"Marija, I don't want to make any guesses, but...when did that parcel arrive, exactly?"
"On the 2nd. One month ago. But why?" She was absent-minded. And she was sleepy. Why was Tanja bothering her so much right now?
"And for how long have you been feeling poorly?"
"Since 4th or 5th, that's when Aca pissed me off...I mean, why are you asking me this when you know the answwer? He texted me from Helsinki, said that he's going to spend some time at that woman's place...what is her name, really...and well, you can imagine what kind of thoughts were running through my head!"
Tanja knew the name of "that woman". Suvi. And she remembered how much Marija vomited that day, they called the ambulance, too, but they were told to free the line and call the advisory one instead. And there, as one could guess already, Marija was just prescribed bed rest, complete with cup-a-soup, probiotics and told to watch out not to dehydrate.
But since then, her condition worsened. Bronchitis and fever, stomach that could not digest anything anymore and a rhythm more suitable to a feline than a human - Marija was awake for about three hours each night and three hours in the afternoon.
"You know, I think it's a coincidence that I fell ill when he wrote me that..."
"Me too, you kn..."
"Similarly, I don't think I would fall ill just because he found another. I'm not that alleged vixen from a children's song."
Tanja nodded and tried to say something again, but Marija was rambling on and on.
"There are so many viruses that you can contract today without even knowing how it happened! Koksaki, for example. There are also autoimmune diseases, nobody ever said that you get them only in your childhood, we know that lady who was diagnosed in her sixties, she has lupus. Why are you looking at me like that?"
Tanja sighed, as if she was not able to breathe until her sick roommate finished musing on her theory which was most certainly going nowhere.
"I don't think you have any of those. I mentioned the parcel already. What was in it? Just the book, right?"
Marija sat up in bed. Yes, she had ordered a book, what was that to do with her condition? The book came wrapped in cellophane, because there was a free CD as packed it with it, and all of that was in bubble wrap, inside of a cardboard box. On the box, there was a note that the contents were fragile and not heat-resistant. She unpacked the book the day ir arrived, but she had no chance to read it yet - she still had trouble sitting upright and she would have fallen asleep fast had she tried to read it lying down.
"Yes, just the book. But why?"
"Are you sure you're not allergic to something?"
She questioned herself. If there were any cats or birds where the parcel was being checked or where it was packed, nothing would have happened. She didn't have hayfever, either - it was Tanja who had issues with ragweed close to the end of summer. She wasn't allergic to dust either, or any insect. At the end of the day, she had grown up in a very small town, her immune system had to be good?"
"I'm not. And I'm not a hypochondriac, either!"
"I know, that's what Vlada and I are for. If we exclude the possibility of your having an allergy, there is still the parcel. You have been feeling poorly since the day you opened it. The book couldn't have upset you, you didn't even get to read it. But, you see, I found something out!"
Marija looked on as Tanja searched through discs and books on the shelves in their room. A bunch of books from the lower shelf almost fell on the head, since Tanja was clumsy and slightly chaotic. A minute or so later, she knocked over a figurine of a cat in a bag, which - luckily - fell on the duvet. Finally, after all that running around, which nearly made Marija's head spin, Tanja found something and raised it above her head, as if it was a trophy won at a competition. This was yet another thing Marija didn't get - why was her best friend acting like a character from a cheap film, or a caricature of herself. As if...as if she was doing nothing but what she saw others do.
"I found it!"
"I can see that, you've hit the jackpot or whatever. But what is it?"
Tanja threw the object on the bed.
"Hmmm, this is the book written by Danielle Marlow four years ago, the one we bought just because of...and yes, the cover illustrations were by Isolde Dawson, who wrote the book that arrived to me a month ago. So what? There's no such a thing as an allergy to caligraphy! If this is yet another one of your mad ideas, forget it before you even expand on it, please!"
Tanja shook her head and reached behind her bed. She took out a thin, closed box that they had kept for repacking purposes, in order to save at the post office.
"Look! The same handwriting as on the covers of both books!"
Marija yawned and took the box in her hands. The same S with a hook on it, the D with a curl on top, single-stroke As and Es.
"What are you trying to tell me?"
"Looks like this influenza of yours also took a toll of your grey matter. Let's put it like this: Danielle Marlow and Isolde Dawson are friends and they often collaborate, right? And Isolde has had her own little vanity publishing thing for about two years. With such a small imprint, she's not using services of large print shops, or the shipping companies. Books are printed in small amounts, likely on demand. And who is sending them? Isolde herself, that's her handwriting. She illustrated the cover, but she also wrote your name and address on the box, with a black permanent marker!"
"And what then?"
"What 'what'? Isolde POISONED you!"
Marija was ready to make a dismissive gesture. What kind of nonsense was this? What could have been hidden in the box intended for overseas mail - radioactive polonium, maybe? Flesh-eating bacteria? Lead? Mercury? And how would have Isolde obtained any of these, and why would she go that far to poison her?"
"Tanja, are you aware that you're not thinking like a normal human being again and going off to your personal cloudcuckooland again? Isolde probably has no idea that I wrote the article a couple of months ago, the one where I suggested that she should drop writing. It was written under a pseud, after all..."
"...yes, but we all know that it was you who registered the domain name for our zine. And it was your idea to write in English, so we could have a larger audience."
Silence. The two girls were staring at each other. Marija was feeling sick again. Tanja brought the wash bowl and held her friend's head. The only thing she managed to do was pulling her so hard that they both fell on the floor. Vladimir ran over from his room upon hearing the noise. He managed to get a hold of Marija and the wash bowl in the last moment.
"The carpet was seconds away from being stained, Tanja...I don't know, you need to work on synchronising your movements with your thoughts, they're clearly out of sync!"
"Forget that. Marija's been POISONED!"
By now, Vladimir was ignoring every single fantasy of Tanja's, this would have been seventh or eights story originating from per fantasy world since the three of them rented the apartment.
"'Myes, and who poisoned her? Me?"
"Nah, Isolde Dawson! The 'reneissanse woman' from United States living in Paris. Something's in that box! We need to decontaminate the whole room!"
"It's true!" Marija said, getting up. "Ever since that parcel had arrived, I've been poorly. It's not the book, the two of you had skimmed through it already. So, it's got to be something in the box itself! Isolde knows I criticised her, and now, when I ordered something from her imprint, with an illustration she did herself on the cover, she decided to have her revenge. And of course, of course, if it kills me, blinds me or if I get cancer, nobody will believe me when I say that she had something to do with it. I mean, it's not like I'm some spy, a person in some government..."
Vladimir was observing the box in his had, turning it around and looking at it suspiciously. The handwriting itself was appealing to him. He had no idea what a graphologist would've said about that Isolde broad, but those letters, he found them...sexy. And Isolde herself was sexy, dammit. A bit more voluptious and known to put on a show, she must have been a devil between the sheets.
This short story was written in December 2013, but not published, as there was a period of time I thought it sucked. You can also read it in Serbian, on my other blog.