Dad sucked on tic tacs ever since I was a kid. When the orange flavor came along he kept a pack especially for me in his car. He used them to refresh his breath; I used them to shove a handful in my mouth, roll them around for a few seconds and then crunch them all down, that is, if he wasn’t paying attention.

My sister Wendy liked tic tacs, too, but even at four years old she preferred to store her candy away for weeks or even months, untouched. One time our father gave us a pack each. Mine went in a day. Then it was time to take Wendy’s. But my ten year old brain knew that until the seal of her pack was cracked, I couldn’t pilfer anything; it would be too obvious. So, one Saturday afternoon, I prodded Wendy to pull out her pack of tic tacs.

“I just want one.” I say as she runs away from me with the slim clear pack clutched in her little hand. “No.” A sharp retort as she laughs, dizzy with little person power.

I try to grab the back of her cotton shirt but miss. Her red runners grip the floor easier than my leather moccasins. She runs into the bathroom and stands on the fluffy green rug, its rubber backing securely stuck to the linoleum floor. Standing in front of the vanity, she opens the tic tac pack and shakes out a little white mint. She rolls it around between her fingers and turns to face me while she carefully places the tic tac in her right nostril.

“What are you doing?” I shout. “You can’t do that. It’s dangerous!”

She laughs. I can tell she’s mocking me. Then she looks into the mirror, pushes her thick blonde hair out of the way to get a good look at her profile, her big brown eyes fixated on her nose.

Realizing the candy pills are perfect for her little nostril, she shakes out another and shoves that one in with even more confidence. Then, satisfied with its position, she holds one more tic tac in her hand, ready for entry. I look on with astonishment. Noticing I’m still there, she reaches for the door and slams it shut in one swing with more force than a skinny little kid should have. Before I can even think to get the nail scissors from Mum’s bathroom to shove in the door lock to get in, I hear her pull out the drawer. Now the door is blocked and there’s no way I can enter.

This is bad. I have to stop her. I think of all the times I reached the bathroom first as we ran through the house with Wendy close behind me. If I was the one barricaded in that bathroom, she’d stand on the other side and jam the scissors in the lock anyway, slamming the door against the open drawer, just for effect. My brain bulb flickers and I run down the hallway to Mum’s bathroom.

I fling open the only drawer in her vanity and rifle through the various pins, Q-tips, emery boards and lipsticks in several shades of pink. I pick up a plastic container shaped like a long tube and open it up. Oh yeah, it’s to store those white things. What are they called? I can’t remember right now. I can’t think straight. There should be at least one pair in here.

Finally, under a Kleenex pack I find what I’m looking for. Three pairs of nail scissors. I choose the pair with the straightest point.

I rush back and plunge the tiny scissors into the lock while yelling “Get out of there right now! Let me in!” I plaster my face in the two inch gap I have now secured between the door and drawer. Silence on the other side of the door, but I can still feel her presence. I cram my mouth into the door opening, prepared to bellow as loud as I can. “I’m telling, you’re going to be in trouble!” Guilt comes over me, and I now know the inevitable next step has come.

I run downstairs. “Mummy, Wendy shoved tic tacs up her nose and locked herself in the bathroom.” Mum stands in front of the kitchen sink drying a bowl while I continue. “I told her not to do it.”

She looks at me a moment, then shakes her head. Tea towel still in hand, she walks up the stairs with me close behind. “She’s got the drawer out, so I can’t get in.”

When she reaches the bathroom, she does a brisk three-tap knock. “Wendy, open the door. Right now.” I hear the drawer close. The door opens.

Wendy’s face is scrunched up and red. “I can’t get them out” she says in a nasally, panicky voice, one nostril closed tight. What if they don’t come out? We’ll have to call Dad to come help. He’ll bring his doctor’s bag and have to take the tic tacs out with those really long skinny tongs. Or maybe we’ll have to go to the emergency. I’d know what to do if Wendy fell, but I don’t know anything about tic tacs up noses.

Mum puts her arm around her. “Pretend to blow your nose.” Wendy lets out a little snort and one tic tac flies out onto the floor. She touches her nose gently on both sides. “There’s more.” She cries.

