Smooth and Steady

It’d be funny if I could still laugh.

Instead I sit here smiling, waiting for the nurse, smiling at the white and the clean and the pure. I hate smiling. She’s smiling back at me too, her teeth as white as the walls, undoubtedly brushed with the same sanitizer. I want to punch her but instead I take the pills and thank her pleasantly. She’ll be back tomorrow, she says, and no funny business this time! Her sunny smile ratchets up a notch and mine goes with it. Oh, no, no funny business. None of this is funny.

A year ago I never thought of disobeying. I took my assigned pills like everyone else and didn’t know any better. It was Lenny who told me, in hushed tones overwritten by the sound of the flushing urinal, that he knew something that would make your mind go wild. It’d be special for me, he said, something normal people could never get near. All I had to do was stop taking the big one, the one with the odd lump in the middle and the diamond shape. That was it. I thought he was nuts.

Lenny was right, though I didn’t believe him at first. It didn’t kick in until halfway through work. The woman in the next cubicle almost called 911—she thought I was dying. She’d never heard anyone laugh before.

I lied and told them I was sick. I’m pretty sure I just never went back. It was like finding the thing you’ve been missing all your life, the pressure that builds up in your chest and then bubbles up, rocky and imperfect and so goddamned exhilarating. I’d never been exhilarated before.

Now I stare up at the nurse’s placid smile, so like my own, and think of the downside. That was how they caught me; after months of the high, it all disappeared, falling away like caked mud from old boots. I could barely move for weeks, sobbing and shivering, feeling like the whole world had ripped apart and the tear was inside me, breaking me down. This woman doesn’t know that. All she knows is that they brought another crazy man in, and it’s her job to make me obey. I look down at the pills in my hand, if only to get my eyes off of her sickly sweet face.

Just do it, she says, and I look back up. Her lips are still smiling as she says, It’s not worth it, they’ll just catch you again. I’d frown if I still knew how. She smiles back at me, encouraging, and after a moment I pop the pills under her watchful gaze. There, she tells me soothingly. Was that so hard?

There must be something new in today’s batch, because I can feel my train of thought fuzzing out as I look back at her, knowing I’m helpless but letting the thought slip away in the wind. The smile stays with her as she turns and I watch, right up until she closes the door. I stare after her as the world softens and know, in that moment, that she laughed once, too.

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