UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
Take As Directed
Greg wants to quit the Effexor. He washes up for bed in the bathroom. I’m already under the covers,
“Have you told your shrink?” I ask.
“Nah.” I hear the toothbrush shuffle across his teeth. “I only see him once every month or so.”
“Have you gone off it before?”
He spits. “No, but I haven’t been on it that long.”
Our first weekend together, he hauled out his army duffle bag and produced a plastic sack full of yellow capsules. We laughed about how great it was two crazy boys had found each other.
“I could never go off my meds,” I say. “They saved my life.”
Greg doesn’t respond. I listen to the water run. I imagine him looking into the mirror, dressed in his SpongeBob pajama bottoms and his T-shirt from the state university he attends two hours north. We used to sleep nude.
I continue. “When I was in rehab, there was this woman. Helen, I think. The quack in charge yanked her off Effexor the day she arrived. Poor bitch got so bad, we all took bets on when she’d blow her brains out.”
He shuts off the water and appears around the corner, drying his hands. The look on his face, I’m beginning to learn it.
“I shouldn’t have said anything,” he says. “I hurt people.”
It’s self-pity disguised as apology, and I don’t know what to say. Should I reassure him and touch the boy he wishes me to see, or draw the covers to me in disdain at the child he’s revealed?
I pull down the blankets. “Should I set the alarm?”
Greg shrugs, shakes his head. “I guess so, but I may just call my professor and make up some excuse.”
“I’ll set it for nine.”
As I fiddle with the clock, he slips into bed. When I’m done, I pull him close but he fidgets, twists his hips, leans up and beats the pillow.
“That couch of yours folds out into a bed, right?”
“Next time, let’s do that.” He settles in, facing away from me. Propped on my elbow, I watch him a moment, his eyes shut tight as if bright light fills the room, his lips drawn into a frown.
I’m afraid the tears will come, so I climb out of bed and stumble into the bathroom. Greg doesn’t rise to see where I’ve gone. Inside, I sit beside his open duffle bag. Clothes, school papers, CD covers spill out of it. I reach inside and feel around till I spot the slick plastic, then I wrest out his sack of Effexor.
I take different medications, but I borrowed one from a buddy once, so I know what it will do. I pop one of the yellow capsules in my mouth, swallow it dry. Then another. I lean against the wall, thankful the tears never came.
Already, I feel calm. Already, he has left me.Thomas Kearnes has published fiction in Wicked Hollow, Southern Hum, Blithe House Quarterly and flashquake. He has work forthcoming this summer in Citizen Culture. He has also published poetry in nearly a half-dozen magazines, including Nexus and Slightly West.
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