Kinderex™

By Mark Hand

“Hannah!  Get up!”

Hannah groaned.  She was not what you’d call a morning person.  Last Christmas, she’d been lying here in bed and heard Grandma downstairs asking what kind of nine year-old slept in on Christmas morning, and that’s what her dad had said: “Hannah’s not what you’d call a morning person.”

Yeah, well, Hannah wasn’t a lot of things.  But things can change, if you try hard enough.  With a sudden burst of will, she threw off the covers and squinted directly at the window, forcing her eyes open.  Only a sliver of dim morning light penetrated the edges of the curtains, but it seemed blinding.  As she waited for her eyes to adjust, she toyed with the idea of playing sick.  As performances went, faking a simple cold was much easier than what she was used to pulling off, but it was Monday, and there was important business to be done at school today.  Nothing to do but get up and face the light.

Before her mother could get mad and have reason to call her again, Hannah slid out of bed and tugged on the first clothes she found on the floor before heading downstairs.  Along the way, she made sure to tromp heavily on each stair so Mom would hear and know she’d gotten up.  The shrill banshee wail of her mother’s hairdryer from the bathroom indicated her message had been received and understood.

Hannah snuck past the bathroom with hardly a glance inside.  She saw without really seeing that her mother was in there, standing by the dreaded mirror in her pale pink housecoat.  In the brief glimpse that Hannah took, her mother’s hands seemed to chase the hairdryer around her head as though battling a giant angry bee.  There was something else, something weird about her hair, but Hannah deftly avoided noticing what.  She was good at that, the whole seeing-things-without-really-seeing-them trick.  Hannah often carried on whole conversations with people without ever looking at them, and most times nobody even noticed how her eyes skipped around without focusing on anything in particular.  Necessity had forced this upon her at a very early age, and for most of her life she assumed it was just something everyone did.  Because, you know: the monsters.

How could you stand it if you didn’t?

You’d go crazy.

#

The first drugs they put her on came in pale blue tablets, but those gave her a nasty rash so the doctor switched her to something different; then when she complained that this new one made her have trouble peeing, that’s when they moved her over to Thorazine.  She’d read in a magazine that nothing on the market could match the strength of those round orange Thorazine pills–nothing that they were allowed to give to kids anyway–so Hannah didn’t say anything when she started to shake a little sometimes.  What would be the point?  She knew that if the Thorazine didn’t work there was nowhere to go but into a hospital, and even though she wasn’t sure what they’d do to her there, she’d also read about lobotomies and electroshock and wasn’t about to take the risk.

But then the full-blown Thorazine seizures kicked in, and there was no way she could hide those.  Hannah remembered overhearing the doctor tell her parents it looked pretty grim, but that there was something new they could try, if they were willing to take the risk.  There was this new pill, see, and even though some guy named Feds hadn’t yet said it was okay to start giving it out to lots of people, because of Hannah’s special condition they’d let her be a guinea pig.  You know, if her parents were willing to take the risk, that is.  And that was the first any of them had heard of it.  A brand new medicine specially made for children.  Kinderex™.

#

There was a monster in the kitchen.  Three lunches, neatly packed, were lined up on the counter, and the monster worked on making breakfast.  From the back it looked just like a normal dad, the kind you see in magazines or on TV, but Hannah knew better than to be fooled by that.  Monsters were a tricky lot.  Just because the back of one might seem okay, that didn’t mean the front wasn’t going to make you want to curl up into a whimpering mess.  So yeah, handling them could be tricky.  Tricky, but not impossible; you just had to know how.

Hannah knew.  She was smart–everyone said so–and besides, she’d been doing it all of her life.   Well, almost all.  When you’re on Kinderex, you don’t have to deal with monsters anymore.  For that matter, with Kinderex you don’t have to deal with much of anything anymore.

