Sometime in 2001, Peter McGrath and Jenny Traig, cousins, left their jobs to become self-declared shut-ins. They quickly discovered that the shut-in’s life is full of many small mysteries. They also learned that some of the most compelling mysteries occur within our own minds and bodies. Here, for the edification of their readers, is a selection from their Life Science files.
#10: The Case of the Unsettled Constitution
Late one night, Jenny awakened to the sound of sobbing and retching. She followed the noise to the bathroom, where she discovered the ruckus was coming from the throat of her cousin.
“I don’t know why this is happening,” Peter protested between convulsive expulsions. “I felt fine when I went to bed.”
Once again, mystery beckoned the Shut-In Detectives. Jenny insisted they get on the case right away, using the forensic technique of “backtracking.” “I’ll bring out everything you ate today, and you can sniff and taste each sample to determine which one made you sick.” Peter groaned a demurral. But when Jenny impressed upon him the import of the mission, he reluctantly agreed.
Jenny proceeded to set up a “line-up” of all the suspects and each was investigated in turn. Were the rum shooters to blame? The smell alone made Peter’s eyes roll all the way back, but they were exonerated because Jenny had also consumed several and Jenny felt fine. Was it the oddly viscous butterscotch pudding? Not likely. A few more days’ decay would surely turn it into a full-blown felon, but for now, it was only a juvenile offender. Then was it the crab salad their roommate Daniel had bought at the gas station? Peter’s conclusive reaction suggested that it was.
The detectives returned the dubious crab salad to the refrigerator because neither one of them felt like washing out the bowl. Their suspicions were confirmed the next morning when Daniel finished the salad and suffered the same unhappy fate.
#11: The Case of the Mislaid Chalice
One morning the Shut-Ins’ roommate Angela noticed her favorite coffee cup was missing. The detectives immediately set about tracking it down. But instead of relying on their usual crackerjack investigative techniques, Peter wanted to solve the mystery through mystical divination, using a magical powder he’d procured from an undisclosed source.
“It looks like the seasoning packet from a packet of ramen,” Angela remarked.
“I’m afraid you’re mistaken,” Peter replied.
“I’m going to be pissed if I go to make ramen and find you’ve swiped the flavoring.”
“Very well. It is ramen seasoning. But the purpose to which I propose to put this packet is more important than mere flavoring. This powder, which contains substantial amounts of the chemical monosodium glutamate, is the key to unlocking our third investigator… my subconscious!”
Peter promptly administered several packets of the mysterious powder. Within minutes he slumped over, unconscious. Angela insisted he was just taking a nap, but Jenny disagreed. “When he naps he grinds his teeth, but now his teeth are silent. He’s in a fugue state. He’s been transported to a magical realm within his own mind.”
Twenty minutes later Peter bolted awake with the answer to their mystery. “The solution is simple,” he announced. “I just remembered that I borrowed your cup yesterday and left it on the back porch.” Exhausted by this disclosure, he slumped back in the chair. He then prevailed upon Angela to retrieve the cup and fill it with hard lemonade, because he was too tired to get up and do it himself.
#12: The Case of the Offensive Scent; Or, Why Does Jenny Smell So Bad?
One morning last winter Peter was curled up in the good chair, enjoying a cup of coffee, when he was suddenly assaulted by a wretched smell. He looked up and was shocked to discover the odor’s source was none other than his dear cousin. What could make Jenny smell so bad?
Peter escorted his colleague outside to “blow the stink off” while they tracked down the funk’s cause. The detectives agreed that this smell bore no resemblance to Jenny’s usual scent, an agreeably manly blend of Old Spice and jerky. Peter wondered if a lifestyle change could be to blame.
“Have you altered your diet?” he asked.
Jenny said no, she hadn’t.
“Are you taking any new medications? Are you using a new lotion? Have you begun a new exercise routine?”
Jenny shook her head at all these possibilities.
“Then are you fermenting kim chee in your undergarments? Because that’s what it smells like.”
His mildly annoyed cousin thought external forces might be to blame. She suggested it might be Peter who, in fact, smelled, his clever tactic being, sometimes, to blame Jenny for his own shortcomings.
Before Peter could reply, the cousins were interrupted by their roommate Angela. “Sweet crap, Jenny, when was the last time you bathed?” she asked.
Jenny paused. “That, I’m afraid, is the real mystery,” she admitted.
Well, the smell’s cause was discovered. Jenny retreated to the bathtub, where she washed away both the foul scent and her irritation with her roommates by using their good shampoo and conditioner without their permission.
#13: The Case of the Troubled Correspondent
The highlight of the Shut-Ins’ lives is that they occasionally get letters from people they don’t know. Recently one letter troubled them.
“Please help!” the sender wrote. "Everything I eat tastes like mint.
“Everything = Mint.”
“Mint = Everything.”
“My wife and I have tried everything, and it’s all mint through and through. You detectives are my last hope.”
The detectives agreed that the sender really needed their help and began reviewing the possibilities. Jenny wondered if the mystery might be philosophical. “Perhaps it’s a Cartesian equation, or a teleology of pleasant breath. Or maybe the mystery is medical. Perhaps the writer had some rare organic condition, like a giant wad of gum stuck in his upper intestine.”
Peter felt sure the cause was criminal. “Someone’s trying to gaslight him with Altoids, and my money is on the wife.”
Worried that Peter might be right and a horrible crime might be in progress, the Shut-Ins called the police and made a full report to a puzzled and, they thought, needlessly rude dispatcher.
But when they hung up the phone, the detectives realized they’d made a mistake. “Oh dear,” Peter sighed. “We’ve overlooked the most obvious clue. The author’s name is Funboy18 – a.k.a. our good friend Chris. You’ll recall that he consumed several mint juleps Friday night. He must have prank-mailed us while drunk.”
Another mystery was solved. The cousins were annoyed with their friend Chris, but were grateful that he hadn’t been drinking Sex on the Beach.
The Shut-In detectives invite readers to submit their mysteries. The Shut-Ins will do their best to solve them.