The Prescription

He shuffled his way back to the small kitchen table and carefully sat down in the well-worn hardback kitchen chair making sure he didn’t spill his hot drink.

For a while he sat, head bowed, staring unseeingly at the swirl of the deep well of brown cocoa. He concentrated on this for as long as he could fighting the urge to reach out for the green NHS subscription form he had tucked under the glass salt cellar earlier on to stop it being blown away by some capricious draught.

It had been late in the afternoon when Vanessa’s doctor had arrived, without warning and unwelcome. The examination had been perfunctory, almost brutal. The doctor had hardly listened to him, hadn’t been interested in what he had to say.

And anyway, what was wrong with his own doctor, he thought to himself. And why see a doctor anyhow? A few aches and pains at his age are what one expects, are normal for anyone of his years. Part of life. Pleasant reminders of the good times. And the bad. And penance for the very bad. Plus he didn’t really trust those modern medicines these modern doctors hand out willy-nilly. Never had done. They slow you down, dull the senses.

And right now he needed to be fast on his feet, for his senses to be as sharp as they ever were. They were fighting for the spoils and he was determined to do things his way. They knew there was a will, but didn’t know where he had hidden it. And they wanted to know what was written there. And get it changed if needs be.

Especially Vanessa. She needed to have more than Harry. Always more. Ever since she was a child, she had to have more. How much wasn’t important as long as it was more than Harry got. It was this fixation that had really damaged the family, traumatised it, contributed to Mavis’ early death. And why she would want any of this shabby house and shabby furniture, Lord alone knows. She probably doesn’t but she needs to have more than her young brother.

There was trouble ahead. Danger. He could smell it.

He knew Vanessa’s doctor, of course. He wasn’t a total stranger. They had met at the last two of Vanessa’s eve of Christmas Eve suppers – an event she holds to fulfill her duty as neighbour, daughter, doer-of-good-works. Christmas Eve and Christmas day are reserved for those who can help her rise in society, make her life more comfortable, not make her feel guilty. And so this is where he was first introduced to this doctor, a doctor who appeared to have an alternative approach to the usual formal doctor-patient relationship if he and Vanessa’s behavior on those two eve-of-Eve occasions was anything to go by. And his distrust of Vanessa combined with his distrust of doctors in general and medicine in general meant that he surely didn’t trust this particular hander-outer of unwanted medications.

But what could he do? What would Mavis have done? She would have known what to do. She would probably have phoned Harry and asked him to come around. But Vanessa had said, don’t phone Harry, and had removed Harry’s number from the telephone’s dial-up list. So that wouldn’t help.

He knew that in the morning Vanessa would let herself in using the key she had arranged, without his permission, for the high street shop to cut for her and would take the prescription and collect the medicine, liquids, pills, ointments, whatever, from the chemist and come back – he can’t lock her out anymore – and make him do whatever the labels said – drink or swallow or chew or rinse or smear – and write out instructions as when to repeat the process, and who knows what Vanessa and her doctor are trying to do to him.

He could, of course, tear it up, or flush it down the toilet or both – tear and flush as he had done in the past – but Vanessa would get angry and she would arrange for a copy to be made and would collect the medicines without letting him get hold of the prescription. There is no escape.

In the morning, after a restless night, unwashed and wrapped in his tired old dressing gown, he made his slow and painful way down the stairs into the kitchen. The prescription was gone. In its place was a small bowl of fresh fruit salad, a glass of milk, and a note in Vanessa’s handwriting. He poured the milk down the sink and scraped the fruit salad into the bin. She would never know he hadn’t eaten them, would wonder why the poison wasn’t working.

Vanessa and Harry and Theodore Swanson, Vanessa’s husband of twenty-two years and well-respected psychiatrist specialising in geriatric mental health, sat in a local coffee bar wondering what to do next. They all wanted the best for the old man, including letting him stay in his own house, but the time to change strategy was rapidly drawing near.

It’s a tough world and sometimes tough decisions need to be made.

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11 Responses to The Prescription

  1. Sarah Ann says:

    I think we need to hear from Harry. It can be so difficult helping our aged relatives, as your story clearly shows.

  2. Sarah Ann says:

    I think we need another piece from Harry’s POV. Doing the best for our aged relatives is always difficult and often mis-construed – as evidenced by your wonderful story.

  3. Elaine Peters says:

    You lead the reader in beautifully to change your opinion of the characters. The last line says it all.

  4. Elaine McKay says:

    I was sucked in, completely convinced Vanessa was up to no good. A well written piece with a clever ending.

  5. Tessa Sheppard says:

    Love the ending. What happens next? Great job!

  6. SJ O'Hart says:

    Gosh. What a sad (and sadly realistic) situation. I feel for both Vanessa and her father. I also love the way you’ve written the story – you’re so good at handling these slippy perspectives! Your stories are so interesting in how they subvert expectation. Really enjoyable.

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