#

Until about two years ago, nobody knew that Hannah saw monsters.  It just never occurred to her to mention it.  She’d never been afraid of monsters lurking in the closet, never whined or complained about it, never crawled bawling into her parents’ bed too frightened to sleep in her own room; the closet was pretty much the only place she could safely say for sure there weren’t any monsters, and as for finding a haven from them in her parents’ room, what a laugh: that’s where the worst monsters were!  When she saw monsters, they weren’t shadows disappearing from the corner of her eye or fantasy creatures conjured up by her imagination, they were living, breathing things that made her breakfast and taught her the ABCs.  How was she supposed to know you’re not actually meant to see everyone that way?  No one else ever talked about seeing monsters, so she’d just figured that was because it was better not to mention it.  You know, like how her mother told her that when you see someone whose face is all burnt or scarred or something, you’re just supposed to ignore it, pretend you don’t see it, and above all never draw attention to it.  So she’d never said anything about the monsters before, not to anyone.

She only mentioned it that one time to her teacher because it was such a beautiful day and people were so happy, and she’d thought what a nice change it was how everyone was looking like cute little elves and leprechauns instead of scarier monsters like they did most other times.  That’s all she said, but that’s all it took.  As her friend Jordan liked to say, that’s when the fit hit the shan, big time.

Her teacher had asked all kinds of questions, and then had told the principal.  And the principal had told her parents, and her parents had told the doctor, and the next thing she knew Hannah was totally Kinderexed.

#

The monster in the kitchen was so busy buttering toast and scooping the guts out of a melon that it didn’t seem to notice her come in.  She crept to the fridge and pulled out a pitcher of juice, then went to the cupboard to get some glasses.  There was a little stool for her to stand on, but dragging it over was too much like work so instead she just stood on tippy-toes and reached up.  The first two came out okay, but she lost her grip on the third and it fell shattering to the floor with a loud smash.

“Augh!  What the?” blurted the monster, gouging a big chunk out of the melon and flinging it onto the counter.  As she balanced on her toes amid the glittering shards of glass, out of the corner of her eye she saw it turn around to face her.

Don’tlookathim, she thought, don’tlookathim.  But it was too late, she’d already looked.

Glowering down at her with one enormous red eyeball was a monstrous Cyclops.  Teary and spackled with bloodshot veins, the lone eye bulged under a huge bushy eyebrow and a forehead furrowed with threat, and his thick red lips cracked downward in the most frightful of scowls.  She quickly looked away.

“Hannah,” it roared, “what the hell’s wrong with you?”

Snotamonster sonlydad, snotamonster sonlydad.

“Sorry Dad.”

“Why don’t you watch what you’re doing for a change?”

“Sorry Dad.”

The shriek of the hairdryer ceased abruptly, and both Hannah and the Cyclops glanced in the direction of the washroom.  When the wail started up again a few seconds later, they looked back at one another.

“Better clean that up before your mother sees it.”

“Okay Dad.”

#

When it reached open release, the drug company splashed Kinderex all over.  You heard the jingle constantly on the radio and TV.  Ads for the distinctive oval pill appeared in every magazine, even the fashion ones.  Specially designed to help you help your child!  The king of youth-targeted pharmaceuticals!  A true wonder drug!  Kinderex®!  No wonder it soon became the only thing they used on kids anymore.  By that time Hannah the guinea pig had long been under its spell.  She already knew how well it worked (a little too well), but she also knew that the little purple wonder pills were not without some pretty nasty side effects too.  She didn’t get a rash, or stop peeing, and there were no spasms or seizures like with the other drugs.  It wasn’t a physical thing at all, not really.  No, what Kinderex did was far more subtle, and far worse.

This drug went straight to her brain.

Within a month of starting her prescription Hannah’s monsters had disappeared, and sure, that was great and all, but at what cost?  She hated the other things it did to her.  As much as Hannah hated seeing monsters, she hated even more the feeling of not being Hannah.

It made her feel like she was always mostly asleep and dreaming, her body an empty shell floating on a slow, cool breeze.  Like the internet connection between her brain and her body was really laggy and it took forever for the graphics to load in the monitor of her mind.  She wasn’t an out-of-control marionette, twitching and jerking like a Thorazine junky, quite the opposite: she was always under precise control, all the time.  The thing is, the control wasn’t hers.

