“You’ve got to help me, Doc! I can’t take this pain anymore! There’s got to be something you can do.”
Dr. Wexler rubbed his chin thoughtfully before sterilizing the stethoscope and returning it to the top drawer of a cabinet painted antiseptic-white. “There’s no doubt about it, Joseph,” he mused with his back still turned, “This is a professional first for me. Physically, I can’t find anything wrong with you at all. I can’t very well prescribe an antidepressant.”
“No, no!” Joe responded angrily. “I don’t want drugs! I want Jenny! I can’t get over her. You got something for that?”
Dr. Wexler turned to look his patient in the eye and thought quietly for a minute. “No one’s ever asked me to cure a broken heart before. I want to give you a prescription for something that’s a little bit different. Are you willing to try experimental medication?”
“I’ll try anything, Doc,” Joe answered, desperation evident in his voice.
“I don’t know if I should be suggesting this… An old friend of mine from college is running a clinical trial at the University. It’s in the very early stages yet, but the drug is supposed to help you see things,” he paused to think of the phrase, “in a ‘different light.’ There are no guarantees, but I could contact him and see if they would fit you in.”
Dr. Wexler scribbled a typically illegible prescription on the back of a business card and handed it to him. “Call this number to set up an appointment,” he said.
Three days later, Joe nervously entered into a bright, spacious waiting room at the number on the card Dr. Wexler had given him. He had walked through seemingly miles of corridors lined on either side with labs filled with people doing God-knows-what. A middle-aged receptionist took down his details and told Joe to wait, but within seconds, a petite, young, brunette bounced in wearing a white lab coat. Prescription glasses magnified her dark brown eyes, and when she spoke, it was with a noticeable drawl.
“Joseph Whittler?” she extended a hand. “Anne Schilde… one of Professor Smyth’s lab rats. Would you come with me please?”
Joe followed her bobbing ponytail through a door and down another short hallway. Jenny’s ponytail, he thought. He pictured Jenny’s perfect figure hidden under the unflattering lab coat. They entered a small examination room and Anne took out a clipboard from behind her desk. She began asking Joe a lot of questions, mainly about his moods, and Joe answered as well as he could about how miserable he had been feeling. After she had finished, Anne reviewed the clipboard.
“Lucky girl,” she noted.
“Excuse me?” Joe had a confused look on his face.
“Jenny. You mentioned her in almost every answer. She was lucky to have a guy who… never mind… I think you’ll be perfectly suited for this trial, Mr. Whittler, judgin’ by your responses anyway. It’s a single dose, two capsules we’ll administer here, and you should start feelin’ an effect within the hour.”
After making a few more notes in her clipboard, she gave Joe a form to sign. Then she left for a few minutes and when she returned, she handed him a small pill container. Something inside it was glowing a warm, yellow-orange.
Joe looked apprehensively at the label.
Phengodidene. 50 mg
“Don’t worry about the crazy name,” Anne reassured him. “It’s an extract from the larval stage of a beetle called a railroad worm. You prob’ly call ‘em glowworms. It’s straight up Fear Factor in a gel cap. You ready to give it a try?”
Joe nodded in agreement and took the container in his hand. Though glowing, it was curiously cool to the touch. It felt weird. He opened the lid to find two pills inside.
“Take ‘em together,” Anne said, handing him a bottle of water. “And swallow ’em whole; no chewing. They’re a time-release formula. You’ll need to stay here for at least thirty minutes. There’s some magazines you can read while you wait if you want. I’ll check back on you about quarter after, okay?”
Anne watched to make sure Joe downed the two glowing pills with a large gulp of water before she left him alone. He sat down and stared at the magazines. They were the types that you would always find in doctor’s surgeries, all about ‘finding yourself’ and ‘releasing the inner you’; not the kind of thing he would normally give a second glance. As the minutes dragged on, he found himself thumbing through them anyway, frustrated with their psychobabble. One by one, he tossed them back on the table in disinterest.
