Thursday, March 03, 2011

3: Oxy & Contin Meet Barbie

Barbie knelt over the dozing Oxy and Contin, her pigtails almost touching their heads.

Shortly before noon Barbie, walked into McDonald’s. Barbie was the fourteen-year-old daughter of the Freedom from Pain Clinic manager. She placed a takeout order for two Big Mac box lunches for her mother and Dr. Gudenoff, whom Barbie had never seen. On the previous Saturdays he had always been in his office, writing prescriptions. Barbie suspected there was something about the doctor her mother wasn’t telling her, something she didn’t want to talk about. The doctor was a man of mystery as far as Barbie was concerned, and so to some degree was her mother.
Waiting for the box lunches to be prepared, Barbie blushed when she noticed that two scruffy dudes in a booth eyeing her.  She was tall and well developed for fourteen, and the pigtails were her mother’s attempt to make her look prepubescent.  What her mother didn’t know was that pigtails made Barbie more appealing, not less, at least to men whose sexual ideal were thirteen-year-old girls. If her mother had  known  how much pigtail pornography there was on the internet, and how prostitutes sometimes  wore  pigtails to cater to  pedophiles, she would have cut Barbie’s long hair or at least stopped putting it up in pigtails.     
 “Hey, baby doll,” one of the dudes in the booth said.  “You want to join us?”
To get away from the dudes, Barbie walked to the front window and stared at the traffic flowing by on Main Street. Because most illegal drugs came in to the city on Main Street, it was known as Highway to Heaven. But for many it was the Expressway to Hell. The police station was located on Main Street, directly across from McDonald’s. It was said that drug trafficking took place in McDonald’s, right under the cops’ noses, and it was said also that the police chief’s son was among those dealing drugs there. The chief’s son didn’t suffer from a lack of customers.  River City had the reputation of being the most addicted city in the state, if not the country. There’s a remote village in Afghanistan where everybody is rumored to be addicted to opium, even the mice. In River City, it was kittens who were addicted, but to Oxycontin, not opium.
Barbie arrived at the clinic shortly after noon with the boxed lunches. The line was nearly as long as it had been early that morning.   Because Saturday was the busiest day of the week, Barbie’s mother and Dr. Gudenoff, instead of taking a lunch break, took bites between prescriptions. When Barbie delivered the box lunches on Saturdays, her mother wouldn’t let her linger a minute at the clinic, which only made Barbie that much more curious about the clinic and the odd people that stood in a line that stretched down the street. The reason her mother gave Barbie for wanting her not to linger around the clinic was that it wasn’t safe. River City's crime rate was, per capita,  among the highest in the state, and much of it was drug-related. Barbie's mother kept a gun in the drawer of her desk and an aluminum baseball bat behind the file cabinet. Her value to the doctor was that she was not a Jack but a Jill of all trades—secretary, bookkeeper, nurse, and bouncer.
“Oh, look at the poor little kitties in the cold,” Barbie said when she saw Oxy and Contin napping in the sun near the front door of the clinic. When Barbie leaned over them, her pigtails almost touched their tiny heads. When he caught scent of the fast food, Oxy opened one eye but then closed it again. He wasn’t interested in fast food. Occasionally people in line tried to share their fast food and snacks with him, at least a French fry or a potato chip, but he didn’t like it. Though humans couldn’t seem to stop eating fast food, he had never eaten anything that tasted worse. The amount of salt on one potato chip was enough to make his tongue sore. Unlike children, who have easy access to junk food in school vending machines, kittens don’t get an opportunity to become addicted to the three key ingredients of the American diet—salt, sugar, and fat. Nor since they were kittens would they as they got older become addicted, as many American teenagers do, to the two most widely used psychoactive drugs in the world, caffeine and nicotine. Being kittens, Oxy and Contin’s only addiction was to Oxycontin. Although no one knew it, not even  Barbie or Dr. Gudenoff,  Barbie’s mother was addicted to Oxycontin also.
