I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing apples, bananas, and cyanide. Cyanide is crucial to the success of any proper picnic, or so my mother used to say before the men in white coats took her away to Happy Town. A little pinch of cyanide can go a long way. I learned this for myself, when I was seven and my sister was three. Terrible little brat. Given to tantrums and chasing her big sister around the house with a cleaning implement. Half a drop of cyanide in her milk every other Monday for four months soon made her as docile as a lamb—a lamb with cyanide poisoning. She lived, of course. I was very careful, even as a child, that the doses be just so. I love my sister, truly. She just needed to learn her lesson, and she did, admirably. Even mother was proud. So very proud. I was her darling angel. Father, on the other hand, had his own ideas about poison.
My father was a doctor by trade, a forensic pathologist to be precise. As a practitioner of so-called ‘morbid anatomy,’ he was well versed in all manner of poisons, both exotic and mundane. His breadth of knowledge far exceeded dear mother, although his experience was of a more academic nature. He had examined countless cadavers in the morgue or on the operating table, but no matter how he dreamed, not a single one was because of him. He remained resolutely innocent until the end of his days, which did not come until he was well into his eighties.
For mother, I think he was an eternal disappointment. She thought she was marrying a forensic pathologist with homicidal tendencies. As it turned out, however, she had married a forensic pathologist with repressed homicidal tendencies, and he remained resolute in his repression. Even worse, from her albeit warped point of view, he was too intimate with poisons and their antidotes. During the course of their marriage, he survived, to my knowledge, nine separate poisoning attempts. I have no doubt there were others I was not privy to. Nevertheless, father visited her once a week in Happy Town for the duration of her stay, and after he passed away, she followed him only three months later.
Poison was suspected but never proved.