“How many more?” Mum asks as she looks over at me, astonished.

“I saw her shove three up there,” I rat.

She sighs. “Well, keep blowing.”
Wendy gives two short snorts and another tic tac sails into the Kleenex that Mum has now taken out of the sleeve of her sweater. Then the third one slips out.

Wendy’s face is still red as she sucks in her lower lip while taking two big gulps of air. She stands there, looking at the Kleenex. Mum takes the tic tac pack and puts them in her pocket.

“I told her that was going to happen.”

“All right. It’s okay now.” Mum says rubbing Wendy’s back as she leads her out of the bathroom. I stand there watching my sister sit on her bed, still looking at the Kleenex in her hand.

“Is she alright?” I ask Mum.

“She’s fine.” Mum says, leaving for the kitchen once more, tea towel at the ready once again. Over she shoulder she says, “why on earth did she do that?”
“I told her it was wrong.”

I know Wendy will never shove a tic tac up her nose again. I also know that I’ll wait until later to get my hands on that little pack, almost full minus three tic tacs, when Mum gives them back. Then I’ll sneak in and take them from her stash.

At least I will eat them.

Except for the porch light shining above, the house is as dark inside as it is outside. An old woman opens the door to a young man and child. The old woman is wearing her night gown, standing in the front hallway, her bare feet on the carpet. Her hair is completely gray and slicked back. The child thinks of herself in her own nightgown and hair slicked back after bath time, but she can tell that the old woman hasn’t had a bath in a while. The child feels as if she is trespassing.
The old woman stands there, but only for a moment. She spoke to the young man on her black rotary dial telephone a short time ago, and asked him to knock on her door. So he does. She didn’t expect the child though, but he asks her if it’s okay and she says yes right away. He’s come and she is so grateful to him. Such a nice young man with a lovely young family.
They follow the old woman into her living room. The child sits on the couch, out of the way and remains quiet. The old woman picks up the book that is resting on the seat of the La-Z-Boy, the foam flattened where she had sat before answering the door. She places the book on the side table that is strewn with newspapers, a pair of reading glasses and a mug of something once hot. The doctor positions himself on the ottoman at the foot of the La-Z-Boy. A floor lamp stands beside the chair, casting only a small shaft of light unnoticeable from the street.
A large plastic mixing bowl sits on the floor. The old woman reaches for the bowl with the man’s help and begins to vomit into it, unable to stop. The child knows what it’s like to throw up, too. No one sees her when she’s sick except once when she threw up on her desk at school, before art class. But that time she didn’t know she was going to, it happened so quickly. She hung her head in shame as her classmates scattered away from her and yelled out “Gross”. After it happened, she sat there at her desk. Then the janitor came in carrying a bucket of sawdust to pour over her vomit. Eventually the teacher led her away to the nurse’s office so they could call her mother to come get her.
The doctor sits up close, unfazed and continues to help the old woman with the bowl, making sure nothing spills out and the child knows she could never do what he’s doing. The doctor’s genuine smile relaxes the old woman as she begins to tell her story.
She no longer notices the child as the doctor examines her. While he feels her neck for swollen glands he asks what her symptoms are and how long she has felt this way. As he looks down her throat with a tongue depressor, the child imagines a Popsicle stick without the Popsicle and knows it makes you feel as if you are choking, even though you’re not. But the old woman doesn’t mind that either.
The bowl full of vomit sits on the floor. The child’s mother would have cleaned that up right away, and the child wonders how long the bowl will sit there and if the old woman has to clean it herself, even when she doesn’t feel well.
The doctor opens his black bag, and unsnaps one of the side pockets. He takes out a vial of clear liquid and a needle. He tears the needle from the paper and plastic wrapping and inserts it into the rubber part of the vial and slowly pulls the syringe, letting the liquid wash in. The child watches as it’s administered in the old woman’s white and saggy behind. The old woman is grateful and tells the doctor so. She says a word to the child, and the child smiles appropriately.
Then the doctor and child get up and the old woman lets them out the front door, shutting herself in the darkness with only that small beam of light to keep her company. The child hopes that the old woman will be okay. Her Dad reassures her that she will be fine.

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