“Quack,” I giggled before I placed a small, duck shaped pill on my tongue. I sipped my juice, swallowed it. I felt it rock down my throat, a feeling I didn’t like but had gotten used to. I’d do this every day since I was three at exactly 12pm. My mother smiled and congratulated me on being a good girl who was brave enough to take pills without being so fussy. She told me she was proud of me. There was something about her smile – a sadness was there, maybe in the way her lips quivered, just a little? Whatever it was, she didn’t seem as happy as she would have liked me to think, I suppose.
I was five. I played games, loved school, smiled at every stranger I saw on the street. I was innocently and ignorant and I had no idea why I took a duck shaped pill every day.
Mr and Mrs Lawson took those pills too, except they weren’t duck shaped. The Lawson’s were my sweet, elderly neighbours who looked after my when my parents couldn’t. Jimmy, a man in his early 20’s who lived down the street took them too. He was friendly with me and told me he’d teach me how to play the guitar when I was older. That made me happy. A lot of people I knew took those pills; some kids in my class, the teacher, the janitor, my uncle…
I didn’t know why they took the pills either.
“Quack,” I said as I placed the pill on my tongue, no longer a duckling. When I was nine, they stopped being ducks and started being ovals, and like the ducks, they were still just that little bit too big so that when I swallowed them, I felt them rock all the way down my throat. Quacking before I took them was a comfort mechanism that didn’t work. I always felt the bottom of my eye get a tiny bit wet as I swallowed gulps on gulps of water, just to take away that feeling in my throat.
Every Monday, every noon. At least I only do this weekly now.
I was eleven, no longer blissfully unaware. More people needed the pills like I did. The medicine for whatever condition we had was rare and I was told I could only have one pill a week – this would still help fine, still fight my condition, but I had to be careful. I knew something was wrong, but I still didn’t know why I was taking those pills.
My parents didn’t like it when I left the house unless it was for school or something important. My mother said I was weaker than I was before and I should rest more. Save my energy. I didn’t know why, but I guessed it was because of the pills. And I suppose I did feel weak? If I stood for too long, well, it just became too much. I would feel lightheaded. Would resist letting myself fall down.
Despite all that, I didn’t want to stay inside. I wanted to play games with my friends. By this time in my life, school had become very boring and difficult and I couldn’t find the will to grin at every stranger I saw.
One day during a guitar lesson, Jimmy told me that there weren’t enough pills for him – he could no longer afford them. I asked him what would happen to him and he shrugged and taught me how to play some Arctic Monkeys song he liked. When I went to house the next week for my lesson, it was empty. I never saw Jimmy again. Jimmy was my friend and I miss him. I miss him a lot.
Mr and Mrs Lawson no longer sat in their garden on sunny days. They didn’t even come over anymore. There were times when my mum and dad took me when they went to visit our Lawson’s. All they did was lie on their beds. Mrs Lawson apologised for her exhaustion, she felt horrible. “I should be making tea, I should be bringing biscuits.” My mum hushed her and my dad brought the tea. “We’re just so tired,” she sighed, her voice heavy with resignation.
“It’s okay,” I told her. “I’m tired too.”
She stroked my hair and smiled kindly. My mother took my hand in hers. She told me I was a good and brave young lady. I didn’t know why she said that.
My mum let me sit outside for a while since it was a nice, breezy day and my room was so stuffy. I had been spending most of my time in my room. The school and my bedroom were the only places I really went, those days.
I was fourteen, and I took my pill once a fortnight. That day was not a pill day.
School had been different. Not many people went. For a while I was taught by the teacher I had when I was five. Then she left and I’ve not heard anything of her since. A lot of kids have stopped going to school and my parents said I could stop going if I wanted. I didn’t want to, I wanted to finish it all and become a doctor.
I had some idea about why I was taking my pill.
I had a virus that was eating me from the inside out. My dad told me that one day it would make me crack and I’d become a totally different person. He told me that a lot of people wouldn’t even consider me a person anymore. That’s why it was important to take my pill. He told me that Jimmy got cut off from his pills and he changed and now he’s gone. My dad told me that I was very lucky to have been able to take one pill every two weeks.
Dad said that in a moment of weakness, I think. My mum overheard the end of that long speech he made, and then I heard them yelling that night.
