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art by Tais Teng

Rx

Jackie grew up reading doorstop-sized fantasy novels, so it remains a mystery to her why most of the stories she writes turn out to be flash. She lives in Northern California with a horse who thinks he's a dog and a dog who thinks she's a cat. This is her first professionally published story.

The orange is for energy, the green for focus, and the midnight blue for sleep. They line the shelves, spells in handy bottles, flavored to taste. Berry and citrus on the left, chocolate and cake batter flavors on the right. I shoulder my way through the perpetual crowd to the pharmacy. The businessman standing by the bottles of cunning gives me a dirty look, like he's some sort of badass or something. Whatever. My new flavor isn't even available to the public.
The bored clerk reads my prescription. Once, twice, then she swallows her gum and runs to get her boss. He comes out, white lab coat still pressed from the cleaners, and takes out his reading glasses. He nods and goes into the back once more.
I tap my foot. I clean my fingernails. I run my tongue over my teeth to clean out the remnants of the salad I had for lunch. I count the ticks on the clock tower across town. Then my order is ready.
I sign the consent form without reading it, the disclosure of side effects, the release of liability. The clerk hands me a black bottle. Her eyes are wide and I notice her bottom lip trembles slightly. Is she sorry for me, I wonder? I smile, but it only makes her squirm. Guess not.
I don't even wait until I'm outside to take one. I go to the seldom-used gardening aisle and perch on a chipped stone fountain with sale stickers covering most of its surface. The pop of the bottle cap is like music to my ears. Maybe this medicine will work where the other fifty have failed. I dare to hope.
Red pills are for pain.
I swallow two capsules dry and wait. It doesn't take long. A twitch in my thigh, a flutter in my stomach, a pulse at my temple. Then all at once, agony.
I moan and slide to the floor. The sounds around me recede. I lose the jet engines first, then the cars from the freeway and the children at the school. The last thing I hear is a housewife standing in the pill aisle deciding between strawberry or coffee flavored gratitude. My pounding heart and throbbing nerves even cover the sound of the janitor sweeping around me, like I'm another garden statue.
Blessed silence, at last.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, January 4th, 2011


Author Comments

Sometimes physical pain is the best cure for mental anguish. What would a society be like that used physical pain for a treatment of mental illness? And who would ever submit to such treatment? I wrote Rx to find the answer. It isn't a pretty one.

- Jacquelyn Bartel
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