Barbie got down on one knee and began petting Oxy, who lazily opened one eye.  When he licked the hand that was petting which was petting him, Oxy could detect no trace of Oxycontin.
 Squinting into the high sun with his opened eye, all Oxy could see was a red ribbon at the end of one of Barbie’s pigtails.  If he had been an unaddicted kitten, Oxy might have playfully poked at one of the ribbons, doing what came natural to a kitten, because playfulness is the way nature keeps kittens and other young animals, including young humans, physically active and mentally curious. But Oxy was exhausted from licking fingers and scratching for fleas, so he closed his eyes and resumed his catnap. 
Barbie stood up, walked over, and opened the clinic door part way. Her mother, a tall, strong, but somewhat stoop-shouldered forty-year-old woman, was seated at a desk near the door, interviewing a burly middle-aged man in jeans and cowboy boots. Across his brow were tattooed Ohio's state motto: With god anything is possible. 
 “Mommy, did you see the cute kittens?” Barbie asked through the opened door. She spoke softly so she wouldn’t disturb the kittens.
Her mother made no reply. 
Sounding exasperated, her mother answered, “Yes, I saw them. They’ve been around for a couple days.”
“Don’t they have a mommy?”
“I don’t know, but they have fleas.”  Barbie’s mother had a phobia about  fleas. When Barbie's mother had been in grade school,  there had been periodic epidemics of head lice. When there was an epidemic, the principal Miss Boyle called all the students into the auditorium where she gave not a fire-and-brimstone but a flea-and-plague sermon, describing how millions of people had died horrible deaths in the Dark Ages as the result of fleas of which head lice, she claimed, were close cousins. Barbie's mother, who heard the sermon three times  while she was in grade school, never forgot the principal's warning about fleas and made sure she checked Barbie's head at bedtime during week days to make sure she hadn't picked any up from the poor white classmates who had probably picked them up from their mangy pets.  At the mention of fleas, Contin, her eyes still closed, began scratching vigorously behind an ear.
As an only child, Barbie had longed for a dog or cat, but her mother had said absolutely no pets. Barbie said, looking out the door at the kittens, “Even if they don’t have a mother, at least they have each other.” Sighing in disgust, her mother got up and came to the door, looking down at Contin, who with his extraordinary olfactory powers had detected the scent of Oxycontin inside. He wanted to enter, but Barbie’s mother stood there like a redwood.
 “They’re infested with fleas,” Barbie’s mother said sternly. “They and the other hundred million cats in America.” The number didn’t mean much to Barbie. Cats, dollars, stars—it was hard for her to imagine how much a million of anything would be.
“Yes, a hundred million,” her mother repeated, taking the McDonald  lunches from Barbie.
Barbie had been eight when she first asked her mother for a kitten. Her mother had said no, telling her that in addition to fleas there was also the expense a cat would be. She could have added, now that Barbie was fourteen,  that in the previous year  Americans had spent over $45 billion dollars on pets,  with about $15 billion of that going for cats. Americans in  the previous year had spent on average about $1200 dollars per cat.  As a substitute  for a pet or a sibling,  Barbie’s mother  gave her a Nurse Barbie doll for her ninth birthday. 
“Now, run along home, Barbie,” her mother told her. 
“But what about the kittens?”
“Not another word about the kittens,” her mother said sharply.
The people in  the line in front of the clinic had idly watched what was going on, but all they cared about was when it would be their turn to walk through the door and get a prescription.
Her mother turned to deliver the doctor’s lunch, giving the  door a nudge with her elbow, but before the door closed, Barbie deftly inserted her foot, preventing it from closing all the way. Then with the same foot she pushed it open enough to see her mother’s back as she disappeared into the doctor’s office.
The kittens, which were awake now, saw what Barbie had done. They saw that the door was ajar.  Cats are curious, and kittens even more so. When Barbie’s mother came out of the doctor’s office seconds later, she saw that the front door was still open and that Barbie was still standing outside looking in.
