline called it? A Beauceron? She’d looked it up on her phone, showed him the photos, told him it was dangerous, if left to its own devices.

Neil had looked at his own phone. Checked to see if there was a message from Faith. She’d be at the theatre. That had been “their thing.” He should be sitting next to her now, opening up the programme, telling himself that he’d be improved by the experience.

“She thinks she’s so clever, our Denise,” Pauline had said. “She’ll get mauled one day and it’ll be her fault, daft cow.”

“Not a clue when it comes to chemistry, your average Joe,” Denise said. And then, as if the kitchen timer in her head had indicated that her seventy percent of the “conversation” was up, she turned to look at Neil. “I haven’t asked you, have I? How’d you meet our Pauline, then?”

“Excuse me,” Neil said, getting up and nearly losing the phone he’d kept face down in his lap the whole time. “Call of nature.”

“Top of the stairs, straight ahead,” the unperturbed Denise replied. “Oh, and see where your Pauline’s gone, while you’re at it. I’m beginning to think she’s lost herself.”

Neil took off up the Dutch-angled garden. He was sure the lawn hadn’t been at such a rake when he’d arrived.

Puppy’s growling was still audible inside, even over Andrew and Denise’s diabolical choice of music. Neil stopped in the hallway to check on Faith and her theater experience. “You’d like it,” read the text, “it’s very witty.” He deleted the message in case Pauline had a “funny moment” about trust and exclusivity again.

“Yes, Sir, I Can Boogie” was heavy-breathing its worst in the kitchen and, yes, of course, there was Pauline at the counter, swaying in time to the sound of her parents’ misspent youth. Her own misspent present.

“Lover boy,” she said, when he made himself known. Her pupils were saucered on the sauce. “How you doing with Thick as Mince out there, then?”

“Scintillating,” Neil said and Pauline’s lips twitched into the beginning of a smile that wound up slackly retreating somewhere around the side of her head.

He held the drink out, as if to avoid asking the question, found his tie constricting him, tried to loosen it, and then put out a hand to steady himself on a counter that was further away than he’d thought.

“Woah, woah, woah,” Pauline said, catching him and giving him The Look. The one he only saw about this point in the evening. He frowned and her fingers came out to paradiddle at his pouting lower lip. It didn’t do to be serious in Pauline’s world.

“I know,” she said, in a tone of voice he remembered from the first night at the Moonrise Inn. He’d been sliding sideways on the pub banquette and she’d been there to stop him spilling out onto the beer stained carpet. “Deadly’s a bit much, isn’t she?” An arm inveigled its way around his waist. She pointed him towards the jug of unidentified liquid he was sure he hadn’t brought with her. “Another?”

Neil agreed that maybe another would help. He remembered the sparkle in Pauline’s wide, blue eyes that first night. A sparkle that he’d discover was at its most alluring immediately before being extinguished by the booze. 

Just as she seemed to find him most alluring when he was struggling against the slope.

“She been telling you about her packed social life again?” Pauline asked. 

“Eh?” He thought about Denise having a social life, tried to connect that thought with the fact that here she was having a social life right now, and then felt a wash of something all too familiar from that night in the Moonrise Inn. He’d told Pauline that he’d never been that sort of man. She’d said it was early yet.

The hand back on his waist worked its way further south. “Ignore her,” she said, before telling him to turn off the phone. “You’re here now. Let’s have some fun.”

And, just as he had at the Moonrise Inn, Neil heard himself saying that this would not be an altogether bad thing.

Even though he knew that he was seconds away from heading back out into the garden, climbing over the fence to Puppy’s pen, and telling the beast to budge up.

 

Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including 2018’s “Not So Funny Now” about Groucho Marx and Erin Fleming. His co-written play about Stan Laurel, “Lonesome Pine”, reached the second round of the All England Theatre Festival, 2011. He has recently been published in EllipsisZine, Dwelling Literary, Bandit Fiction, Nymphs, Flash Fiction Magazine, Brown Bag, and the Daily Drunk.

 

Read “Tell Me Another” by Mike Hickman here!

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