S. E. Reed

La Castanyada

When Merle’s husband Hector started going blind, she did what any woman her age would do. She pushed him off the balcony of their 4th floor retirement community condo, then dialed 9-1-1 to report the tragic accident. These were supposed to be their golden years; the reason Hector made them penny pinch over their forty-two-year marriage.

Merle was not about to get rid of the new Venetian glass table or install tacky handrails in their marble tiled shower to accommodate Hector’s lack of vision. Nor did she plan on canceling their month-long trip to Barcelona in the fall. She had been so looking forward to celebrating La Castanyada ever since she read a lovely little article about the celebration in her favorite cooking magazine. The festival boasted traditional marzipan cakes covered in pine nuts, beautifully roasted chestnuts on open flames and sweet potato fritters with dried fruit. All served with aromatic Moscatel wine from local vineyards.

It was Ressa Mclain who’d inspired Merle. Her husband Franklin “accidentally” fell off their boat while the two of them were fishing. Ressa proclaimed it a blessing in disguise– considering Franklin’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Everyone in their community knew the agonizing treatment plan– and the expense. The Mclain’s would have been penniless and forced to move back in with their daughter and her family in Tulsa, had the treatments been successful. A terrible fate after the joy of life in Myrtle Beach. A sanctuary for those who’d scrimped and saved their whole lives.

Hector’s funeral was small and intimate—their son, Aston, flew in from Tokyo, where he worked for a technology firm. Condolence flowers arrived from their only granddaughter who was studying at Stanford. And a few close friends from the community stopped by for hors d’oeuvres and drinks after the service was over. Merle wore black and had her hair pinned back, the way Hector always liked.

“Mom, I’m worried about you, living here all alone without Dad. What if something happens and I’m living halfway across the world! I knew you and Dad should have stayed in Milwaukee—at least there you had your sisters and all of Dad’s family,” Aston said when Merle’s guests had gone home. He was jet lagged and on edge.

“Oh now Aston, you don’t have to worry about me—I’m quite capable of managing on my own,” Merle replied to her son. She took a sip of wine and reached for a tissue. She blotted the corner of her eyes. “I’m tired, and it’s late. I’m going to lie down.”

Merle shut the heavy oak door to her bedroom and turned on Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, a favorite of hers. She set down her wine on the nightstand and took off her heels. Hector always hated when she brought wine into the bedroom. But now Merle could do as she pleased. She was agitated that Aston had scolded her. She hadn’t expected him to worry about her welfare. She still had her health and good looks, she had plenty of money and the condo was paid-in-full. He had no reason to fear for her living alone!

She changed into a pair of silken pajamas and crawled into the king-sized bed. It felt unnecessary for one person. Maybe when she returned from Barcelona, she would see about downsizing it to a queen. Merle had no plans on having men stay the night with her—she really did prefer her own company. “Good night Hector,” she said softly and closed her eyes. Yes, it really was a blessing in disguise. She would burn a candle for him during the festivities of La Castanyada in Barcelona, which fell on All Saints Day. He would appreciate the gesture.

Shortly after Merle fell asleep, there was a knock on her bedroom door muted by the ballet that was still softly playing. Her glass of wine, now empty on the nightstand. Her breathing was labored and erratic. Aston watched and listened for a few moments. Then he carefully plucked the glass and tucked it into his travel bag, replacing it with one he’d gently filled with the same Pinot Noir she’d served her guests. Now there was no evidence of the lethal dose of arsenic he’d placed in her glass after the funeral.

It was Jameson Rath who’d inspired Aston. His elderly father passed away a few years ago, leaving his mother alone. She had become the target for widow scams and relatives wanting to leech off her—utilizing her tropical retirement home as their personal vacation spot. Jameson said it was a blessing in disguise when his mother fell and died from complications. He was able to salvage some of her estate and paid off his son’s college tuition bill and even put away a small sum for his own golden years.

Everyone knew Merle was nothing without Hector, and she’d suffered from high blood pressure her entire life. Hector often warned her not to have red wine before bed, that it interfered with her medicine. Some might say Merle died of a broken heart, others would say a heart attack. The coroner’s report would indicate she died from natural causes. 

Aston loved his parents. He was thankful he was going to take control of their estate on his terms—he’d pay off his daughter’s Stanford bill and not have to worry about his mother being alone and at risk when he flew home to Tokyo. He’d sell their retirement condo and purchase the apartment in Paris he’d been eyeing online. Maybe he’d go there for La Toussaint, All Saints Day. He did love Paris in late October, the crisp air, the falling autumn leaves.

“Sleep well,” Aston whispered when he left the room. He heaved a sigh of relief when he crawled into the guest bed. International travel was always so exhausting.

S.E. Reed lives in Boca Raton, FL. Her debut YA novel, Voodoo Magic Book Club, is currently out on submission through her literary agency, 22MediaWorks. Her short stories, “Obsessed with Watching the Nobodies” and “I Am the Storm” are set for publication in late 2021. She works in healthcare by day and is a wife and mom by night. She spends most of her free time writing (and telling bad jokes to annoy her family).