You want a beer? No? How about a cappuccino— I've never met a professor-type who doesn't like a cappuccino. Maybe later?
Anyway, firstly, we need to be clear that Todd Denenger didn't kill his mother for any particular reason. To think that Todd poisoned her on November 1 because she made him come in early from trick-or-treating, or because she wouldn't let him wear his pirate hat to school, or because she and Todd's father had gotten divorced is to miss the point entirely. There is no real sense in asking Why? with this particular crime— with this type of crime. For Todd, the poisoning was its own reason, both means and ends. Not unlike sex, if you're the kind of person who has sex like that, for those sorts of reasons. (Don't say you aren't. You probably are. Mostly people are sometimes.)
Secondly, while it isn't important— isn't even askable— as to why?, I would nonetheless maintain that who is important. For, while perhaps the timing and motivation for the poisoning were arbitrary, the choice of the target was, no doubt, quite significant. To ignore that it's his mother whose coffee Todd spiked with a highly lethal dose of commercially available strychnine would be foolish.
Also, archly commenting that Ed Gein killed his mother is asinine. Especially if you raise your eyebrows or bite down on the stem of your pipe and half-nod while doing so. Everyone knows that; it has no bearing. Todd was nine years old when he did it. He didn't even know who Ed Gein was, let alone having any sort of working familiarity with any of the films based on Gein's life and times.
Additionally, Gein is no sort of model or archetype (either conscious or unconscious) for any serial killers. For all intents and purposes, Gein was just some lunatic with a hand for taxidermy and a strong stomach.
I imagine Todd, standing in his folks' shed, munching on stray kandy korns from the pocket of his parka and staring at the highest shelf over the workbench.
His mother was inside the house, drinking coffee and leafing through the thick Sunday paper.
Todd's ears ached with the cold. His pirate hat, though felt, didn't keep him very warm. He ate his kandy korns slowly, savoring the brittle, waxy outer shell of the kernels. Todd was the only kid that never groaned when a grown-up came to the door with a big bowl of no-name cellophane packets of kandy korn.
On the low shelves were mason jars of screws and nails and nuts and bolts, a pot of Lava soap, a stray spark-plug, a box of cotter pins. But the high shelf was more fascinating, dusty old jars and bottles with peeling labels. Lots of unsayable names:
And lots of skulls-and-crossbones; "Lots of death's-heads," he said. The word, though sayable, was sweet in his mouth.
One can got special attention, smaller than the other, but right up front: "Dr. Johnson's Gopher Eliminator" it said, with a picture of a cartoon gopher clutching its chest and swooning. Then there was small print, too small for Todd to read, so far away, and under this was STRYCHNINE. He'd tried and tried, but couldn't make this word fit into his mouth:
"Striche-nine," he'd tried, and "Strich-nine," and "Stritch-ninnie," although he was pretty sure the last one was wrong; he was almost positive that the "-NINE" would be pronounced like the number. Todd even tried a guttural "CH," as in "chalah" and "chanukah," and although that gave the word an exotic twirl, the two-headed Z of the script Tzedek in his Hebrew primer, the word fit no better.
On Thursday at Hebrew School, during their Halloween party, they munched "from Israel" candy and drank kosher grape juice from Dixie cups while Tvzi had told them about YHWH and the double-Yod; unpronounceable words—no way to make them fit in the mouth. You just had to know, when you saw them, to say "Adonoi," even though there wasn't a single letter in common between "Adonoi" and YHWH or Yod-Yod. These names, Tzvi had told them, are all The Name of God, unsayable not just because Thou Shalt Not, but because the human mouth couldn't fit around them.
Unsayable things, Todd now knew, were special.
Double special, here, including the skull-and-crossbones, which an older kid at the bus stop— a scary older kid in black army boots and jeans and a black t-shirt and hair that was blonde at the roots, like his mother's, but green for the rest, where his mother's was red— had told him is called a "death's-head."
Todd felt the embroidered death's-head on his hat.
"Strich-nine," he whispered, "death's-head."
He pulled a blue milk crate of pipe joints out from under the workbench. From the edge of the crate he boosted himself up onto the workbench, from which he could easily reach the small, dusty can.
The can was greasy. The fine print that ran between the gopher cartoon and STRYCHNINE began with "Warning," which was what Todd had expected.
Todd climbed down and knelt on the ground, pinning the can between his knees. He slid the end of a screwdriver under the lid's lip and twisted it, slowly working around the can as he had seen his mother do with the cans of egg-shell paint she'd used in re-painting the dining room at the end of the summer. The lid came off with a rasp and sigh. Inside, the pellets looked like twists of caramel, but were hard and brittle. He took out three, careful to choose the most symmetrical cylinders, put them in the pocket of his parka, and then climbed up and put the can back on the shelf, careful to leave the label facing out exactly as it had before, and pushed the milk crate back under the workbench.
In his back pocket he had a tiny envelope, which had held the card that came with some flowers that his mother had gotten for her birthday. Todd brought this out and fished around in his pocket for the caramel-twists. He came up with all three, plus four more stray kandy korns, which he considered briefly and then threw into the far corner of the shed. He put the gopher eliminators in the envelope, sealed the flap by spitting on his finger and running it along the shiny stickum under the flap and ground the envelope on the floor using a brick, until all that was left of the pellets was a soft grit.
At the side of the house, before going in, he washed his hands with the house. The water was so cold it stung his hands like a mouse trap, but he kept washing until he was sure they were clean.
Todd came in the front door, leaving his coat in the vestibule. His mother's coffee sat on the dining room table, steam slowly curling up from it. Todd could hear the water running in the kitchen. He wiped his feet on the mat, snapped the envelope smartly against his palm twice as he crossed to the dining room, tore off the top and dumped the contents into his mother's coffee. It slid into the coffee and disappeared without a trace.
The room was too warm, too loud for Todd, suddenly. He pulled off his sweater. His mother stepped out of the kitchen.
"Hey, Honey, what've you been up to?"
"Just playing GI Joe outside with Mike," he said casually, calmly.
"Were you playing with the hose? I thought I heard the hose."
Todd's chest was tight, his heart fluttering.
"You shouldn't play around with the hose this time of year. It's just barely thirty-degrees. You could get frost bite." She picked up her coffee cup, sipping as she went back into the kitchen.
"Put on gloves if you go back out."
Todd saw flashes of light with every kettle-drum beat of his heart, as though his head had become a music video. His voice was tiny in his ears:
Todd stood frozen for a second. When the water started running again, in the kitchen, he turned. Walking back to the front door he heard his mother begin to cough— a deep, throaty cough, as though she were going to throw up. He waited at the door, his hand on the knob, until he heard the coffee cup shatter on the ground. His mothers coughs become tight, labored. Todd put on his jacket and went out the front door, closing it quietly, as if not to wake someone. Crossing the yard, he heard something larger fall over, maybe a chair.
Todd crossed the street calmly, climbed the hill across the street. From there he could see the cars in the office building parking lots, then the highway, and across the highway the solid canopy of leaves, fading from red and orange and yellow to nothing.
Naw; I'm not really sure whatever happened to old Toddy. I imagine he's just a regular guy somewhere now. You know, you probably see him all the time, buying groceries, walking his dog, picking up his kids. A regular guy: not too tall, not too short. White, but not too pale, medium build, non-descript brown hair in a non-descript brown haircut. Could be you. Hell, could be me, right? Ha.
Now, let me get you that cappuccino— I make a great cappuccino.
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