Side Effects – A Short Story

“Be sure to read this,” the pleasant looking pharmacist said as she handed Connie the bag with her prescription inside and the papers stapled to the top. “This medication comes with some unusual side effects that you should be aware of. Be sure to contact your doctor if you start to notice any of them.”

“Are they serious?” Connie asked, giving the bag a cautious look.

“Well, they aren’t common, but it’s always good to be prepared.” She smiled then, a Susie Homemaker grin full of false interest and superiority that Connie hated to receive. “Oh,” she added as Connie reached for the bag, “and be sure to stay away from alcohol while you’re taking this. The two don’t mix at all.”

“Of course,” she said, nodding in a manner that suggested she completely understood. “I don’t drink, so that won’t be a problem.” That particular lie had become an easy one for Connie to tell; it didn’t even register on her guilt list anymore.

Connie took the proffered bag with a weak grin and left the store without even glancing in the direction of the beer cooler. She hadn’t been thinking about taking a drink all day until that holier-than-thou pharmacy chick had brought it up; now she could hardly think of anything else. Tromping back to her car through the drifts of snow, she contemplated the no alcohol advice and a sudden rush of saliva sprang up in her mouth at the very idea of a small scotch over ice.

The decision was made before she turned the key in the lock, but she continued pretending to consider against the drink. Even the lies she told herself were getting easier to pass over.

“It’s winter for Pete’s sake,” she told herself as she started the car. “I need it to help get warm and recover from this stupid cold. One small drink won’t affect the meds, I’m sure.”

Continuing to rationalize her need for the scotch, she pulled into the drive-through package store and gave the burly looking man her order. To be on the safe side, she asked for a pre-made sandwich and a bag of potato chips to go with it; best not to drink on an empty stomach. The clerk took her money and handed her the items in a bag without ever changing his expression. In fact, he never took on any expression at all that Connie could see – just stared at her with half-lidded, empty eyes, his face slack and uninterested.

As she drove away, the thought occurred to her that once upon a time she would have caused him to pay attention to her, to look at her with interest and sexual contemplation. Years ago, back before she hooked up with that loser ex-husband, she was something to look at. Guys had often undressed her with their eyes and she had rewarded them with a sultry gaze filled with promise.

Those days were gone. All the booze and Tommy’s fists had taken away anything that might have interested any other guys. She shook her head and forced herself to think of other things. Too much introspection pushed her to binge drinking and she knew if she missed work again they would fire her without hesitation.

Despite the snow still drifted against buildings, the roads were cleared enough for easy driving and she didn’t have to worry about sliding. Edging up the speed a little, she felt a need to get home and get warm. All of the thoughts about Tommy, the tortured years of their sham marriage in particular, had set her on edge and chilled her deeper than she cared to admit. When she was forced to stop at a light, she couldn’t stop herself from tearing into the pharmacy bag and popping two of the pills into her mouth. Unable to dry swallow them, she opened the scotch, bent down enough to not be noticed by other drivers, and took a quick swig. The light turned green, forcing her to balance the bottle between her thighs in order to put the lid back on, but she managed the task and even smiled at her dexterity.

It only took her fifteen minutes to make it home and pull into the parking lot of her apartment building, but she noticed the increasing affects of the anti-anxiety meds before she turned off her car. Since she had been taking one type of medication or another for the last couple of years, she hadn’t thought this one would be much different than the last, so she hadn’t bothered to read the label. If she had she would have discovered that she was supposed to start with half a pill.

At that point in time she was feeling pretty good. No, scratch that. She was feeling exceptional, if a little bit slippery. The meds must have caused her to start sweating – girls glisten, they don’t sweat, she reminded herself absently – because the keys slipped from her hand when she took them out of the ignition. She was forced to wipe her hand across her pant leg in order to get a grip on the key ring and noted the wet-looking smear on her jeans.

Keys in hand, heading toward her apartment, she felt solid and in control. Despite the minor sweat issue, there were no other problems; no racing heart, no shakiness, no stumbling or dizziness.

“And no slurred speech, either,” she said out loud to herself, confirming that everything was on track. “My compliments to the doc. These are actually going to work for me, I think.”

Connie had gone through several different medications in order to control her anxiety issues. Her strict belief was that the alcohol was only a problem because she had been trying to self-medicate her pain and issues away. Now that she had a good and effective pill, she was certain that she wouldn’t need the alcohol anymore. Things were looking up for once and she couldn’t suppress the smile that lifted the corners of her mouth and filled her with a certain glee.

When she reached her door, she was forced to rub both hands against her pant legs in order to get a good grip on the keys, turn them in the lock, and open the door.

“Honey, I’m home,” she chimed as she closed the door behind her and dropped her purse on the table next to the door.

Most days when she said, or at the very least thought, that particular phrase on entering her apartment, she immediately felt the pang of loss and emptiness that always prompted her to say it in the first place. For the first time in forever she didn’t feel the self-flagellation behind the words; she didn’t intend emotional harm to herself for her choices. There was only the happy hum of a brighter future as she went about her usual routine.