In a very practical sense she wasn’t herself anymore, and neither was anyone else on Kinderex.  To the delight of parents everywhere, one of the drug’s standard effects was to make its users highly suggestible, and therefore very easily controlled.  Forget Ritalin, Kinderex not only stopped the little rugrats from doing what you didn’t want them to do, this stuff made them do exactly what you did.

So what if your children were missing vast parts of their personalities?  Some things are worth sacrificing for the sake of a little peace of mind.

The pretty purple pills were even chewable.

#

Quick like a bunny she grabbed the broom and dustpan and did as she was told.  Mom couldn’t see this crap all over the floor.  That would be bad.  There wasn’t much time before Mom would be done drying her hair and would leave the washroom to dress for the day, and Hannah would then have only a few minutes of her own in there before she would be expected at the table for breakfast.

And she hadn’t even poured the juice yet.

The schedule was precise and immutable, and she was already behind it.  Great.

Just when she’d finished cleaning up the broken glass and had put the broom away, the wailing from the washroom stopped and Hannah saw a pink blur steal down the hallway and disappear into her parents’ room.  In a flash Hannah was inside the washroom with the door shut behind her.

After using the toilet she closed her eyes and washed her hands and face in the sink, then stood with her back to the mirror as she scrubbed the taste of sleep away with her toothbrush.  After that, she gave the hairbrush a few futile strokes through her curls before giving up.  Once that was all done, there nothing else but the bottle in the medicine cabinet to deal with.

#

When she’d stopped taking the Kinderex she hadn’t told anyone, of course.  Are you nuts?  Mom would totally freak, Dad too.  So what if she still had to go talk to Dr. Scoulder for an hour every week, it’s not like that was hard or anything.  All they did was talk.  He’d ask questions, and she’d make up the answers he wanted to hear.  It was kind of fun, like a game, and now she had an on-going yarn she’d been spinning for over a month about things she did with made-up friends.  Normal things that didn’t involve any monsters.  From time to time it got a little tricky, like when he’d ask her questions that she couldn’t answer (or didn’t want to), but even that was never really a problem.  When it got too uncomfortable she’d just let her jaw hang slack, look back vacantly, and simply not answer.  Having learned very early on that a vapid dissociation from reality was what grown-ups expected from her now, it was easy enough to dish it out on demand.  From time to time she slipped up, but all that did was make the doctor double her dosage, which in the end turned out even better.  Once a month he’d scribble a new prescription and nobody was the wiser.  Easy peasy.

It was only a few months ago that she’d mustered the nerve to quit.  It took less than a week for the clouds in her mind to clear up, and the real Hannah to return.  Of course, that also meant the return of the monsters as well, but that was okay: some peace is worth sacrificing for the sake of a little mind.  It wasn’t too bad at first because it felt so good to be herself again.  But the novelty of that faded pretty quickly, and then it was just Hannah and the monsters again, just like it always had been.

#

Mirrors covered the medicine cabinet door.  Eyes squeezed shut, she opened it up and felt for the prescription bottle.  Pop came the lid off and she dumped a single smooth pill into her palm before snapping it back on and putting the bottle away again.  Only once she’d slid the cabinet door shut and turned her back to it did she dare open her eyes again.

She looked down at the little purple pill in her hand.

Seeing Dad as a Cyclops had thrown her for a bit of a loop.  What was going wrong?  That Cyclops was one nasty character, as bad as in the old days.  Almost bad enough to tempt her into taking Kinderex again, but not quite.  She could handle it, she just had to wait a little longer.  Tomorrow would be better, and if not tomorrow, then the day after that.  It had to be.

She flipped it over and looked at the writing stamped into the pill’s other side:  SKD 23.  Running her thumb over the ridged letters, for the millionth time she wondered what they might stand for.  Stupid Kooky Drug?  Some Kinda Daze?  Stops Kids’ Diarrhea?  She giggled at the last one as she wrapped the pill in toilet paper and tucked it into the pocket of her jeans.  Even if she took it now, and another one this afternoon, and another again tonight, and again like that tomorrow and from now on, it’d be weeks before she’d feel the effects again.  No matter what, she’d still have to deal with the monsters today.  So, you know, why bother?

Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and stepped out of the bathroom.  On the way out she bumped into her mother, who was just about to knock on the door to get in, and stopped stone dead in her tracks.  She looked up, you see, and found herself face to face with another monster, even more terrible than the Cylops.  To its credit, it was impeccably dressed in a smart navy pinstriped jacket and skirt (which Hannah recognized as a convincing knock-off from the one in the Calvin Klein ad on page seventeen of November’s Cosmo), but that’s about the only good thing you could say about it.

Its skin was green, and covered in prickly warts.  Not the nice pretty green of a fresh grassy field or mint ice cream, but a pallid, bilious green, sickly and gross.  Scabby oozing sores puckered the corners of its mouth, and its teeth were all brown and cracked.  Instead of hair, countless slithering snakes hissed and writhed in a tangled up mess on the top of its head.  And its eyes…its unspeakable eyes bore into Hannah with undisguised hatred and spite.

Hannah knew what it was.  It was her mother, and today she appeared as Hannah’s most dreaded of creatures: Medusa, a Gorgon.  Her father was a scary Cyclops and her mother an even scarier Gorgon.  Figures.  Nothing gave Hannah the itchy fear-sweats worse than Gorgons.

Why oh why had that wacko of a librarian at school started reading them Greek mythology?  What was wrong with Charlie and Chocolate Factory, huh?  She’d take Oompa Loompas over Gorgons any day.

“Wait a minute, young lady,” said her gruesome green monster mom, grabbing her by the scruff of her collar.  “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Huh?”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

Hannah turned to stone.  Howdidsheknow?

“You can’t leave this house looking like that.  What is up with your hair?”

Shedoesn’tknow!  “What’s wrong with it?”

“What’s wrong?  Just look at it!  It’s a filthy rat’s nest, for heaven’s sake.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Well I do.  Come here,” said her Mom, hauling her back into the washroom.  “Let me have a go.”

“Oh Mom!” Hannah whined, stretching the last word out for three long syllables.  She struggled, but it was no use.

In all honesty her hair was a total mess, and Hannah knew it.  It’s just that she’d long ago written off her tight natural ringlets as an unmanageable casualty, given up, and moved on.  Her mother, alas, gave up on nothing.

With Hannah firmly grasped in one hand, and the hairbrush clenched in the other, the Gorgon savagely attacked the poor girl’s rowdy curls.  Hannah caught a glimpse of her mother in the mirror and shut her eyes tight against the tears.  Eventually her stubborn hair gave up and let itself be tamed, for one more day anyway.

The Gorgon gave her a push toward the door. “Okay you, go on and pour the juice and let’s have breakfast.”

“Um, can I have just one more minute in here?  Alone?  Please?”

“Hannah, you had your time.”

Hannah made a show of dancing from one foot to the other, and actually looked her mother in the eyes.  It was awful.  “Pleeease?”

The Gorgon glanced down at its faux Bulgari and clucked.  “Alright, but hurry.  We’re on a tight schedule, you know.”

“I know, Mom.  Thanks.  Just one minute.”

She ducked back into the washroom and closed the door.  Alone again, she pulled the Kinderex out of her pocket and unwrapped the toilet paper.  She smeared tears across her face with the back of her hand and stared at the pill.

Why were the monsters getting worse?  They were supposed to be getting better, not worse.

Dammitdammitdammit.

The Cyclops was one thing, and maybe she could handle that, but she couldn’t take much more of this Gorgon stuff, that’s for sure.  Maybe it would be better if she did start taking her prescription again.

She clenched her hand into a tight fist around the pill.

Yeah, start taking Kinderex again and totally sink back into a constant daze.  No monsters, but no Hannah either.

Fuckit.  She savored the naughtiness of the curse in her head, but it wasn’t enough.  It wasn’t as good as it sounded when her Dad said it when he didn’t know anyone could hear him.  She flushed the toilet so the monster outside the door couldn’t hear her.

“Fuck it,” she said out loud.  “I’m not taking the damned pill.”

It was weird hearing it in her own high squeak.  Not at all like Dad’s gravelly voice, but still deeply satisfying.

