She looked up from the magazine a few minutes later, a gleam in her eyes. Gladys had found her method. She knew what she had to do. She made her preparations carefully, putting all the instruments of torture on the kitchen counter. All the ingredients were easily found. Pulling a few bowls from the cabinets, she began to apply what she’d learned in the article. He’ll never know what hit him, she thought. Grinning for the first time in days, Gladys put her plan into motion, and waited for Mr Bottoms to come home from the mine.
And waited. And waited. Five hours later, he still hadn’t arrived, and the instruments of torture were getting cold. Gladys frowned. Whatever could be keeping him?
She went to the window to look out at the yard, and noticed the minister from the local village chapel coming up the walkway. She pulled back from the window, nearly stumbling over the small table behind her. A knock at the door. Pulling herself together, Gladys opened the door.
The minister stood there, looking down at her as if from a great height. “I’m sorry to inform you, madame, but your husband has been injured in an accident at the mine. I’ve been sent to bring you there. He’s asking for you.”
Gladys grabbed her purse and followed the minister out to his vehicle. They drove to the infirmary near the mine. The minister helped Gladys from the car. As she made her way inside, she saw the clouds of smoke from the now-burning mine entrance. Gladys stumbled. The minister took her arm and helped her inside.
A doctor came to meet them. “You’re just in time, Mrs. Bottoms. Please follow me.”
He led them toward one of the curtained alcoves on the west side of the building. A male nurse waited outside the curtain. He looked at Mrs. Bottoms without expression. Then he pulled the curtains open.
There on the hospital bed, bruised and bloody, was a man. His eyes were closed, head bruised, and hair bloody. She made her way to the bedside, keeping her eyes on his. “Mrs. Bottoms is here,” she said in a whisper.
His eyelids flickered. She took his hand and squeezed it, tightly. His eyes opened slowly, milky and red. A raspy voice came from him, a voice she’d never heard in her life. “Mrs. Bottoms? Who is Mrs Bottoms?”
Gladys gasped and fell backward onto the side chair. The doctor went to her. “I didn’t want to say anything until he saw you. But it’s obvious something is wrong. He doesn’t remember the accident. He doesn’t remember anything for the last thirty years. Mrs. Bottoms, I’m afraid your husband isn’t your husband, at least, not in his memory.”
Gladys got her breath back and nodded, thinking of what she’d almost done to this stranger. Because this wasn’t Mr Bottoms. The man in the bed looked nothing like her husband. His eyes were the wrong color, his hair bright red.
She struggled to her feet and confronted the doctor. “This isn’t my husband at all, Doctor. Where is my husband?”
The doctor, the minister and the nurse all gaped at her. The minister recovered first, saying, “Mrs. Bottoms, this IS Jack Bottoms. We’ve all known him our whole lives. How can you say it’s not him?”
“Because, Minister, my husband is George Bottoms, and he has grey hair and no muscles to speak of. He works in the mine offices, not the mine itself. This, my dear minister, is my husband’s ne-er do well grandson. And I’d thank you to tell me where my husband is?”
She glared at them, waiting for the other shoe to drop. The minister stared at her. “But, I married the two of you….” His voice died away as a shuffling sound came from the hallway, along with the creaky sound of wheels rolling on the floor. A man came through the doorway, hat in his lap.