"Shut that door and go home," her glowering mother told her   
 Barbie reached out to take the knob to pull the door shut.  When he saw Barbie reach out for the  door knob, Oxy knew he had to  make dash for the opening if he wanted to get inside, which he  did, startling Barbie and  freezing her for  a few seconds, like a piece of ice sculpture. Those few seconds were just enough time for Contin, not wanting to be left out in the cold, to dash inside. 
Once inside, both kittens froze in their tracks when they saw Barbie’s mother, attired in her white starched uniform, towering over them. With her size 14 white shoes wide apart and her long arms outstretched, from the kitten’s perspective she looked like an amazon. But her posture reflected her determination to not let the kittens go any further, and especially not into the doctor’s office.  Oxy and Contin were apparently no more welcome in there than Barbie. Oxy backed up, looking with one eye at the partly open front door and with the other at the amazon. He was about to dash out the door as fast as he had dashed in, but Barbie chose that exact moment to enter and, looking guiltily at her mother, close the door behind her. With the front door shut, Oxy and Contin looked at each other in alarm.  Oxy considered scooting under the desk near the front door, but the man with the shaved head sat in the chair in front of it with a look of perplexity that Oxy misinterpreted as menacing. Poorly heated, the interior of the clinic on cold days like this was downright chilly, and to Oxy the man seemed to be exhaling smoke, like a dragon.
Undaunted by Barbie’s mother, Oxy scuttled between her  wide-spread feet,  making a beeline for the  only avenue  of escape he could see, the  doctor’s open office door. Barbie’s mother shrieked. Hearing the shriek, the doctor called out in a voice that seemed more curious than alarmed
Madelyn turned around just in time to see Oxy’s little tail disappearing inside the doctor’s office. She turned and strode angrily toward the doctor’s office. Dying to see what would happen;   Barbie picked up Contin in her arms, and carried her quickly to the doorway of the doctor’s office. But, remembering all her mother’s warnings to stay out of the doctor’s office, she didn’t dare cross the doorway.   The man with the shaved head followed her. What Contin, Barbie, and the man looking over her shoulder saw was her mother in a crouch, like an NFL defensive end, like a Lawrence Taylor, trying to see where Oxy might be hiding under or between the office furniture.  The wide-eyed doctor sat behind his desk; in the chair next to his desk sat a hollowed-eyed young woman he had been writing out a prescription for. Meanwhile, having quickly discovered that there was not a trace of Oxycontin on Barbie’s fingers; Contin was thrashing about in Barbie’s arms like a hooked fish, trying to get free. When Barbie wouldn’t let Contin down, the kitten scratched the palm of her hand.
“Ouch!” Barbie cried, dropping Contin to the floor, just inside the office. Barbie’s mother looked up at her daughter, who was holding her bleeding hand out as though looking for pity from her mother. Her mother looked down at Contin, who was surveying the office anxiously for a place to take cover. But before Contin could make a move, Barbie’s mother grabbed her and angrily tossed her out of the office, literally on her ear, but not before Contin managed to scratch her hand too. The astonished doctor looked on all this like a Mormon missionary dreaming he had a ring-side seat at a tag team wrestling match
When Contin landed painfully on her ear outside the doctor’s office, injuring her hind leg, she realized that the hand she had scratched seconds before reeked of Oxycontin. Contin only had to lick the paw she had used to scratch the palm of Barbie’s mother to taste traces of the drug she craved. The doctor didn’t know it, and neither did Barbie, but her mother was an Oxycontin addict. Even more than the money the doctor generously paid her for being secretary-bookkeeper-nurse-bouncer, what she valued most as his employee was how easy it was to forge a prescription her whenever she needed to.
Though she was in pain, Contin limped back to the doctor’s office. If she was picked up and hurled out again, it would be worth it if she could just once lick the hand that hurled her. When she got as far as the doorway, she heard Barbie’s mother growling, “Come out from there you little varmint.” Barbie’s mother had found Oxy’s hiding place. Picking him up, she tossed him out of the office. But it was not Oxy sailing over her head that made Contin stop in the doorway. What stopped her was a very disturbing odor in the office that she hadn’t noticed before. She smelled a rat.