She relished the powerful sensation of rebellion as she pocketed the pill again.  Then, taking a deep breath, she looked at herself in the mirror.  Not a quick glance like she usually stole when risking such a thing, but a full on look deep into her own eyes.

“You can do this,” she told the frightened monster that looked back.  “You can.”

#

When Hannah returned to the kitchen, her parents were sitting together at the table; the Gorgon hacked at half of a melon and assaulted a plastic cup of yogurt, while the Cyclops gnawed a messy swath through a mound of toast and jam.  Hannah bee-lined for the fridge, removed the pitcher of juice again, and standing on the stool with her back to the table she cautiously filled three glasses on the counter.  After replacing the pitcher, Hannah carefully set one glass on the table for her father, another for her mother, and then placed the third by the bowl of cereal that waited for her. Then she sat down.

“So you guys, what was all the ruckus?” said Mom.

“What ruckus?” said Dad.

“I thought I heard a squeal from the kitchen.  While I was drying my hair.”

“Oh that ruckus.  It was nothing,” Dad said with a conspiratorial glance at Hannah.

Hannah looked down and fixed her eyes on her bowl, swirling the flakes around in the milk.  She toyed with her cereal as her parents ate, watching it grow ever soggier, and listening to the two monsters chewing and swallowing their food.  If you’d asked her before if there was a louder, more annoying, more teeth-grindingly awful sound in the world than her mother’s hairdryer, well, Hannah would have said that she had yet to hear it.  But right then and there, listening to her parents eat, Hannah realized she’d finally found a noise that was even worse.

She tried to block out the smacking and slurping, but she couldn’t.  The more she tried to ignore them, the more they bugged her.  And just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse, the Gorgon spoke.

“Does this juice taste funny?” it asked.

“No,” said the Cyclops.

“Yes it does,” said the Gorgon.

The Cyclops took a sip.  “It tastes fine to me, honey.”

“It’s funny,” insisted the Gorgon.

“No it’s not!” blurted Hannah.  She picked up her own glass of juice and drained it.  It was filled with ordinary grapefruit juice, which always tasted funny to her anyway, but she drank it all down, gulp after gulp after gulp until it was gone.  Then, gasping for air, she set the empty glass back down on the table with a dull thud.  “See?”

All the snakes on her mother’s head were turned her way, and her father’s one big eye blinked at her.  She had to get out of there.

“I’m done.  May I be excused?” Hannah said.

“Yes,” said her father.

“No,” said her mother at the same time.  “You haven’t touched your food,” she added.

“But it’s all soggy and I’m not hungry.”

“Come on,” said her father.  “If she doesn’t want it, she doesn’t want it.  Let her go.”

“If she doesn’t want to eat, she can at least wait for everyone else to finish.”

Her parents locked eyes with each other then, and Hannah knew they were having one of their silent staring conversations.  She was glad that she couldn’t hear what they were saying.  Then, as soon as it started, it was over.  Her mother went back to her yogurt, noisily scraping up the last of it before placing the empty cup into the hollowed out cavity of the melon with deliberate delicacy.

“Go on, sweetie,” said her father.  “Go finish getting ready for school.”

“Thanks Dad.”

“Have you…you know.  Taken your medicine?”

Even if he wasn’t a hideous cyclopean monster, she couldn’t have looked at him just then.  “Yes,” she lied.

“Go on then.”

“Thanks Dad.”  Hannah picked up her breakfast dishes and stood up, then on second thought picked up her mother’s as well.  She waited beside the Gorgon, forcing a smile.  Lingering until her mother had finished her juice, she took that empty glass as well, and only then did Hannah leave the table.

#

Very early, Hannah learned that monsters, although largely unpredictable in appearance, did follow certain rules.  Of vital importance was that they only appeared in real life.  It goes without saying that as a result, Hannah spent a lot of time watching television.  But even better, in Hannah’s opinion, were photographs.  TV moved around too much, but with pictures you could sit and stare at the beautiful people as long as you liked.  And Hannah liked.  She liked their smooth, perfect skin, and their sleek, pretty hair.  In pictures, there were no glowing eyes and no pointy teeth and no horns or tails or other monstrous features.  There were no monsters in photographs at all, not a one, and that’s why Hannah so loved her magazines.

