Posted in Paper Clips

Dextromethorphan: In which I enter a pharmacy to purchase cough medicine, and leave having discovered a new character.

“Text me the name of the stuff you want and I shan’t return until I have found it.

I’d said it when I was leaving, walking out the door, and my husband obeyed. I memorized the word during the five-minute drive. It was a chant in my head by the time I reached the pharmacy. I said it out loud three or four times as I crossed the parking lot to the doors.

I almost forgot it when I saw the footprints.

Someone had managed to step into the once-wet paint of cross walk lines, unwittingly decorating the symmetry with half-formed prints of the sole of a large work boot. I stopped abruptly, watching the prints, thinking maybe they would leave. It hurt my eyes to see them so blatant. It was disrespectful – churlish – to the symbol of pedestrian right of way.

“Good morning.”

I looked up at the sound, and saw a man in front of me, a small plastic bag around his wrist. Gazing past him, I saw the automatic doors closing with a soft shum. And then I remembered.

Audibly, I said, “Hi.”

Internally: Dextromethorpan.

Swiftly, I made my way into the pharmacy, determined to remain integrous in my quest for cough medicine – but my thoughts were jumbled; distracted.

Dextromethorphan. I let it circle in my mind, a weak talisman against curiosity. Cosmetic displays on the right, food stuffs on the left, Halloween decorations on the ceiling, a brightly patterned carpet – all threatened to take my attention from my task.


Those prints… Who had made them? Who would have walked in wet paint? Who had feet so large as to create such only half an imprint, only half of the foot?

“No,” I muttered. Whispered it under my breath. “Now’s not the time. Dextromethorphan.”

I’d reached the aisle. I said the word again and again, searching for it alone. Acetametaphin, guaifenesin, accompanied it often, in varying forms and concentrations. I wanted it pure and unaccompanied. Untainted.

A loud Southern woman began discussing the finer points of loosing her shoe and being late for work. I stopped to listen, looking at the bottles intently so as not to be noticed as eaves dropping. Someone entered the aisle then, and I looked over to their feet.

They were wearing boots.

Maybe someone like this person had made those prints?


I found it. I found the stuff – took it to the counter, tried to make the cashier laugh as she rang up my small bottle of 20 soft gels.

I all but ran to my car, avoiding the cross walk altogether, and when I had sent a text to my husband to let him know that relief was on the way, I let my mind go free.

Questions formed in my mind, and I felt I could see the day those prints were made, imaginary scenes from a past that wasn’t mine. It was only a five minute drive home, but it only took me five minutes to know something I hadn’t known before.

Those prints were made by a tall man, who was having a bad day. Stepping in that paint was the fifth thing that had gone wrong that day, and things only worsened from there.

This man’s name was Steven – and Steven had just been born in my head.



My name is Emma. I wear about a zillion hats. Getting through life, writing, eating, trying to keep two kids alive. It's an adventure, ya'll.

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