Her hands skate across the chipped marble countertop on their way to the medicine cabinet. She mutters to herself as she scours the shelves, taking out the pill bottles one by one. First the multivitamins, then the calcium chews, then the fish oil tablets, but the bottle of pain relievers refuses to show itself.
“Damn it,” she seethes. Just another thing to put on the shopping list.
“Where’s the orange juice?” her husband demanded that morning. She let out a sigh and turned to him.
“Isn’t there any left?” she answered.
“I wouldn’t be asking if there was, would I?” he replied. Shaking his head, he grabbed the grape juice carton and poured himself a glass.
“You know I need it, Mary,” he said, “with the guys in the shop and the flu going around. We can’t afford for me to get sick!”
The Sheltie lying by Mary’s chair rose to its feet and made its way out of the room. Mary exhaled again and twisted her wedding band, nearly two decades old.
“I’ll pick some up later,” she replied. She wrote the ultimatum on a scrap of paper, underlining the words beneath reminders to buy sparkling apple juice, a cheese platter, and cream puffs. And now, she would have to add to that list again before leaving to shop for the night's dinner with Violet and her friend's husband. The pill bottles clutter the countertop, mingling with half-used containers of concealer, hair dye, and face lotion, but the right bottle is nowhere to be found.
She pushes the cabinet door farther back, its edges still shiny from where the wood has not bumped into the accompanying cabinet for the neighboring sink. Four years ago, her husband had marveled at his ingenuity.
“There,” he said, wiping the sweat from his forehead after spending the morning installing the cabinets. “Now you won’t have to reach around since it opens away from you. Now the master bathroom is done.”
Her side's cabinet completely excavated, she moves to the other sink, dusty clean with disuse. She opens her husband's cabinet, just in case, but his toiletries are down the hall.
"So I don't disturb you when I get up," he said. And after all, it did make more sense for him to use the bathroom closer to the room where he slept.
Mary shuts the cabinet and exits the bathroom.
She spies a rogue bottle at the back of the cabinet, grabs it, but pauses as she pulls it out. Dust coats her trembling fingers while she reads the writing next to the expiration date over a year passed.
"Side effects may include headaches, dizziness, nausea, and breakthrough bleeding. Do not be alarmed if you have occasional bleeding; it is normal and does NOT mean the pill is not working."
She remembers the giddy smile that had lit her twenty-something year-old face when the doctor told her about the shorter periods she would be having.
Violet had strongly approved of the medication choice.
"I've been using it since high school," she said, "when I went out with Rob, remember? And it was easy to get back on after Matthew and I had Julia."
But after Mary and her husband had their own child, her husband did not feel the inclination to be intimate anymore. Despite her almost constant pleas, almost desperate pleas, he refused.
She could see the future him in her mind's eye, hours later when asked how he and she are doing.
"Oh, just fine," she knows her husband will say. "Nothing to complain about. Here," he'll continue, leaning forward across the table, "have another cream puff."
"Oh, I shouldn't," Violet will say, but Mary's husband will shake his head.
"Well, all right," Violet will reply with a chuckle, and Mary's husband will laugh in response, loud enough to make the Sheltie flatten back its ears.
Two round pills clatter around in the bottle's emptiness.
When the pills had nearly expired, she had consulted her husband about what to do.
"We… you don't need them," he said, shaking his head without looking at her.
She grasps the bottle round the middle, covering the label with her palm, and with one strong rub, wipes the dust off the bottle top, mashing the grime into the grooves in her thumb.
"Aren't you going?" her husband calls from the kitchen.