Especially fashion ones.  Especially the ads.

Her mother bought lots of magazines, which Hannah got to keep once Mom was done with them.  It was pure torment for Hannah, how her mother would pore over the boring stories hour after agonizing hour before handing them over.  It could sometimes take days, but then she could spend hour after wonderful hour staring at the gorgeous models in page after wonderful page of glorious full color advertisements.  And she dreamed.

Before Kinderex, she used to dream of a world where there were no monsters, where everyone looked like magazine people.  Idle fantasies from a time when she thought that the monsters and the people in magazines were completely different species, like cats and fish.  Now she knew better.  When she was on Kinderex, there weren’t any monsters.  But at the same time, there weren’t many who looked as good as the people in the magazines either.  There were some, but not many.  After she stopped taking the drug her monsters came back again, as she knew they would.  But not all of them.

Hannah was surprised to discover that the ones who looked like the people in magazines didn’t go back to being monsters, even once the effects of the drug had worn off.  And the interesting thing is that the ones who didn’t change back, who never became monsters again, were the other kids taking the medication.

Kinderex made people beautiful.

Hannah got an idea.

#

The family’s precise morning schedule saw her parents leave early for work, and that meant that Hannah got dropped off early at school.  She didn’t mind, though.  She rather enjoyed the peaceful time alone, sitting on a bench just inside the front doors of the school flipping through magazines and waiting for everyone else to arrive.

It was there, on the bench with the latest Vogue in her lap, that her business day began.

Her friend Jordan arrived first.  He shuffled through the double doors with the slick synthetic swishing of snowpants, red-faced and huffing from the cold.  The lenses of his glasses clouded with fog the instant he hit the warm air inside the school.

“Hey,” Jordan said, flopping down onto the bench beside her.

“Hey,” said Hannah without looking up.  As she stared at a colorful ad featuring a racial rainbow of half a dozen gorgeous young models in trendy spring clothes, she was vaguely aware of a complex process happening beside her involving the removal of a hat, mittens, and the endless unfurling of a long woolen scarf.  Then a hand appeared, blocking her view of the waifish Gap teenagers, and a stubby pink thumb flipped back the head of Bugs Bunny.

“Wanna Pez?” said Jordan.

“No thanks,” she replied.  Pez was big at school.  Real big.  Everyone knew Hannah didn’t care for the chalky taste, but of course they had to offer one anyway.  That’s how it worked.  It was a shame she didn’t like it, since her dad worked for a company that shipped the candy to stores all over the country and she could get as much of the stuff as she wanted.  As a matter of fact, she had boxes of it at home in her room.

Like anything that got too popular and became a distraction, the school had recently announced a unilateral ban of Pez from all classrooms.  Free time was still free time, though, and recesses were filled with the constant flicking of plastic cartoon heads vomiting up flavorless little candies.  All the kids had them.

#

In the not too distant past, there was a big buzz about how six percent of children were on mood control drugs of some kind.  Wow.  Six whole percent.  Over the next while this figure climbed steadily, until the official introduction of Kinderex a little over a year ago.  Since then, the percentage of kids on prescription drugs zoomed to almost forty.  In Hannah’s predominantly white, middle class school, this figure was actually closer to sixty per cent.  When the figure was accurate, that is.  Since Hannah began doing business, her class rocketed to well above the norm as just about everyone got themselves a prescription for Kinderex.  That’s how it worked.

At lunchtime, her fourth grade teacher’s job temporarily became that of a pharmacist as well, doling out purple chemical side dishes to the ubiquitous tuna fish sandwiches, drinking box juices, and Oreo cookies.  If anything, the few kids who weren’t on Kinderex were the ones who needed to keep chomping Pez just to fit in.  But the truly brilliant thing was that with everyone munching candy tablets all the time, nobody could tell when someone was or wasn’t taking a real pill.

In order to make the medicine more palatable, the designers of Kinderex had made them look exactly like a Pez candy.  Unless you got real close and looked for the telltale SKD 23 on the side, you really couldn’t tell the difference.

