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PHARM BOY by Chris Milam

At the grocery, I was debating which would pair better with a chicken sandwich when I saw a ponytailed head wedged inside the refrigerated glass doors inspecting a carton of eggs.

“Hello there, do you have a preference in pickles?”

“Excuse me?”

“Pickles.” I held both jars in front of me. “Bread and butter or dill?”

“I don’t eat them. Sorry.” The smack of flip flips on linoleum trailed her into the next aisle.

I accidentally bumped into her again minutes later. I didn’t need her to be anyone specific, not Rachel, not my mother, or the bored college girl who worked at the gas station I went to every night for energy drinks. She didn’t have to inhabit their skin, take on their personality, mimic their cadence. I only wanted her to help me make a proper decision. Just play along. Fill a hole. “Should I go with rye or whole wheat?”

“What is wrong with you? I don’t give a fuck what you eat. Leave me alone.” Smack, smack, smack around the corner. In her basket was a loaf of pumpernickel. Was hoping she would’ve steered me in that exotic direction.

Bent and back home, Rachel clung to air and fabric. The apartment, post-evacuation, was nothing more than a gigantic Rachel fingerprint. I had met her at an NA meeting. She was on step 12; I was on step burned all bridges. Connection erupted seamlessly after that; delirium jabbed us both in the addicted heart. We found a quaint loft, painted the walls champagne, rented a leather couch, did some volunteer work. Went to church. We were all about spackling cracks.

When I relapsed, when my whole existence was lapsed, our love bottomed out. I pawned her jewelry, mocked her metamorphosis, and prowled the streets. The last thing she said to me: “Do you want to stay high and live low or stay with me and live with hope?” She bolted instead, I stayed and free-fell, landing in the arms of shadow. If not for a mother’s unconditional enabling and charitable pocketbook, I’d probably be living in the woods behind the supermarket.

A week later and I’m stuck again. “Horseradish sauce or mayonnaise, which one do you like?”

Her blonde friend in dark denim eyeballed me for a tick. “I’d need some burn, go with the horseradish.” She peeked at my cart. “And you can’t go wrong with dill chips, so crunchy and sour.”

We headed to the parking lot, sat in my car. “You wanna listen to rock, alternative, or hip hop?”

Lily flicked a veiny hand. “Let’s skip the nonsense. She had me text you for a reason. How many you got?”

“Hold on. Tell me something, a morsel of information. Is she still dating her sponsor? Is she happy?”

“Yes and maybe. But she’s falling, said you had the remedy.”

“She has my number, could’ve just called me.” I handed her six pills. “Tell her no charge. And ask her if I should move on or not. Will you do that for me?”

“You know what happened the last time you had her number. Your phone voice is a bit emotional. And yes, I’ll ask her. Gotta roll, take care.”

“Wait, does she still cut her sandwiches in half, diagonally?”

“I don’t know. I’ll find out when I drop these off.”

“Thanks.” And with that she jogged to her Mazda and blasted away from the storm surge.

Later, at a meeting, I spotted her boyfriend. Lewis was slurping coffee from a styrofoam cup. Black v-neck, grey slacks, dollar store tortoiseshell readers, silver rope bracelet, same chameleon smile; repulsive to me, an aphrodisiac to recovering, vulnerable women.

I assaulted his personal space, jaw to jaw. His coconut shampoo was intoxicating. “Do you love her or are you just using her? And a little bird told me that Rachel is popping again. Nice work, being her sponsor and all.”

“I’m not doing this tonight. You should just focus on step one and let me worry about her. Okay, Jason?”

He looked at me the way a father might when his golden boy wets the bed: a slurry of indignation, detachment, and empathy. “Yeah, better watch her close, friend. She knows I’m around.”

We admitted we were powerless…

Eat some cotton, man, climb that stairway and find enlightenment. Step 13? Walk away, sprawl on the couch, and kiss God flush on the mouth.

She’ll come back to me. Opiate love is true and eternal.

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