“I hope you get back soon,” he muttered aloud to the lab assistant, as if she was still there. “At least I can talk to you.”
At a quarter after, the door opened and Anne walked in again as promised. Joe sat up and took notice. He couldn’t quite place it, but she looked different, better looking than she had before. What had previously made her plain – her clothes, the lack of make-up – now made her cute. There was no change in her hair or clothes that he could see. She was just more… interesting.
Anne took out her clipboard again and asked him some more questions. He couldn’t believe his ears as he gave his answers. He genuinely felt better about himself and about life in general. In fact, he felt so much better that he didn’t notice the personal nature of the questions.
“What do you do for a hobby?” was the last one she asked.
“Well, I wouldn’t call it a hobby,” Joe began, “but I write. Anything! Poems or stories, fact or fiction, whatever I feel like really. I sometimes get to tell them at an Open-Mic Night in town.”
“That’s crazy! I’m so impressed!” Anne exclaimed. “I write stories too, but I’d be too shy to ever tell one aloud. What a fun thing to do! I wish I had time to hear one of your stories now.”
“They’re on nearly every month. You really should come and check them out.”
An uncomfortable pause greeted Joe’s suggestion.
“Listen, I know this may sound a little bit forward,” he said, “but would you be interested in getting a drink with me sometime? Maybe I could tell you one then.”
Anne scribbled a casual note on her clipboard, before looking up. “You think the worms are doin’ their trick then?” she smiled.
“Why do you ask that?”
“You haven’t mentioned Whatshername once since I came back.
Joe thought about that for a second. She was right! He hadn’t said a word about Jenny! Not since he had taken that pill.
“You’re right! I can’t believe it, but you’re right! Those pills really seem to do the trick! I think I can move on; I really think I can. What do you say? Would you like to get a drink with me, or not?”
“Listen, I ain’t in the habit of datin’ the guinea pigs,” she giggled.
Joe’s countenance fell.
Anne studied the obvious discomfort in Joe’s handsome complexion for a moment. Before his face could drop completely off, she asked, “What’s the matter? Worms got your tongue?”
“Well – I – I wasn’t asking about a date! Just maybe… you know… having a drink? I wouldn’t dream of getting you into trouble, Miss Schilde.”
“Lighten up, G-Force. Who said anything about trouble? I just didn’t want you thinkin’ I was in the habit is all.”
She studied the clipboard for a second tapping it with the back of her pen.
“There’s one last question here, Mr. Whittler…”
“One last question, Joe… How you gonna take me for a drink without my phone number?”
“Maybe you can give me…?” Joe started.
Anne quickly handed him the last thing she’d scribbled.
“I’ll wait a few days to call, Miss Schilde. Just in case you change your mind.” Joe took the slip of paper and turned to walk out the door.
“I’d prefer you called me Annie.”
After Joe left, Anne picked up the phone.
“Robert Wexler speaking,” came the voice at the other end.
“Hey, Uncle Bob, it’s Annie. You told me to give you a call and let you know how it went with J – with Mr. Whittler. The Phengodidene… you know, the new glowworm placebo…? It worked perfectly. I think he’s completely cured!”
At the other end of the phone, Robert Wexler, M.D. smiled. “Annie,” he mused, “if I ever wrote anything legibly, that Joseph would have been aware what I scribbled on the back of the card I gave him was no prescription for Phengodidene.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I don’t think it was the placebo that cured him.”
© 2013 Joe2Stories and Anne Schilde
Author’s note: Joe over at Joe2Stories recently informed me I’d be getting the Facebook brush-off one of these days. I wanted to make sure we’d had a chance to write something together first – something more serious than a couple of silly poems – and he agreed. What more perfect collaboration for us than Picture It & Write? I sent him a half-baked outline for a placebo story with a twist and he filled the entire thing in! He’s so amazing! I worked a different version of my original story into it and after a couple of quick edits, this was what we came up with. Hope you liked it!