Become an O:JA&L Member through Patreon.

Lauren Swift


Woman Sitting by a Window by Csontváry Kosztka Tivadar

“Zofran, for nausea and vomiting,” said John, as he placed the prescription in a bag. “You’ll find it might cause a bit of lightheadedness and dizziness,” he added, “and constipation, too, possibly.”

“Wait a sec,” said Steven, “isn’t this the stuff they give to like, cancer patients? Mike, this old buddy of mine, his mom went through chemo last year and this is the stuff they had her on.”

Unruffled by decades of questions like this, John answered. “Yes, that’s the primary use, but off-label, doctors use it for all kinds of things…pediatric gastroenteritis, rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, steroid withdrawal—” Taking in the barbed wire tattoo laced around the bicep too large for its own t-shirt, John was fairly convinced that the young man was neither a pediatric patient nor an arthritic one. Schizophrenia seemed a possible stretch as well (delusions of self-importance, maybe, and very probably some internal voices admiring his own physique as he flexed in the mirror, but certainly not a potentially debilitating psychiatric condition).

“Rockin’.” Quickly signing his name on the electronic pad and shrugging dumbly at John, Steven slouched out to the parking lot where he roared a megalomaniacal truck into obscene life, and drove off.

Peering out the pharmacy window, John watched the Steven’s truck disappear around the street corner and he wondered, as he so often did in this business, about people, and about sickness, and about why some get cancer and others have to be weaned off their steroids when they panic because their testicles have begun to shrivel—how the same drug can mean such different things to them but also the same, and as he wondered these things, John thought about how, when he had been 11, he had seen that woman get run over by a car and he could only stare and stare and how, when the paramedics came and lifted her busted body onto a gurney, some bits of her flesh still stuck to the hot asphalt, and thinking about her made him think about when he had been in college and he came back to his dorm that day to find his roommate hanging in their closet, and how he vowed in that moment that he would change everything so as to forget it all, stop studying history with all its flesh bits and suicides and start studying biochemistry because there’s no possible sadness there.

Only, now John was here in the old pharmacy that had been inside the small town’s grocery store for something like 60 years—26 of which he himself had managed—and he was sadder than he had ever been in his whole life, watching Steven fade away, likely back to the gym where he would have to seriously reassess things, but where John also knew he probably wouldn’t, because shrunken testes can be compensated for in a whole variety of other ways. No doubt, Steven could probably lift his truck another 9 inches or so, buy a bigger American flag to swing from it, toss his Zofran in the backseat and forget it.

Marking Steven’s prescription down in the pharmacy logbook (John still insisted on a paper copy despite the new system implemented a few years ago when the store had also put in an ATM machine—the subject of countless querulous city council meetings), he sighed. Looking at the entry, he wondered how many Zofran prescriptions Steven’s friend Mike’s mother had filled before she died.

“Keep busy, John,” he muttered to himself when he felt the prod at his depression, “keep busy.”

Just as he was readying himself to begin a new month of inventory, he heard the ding from the front counter. It was Julie Larson, who was in regularly to fill her gamut of prescriptions. He knew from the medications that she had had a lung transplant 4 years ago and now found herself facing a lifetime of immunosuppressants, but she never spoke about it or offered anything more, and of course his professional code prevented him from inquiring.

“Good afternoon, Julie,” he said, smiling at her.

Flushed from the raging sun outside, she smiled back at him and he felt a flip in his abdomen at her bright eyes and her vigor. Even nearing what must be 55 or so as she was, she had a youthfulness to her that made him feel like a young boy again, one with a sweet crush on a pretty girl, one who had yet to find his roommate dead and swinging.

“Days like this are funny, aren’t they, John?” she said with that lilt in her voice that John always appreciated so.

“Comical,” he replied, unsure why he said it and also feeling embarrassed at not being able to come up with something more clever on the spot to impress her.

“Been out in my garden all day,” she continued, “all the fruit is blossoming and it’s just wonderful. Life all around, you know?” All of this she said, glinting as she did, and John could only push away the intruding thought: how long would it take her ruddy flesh to turn pale if her new lung were to stop working, if the drugs were to fail, if she gasped painfully to the end, if he could have her donor heart for his own and somehow do everything differently, make his life one where something like blossoming fruit made him flush with delight.


About the writer:
Lauren holds her MA in Poetry from the University of California, Davis, and is a current MFA student at the University of California, Irvine. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus and on, where she was the recipient of the 2016 Celeste Turner Wright Poetry Prize, co-sponsored by the Academy of American Poets and UC Davis.

Image: Woman Sitting by a Window by Csontváry Kosztka Tivadar (1853-1919). Oil on canvas. 28.7 x 37.4 inches. 1890s. Public domain.

OJAL Art Incorporated, publishing since 2017 as OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) and its imprint Buttonhook Press, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporationsupporting writers and artists worldwide.

Become an O:JA&L Member through Patreon.