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Lactose Intolerance
About the Author: Gerard J Waggett has published four short stories in "Mystery Magazine," the latest being a Sherlock Holmes Adventure. This Valentine's Day, Mr. Waggett's short story "He Loved His Mama and His Mayonnaise" was announced as the winner of The Ghost Story website's Screw Turn Flash Fiction competition. His horror fiction has been published in the Archer Anthology "Dark Mirrors" (2023) as well as the premiere issue of "Dracula Beyond Stoker."

“The label says poison.”

I smiled before I explained to Winnie, “That’s not a label. It’s a post-it note. And that’s just Sir Martin thinking he’s funny.”

“What’s funny about poison?” Winnie asked.

I told her, “You’d get the joke if you knew him.”

“Have I ever seen him?” she asked.

I was sure that she must have by now. “He’s one of the surveyors. Tall … long neck … He talks like he’s from England.”

Winnie nodded her head. The man had never spoken to her, but she had heard him speak. She didn’t like him or his accent.

That made two of us. Last week, Sir Martin the Tattletale reported me to HR for eating his food, which was a wild exaggeration. Once, maybe twice a week, I’d been dipping into his dairy-free cream cheese. It didn’t taste as good as the real thing, but the real thing wasn’t worth spending the rest of the morning trapped in the bathroom. I didn’t need to explain my lactose intolerance to HR. It was fully documented.

After being reprimanded by a woman half my age, I filed a complaint of my own. I reported Sir Martin for calling me fat. For credibility, I used the word “portly” because it sounded British. And it worked. Sir Martin was the one, not me, who ended up with a written warning in his file.

The very next day, I not only dipped into his royal cream cheese, I polished it off and put the empty tub back in the fridge. Sir Martin did not say one word, not to HR and not to me personally. I figured that the man had learned his lesson. Then, this morning, I saw the post-it note on his cream cheese: POISON spelled out in big red letters.

Winnie asked, “Does he mind you helping yourself to his food?”

“Don’t worry about it,” I told her as I shut the refrigerator door. “This is a game the two of us play.”

Like me, Sir Martin was lactose intolerant, but unlike me, he refused to discuss his condition. Time after time, I tried to assure him, “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Once, to make him feel more comfortable, I opened up about a particularly nasty reaction I had after eating a hot fudge sundae. Halfway through my story, the man just walked away.

I never would have done that to him. I never would have done that to anybody. I also would never pay $7.99 for an eight ounce tub of fake cream cheese. That was sixteen dollars a pound. You could buy steak for that kind of money. But Sir Martin could afford it. I worked in payroll. I saw what he took home every week. Not only could he afford to buy himself fake cream cheese, he could afford to share it.

When I walked into the break room, Nancy Crowley was sitting in the corner with her Kindle. I used to ask what she was reading, just to be friendly, but she always gave me that same snotty answer, “Nothing you’ve heard of.” Nancy ran the map library. It was not a hard job, certainly not worth the salary she pulled in, but she was young, very pretty and probably sleeping with one of the mucky-mucks on the tenth floor.

She had definitely gone home with Sir Martin on at least one occasion, the night of the banquet. This I knew for a fact. The next morning, Sir Martin the Indiscreet had come into the office, bragging about his drunken conquest. When I found Nancy crying in the ladies’ room, I advised her to report him to HR. She thanked me with some advice of her own, “Mind your own business.”

I picked a table two away from hers, not right next door, but close enough for Winnie and me to become an unwelcome distraction.

The air suddenly smelled of bagels burning. I never should have trusted Winnie with the toaster oven. Her mind had been wandering more and more every day. She blamed old age, but she was two years younger than me. The sad truth, Winnie had fallen off the wagon. Some mornings, like today, she’d come in wearing the same dress as the day before, the same except for a new wine stain.

Winnie did not mind eating a burnt bagel, but I couldn’t. I also couldn’t complain because she was the one who brought the bagels in. Unlike Sir Martin, Winnie liked sharing her food. That was the basis of our friendship.

“I’m going to make myself a new bagel.” Before I headed into the kitchen, I told Winnie to start without me. “And slather that cream cheese on. It may taste a little funny, but that’s just the way it tastes. It doesn’t mean it’s poison.”

“Are you sure?” Winnie asked.

“One hundred per cent sure,” I said for what I hoped would be the last time.

This story appears in our JUL 2024 Issue
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