26 04 2015


Pulling into the gritty and dry-salt parking lot at the faded strip mall, Bill turns off the ignition in the Buick. His ears ringing in the sudden quiet, he cannot help but notice the dry wind soughing through the tortuous gap from the misaligned passenger window. Through the smeared windscreen, he sees a filthy fellow in a long beige jacket pawing through the bins, seeking empty drink containers. Clearly, it’s time for Bill to get his Ativan refill.

Garry Puckett and Union Gap’s, ‘Young Girl’, blares from worn-out speakers in the generic drug store so conveniently located beside the medical clinic with an inside access between the two establishments. The fancy façade at the entrance, water flowing down over colourful rock, has been left for dead for years. It’s dry and dusty, right across from the germ-infested play area for toddlers. After checking in with the frumpy receptionist, who makes no effort at eye contact, he carefully selects a seat. The upholstery of the banged-up chairs is shiningly worn, the faded and shapeless brocade filthy from legions of fevered masses awaiting the doctors who are given 10 minutes, one issue, by the craven and vulpine deva manager lurking in her one-way glass room, delving out prescriptions for a plethora of pills in their windowless offices.

Summoned, Bill gets up on cracking knees to follow the nurse down the tunnel-like hallway. For 20 minutes all there is to do is look up at the discoloured ceiling tiles, a caution poster about obesity, a dog-eared add from a sleep specialist who has an unpronounceable Slavic name and a free calendar from a giant chain store. The doctor comes in sighing, takes his blood pressure, weights him, resigned to scrawl out the prescriptions for anxiety, depression, insomnia  and blood pressure. Up he gets, purpose set. The doctor does not reply to his polite goodbyes and thanks. Leaving the buzzing florescent lights of the clinic’s labyrinth, he stumbles next door into the discount drug store with its dour staff members dumping heaps of past-Easter treats, all 50% off, into the massive clearance bins. Now, ‘Needles and Pins’ by The Searchers is droning through the fuzzy speakers. It’s all a set, mundane routine. Drop off the prescription for the pharmacist who works for the store, after leaving the beast-of-burden doctor who works for a rapacious chain of clinics hell bent on profits. While waiting for the drugs, he locates discount cat treats, some tinned food, three boxes of cheap crackers and generic headache tablets. He nearly forgot to get the largest container of anti-acid chewables. At the till, he checks his lotto tickets. No luck, just two free plays from a $60 10-draw investment. “Yahoo!” the machine chirps out, as if there had been a real jackpot. Damn, is there no hope? The automatic door shudders open to the dry, brown wastelands and traffic mayhem roar from Blackfoot Trail. Squinting in the cold sun, coughing into a chilling wind, he makes for the car holding the key in front like a thrusting dagger.

Swearing at greasy jerks in sports cars, who zip into the smallest gaps, he furtively pulls into a familiar seedy liquor store where screw-top bottles of wine go for under $7. Pulling out two triple-folded folded bills, he flattens them on the counter and the clerk mumbles thanks before handing back a nickel. “Have a nice day.” Oh, the irony. Heart racing, he heads home and drinks one of the bottles within a half hour, along with five anti-acid tablets. This emboldens him to go for a walk in a nearby thistle-filled field, formerly occupied by an oil refinery. Staring at some docile mallards floating aimlessly in a bit of meltwater, he pulls out a pill bottle with a few anti-depressants left, the remnants he had before getting the new stash. While opening the child-proof container, some pills slip from his boney grasp and plop into an oil-slicked puddle. “JESUSSSSSS. . . !” He rasps, backing off to rescue some which have survived between his claw and old anorak. Totally rattled, he dumps two of the pills in his mouth and then has trouble swallowing. The bitterness bites his tongue. Returning to his basement suite his tabby cat is mewling at the door and waits. Bill sits down on the couch and waits for the meds to dull the boredom. ‘How did I end up back here, where it all started?’ he inwardly muses. Bill had had it all – wife, two children and a steady job in seismic oil exploration, preceded by a short booze-hazed stint as a news writer. Now, he had none of that. His three-bedroom bungalow in Forest Lawn was no longer his, his wife having a live-in boyfriend there. She slyly did not remarry, so she could keep taking Bill for all she could get.

He contemplated his big gut, while a sonorous ad for a local undertaker’s chain played on the television. Bill thought, ‘We’re all going from here to the catalog caskets, brought to you by rapacious funeral home owners employing strange-smelling morticians whose handclasps send the squeamish to double-wash their hands. Fire the crematorium, cram in his ashes, and hope the next grease fire from the next corpulent corpse doesn’t create another inferno needing pale attendants to run for the dry chemical extinguishers.’ He snarled and guffawed a bit, before tearing open the cat treats and tossing some onto the old linoleum in the kitchen.




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