Poison Pizza Party
By Lisa Johnson
“Yuck.” Tony grimaced as he spit into his napkin. “You’re right, that meatloaf does taste worse than dog food. I’ll bring you a nice juicy meatball sub next Sunday when I visit.”
Without hesitation, Harold replied, “How about pizza? I’d give anything for a cheesy pepperoni pizza. Bring me one of them, will you? That will give me something to look forward to… besides dying, that is, son. Everyone else here is so senile, you can’t carry on a conversation with them, and the nurses are too busy to sit and chat with a broken down old man.”
Tony sighed. “Oh dad, I’m sorry I can’t visit more often. My new boss is a tyrant and she’s been making us work double shifts lately.”
“Well, see you Sunday then, son.”
Tony leaned over, hugged his father, turned and walked out. Lost in dismal thoughts, he didn’t see the woman exiting the elevator and he bumped into her, causing her to drop her vase of flowers.
“Sorry. I’m a klutz,” he blurted out.
Un-phased, the short, stocky, fair skinned woman amicably replied, “Don’t worry about it. I can buy more flowers in the gift shop. Today is my mother’s hundredth birthday.”
Impressed, Tony shook his head. “No kidding, one hundred.”
“Being a centenarian isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. My mother is permanently bedridden from a stroke.”
“That’s a tough break,” he commented.
Tony looked down at the mess of shattered glass and flowers on the floor. “Let’s clean these up and I’ll buy you an even bigger bouquet.”
“Are you visiting a relative here?” The woman inquired.
“Yes, my father.”
“I was just thinking, instead of replacing my flowers, could ask your father to visit my mother? She’s bored and lonely, being confined to bed day after day.”
Tony considered. “Is your mother still lucid?”
“Yes, her mind is as clear as a bell.”
Without thinking it through, Tony replied, “I could mention it. When dad first got here he made some friends, but one by one they died. He hasn’t made any new friends because he can’t find anyone coherent enough to carry on an intelligent conversation. Assuming he agrees, what’s your mother’s name and room number?”
“Her name is Mildred Baker and she’s in room 213.”
Tony extended his hand. “I’m Tony.
“I’m Joanne, a pleasure.” Her handshake was firm.
When the chaos of flowers was cleaned up, they walked down the white corridors, side by side, dodging residents parked in wheelchairs. Joanne stopped abruptly, turned to Tony, and said, “You know, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to introduce your father to my mother.” Joanne stiffened. “Mildred’s miserable. She constantly tells me she wishes her time was up and prays every night that she’ll die in her sleep. It breaks my heart.” Joanne broke out in tears.
Tony put a hand on the small of her back and guided her to the nearest bench where they sat.
Joanne pulled snug her gray shawl. She sniffled and said, “I’m sorry to burden you. We just met.”
Tony looked at her with sympathy.
“I don’t have anyone else to talk to about this. Mildred has been a wonderful mother and I love her dearly, but it upsets me to see her suffering. It’s not fair. I just want it to end.” Fresh tears poured out.
Tony contemplated her words while stroking his moustache. He looked around cautiously, and when he was satisfied nobody was in earshot he whispered, “Joanne…” He had her attention, but faltered.
Their eyes met. “What is it, Tony?” she encouraged.
“Let’s go somewhere else to talk. Do you have a minute to grab a cup of coffee? There’s a Starbucks just around the corner.”
“I have all afternoon,” she answered.
On the elevator, they chitchatted about the bitter cold weather. While they navigated the treacherous icy streets, the winter wind whipped. After situating themselves at a booth far from other customers, Joanne removed her scarf and hat. She ordered a latte, Tony an espresso, which he immediately managed to spill on the table. He mopped it up with a handful of napkins.
After more small talk about Joanne’s former career as a school teacher including anecdotes of tasteless practical jokes that her students played on her, Joanne cut to the chase. “Tony, I’m dying of curiosity. What did you want to discuss?”
Warmed by the coffee and feeling more at ease, Tony confided, “After hearing about your mother’s situation, I think you’ll understand– I’m bringing pizza for my dad next Sunday. We had an agreement that when he asked for pizza it was code that he is ready to go. I’m a chemist, and I have the means. It wouldn’t be traceable in the blood, but I’m not sure I should go through with it.”
Joanne raised her eyebrows. Inwardly, Tony chastised himself for confiding in this stranger, who probably thought he was a perverse monster.
Her face lit up and she whispered, “You could be the answer to my mother’s prayers.”
“What do you mean?” Tony asked.
“If mother lived in Switzerland where euthanasia is legal, she‘d have been spared months of suffering. She dreads the possibility of being stuck in bed for years.” Joanne pressed her hands together. “Let’s throw a pizza party for both of them next Sunday. Order an extra-large pizza. It would be the best birthday present I could give my mother.”
“Are you sure, Joanne?”
“I’m absolutely sure.” Joanne shook her head emphatically.
“Okay, then I’ll honor my father’s wishes. I’ll convince him to introduce himself to Mildred. Meet me next Sunday at noon in room 213,” Tony soberly replied.
One Week Later
Pizza box in hand, Tony entered room 213 where he found Harold and Mildred chatting. Joanne was absent. Tony felt a sensation of panic. His palms began to sweat and he felt light-headed.
Tony sat down. “Mildred, isn’t your daughter coming?”
“Yes, Joanne called to say she’s on her way.”
Tony’s phone rang. He checked his caller ID and frowned in annoyance. “Can you believe it, it’s my boss. Some nerve she has calling me on Sunday, but I’d better take it. I’ll be right back.” He placed the pizza on his chair and stepped into the hall for privacy. It took him ten minutes to extricate himself from the call.
Back in room 213, Tony took a seat. Mildred, whose blouse was stained with tomato sauce, was nibbling on crust. The pizza box was half empty. Harold licked his fingers and exclaimed, “Son, this is the best pepperoni pizza I’ve ever eaten. Beaming, he went on, “Thanks for introducing me to Mildred. We’ve really hit it off. She’s a terrific conversationalist and a wily Scrabble player, but I can outmaneuver her at chess. For the first time in years, I can actually say I’m glad to be alive.”
Tony gagged on his meatball sub.
“Tony, you look pale. What’s the matter, son?”
“Dad, you asked for pizza. That was our code.”
Harold interjected, “You did a brave thing, and I’m proud of you. Mildred and I enjoyed our final days together, but it’s our time. I love you, son.”
Mildred regarded the remains of the pizza and said, “Destroy the evidence and high-tail it out of here. We called Joanne to tell her not to come so she won’t be incriminated. Go in peace, Tony.” She smiled serenely.
Tony hugged his father one last time, grabbed the pizza, and closed the door behind him.
Lisa Johnson’s short stories and articles have recently been published in a variety of magazines and newspapers including Presidio Sentinel, Phoenix Rising and Foliate Oak Magazine. She resides in San Diego, California with her husband. The author writes to stay sane and to entertain.