Her mother had taught her that each meal, each dish made with her own fingers was a gift. You should cook with your loved one in mind, Sophie, her mother used to say, and strive for the best.
So Sophie had. Each meal was a feast, a gift of love.
Harold ate each with gusto, complimenting her, and never missing a meal.
Two cakes and a batch of cookies sat on the countertop. A frenzy of baking, Harold would say when he got home. You’re the best cook in the country. Too bad you never share it with anyone.
She would smile, as she always did, and say, I share it with you.
All of her ingredients were on the counter, next to the soufflé dish, lightly dusted with sugar. The three egg whites and their tablespoon of sugar were beaten until they formed stiff peaks. The semisweet chocolate and four tablespoons of sugar were melted and cooling in a stainless steel bowl. She had only to beat in the egg yolks. A few more ingredients, a bit of time.
Behind her, the trial of the President played in the background, CNN commentators evaluating this, evaluating that. Last night, some reporter said things had been difficult for the First Family in August, after Hillary learned that Bill had lied.
Sophie remembered the vacation the next day — August 18th, her wedding anniversary, the day before the President’s birthday. How the first lady had used her daughter to keep her distance from her husband, how plain it was that Hillary was very, very angry.
Disgraced, not just in private, but in public too.
Like the time that Harold put his arm around Anna Armbruster and kissed her cheek. The day he had said to his best friend, out of Sophie’s hearing he thought, that he had nearly placed all of Sophie’s inheritance in private accounts. Divorcing lawyers, he had once said, was one of the most difficult tasks of all.
Almost as difficult, she thought, as divorcing a President of the United States.
Thirteen years he had slept with Anna, starting the month after he and Sophie married. She had thought the marriage had been for love; he had married her for money. All those years, all those meals, for money.
On January 17, the day the presidential scandal broke, she had bought white powdered cleanser with cash at an out-of-town grocery. The warning on the box was plain: poison if swallowed.
On August 20th, she had bought two powdered sugar boxes for the pantry. On September 15th, she had opened them and dumped the sugar into her garbage disposal. Then she had mixed the sugar with the powdered cleanser. She had resealed the boxes, using a glue she bought with cash and then threw away along with the cleanser tube. She replaced the powered sugar boxes in the pantry, and made a point of cooking no sweets for guests.
She had used a different box for her Christmas baking. She would use “sugar” from the new boxes to sprinkle the soufflé when it was done.
She stirred in the egg yolks, then mixed a third of the egg whites into the chocolate. Carefully she folded the rest of the whites into the mixture, and spooned the whole mess into the soufflé dish.
Then she double-checked herself. Timer set at 25 minutes, the open box of confectioner’s sugar beside the stove.
She rinsed out her mixer, then examined the cakes. A white cake and a marble cake. Harold had a fondness for chocolate soufflé. Her frenzy of baking would last the week, or so she would tell him.
The cakes needed frosting. He loved butter frosting, more than he loved her. He would come home at night, just for dinner, and then return to the office. She had always thought it a sign of his devotion — and it had been. Devotion to her cooking. All the while, living a lie.
She would have forgiven him if he had loved her. She would have forgiven him, even if he had humiliated her for decades to come, even if her humiliation were part of the historical record, even if it were grounds for impeachment. She would have forgiven him.
But the detective’s report made forgiveness impossible.
Damn Oregon. If it had been a community property state, Sophie wouldn’t have to do this. But if it had been a community property state, she wouldn’t have the excuse.
She poured in the powder and sugar, along with the milk, melted butter, and vanilla. The frosting was gluey, so she added more milk, making a glaze. She’d have to apologize to Harold for the glaze, saying she didn’t know why her frosting hadn’t worked this time. He wouldn’t care. He would eat piece after piece, and if he didn’t like it, he would eat the soufflé, which she would share with him.
After twenty-five minutes, the soufflé was puffed. She dusted it with confectioner’s sugar and smiled as she heard Harold’s car door slam outside. Just in time.
Dinner already on the table, desserts at the ready. She would have some too, just enough soufflé to get sick, maybe damage her throat. A small price to pay, really, when the net gains were so high. Another inheritance, this time from her husband. A return of her own money. And — perhaps — if this made the news, a suit against the store, or the powdered sugar manufacturer.
She shut off the television. Enough of other people’s problems.
The door opened, and Harold came in, looking trim and tailored. “Is dinner ready?” he asked. “I have to go back at seven.” Then he sniffed and grinned. “You went on a baking frenzy.”
“I did.” She smiled at him. “And I thought of you the entire time.”
Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a bestselling, award winning author. She’s won the Hugo twice, as well as many other sf awards. This year, she’s won the Asimov’s Reader’s Choice Award and the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Reader’s Choice Award. She’s currently nominated for a Shamus and an Anthony award for two different mystery stories. And her story “G-Men” has appeared in both The Year’s Best Science Fiction edited by Gardner Dozois and The Best American Mystery Stories 2009 edited by Jeffrey Deaver. Her next novel is Diving into the Wreck from Pyr.
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