I was lying down on the grass and closed my eyes. It seemed that in every spare second where I was sitting or lying down, I’d start to drift off. I felt a soft breeze in my hair and started to fall. I opened my eyes again when I heard a door open. It was the Lawsons’ door.
My parents definitely weren’t in their house. I thought they were in our house. No one but my parents and I visited the Lawsons. I got up and looked around saw Mrs Lawson limping out of her house followed by Mr Lawson. The door behind it seemed battered and scratched and a little red. Had they been punching it? I had heard thumping from my bedroom lately. Had it been them?
They limped towards me with their arms outstretched. Like a hug. I grinned and asked them what they were doing outside. And then I really looked at them.
They looked seriously ill…in fact, they looked dead, and they looked as if they had been left in their room to decay.
I asked if they were okay and they kept coming towards me, their feet dragging and their arms reaching out. On my feet, I was shaky; it was the fatigue and the uneasiness creeping in, I think.
Suddenly I was in my dad’s arms, like a baby. He threw me onto the living room couch and locked the front door to the house. Before I could ask what was happening, he was on the phone. There was ringing in my head and I could barely hear my dad speaking over my own voice, asking and asking and asking. I think I heard him say the word virus. I think I heard him say something about the Lawson’s.
Fifteen minutes later sirens sounded in our street and when I looked out the window, I saw men in white grabbing the Lawsons. They were reluctantly dragged into a van and were driven away.
My dad held his head in his hands as he cursed under his breath. “Are they going to be okay?”
“Go to your room, Lily,” he uttered. “We’ll talk about it in the morning.”
We never did.
I open my eyes and attempt to move my arms to stretch. As usual, I am restrained by my chains. One chain on each wrist, binding me to my bed. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.
My name is Lily Carter, I am seventeen years old and I no longer receive the medicine that’s been keeping my heart beating and my humanity intact.
I can feel myself slip away a little bit more every day. I feel my skin decaying and I smell it too. I look over to see that the window is closed. I think it’s still August but I can’t be sure. It’s been months since I last left the house or even seen a calendar or a clock.
My mum’s footsteps sound up the stairs seconds after I yell for her. She comes right in with a plate of something that smells good. Raw chicken. Nowadays, I only eat raw meats. It’s the only thing that can make me feel full. She feeds me the chicken and when she’s finished she strokes my hair. Some clumps of hair fall out but there’s nothing I can do. I no longer care about my hair or my make up or the way I look.
A while ago I had thought that my father had stopped visiting me in my room because I looked so ugly. I asked my mother to put some make up on me and let him in. She cocked her head to the side and said that he wasn’t not visiting me because I looked different, (I know my mother had lied when she told me I looked beautiful) but because a lot of things were happening.
She sent him into my room that evening and he stayed for half an hour and all he did was cry. It was this horrible, heart breaking cry; he seemed to crumble into his hands about his face. It seemed like the only thing he could do. I felt myself sob as tears rolled down my cheeks.
I tried to talk to him and ask if he was still going to work but he couldn’t get any words out. He left and he’s not visited since. It’s only been my mother and she’s only come up to feed me in the mornings. I think she’s afraid of me, no matter how many brave faces she puts on. When she reaches out to stoke my hair, she sits as far away from me as she can while still being within reaching distance.
I remember the feeling of a duck shaped pill sliding down my throat and being a healthy young girl with a bright future. I remember vowing to become a doctor when I realized that the people who desperately needed medicine like me weren’t getting it. After my fifteenth birthday I was too weak to leave my bed.
Then I stopped receiving pills four months after my sixteenth birthday.
After five months without one single pill, I became inexplicably hungry but nothing my parents brought me to eat would change that. One day my dad had his arm around me and I went straight for his arm. Bit right down. He had to go to the doctors but they said that it was okay. When he got back I told him I was sorry for biting his arm, but I was just so fucking hungry. He told me not to swear, forgave me, but kept his distance.
His arm was right next to my face. His skin smelled warm and there was just something about it. I let instincts take over. After that my mother only fed me raw foods.
I tug weakly on my chains. My parents say this is for the best because they’ve seen people like me; people who need those pills but can’t get them. My dad told me they had become monsters and my mother slapped his arm before she reassured me that I am nothing but her duckling and could never be a monster. I nodded and they left and I fell asleep and woke up feeling weaker and more tired every day. I looked at my peeling and decaying skin and wanted my life to end.
So now I’m just waiting it out.