by Beth Sherman

That flicker of surprise when the front door opened effortlessly and I stepped into the dim hallway. The air conditioning was on and cool air smacked my face. Although it was late afternoon the house was dark. I made my way past the spotless kitchen. You could eat off these floors, I used to joke. She vacuums every day, scrubs every surface twice. Down the hallway I scuffled, past the kids’ rooms to the master bedroom. I don’t normally go back there except when they’re having a party and everyone throws coats on the bed. The master bath had been remodeled. It has faux marble tiles, a steam shower and a vanity that looks like a carved armoire from a castle.

Of course there was no medicine chest. Too old-fashioned. I had to fling open each drawer in the stupid armoire and search. I remember a humming sound in my head like cicadas mating on telephone wires. My skin was clammy. My hands trembled. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and quickly turned away.    

Towels. Candles. Hair dryer. Cosmetics.

The pills were in the top drawer on the left side, next to some cough medicine and a bottle of rubbing alcohol.

I read the labels quickly, my heart stalling in my chest. Ba ba bum. Ba ba bum. Vicodin. Percocet. Xanax. I took an envelope out of my pocket and poured the contents of each bottle in. Some of them spilled and I crawled around trying to scoop up tiny dots. Ba ba bum. The cicadas were screaming.

When the light went on it felt like someone had punched me in the eyes.

She was standing in the doorway, holding her three-year-old by the hand. Her daughter and mine are in the same preschool class. That’s how we became friends.

I watched her lips form a shocked pink O. “What are you doing in here?”

I was still on my hands and knees. Words spilled out of my mouth and she tried to catch them like fish in a net but they were too slippery and the drawer to the armoire was open and I was sweating so badly my bangs were plastered to my forehead.

What happened next is fragmented, like a badly glued collage. I remember choked sobs and everything being too bright, the way she gripped my arm, so tight it left marks, a pile of mail on the hall table, innocent and normal looking, before stumbling out into daylight.

I sat in my car, parked around the corner in a cul de sac and watched a woodpecker knock its beak against a tree. Her husband hurt his back playing softball. She’d told us about it at Starbucks, over vanilla chai lattes. Our weekly Mom’s Club gathering. The envelope was stuffed in my pocket. Extracting a white pill, I swallowed.

There are all kinds of pain in this world.