Peeling off her coat, she hung it on the peg on the wall and followed it with her scarf. She pulled her flats off and carried them to her room, padding barefoot across the chilly linoleum and dropping the bag from the package store on the couch along the way. Within minutes she was stripped down to her birthday suit and reaching for her sweats when she realized that her bra was an odd color.

Picking it up off the end of the bed, she held it up in front of her face, noting that the usual white color had become mottled beige. After closer inspection she discovered that the discoloration seemed to be present on the inside of the cups, band, and straps, while the outsides still appeared their usual white. It seemed strange to her in an offhand kind of way, as if she couldn’t quite summon the interest to be truly concerned. Passing it off as perspiration from the new meds, she dropped it back onto the bed and headed to the bathroom to wash her face.

She looked at her reflection before grabbing the make-up remover wipes out of the cabinet. Her face seemed glossy and had it not been for the uplifting affect of the new medication she might have examined it a little closer, instead of considering it a positive change. With her usual dogged enthusiasm, she rubbed the little wipe over her entire face, taking extra time to scrub her eyes, ensuring that all traces of make-up were removed. It had always been her practice to remove the days grime before relaxing for the evening. If there had been a bit more make-up on the wipe than usual, she hadn’t considered it a problem. Without a second glance to the mirror, she headed for the kitchen to grab a glass with ice.

Television remote in hand, glass with ice at her side and bag of goodies next to her thigh, she flipped through the channels until she found something interesting on the home decorating channel. With the T.V. babbling a pleasant background noise, she considered the triangle shaped container with the egg salad sandwich inside for a brief moment and opted to set it and the chips aside until after her first sip of scotch. Her mouth watered uncontrollably as she worked the cap off the bottle and poured an inch into her tumbler. With a shrug and a grin she tipped the bottle again and added another inch or so before twisting the cap back onto the bottle and setting in on the coffee table.

The amber liquid welcomed her with its light burning sensation as it slid down her throat and she sighed happily when it reached her stomach. She watched the decorating show as she sipped her scotch, but frowned at the tinkling ice before her show reached the reveal stage. Without giving it the thoughtful consideration she had pretended to afford the alcohol earlier, she started to reach for the bottle to fill her glass up again when the world tilted to the side and prevented her hand from reaching its mark. Trying for a second attempt, it occurred to her that perhaps her favorite drink and her favorite new medication were not agreeing so nicely with each other any longer. Unable to coordinate her limbs with the tossing and turning of the earth, Connie slid sideways down the couch and gave up the effort, intending to relax for a few minutes until her senses could better suit her needs.

The first thing that Connie noticed when she felt herself waking up was the sound of the television playing at a low volume. The second thing she noticed was an annoying drip-drip sound and wondered for a moment if the snow was melting off of the roof. That thought caused her to open her eyes, concerned that she had slept through the night on the couch and would be late for work, yet again.

Her eyes were gummy as she blinked them several times, attempting to clear her vision enough to function. As she moved her hand, which felt cold from hanging over the edge of the couch, to her stomach she realized two things at almost the same time. The first one was how the dripping had stopped and the second was how damp her t-shirt felt.

In an attempt to raise herself up enough to look at her shirt, she nudged her elbow into the couch next to her side and almost cried out from the sting of pain, as if she had given herself a rug burn against the fabric. Taking a moment to assess her various aches and discomforts, she came to the conclusion that she was indeed more uncomfortable than she usually was after waking with a hangover. Obviously the medication was reprimanding her for consuming the scotch. She made another promise to herself to work at quitting the scotch, because she appreciated the new medication’s effects on her brain much more than the alcohol.

Connie took a deep breath, which ended in a phlegmy cough, and pulled herself upward, intending to start her day and hopefully not lose her job. She was concerned that she had sweat too much during the night and would need to rent a machine to clean her couch. That turned out to be the least of her concerns.
Once she was sitting upright again, her thoughts and senses sloshing back and forth inside her head, she looked to her lap and realized that her shirt and sweat pants were soaked and greasy looking. She brought her hand around from its position of propping her up and for a moment didn’t understand what she was looking at.

Right before her eyes bits of liquid dripped off of her right hand onto her lap as she stared at the sinewy tissue that her skin should have covered. In two places she could actually see the bones of her wrist. She blinked rapidly and reached up with her other hand to wipe the liquid that was dribbling down her forehead and started to panic. Her left hand, although looking a little better than her right one, was also dripping a viscous substance which she realized while staring at it was her skin.

She began to shake violently as she reached up with her left hand to touch her face. Where soft, rounded flesh should have been, she felt angular bones and ribbed tissue stretching from one plane to another; it felt spongier than she thought it should. As she pulled what was left of her hand away from her face, she saw bloody bits of flesh clinging to her naked fingertips and before she could think of what to do, the meaty section of her palm melted before her eyes and slid off her bones with a wet sounding plop onto the couch.

Her screaming could be heard throughout the building, piercing and frightening, for ten solid minutes before it began to waver as if being forced through a gargling throat.

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