Monday, August 23, 2010

Always Read The Label

by Vaughan Simons

You get methodical. Get yourself a methodology. Packet open. Always read the label. Strip pulled from packet. Read the label again, just to double check. Try and remember. How did you used to do this? You know? Before? The label will say, the label will tell you, the label will keep you coldly informed. So read. 

Oh, a moment. A fleeting remembrance. It’s coming back. Will there be any side effects? Not that you recall, because this one was at least better than the other one. Suddenly you want to call a fellow sufferer, a fellow swallower, out of the blue, so that you can shoot the breeze about symptoms or sweats, surges or sickness, just to put off the dreadful deed for one unmedicated minute more. 

Read the label, because those objective phrases of medicinal terminology will reassure you. Odd little whites, isolated against corruption and infection by a peeling metallic skin. Push against the plastic to release the foil and then, damn, a cut to the fingertip. How can such a harmless shiny material sting so deeply, drawing blood? Pull yourself together. It’s nothing more than a dot, a spot, a scratch. Shake your hand and clench your fist. Clench and unclench, bent fingers digging into palm. Not now, please. Don’t interrupt this process. Don’t disturb this ritualistic tea ceremony of toxins. 

Tip of the tongue. Here it is, at last, sat on the tip of the tongue. A brief gulp of almost indecision, a gulp downwards, a soothing gulp of cold water. Promise it will be more tranquil, if not entirely tranquilised? Promise it will numb, even if it can never completely deaden? Promise it will just make everything better? 

Not everything, no. You know that’s unrealistic. Only some things. Even one thing. One thing will do. One thing will suffice for now. Could you and your odd little whites come to some kind of agreement, located midway between remarkable panacea and simple crutch? 

You turn the packet over in your hand as your bloodstream pulses a long lost welcome. Read the label one more time, then sit and wait for the promise contained within its emotionless words to take effect.

Vaughan Simons lives in London with a prosthetic limb, which is fortunate as it means he doesn’t have to hop everywhere. He exercises and exorcises his unfortunate imagination at An Unreliable Witness (, and he used to edit “writing about writing” site Writers’ Bloc ( He hates the word “chafe” with a passion, but can’t stop writing it or saying it so that he can screw up his face as he does.

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