Herbal Remedy

by Desiree Petersen

I threw my purse on the bed. The covers and pillows, so carefully arranged each morning, were slightly askew.

This was not the first time Iíd noticed such small details; slightly offset towels, rinsed glasses in the kitchen sink. In fact, it was becoming a regular occurrence. I left work after my husband, and returned before him, so the only conclusion could be that heóand/or someone elseómust be here during the day. Nothing was ever missing, so it couldnít be a thief.

I leaned forward to smooth the bedcovers and caught a whiff of Jasmine. The favorite perfume of my best friend, Karla.

I see now. This explains her sudden failure to keep our lunch dates, her hurried excuses to ring off when I call to talkóand the distant, furtive air my husband has adopted lately.

I straightened the pillows thoughtfully. My husband and my best friend in my own bed. How trite. Although I felt a curious lack of self-righteous rage, a suitable revenge was definitely in order.

"Youíve made your bed, you lie in it." The quote echoed in my head in a quiet, decisive voice. "Perfect," I murmured to myself. With a final pat to the pillows I changed into jeans and went for a walk.

That evening, as I stirred a pot of gently bubbling liquid, I informed my husband that I had invited Karla and her husband for a visit the next night.

"Wonderful," he boomed heartily. He hesitated in the doorway for a moment, then approached the stove. "Making some soup or something?" He poked the floating green leaves with a wooden spoon. "Some health-food concoction?"

"Something like that."

The next morning after heíd left for work, I donned rubber gloves and pulled our pale green sheets out of the closet. Slowly, careful not to splash myself, I immersed the sheets in the decoction of Poison Oak Iíd brewed, soaking them thoroughly. When I was sure every square inch of cotton was saturated, I wrung them out and threw them in the dryer, then sat down for a second, leisurely cup of coffee.

The dryer buzzer sounded, and I pulled the rubber gloves on again. I stripped the bed and gingerly remade it with the warm, woodsy smelling green sheets. Once the house was in perfect order I left for work, anticipating the evenings events.

I arrived home late that eveningóonly minutes before Karla and her husband were due to arrive. My excuse? Fresh flowers, a bottle of wine, and treats from a gourmet bakery in my arms.

My husband clattered down the stairs into the kitchen, clutching a tube of ointment and dabbing ineffectually at the angry red patches on his face, neck and hands. He stood before me, shifting uncomfortably.

"Look at me! I think Iím having an allergic reaction to something I ate today!"

"Iím sure you are." I arranged the flowers and stood back to admire the effect. The doorbell rang, and I left him to his muttering self-administrations to answer the door.

Karla would have looked lovely as usual, but for the bright red blotches staining her elegant neck, chiseled cheekbones, and long, slender arms.

"Karla, lovely to see youóI think. Are you ill?"

She scratched irritably at her thigh, frowning. "Iím fine. Just an allergic reaction to something."

"How odd." I kept my voice even, injecting just the right tone of amazement. "My husband seems to have the very same problem."

I left the two of them sitting in the living room, Karla fidgeting as the burning burrowed deeper in her skin, her husband across the room gazing worriedly at her.

"Theyíre here." I pulled the cork, poured four glasses of wine, and arranged the treats on a platter. I, at least, intended to enjoy the evening.

"I canít go out there! Look at me!"

I glanced at him and quickly lifted a glass to my lips to hide my smile. The incessant itching had spawned a few nasty looking sores. The ugly blotches on his face were growing larger, and the useless ointment glistened unbecomingly.

"If you leave it alone, the itching will go away. Now come on."

Karla was delicately scratching her neck with one long fingernail. Her eyes widened in shock as she saw the miserable condition my husband was in. The worried look in her husbandís eyes deepened to a scowl as he looked from Karla to my husband and back.

"Isnít it odd, Karla, how you both seem to be suffering from the same allergy." I kept my voice light and conversational as I handed around the wine. I settled down in a chair and looked pointedly from one to the other.

"You know, dear," I remarked to my husband, "the only thing that I can think of that Iíve done differently is a new herbal rinse Iíve used on the sheets." I paused and looked at the blisters rising through the blotches on Karlaís skin. "But that canít be it. Karla certainly hasnít been in our bedóhas she." I laughed lightly and took another sip of wine.

Karla and my husband both laughed weakly. Her husband didnít seem to see the humor in the situation. He drained his glass of wine, and with a visible effort at civility, bared his teeth at me in a parody of a smile.

"Iím sorry. Karla appears to be ill. Iím taking her home." He rose and grasped her wrist with such force I could hear the small bones grind together. She turned white under the blotches, but rose without a sound.

"What a shame." I set my glass down and followed them to the door, murmuring platitudes.

Back in the living room, my husband had transformed into a writhing, blistered, scratching mess. I gazed at him impassively.

"You really donít look well dear. I think youíll be more comfortable sleeping alone tonight. Iíll spend the night in the guest room, and you can have the bed all to yourself."

I picked up my glass and the bottle of wine, then paused in the doorway and turned back.

"I put fresh sheets on just this morning."

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