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Inner Ocean Fantasy 2011
25” x25"
by John Babcock

Photo by Linda Babcock

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Karen Ackland

Waiting, Walgreen's

     When you receive the email that your husband’s prescription is ready, you decide to walk to Walgreen’s.  Neither of you have been outside much since his surgery, and it’s a beautiful fall day. 
     The perky young technician at the pharmacy counter recognizes your name and announces that they can’t fill the prescription. She looks wholesome in a clean-cut, retro way with curly blond hair and a pleated plaid skirt. You wonder if it’s a costume—Halloween is less than a week away. Young people at this end of town are typically tattooed.
     “We got an email,” you say.
     “Oh, that just means the pharmacist looked at the prescription.”
     She’s probably new. You know the email didn’t come from her personally, but the pharmacist glancing at a prescription doesn’t seem like the right time to announce it’s ready to be picked up, and you point this out.
     She looks as if you are babbling in a foreign language, even though English is your mother tongue. The pharmacist comes through the locked doors, presumably from lunch, and recognizes you from earlier visits. He confirms that they can’t fill the prescription. 
     “We got an email,” you say. The crisp promise of the day is beginning to fade.
     Over a month ago, your husband woke with blurred vision. When he covered his right eye, it looked as if a blackout shade had been pulled across the left. He was referred to a specialist who scheduled surgery to repair a detached retina the next day. That evening, after you drove home from the hospital, a face-down chair was delivered—an adjustable device with shin pads and a face cradle—and installed in your living room. Your husband spent the following week in the chair, listening to audio books and drinking coffee through a straw, looking up only for you to drop medicine into the slit of his pus-caked, bloody eye.
     Two weeks later, in an examination room at the retinal center, the nurse tested his vision and he answered correctly every time. He mentioned an Italian boot in the top corner of his eye, and you teased him about his familiarity with European footwear, giddy that his eyesight was returning. Then the doctor came in and looked through his instruments. He looked through everything a second time. Finally he announced that he was sorry, but another surgery was necessary. He was available that night. Before you left for the hospital, you ordered another face-down chair.
     But that’s behind you now. You’re past the point when the second surgery was needed. The retina is still attached.
     “Can you go to Soquel?” the pharmacist asks. “I’ll forward the prescription.”
     “I’ve changed your preferences so that you’ll no longer get emails,” the perky technician says as you turn to leave. You don’t bother to explain that you didn’t object to the emails, but wanted them to mean something.
     You walk home and drive to the other store. As you pull into the lot, your husband mentions that your parking is improving.  You’ve done all the driving since his surgery and your preference for double-wide parking spaces has been noted.
     At the pharmacy counter, you put your feet in the oversized footsteps that show where the line begins.  They remind you of the scanning devices at the airport, but you’re not going anywhere. You’d planned to be on vacation this week, hiking in Zion and the slot canyons around the Vermillion Cliffs. But the gas bubble inserted behind your husband’s eye to hold the retina in place could explode if he changes elevation.
     When it’s your turn, you move to the counter and tell the clerk your name. He says the prescription will be ready in thirty minutes. Not ten minutes pass before you’re called to the pharmacist’s window.  You’ll be home soon, you think, already starting dinner preparations in your head.
     But the pharmacist doesn’t care about your dinner. “You already renewed this prescription,” she says. You recognize the short Vietnamese woman from her photo on the front wall. “It’s too soon to renew again. These drops are expensive. Your insurance will not pay.”
     “Then I’ll buy them,” your husband says and flips his American Express card across the counter.   
     You pull the card back and rest your fingers on the embossed numbers. You still don’t know how much your husband’s vision will return, and she’s quibbling about insurance. “This is a new prescription, not a renewal,” you say. “The doctor called it in this morning to Front Street and they forwarded it here.”
     “Why do you need more? Are you using drops in both eyes?”
     Your husband backs away and begins examining the blood pressure kits to the right of the counter.
      Do people abuse eye drops? There are four types of drops lined up beside his side of the bed that you differentiate by the color of the cap: white, yellow, violet, red. You’re out of the red. “Only in the left eye. The one that had surgery.” 
     “How much?”
