Len greeted his wife Nan, gone for 2 years but not forgotten. He greeted her every morning, chatted to her at every meal and said goodnight. Len was lonely. His daughter often popped in but his days were long and the nights were quiet.
A retired dock worker, Len’s funds were limited and he wouldn’t search for excitement anyway, he missed his wife and didn’t like to do things alone. The shape of his butt on the worn couch was testament to what he did most days. He would die sad and quietly.
Every few days he would wander down to the local market, spending time going through fake antiques that he would never buy. Sniffing unusual vegetables he would never try. He was a man of routine. With his eczema he didn’t try anything new in case it flared up.
Len took longer than usual he had forgotten his glasses at home and had to lift everything close to see what it was. He kept waiting until no-one was looking. Ground beef for hamburgers, fresh rolls, tomatoes and a luxurious stick of butter filled his basket. Bottled gherkins and sauces at home would finish the feast and he was looking forward to supper. Len’s burgers were legendary, in his own mind anyway. Bekka came through most Wednesday’s and he loved to cook for her.
Halfway home he realized he didn’t get onions. Sighing in frustration he knew he would have to go back. Caramelized onions were part of the experience and Bekka’s favorite. A ways down the road he noticed another greengrocer who also had potted plants available. Chrysanthemums, herbs, tulips and hyacinth’s abounded and brightened his day. He wished he had money for one for Bekka but it was onions or a plant. He bought them and went on his way.
Back home the smell of onions, garlic and burgers made his stomach growl but he waited for his daughter. Ping.
Pushing his glasses up his nose he read the text from her.
‘Dad, I’m so sorry’ her text said. She was stuck at work. That decision saved her life and cost him his. Disappointment showed on his face but not his message back.
‘More for me’ he said with a smiley face that took him forever to find. Often he sent the wrong one prompting a call from her asking why he sent a crying face!
Len enjoyed his burgers smothered with a huge pile of onions and sauce in front of the TV. Fisting himself in the chest he gave a satisfied belch and finished his nightly beer. He was relaxed and quiet when the cramps started. Damm! He thought.
‘Nan, Bicarb?’ he asked. Strange cause the burgers were fresh and the meat a healthy pink. He burped again feeling sick and decided to call it a night. Pity Len didn’t know what was happening it would cost him his life.
Len woke up feeling shocking. His heart was pounding, his mouth full of spittle and his bed was sweated wet. He tried to stand and a wave of nausea caught him, he ran to the toilet. The burgers and everything else exited at a speed. He felt weak and put his hot forehead on the bath to cool.
‘Must be food poisoning’ he said to Nan. When he felt better he climbed back into bed determined to wait it out. He didn’t want to worry his daughter who would have insisted he go to emergency. If only he had.
Len had the worst night of his life. His breathing became labored, the nausea was out of control and he felt weak. His heart pounded in his chest and his skin turned a bright red. Morning came and he was weaker and disorientated. Len wanted to make tea but could only manage a few sips of water.
It took him until early evening to die. Len was elderly and couldn’t fight the dehydration from vomiting and sweating. He fell into a coma and went to find Nan. His daughter would find him the next day. His death certificate said: “Death by dehydration”.
Saturday came. An elderly couple were doing their weekly shopping at the little grocer where Len had bought his onions. The owner greeted them with a smile. ‘Need help?’
‘No, we just need some onions.’ The owner paled.
‘No! No! Those aren’t onions.’ He led them to the vegetables and they carried on shopping.
‘Rodney?’ the owner called his shop boy.
‘Make a big sign in red for the tulip bulbs. They’re poisonous, we don’t want anyone thinking they are onions!’