Grammar and my own impatience landed me in jail. If I had only turned the page, I would have seen my healthy ex-fiancee smiling for the camera on the day of her promotion, very much alive in the finance section. Instead, I took a single appearance of the past perfect progressive tense in the article about her to mean that she had died, and imagined the rest—my complicity in her early demise, the inevitable investigation, my imminent arrest. “Had been receiving treatment” for an undisclosed but life-threatening ailment, the story had said on its first page. That was enough to send me out of the café and into the night, hailing a cab and heading uptown to her parents’ home, where I’d always been welcome. I might as well have gone to the police. “I just heard about Christine,” I told them at the door. They seemed perplexed but let me in and sat me down with coffee. I’d never stopped loving their daughter, I told them, even after things between us had turned cordial. I’d thought that herbal meant safe, I said, that dosages were recommendations, and that if ancient cultures had used a substance for generations to improve relations, it surely should work for us. They only stared in disbelief and let me blather on. She’d never known what she was taking, I told them. And only after she had left me had I discovered the powder I’d been putting in her smoothies was probably killing her liver. Christine’s father left the room to make a call while her mother pretended to console me. Shortly after, I was read my rights, which turn out not to be much use when you’ve already confessed, even if nobody died, or should I say, if nobody “had been dying.”
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