     “Two drops, three times a day. The way the doctor prescribed. He called in a new prescription today. It was forwarded by Front Street.” You’re repeating yourself, which seems necessary. At first you had to pry his eyelid open before you could insert the drops and you wondered, not for the first time, if you should have learned more useful life skills. Later the thrice-daily ritual became companionable as you sat next to each other on the bed, waiting fifteen minutes between each drop.  It was an isolated, closed-in time, almost like a second honeymoon without the romance or the sex.
     The pharmacist leaves the counter to call the other store. When she returns she says, “Front Street has no prescription.”
      “We were just there.” You resist the urge to reach across the counter and pull up the prescription yourself; call Front Street and demand to be remembered.
     Now the pharmacist asks, “Do you want me to call your doctor?”
     She’s irritating, but at least she’s still working with you. You try to appreciate this. “Yes. Dr. Bayoumi.”
     “Not Lin?”  She’s suspicious all over again.
     “It’s the same office. Lin is fine.”
     The phone call is made and a new prescription forwarded. The waiting time has increased to an hour.
     Your husband rejoins you after you leave the pharmacist’s window and says, "Maybe they have something for toe fungus.” Over the years he has grown critical of your toenails. Given the circumstances, you think it’s something he could overlook.
     “Leave my toes alone. You should see my mother’s.”
     “What about leg cramps?”
     “Let’s just get this prescription and go.” Walgreen’s is not the type of store where you enjoy browsing. Sometimes you linger over the Bert’s Bees display, but you bought a tube of lip gloss earlier in the week, a tinted shade called raisin, and don’t need another. 
     Your husband hesitates in front of the hair dryers on aisle two. You know he’s trying to thank you for dealing with the pharmacist, but you have a hair dryer at home that you never use. Even with sight in only one eye, he should know this.
     You try to remain calm. During the evening of the second surgery, you sat alone in the cold hospital waiting room while a cleaning woman vacuumed around you. You couldn’t concentrate on your book and the television was tuned to a Mexican soap opera you couldn’t understand.  You tried not to stare at the electronic message board which read in surgery, an hour past the time when the first surgery had ended. When the doctor finally emerged, he explained that the operation had been more difficult and that this time, in addition to the gas bubble, he’d sewn a silicone band around your husband’s eye, a procedure you tried not to picture.
     A nurse brought you back to the recovery room and wrapped a heated blanket around your shoulders while you sat on the bed next to your husband. When you reached over to rub his back, a connection made for your sake as much as his, the monitor beeped rapidly and the nurses rushed over. You dropped your hand.
     The blond nurse laughed. “You did that.”
     You like to think that bells go off when you touch your husband, but right then you wanted his vitals to stabilize. It was almost midnight by the time you drove the car up to the side entrance and the nurse wheeled him outside. At home you carried another face-down chair to the living room.
     But that’s behind you now. The retina is still attached.
     On aisle twelve, your husband points out the bacon bowl, as advertised on TV. In better times, the needlessness of this item would amuse you. This is not a better time. You take a deep breath and pick up a copy of Real Simple magazine and read about the things you could buy to simplify your life.
     Your husband comes over up a bag of peppermint patties. “Halloween?”
     Okay, you nod.
     You glance through the automatic doors. It’s getting dark outside, stripes of pink tint the sky. You itch to escape, just for a day or two.  Haven’t friends been telling you to take some time for yourself? But the hour is almost up, and you return to the pharmacy line. You have been patient and well behaved. You are mistaken if you think that matters. Your stomach twists now, residual fear like a phantom limb, shared promise of all you have to lose.
     The man ahead of you sits on his walker. A little girl dressed in Hello Kitty pajamas throws herself on the floor screaming. You’d throw yourself on the floor and scream, too, if it would do any good. You know now that there are people who come to Walgreen’s for hand lotion and vitamins, beach chairs and ginger ale. You used to be one of those people, but now you belong in the pharmacy line with the frightened and confused.
     The man in the walker moves to the counter and you stand in the oversized footsteps. “Almost there,” you say and reach for your husband’s hand.

KAREN ACKLAND has lived in Santa Cruz since 1986. Her work has appeared in Story Quarterly, Quarterly West, Brain,Child, the San Jose Mercury News, Salon, and other journals. She holds a MFA from Pacific University, reviews fiction for Foreword Reviews, and has contributed to the Ploughshares and Prairie Schooner blogs.

Karen Ackland
Paul Skenazy

Wilma Marcus Chandler
Dane Cervine
Dion Farquhar
Lisa Allen Ortiz

John Babcock

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