By Lily Mulholland
It was eleven o’clock on a Tuesday morning and Andie was lined up at the dispensary counter of a pharmacy at her local shopping centre, waiting to be served. Doing her best to blend in with the other customers, mostly elderly folk who cashed their pension checks each fortnight to do the prescription shuffle, she pretended to examine the merchandise crowding the shelving under a sign that read ‘Foot Solutions’.
Who knew there were so many kinds of dressings available? Or foot problems, for that matter? Bunions, corns, planter’s warts, calluses, in-grown toenails, heel spurs, fungal infections, hammer toe, chilblains – the list was seemingly endless. In her imagination she had a brief but lucrative career as a podiatrist. Gross, but a money-spinner for sure. Maybe she should look into it. She had good scores in Year 12 biology and they had mature age entry schemes these days, especially for battlers. Or something like that. She vaguely remembered hearing it on the radio the other day, the education minister banging on about getting more people into university.
With the old dears jostling for the few available vinyl chairs, Andie maintained a respectful distance, observing queue etiquette with patience and a poker face. It would not do to be drawing attention to herself. Getting ready this morning, she had chosen her clothing with care: neat jeans, not too faded, not too tight, a clean grey t-shirt, and a red wool coat, a hand-me-down from her grandmother. Fortunately it was a timeless cut and Nan had taken good care of it. Andie had even lucked out on a decent pair of shoes from the Salvos Store (although she told her husband she had bought them from a department store and pocketed the difference).
Finally it was her turn. She moved up to the counter and asked for four boxes of Mersyndol caplets. Eyebrow shooting skyward, the sales assistant looked suspisciously at Andie.
‘Are they for yourself?’
‘Are you taking any other medication?’
‘No,’ replied Andie. It was the truth. Mersyndol was the only drug she needed.
‘Any other paracetamol or codeine?’
‘No, none,’ she lied.
‘Have you discussed taking this medication with your doctor?’
‘Yes.’ Andie’s rising irritation levels were manifested by the prickle of sweat on the skin above her top lip.
‘I’ll have to talk to the pharmacist.’ The woman disappeared up behind the three-quarter wall separating the chemist from the massing hordes. A full-blown hot flush was sweeping through Andie’s body; she could feel her face burning as the heat ascended and tried to escape out through her hair. The sweat was making her wish she had chosen a lighter jacket, but at least Nan’s coat would hide the dark patches infiltrating her t-shirt. Gripping the edge of the counter helped still the tremors in her hands.
The disapproving saleswoman returned with the blue and gold boxes. Andie’s heart leapt while her head pounded. A headache was crashing down on her and fast.
‘You are not to take more than two at a time. No more than eight capsules in a twenty-four hour period. Do not consume alcohol while taking this medication. Stop taking them as soon as they start working then switch to paracetamol. Do not drive after taking this medicine...’
Andie zoned out as the woman sounded like a robot, reciting by rote the instructions she knew so well. She could have listed the side effects, in order too, but that would have been a dead giveaway.
‘I understand.’ Andie’s hand stretched out to take the boxes, but the woman with her cat’s bum mouth and bad highlights had not quite finished.
‘You must advise your doctor you have taken this medication.’ She glared at Andie through slotted eyes.
‘Okay,’ nodded Andie. Anything to get the woman to release nirvana from her garishly painted claws.
‘Pay at the front.’ With that, the magic boxes were placed on the counter and Andie was dismissed. Scooping them up, she threaded her way to the front of the shop. A long queue of pensioners was waiting at the checkout; no doubt their fumbling for small change in the bottom of bags was causing the hold-up.
Hit by a wave of nausea, Andie closed her eyes and leaned against a crown end display at the end of the ‘Sensational Skin’ aisle. The tabs ran out the day before and the withdrawal was already hitting her hard.
‘Next please!’ Andie’s eyes snapped open. Lurching forward like a learner driver missing first gear, she fumbled the box onto the counter and handed a twenty-dollar note to the cashier. Andie took the proffered change and receipt and stuffed everything into her bag.
Escaping into the chill air was like diving into a deep, cold pool, invigorating and cleansing. Almost as good as the dreamy post-pill slide. But that would have to wait. She had her rounds to complete: the other three pharmacies and their scrutineers to withstand before she could abscond with her bounty.
If she timed it right, the first tabs would kick in before the children arrived home from school.