This is the second part of a two-part piece for The Argus Arts section’s November Fiction Series. The first half of this piece was published on Tuesday, Nov. 1. Each Argus issue in November will contain either an excerpt or an entire student story submitted to the contest. Be sure to check the next issue for more fiction!
Tom was lying face up on the couch. The Abilify was starting to kick in. The familiar jolt of awareness, similar to the rush of caffeine, buzzed through his head. Within a few minutes the rush would wear off, and then the drowsiness, a common side effect, would take its place.
The features of Tom’s house began to regain his recognition. He was in his living room, in the house he’d lived in for decades. What could be so horrifying about it? This, Tom knew, was the worst part of his illness, that once it was treated, he couldn’t remember what the big deal was before. His state of mind just a few hours ago was now a distancing memory, like how a dream fades as you wake up. All you can remember is the abstract feeling of it, and even that is far away.
Tom closed his eyes and listened to the birds chirping outside, the buzzing of bugs, and the wind rattling the windows. Melissa was on the phone in the kitchen.
“Yes,” she said. “No. Well no, because his pension plan changed. I understand that. But so what, you’re just gonna let him go? Do you understand what medication my father has to take? He has a very serious condition. A serious illness. And you’re okay with that? My father’s been covered by you for decades, you know his history. You people are absolutely heartless. Yes, okay fine, transfer me, see what I care.”
She was talking to the insurance company, probably about how Tom had stopped paying his bills. Almost a year ago, the Maine Timber Workers’ Union, of which Tom had been a member his whole career, privatized and substantially cut his retirement plan. His pension was nearly halved, and he no longer had health benefits. He paid for his health care out of pocket for a few months, but couldn’t afford it anymore.
Tom got up and walked into the kitchen.
“Do you want me to talk to them?” he asked Melissa. “I know how to deal with these people.”
She was still on the phone.
“Okay, thank you,” she said, and hung up.
“This goes without saying,” Tom said. “But don’t tell your mother about this, okay?”
“So you’re feeling better?” she asked.
“It’s starting to,” he made a motion of reeling in a fishing rod, “kick in.”
Melissa told her dad that his old health insurance wasn’t an option anymore, and he had a year before he was old enough for Medicare. The good news was that he could qualify for some other types of coverage in the meantime. She made an appointment for him on Tuesday to meet with a representative who would help get him on Obamacare.
“But today’s Saturday,” he said. “I need the pills now.”
“Can we buy some at the pharmacy in the meantime, just for now?” Melissa asked.
“They’re a hundred dollars a pill.”
“You know what,” Melissa said. “I’ll stay here with you for the next few days. I’ll take work off Monday and Tuesday, and take you to your appointment.”
“Thanks,” he said.
Melissa waited for him to say something else, but he just looked at her with a blank face.
“How long do you have until the pill wears off?” she asked, when she realized he would say nothing more.
“Until tomorrow morning.”
Melissa began to unpack the groceries. She would have to stay with him for at least two days, in which he would be incapacitated. She’d seen him like that once before. When Melissa was 10, he decided to stop taking his medication. He thought he was cured. This when he and her mother were still together. They first noticed that he was quiet and seemed sort of spooked. Then he started saying nonsense, like that he had to leave to speak to the Pope or to Jackie Kennedy. Melissa had no idea what was going on. Eventually Tom was hospitalized. Melissa’s mother explained to her that her dad got sick when he didn’t take his medicine. When she was older she learned that what he had was called bipolar disorder with psychotic features. As far as Melissa knew, her dad never went off his medicine again after that episode, until now.
“So what are you gonna do for your last sane day?” she asked, forcing a smile.
Tom waved off the comment with a swoop of his arm. His face twisted into a smirk. He appreciated dark humor, even at his own expense.
“I’m gonna go get a drink,” he said.
“I said I need a drink. I’m going to Carl’s. This is my last sane day for a while, I need a goddamn drink.”
“Are you joking?” Melissa asked. “I thought we were making lunch?”
“I don’t want lunch anymore. Let’s make this stuff for dinner,” he said, gesturing towards the groceries. “I thought you were staying here a while anyway?”
“Dad, our plan was to make lunch.”
Tom grabbed his coat off the hook and put it on.
“So not even a thank you?” Melissa said. “Do you realize what I just did for you? I made it so you can get your medicine. You would be nowhere without me. You’d be lying on the couch, mumbling like an idiot, not even able to wipe your ass. You’re lucky I came for lunch today, or else who would have found you? Have you thought about that? And not even a thank you.”
“I said thank you,” Tom responded. “Before. Jesus Christ, relax.”
He left, and the screen door whacked behind him. His car door opened and closed, the engine started, and the gravel driveway crackled beneath his tires as he drove off.
Melissa stood alone in the kitchen, her hand over her stomach. Her doctor told her that overexposure to stress during pregnancy was bad for the baby. She hated her father for causing her so much aggravation, so much worry for being such an intolerable, selfish prick. She knew it wasn’t his fault, that he was a sick, sick man. But if he damaged her baby’s health in any way, she would kill him. She would murder him and she would smile doing it.
She started to put the groceries in the fridge. She could not believe what an asshole he was, how he cared about nobody but himself. This was what had caused her mother to divorce him. He drove her away. Melissa had always resented her mother for leaving her dad alone, the sick and fragile man he was beneath it all. But Melissa didn’t know if she herself could tolerate living with him. Not even a thank you, what an ungrateful piece of shit. She slammed the fridge door closed, and something glass shattered.
Tom pulled into the lot of 20 Railroad Street, the bar he called Carl’s after the owner and bartender who’d been there almost 30 years. Tom entered the old brick building through the glass door that rang a bell when it opened. He walked across the raw wood floor to the bar and took a seat.
“How you doing Tom?” said Carl. “Happy Saturday.”
No one was there except for Tom, Carl, and a man Tom didn’t know sitting a few stools away.
“Not bad. A Maker’s Mark,” he said, tapping the bar with his finger.
Carl poured him the drink.
“Make yourself one, too,” Tom said. “Let’s celebrate.”
“What’s the occasion?”
You won’t believe this,” Tom said. “My goddamn health insurance won’t pay for my heart medicine anymore. I took my last pill today.”
“Won’t pay for you heart medicine?” Carl said.
“That’s cold,” the other guy said.
“Sure is,” said Tom. “Bunch of bastards. They’ll leave a lonely old man with a bad heart to fend for himself.”
He raised his glass, and the other two followed.
“Here’s to my last day with a good heart,” he said. They touched glasses and drank.
“Shit Tom, good luck with that,” Carl laughed. “How’s anyone supposed to live without a heart?”