The pretty robot at the pharmacy drive-up window has captivating dark eyes and shiny black hair. She’s wearing a professional smile and a white Walgreens shirt with red lettering. I get the feeling we are in a television commercial. Your total is one-oh-two-oh-eight, she announces over the intercom. There is a sharp intake of breath from the older lady in the back seat of my cab.
She is picking up the meds for her disabled husband, a tall, gaunt man who sits beside her in a Korean War hat. Why is it so much this time? she asks. She sounds frightened. Yeah yeah, whispers her husband. I relay the question to the pretty robot through the driver’s window. She holds up one little white bag, then another. Sixty-one forty for one and forty sixty-eight for the other. My customer tells me what they normally pay and my blood begins to boil. That’s forty bucks more than it was last time! I complain. A sixty-five percent increase! I’m sorry, replies the girl, though not looking like she really is. That’s all the system is telling me. He’ll have to check with his insurance company. Yeah yeah, whispers the husband. We only have enough for one, says the wife, and I relay that to the girl too. I’m so sorry, she says through the glass. Which one would you like to pick up today? But he needs both! cries the wife. They’re his heart medications! His Social Security check is coming in tomorrow, direct deposit. Can’t they— I bark this information at the pretty robot while over the radio nervous Bobby Mac yells Car 13? Al? I ignore him and focus my attention on the girl: These people are good customers and he needs both medications to stay alive! There must be something you can do. If they give you a check can you hold it until tomorrow? She tilts her head a little to one side. I’m so sorry but— Just get the pharmacist, I say tersely. Please. Yeah yeah yeah, chants the veteran in the back seat. Car 13, Al? repeats Bobby Mac a little more impatiently this time. Are you clear? The pharmacist appears in the window in his white coat. He is impatient too. He’s got a nervous mustache that looks like it doesn’t belong. I lay into him when he tells me his hands are tied: This man is a good customer and a veteran. He gets his Social Security check tomorrow. The radio cuts in. Car 13? Al? Do you mean to tell me there’s nothing you can do to help him? He helped you. He fought for you. He nods his head. I know, and we thank him for his service. Oh! cries the wife. I’m so sick of hearing that! What about the VA? asks the pharmacist. Is he enrolled in a prescription plan with the VA? An exasperated sigh escapes from the lady in back. There’s no time for that, I reply. He needs his meds today to stay alive. Yeah yeah, adds the husband like a gentle chorus. Here’s what I can do, says the man in the white coat. I can give him a temporary supply of two pills of either med to tide him over. The woman nods eagerly in the rear-view mirror. The charge would be ten dollars but we’ll give him a credit when he comes back. I’m not paying ten dollars for two pills! shouts the wife. That’s robbery! I have an idea. We pay for one of the meds, leave the other and speed across town to a small store that helped my sister once. On the way I shut the meter off and Bobby Mac immediately calls me on the phone as if he can see right into the cab. How much are you charging these people? he yells. Is your meter running? Nestled between a package store and a pizza shop sits Wessagussett Pharmacy, its strange, fluent name from the so-called savages who once lived here. No drive-up, no parking lot. At the counter a five-year-old girl is bouncing up and down next to her mother and clapping and squealing. They have bought a little stuffed tiger for a birthday party and the clerk is wrapping it in pink paper. The pharmacist, a calm, heavyset man, offers a kindly, reassuring smile when my customer hands him the empty medicine bottle. Is your cab? asks the only other customer in the store. I need ride. Her accent sounds Eastern European. A slim blonde girl with dark roots, she’s wearing an Old Navy sweatshirt and tight jeans with silver sequins. Her eyes look like they were outlined in black Magic Marker. The pharmacist just handed her a little white bag and his smile for her was not quite as kind. I recognize the address she gives me and realize she’s the Russian hooker I heard about. The one who berated Jack, who won’t use GPS, for stopping to double check his map book while driving her to a rendezvous four towns away. Hmmm. The pharmacist hands the wife her husband’s pills and says they can pay tomorrow. Plus, he has given them a new customer discount. She is so relieved she looks ten years younger. It’s good to help out the little guy, I say. I’ll take that as a compliment, laughs the man. Most people just call me fat! They don’t mind doubling up with the Russian girl, which is good because if I make her wait at the pizza shop I know she’ll be gone when I get back. I toss my briefcase in the trunk and have her sit up front. She is a big improvement over the briefcase. She points at the radio and says, Will be music? Yeah yeah, comes a whisper from the back seat.
Banner Image: By Digimint – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16969329