#

Jordan blew warmth onto his glasses and squinted.  “I can’t see, is the coast clear?” he whispered.

Hannah looked up from her magazine and glanced around.  “Yeah.”

“Here,” he said, holding out a tiny handful of purple pills.

“In the pocket, dummy!”

“Whoops.”  Jordan slipped his hand into Hannah’s coat pocket.  When he pulled it out, the pills had been exchanged for a package of Pez.  “Thanks, Hannah.  See you.”  And with that he collected his belongings and waddled off, while Hannah went back to her magazine.

This ritual was repeated again and again throughout the day as kid after kid dumped their medication in her pocket in exchange for some Pez.  Everyone knew what to do.

During lunch and recess, Hannah would sit somewhere reading her magazines and one by one they’d wander up, offer a Pez, and when she declined they’d discreetly make the switch.  If she accepted the offer it meant her pocket had run out of Pez and the drop was off, but they could always come back tomorrow.

She encouraged all of her beautiful clients to keep taking their minimum dosage, and only give her whatever extra they could connive to trade away.  Which they did, of course.  After all, they were on Kinderex: it didn’t take much to make them do anything.  Lots of her clients were kids with absolutely no reason to be on meds, who only got prescriptions in the first place simply so they could give them all to Hannah.  These were the ones who needed the Pez for encouragement.  Nobody knew what she wanted with all the Kinderex, and nobody cared.  So long as she kept paying them in cold, hard candy, they were happy.

It was Monday, so when she walked home her pockets were bulging particularly large with a weekend’s worth of other kids’ superfluous Kinderex.  Business was booming.

#

They were called a mortar and pestle, according to the book on medicine that Hannah had checked out of the library.  Actually, her mortar was just a little salad bowl and the pestle a fortunately shaped rock, but they did the trick.  She put the Kinderex in the bowl and smooshed the crap out of it with the rock until there was nothing but a purplish-gray powder left.  This she poured out into tiny folded paper envelopes.  Over time, Hannah had perfected how to fold the paper so that she could empty it out in a flash, one-handed.  With proper body positioning, she could even do it in a crowded room with people watching her and still not get caught doing it.

When Hannah made it home from school she immediately scampered up to her room and emptied her pockets.  Two by two, all the pills got crushed in the mortar she hid in an empty Pez box in her closet, and from there, parceled out into the envelopes she’d prepared last night before bedtime.  After that, she restocked her pockets for tomorrow: along with plenty of Pez, she took six of the envelopes full of powdered Kinderex.  Not only was it her job to pour juice for her parents, but she also volunteered to get coffee at school for three teachers and the principal every day.

#

One morning about a month later, Hannah popped the door open and poked her head into the washroom.  Her mother was standing there in her pale pink housecoat, staring into the mirror.  The hairdryer still screeched, even though her hair was completely dry.

“Mom.  Hey Mom!”

Hannah reached over to the wall socket and unplugged the dryer.

“Mom!” she shouted.

It took a second for her mother to react.  Then, slowly, her head swung around to fix a bleary stare on Hannah.

“Oh hi dear.”

“It’s dry, Mom,” Hannah said, dangling the drier’s cord in front of her.

Hannah’s mother turned back to the mirror and peered at herself in the reflection.  She poked at her head with one hand while the now silent hairdryer dangled uselessly from the other.

“You’ve been in here a long time, is everything okay?”

“I guess I must have dazed out,” her mother said.  “Sorry, sweetie.”

“Sokay,” said Hannah, reaching in and relieving her mother of the dryer, then replacing it with the hairbrush.  “Just don’t take too long.  Breakfast is almost ready.”

Her mother took the brush, looked at it for a second, then began using it.  “Okay,” she said.

Hannah was about to pull the door closed, but instead she pushed it open a bit further and leaned against the doorframe.  She watched in the mirror for a while as her mother drew broad strokes with the brush through her hair.

“Hey Mom?”

“Yes, dear?”

“You’re really pretty,” said Hannah.  “You look just like someone in a magazine.”

# # # # #

hand print