It wasn’t in his glove box either. Where could he have put it? It hadn’t rolled under the car seat or into the back. How could he have been so careless with something that could save his life?
The tremors returned as his blood pressure rose. His grip on the glove box latch slipped as his hands shook and began to sweat. He felt nauseous and stopped, flopping across the center console, to catch his breath. He sat weakly half in the car, half out, for a moment before he could resume his search.
Was this what it would be like? Increasing digestive turmoil and physical degradation until something gave out and he collapsed in a puddle of decayed tissue? This wasn’t how he had expected the last few days of his life to go.
He’d always thought he’d go out on his own terms. He was shrewd enough to recognize that life was cruel and ultimately meaningless. Certainly, humans had a vested interest in surviving as a species, but his one contribution wouldn’t be especially missed one way or the other.
He didn’t offer much to the world, but he didn’t take much away from it either. He was unremarkable as an individual, and he knew he’d leave life as unremarkably as most. He took no sadness in this philosophical fact because he knew it was true of all mortals, sooner or later. Today’s pop star would be tomorrow’s Ozymandias when the Earth eventually died out, either by meteor, sun explosion, or environmental disaster.
His existential reverie failed him as his legs began to felt fizzy, as though the exertion of walking to the car pressed any oxygen in his blood out like water bubbles through cheesecloth until they boiled under the surface of his skin. He didn’t know how much worse it would get, but he knew the poison would kill him within the next day or two. The doctor had said so. He wondered how much worse would it get over the next 48 hours, and whether he even had that long.
The strange sensations in his legs subsided and he decided to check his apartment again. Think, what would you have done with it? After you saw the doctor, you got the prescription filled. Where did you go then?
He tried to run back upstairs, but his legs mutated from their prior carbonated state into a gelatinous one instead. He clawed at the handrail as he sunk down, his muscles kicking in at the last second to provide just enough thrust to avoid complete catastrophe. That was close. Old habits died hard, they said. Dying hard seemed to be the name of the game.
He half-limped, half-pulled himself up the stairs, and swung his front door open, as though the antidote was hiding behind it, lurking to avoid capture. He took a deep breath and surveyed his apartment anew. He would have walked in the door. (He walked in the door.) He would have set his keys on the table. (The bag with the antidote was not on the table.)
He had sat on the couch to call everyone he loved and tell them the news. (The antidote was not next to the couch, under it, or in the cushions.)
He checked the bathroom, and his bedroom. He crawled along the floors looking under furniture and cabinets as though his life depended on it.
He checked all along the floor of his small closet, all the way to the back where he kept his grandfather’s ashes. He thought he might have gone in there at some point. Maybe it fell out of his pocket and rolled away somewhere while he was distracted. His grandfather’s long battle with disease had been what prompted his visit to the doctor in the first place, so it seemed plausible he might have stopped here, but his return home had been a haze.
The antidote to the poison eating him away from the inside was not in the closet, but he was wheezing and weakened from his search again. He collapsed onto the floor of his closet with his back against the wall, legs extended into the room, like a heavily panting rag doll. He appreciated the lower lighting in the closet. The darkness soothed him and calmed the headache he felt forming, while the sounds of his labored breathing became muffled in the folds of hanging fabric. It seemed like he was sensitive to everything these days.
Just a month ago he would have been horrified at this pathetic state. Watching his grandfather’s mind decay had been bad, but then waiting for the slow destruction of his body from cancer and senility was horrible. At the funeral, he swore he would never let that happen to him.
It seemed so simple. There was no room for gods or the afterlife in a postmodern world. Faith was for people clinging to illusion and false hopes. This world was all there was, and your life was only what was in this present moment. Why not end it when you wanted instead of allowing fate to run its course? It was a reasonable question.
How funny it was to be so close to the end, and to want to live more than ever. How strange, he thought, that now, when I’m so close to never having to experience this decay or degradation again I would give anything to take it all back, even knowing that someday in the future I’d experience this or even far worse again.
He thought about a few days ago, when he’d contemplated his last days and how different from his grandfather’s they’d be. He’d pictured a cavalcade of life experiences and bucket list parties. Instead, he couldn’t sleep through the night, couldn’t stay awake during the day, and everything ached. That was just yesterday. He was sure he’d lose control of his bowels and/or bladder today. Losing his dignity was assuredly on the agenda.
The phone rang, and for a second he thought of ignoring it. He was sure it was a well-meaning relative or friend. How embarrassing it would be to speak to a loved one in this moment, to admit to being so short-sighted and foolish? He glanced at the screen and say the caller was the local pharmacy, and hit the answer button hard enough his finger hurt.
“Hi, Mr. Phillips?” a young woman asked. He confirmed. “This is Janine from the pharmacy at Banning’s Drugs. You left your medication on our counter yesterday afternoon and we were calling to notify you.”
“Oh, thank God,” he said, his relief transmitting through the phone. The pharmacy tech chuckled. He was pretty sure he knew why. He tried to save face. “I imagine people don’t usually leave life-saving medications on the counter often, huh?”
“You’d be surprised. In my time here, probably everyone who has filled a prescription for the fluoresceinated neurotoxin has forgotten the antidote. I’d guess at least a dozen or so over the last three years. I think most people think they’ll never need to take it, and are more focused on the primary prescription.”
“Still though,” he said, hopefully with his voice a little more under control. He thought he might have enough time to get to the pharmacy and pick it up, and his agitation, regret, and terror were beginning to subside. “It was very nice of you to call.”
“Oh, it’s all a required by the Hicks-Cavit Act of 2023, Mr. Phillips. It was in the literature that came with your prescription.” He couldn’t remember even seeing the paper in the bag, and had no idea where he’d put it. He probably thought he’d already done enough research on the statute, called the Euthanasia Lemon Law or the Nix-Caveat Law in less formal circles. He must have tossed the pamphlets aside with the poison’s packaging. “The law not only requires a 72 hour period to change your mind, but pharmacies are required to do daily follow-ups until… you know…”
Oh yes, he knew. Probably better than she did at this point. Better than most. Better than he ever had before.
“If you’d like sir, you don’t even have to pick it up. We can deliver.”
“Uhhh,” he tried to sound nonchalant, as though he was still the steely willed young man who would leave on his own terms, as though didn’t regret his decision, as though he was being deliberate and mature, not repentant and humbled by mortality itself. “Sure. That’d be nice. I mean, if you’re in the area it might be nice to have around. Just in case, of course.”
“Of course, sir,” she said, not believing him for a second. She probably knew he’d be tossing back dry pills as soon as he opened the bottle, unless he smashed it open if the top was beyond his meager gripping abilities. He thought could hear it in her voice, although he conceded paranoia might be a side effect of the suicide drug.
“Heh, so…” he said, still trying to maintain the facade that he was the confident man who laughed in the face of death he once thought he was, “If everyone leaves the antidote behind, have you ever had anyone decline delivery and not pick it up? Just say, No thanks, I won’t be needing it?”
“No,” she said, firmly, her voice suddenly becoming warm. He didn’t notice he’d been holding his breath until he exhaled. “I haven’t. Not even once.”
She lowered her friendly voice, almost conspiratorially. “In fact, all of them continued to be excellent customers for years afterward. Even if they don’t need us here in the pharmacy, we still see them in the store from time to time.”
They paused for a moment, a shared, painfully human silence.
“Thanks,” he said.
“No problem,” she said. “You’ll be receiving your delivery within the hour. Oh, and Mr. Phillips?”
“We look forward to seeing you in again soon.”