When I lost the prescription plan, life got harder. Can’t remember why I lost it. Did I switch insurance or did they switch me? I think they switched me. 

One day I had it, the next I didn’t. It was so messed up. Was in the new place by then. The one in Boystown, a block from Sue. It happened at the Walgreens. That’s how Chicagoans say it. You gotta have “the,” otherwise it’s not Chicago. So it was at “the Walgreens,” where Maurine with an “i” worked. Showed up at the window like always, except this time the pharmacist said, “That’ll be thirteen hundred dollars.”

I didn’t believe her, but my body did. A harsh lump caught in the throat, constricting my breathing. Tears flooded my eyes, practically spilling over.

“Thirteen hundred dollars? Don’t you mean twenty?”

“Your insurance has been discontinued,” the pharmacist said matter-of-factly.

She stared at me, probably thinking, as I was, that there must be a letter somewhere.

“How do you want to handle this?” she finally asked, as if the decision hadn’t been made for me. 

Maurine with an “i” could take the sting out of anything. After picking my jaw up off the floor, I walked up front to see her. She ran the checkout, had to hear what she’d say. Didn’t always need the product, but I always needed her. Ringing up the Raisin Bran, she hits me with “Two scoops, two scoops.” She knew every slogan under the sun. Never failed to recite it either.

“Don’t squeeze the Charmin, Mr. Whipple.” That one made me howl. I was on a Twix kick the summer that Sue was into Kit Kats. We’d debate whose slogan made for a better checkout experience. “It’s a cookie and a candy,” that’s what I got. Saying it, Maurine didn’t look up. Otherwise she would have seen me smiling.

After the insurance was snatched, I bought pills out of pocket. Ponying up 100 bucks every three days threw a wrench in life. Wonder what Maurine would have said about that. I know what she would have said. She had that look when ladies would buy tampons, swapping the slogan for a side-long glance. The register was her stage. With the smile cracking more in her eyes than on her lips, she’d glance at the box then back at you. The box, you, until all the embarrassment was gone. That’s what Maurine did, she took the shame out of things. I needed her at the pharmacy.

Don’t remember the details. I know I had to choose. You know, between medicine and food. There was so much shame in it. ­Why couldn’t Maurine work the pharmacy?

Returning home, I looked around the sparsely furnished apartment, savoring the beauty of a place that had never been mine. Had always wanted to afford it, never could. Mom and Dad’s grace was the only reason I was there. The third floor apartment had a wall of windows that overlooked Melrose, with big frames of glass that let in the light. Two French doors led to the balcony, where far too many cigarettes had been smoked. After the movement disorder, smoking was a way to cope. Now it was a luxury I couldn’t afford.

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