Handle with care

It arrived in the mail. My doctor told me she’d be shipping it over and I’d said it was ok, even though I’d been avoiding it for months. Now that it’s here though, I’m not sure I want it in the house. 

The courier tries to hand it over to me but my arms stay firmly crossed over my chest. Instead she sets it down gingerly at my feet before asking me to sign for it. With fumbling fingers, I scrawl my initials on the electronic pad, making the package officially mine. The courier gives me a curt nod, tells me to have a good day and jumps back into her van. As she pulls away down the street, I nudge the package with my toe and fight the urge to stomp on it. 

The package has been carefully wrapped. Scrolls of brown duct tape have been stretched around the sides and a large orange sticker stating FRAGILE: HANDLE WITH CARE in bold black letters has been slapped across the top; a loud reminder the contents within may break upon impact. 

I bring the box inside and sit it in the middle of the dining room table. Turning my back on it, I make my way to the kitchen and pour myself a generous glass of red wine. I then sit in my armchair, legs drawn up to my chest, staring at it sitting there on the table. I swirl the wine in my glass, take a sip and eye the package with suspicion. I half expect the ghost of the past to rip her way out from the inside. To burst through the layers of tape and land accusingly in my living room, asking why it’s taken so long for me to face up to her, but the box just sits there, innocuously silent. 

After half an hour, I gather my nerve and resolve to open it. I take a gulp of wine, draining half the glass, and grab a pair of scissors. As I approach the table, holding the scissors at hip height, I run my thumb along the blade. It takes me eight steps to reach the package. I lay my hand on the top of it, the cardboard is smooth under my palm. Lifting the scissors up high, I bring them down swiftly through the air and pierce through the tape. I slice along the edge to make my first incision. I repeat the motion, carving along the right and left sides before rotating it to sever the remaining shreds of adhesive. Once finished, I place the scissors firmly on the table and reach over for another swig of wine. I watch cautiously, waiting for the phantom within to seep out and exude onto the wooden table. Nothing happens. 

Inhaling sharply, I set the wine glass down, and stand over the box. I extend my arms out, reaching for it with two shaky hands, and drag it along the table towards me. My fingers tremble as I lift the flap closest to me and peer inside. 

Sitting snugly in the centre of the box are five glass vials. Each one contains an amber liquid and is labelled with different letters: De, An, Ba, Dep, Ac. The vials shine softly in the afternoon light and almost seem to glow up at me. Tucked neatly beside them is a small piece of paper. I pick it up and scan my eyes over it. In neat clinical typeset, the paper reads: 

  • Patient name: Esther Rose Reynolds 
  • Date of birth: 02/06/2123 Sex: Female
  • Prescription: Grief – standard dose 
  • Instructions: Ingest one vial (30ml), once a day, until five doses have been taken. Vials MUST be taken in order: Denial (De), Anger (An), Bargaining (Ba), Depression (Dep), Acceptance (Ac). Failure to take in order may result in severe side effects. 

I throw the paper onto the table and move back to the kitchen to refill my wine glass. I watch the red liquid tumble out of the bottle and use my finger to catch a drop that threatens to slide down onto the counter top. I bring the glass up to my nose and inhale the heady scent of dark fruits. I wonder what Denial will smell like. 

Following another swallow of wine, I cross the room back to the table and take a seat in front of the box. I pull out the first vial, the one labelled De. It’s cool, smooth and delicate in my hand. For a moment, I envisage myself dropping it. Letting it smash on the table and the liquid pool in a pathetic puddle that I could wipe away with an old dirty dishcloth, but I know I can’t do that. I have to go through this. It’s the only way to put the ghost to rest. 

The seal cracks as I twist the vial open. Removing the small plastic cap, I give the contents a hesitant sniff. A waft of artificial orange and sickly sweetness hits my nose. I’m reminded of cough syrup and a wry thought crosses my mind: they have to make this stuff appeal to kids too

Raising the tube up in front of me, I whisper a mock salute to the empty room. 

“To you, baby sister, the one who should’ve made it.”

With a quick motion, I bring the tube to my lips and tip the liquid down my throat, swallowing hard. I feel it trickle all the way down and the stench of oranges fills my nose again. I wash the residue from my mouth with another gulp of wine and wait with a pounding heart for the medicine to take effect. 

In an instant, the room around me begins to drain of colour. A shadow descends from the ceiling like a heavy blanket and my world turns monochrome grey. The temperature drops and I start to shiver uncontrollably. My breathing becomes rapid and shallow. My heart palpitates in my chest and I look around the room frantically. I try to move but find my rigid body is cemented to the chair. 

The forgotten wine glass in my hand slips from my frozen fingers but I don’t hear it smash on the floor. Instead, a rushing sound fills my ears, getting louder and louder until a deafening roar fills my head, pressing against my skull. 

A scene unfolds in front of my eyes. Tire marks on black tarmac. Glinting scrap metal. Siren lights that flash. Broken glass cuts into my cheek. A stream of blood flows and my sister’s hand stretches out from under the wreckage. She doesn’t move even though I’m screaming her name. 

The horrific playback repeats, again and again and again, until eventually the obscene memory fades into darkness. Exhausted, I slide down off the chair and crumple onto the carpeted floor. Bringing my knees up to my chest, I curl myself into a ball and sob. 

I tell myself that it’s not real. That it didn’t really happen. That this is just the first dose.  

 Only four vials to go. 

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3 thoughts on “Handle with care

  1. Oh wow! That’s such an interesting cliffhanger! Very well written, Julia! 👏 I look forward to part II 😁


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