UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
She sits at the table. Her hand lifts the glass and she twists it in the air, watching the distorted dance of the pills on the table through the water inside.
The yellow one is new.
She’s running late. Not for work, because the laptop is her work and she can do that here at the kitchen table or in her bedroom or sitting at the television. She’s running late on those damn pills. She overslept. Matthew is with his dad so she turned off her alarm clock for the first time in years and overslept, and that’s her first excuse. But it’s been hours and it’s almost time for her next dose already, and they’re still there on the table, and she can’t think of a second excuse.
So now she sits and stares at the pills and then at the clock, and wonders idly how long it would take if she let the pills lie and let the clock tick.
She remembers high school and thinking her life was over forever when Johnny Marlowe had dumped her, and her hand plays idly with the pills. She turns them the same side up and aligns them with the straight side of the knife by her plate. She’d been over it after two weeks.
She remembers her scholarship for university and her mother’s tears of joy, and then her own tears when she saw black-on-white the diagnosis on the first day of exams, and later, white-on-marble, a name and a date. She remembers studying and calling her dad half a world away and studying, and her nervous breakdown three years later when she studied too much, and graduating cum laude anyway, all by herself.
She puts her plate in the dishwasher and doesn’t look at the pills when she takes her seat again, but her hand finds them and slides them over the table. The soft scratches are the only sound in the room aside from the cat’s purring and her own breathing. She smiles because she remembers that too, her breaths deep and slow in the narrow hospital bed, her head bandaged and bald and fingers raw. She didn’t notice the pain and she held still, not wanting to disturb the tiny new creature in her arms who shouldn’t have been there yet. She called him Matthew, and he was hers.
“It’s miracle he survived the crash,” her husband said and smiled, and she knew Matthew would have that smile one day. “It’s a miracle you did.”
He said she was strong and he was proud of her.
He asked her what happened and she said she didn’t remember.
And then pain seized her head and she knew nothing until later, her mouth wet and hot and tasting of sharp iron blood and her husband with Matthew in his arms screaming for help.
Help they got. Tests and experts and a prescription.
She remembers getting the promotion before she became pregnant and celebrating it with wine she can no longer drink and a husband she no longer has, and she remembers working from nine to five and returning home tired and satisfied and thanking her mother’s picture in her wallet. She remembers the third time it happened at work and being called away and knowing what was coming.
“It’s a reassignment, not a demotion. We just think it would be better for all parties involved if you, ah, shifted your duties into something you could do at home. You understand, right? For safety’s sake.”
And she stacks the pills into a neat little pile of three, yellow on top, and she thinks of her success and her crash and her son who is everything, and her husband who couldn’t deal, and the pills that just are. They wait in a silent pile for her to pick them up and take them in with the water, now lukewarm, which is still sitting and waiting and wondering why she’s doing the same.
She remembers the weight loss and the headaches and the puking and split lips and bruises everywhere, and meetings with her doctor and changing prescriptions and upping the dosage yet again, and calling into work for an extension and knowing that soon, she will have done it one too many times.
And now she has a yellow pill, too.
She remembers opening her eyes to find Matthew crying and scared, pushing himself as far away from her as he could get and the traffic around her honking and yelling, and that’s the second time now. She remembers selling her car and putting him on the bus and having her groceries delivered. She remembers her husband calling her about Matthew because it couldn’t continue this way, because it wasn’t under control like they’d thought it had been, because it might never be, because it wasn’t right for Matthew.
She hates that he’s gone now, and she hates the way the clock keeps going and the pills are still there, and she doesn’t know if the yellow pill will be enough, and she might be back at her doctor’s office the next time it happens.
“It’s an addiction. Just as any other.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” he’d said to her. “You should be glad they can manage your condition. Think about where you’d be at otherwise.”
But she hates them and she hates herself for needing them. She remembers all that she could do without them once and wonders how it’s these three little pills that can change so much.
And she hates that she has no choice and that she should be grateful.
She hates the pills and what they stand for.
She hates the crash and the C-section. She hates her husband for being right. She hates being inside all the time. She hates her body for not listening and her mind for shutting her out.
She loves her son.
She swallows the pills with a single swig of water and knows that tomorrow, she’ll do the same.
© 2008 Underground Voices