Visit From An Old Friend

Laura Chambers

Melly Parker bagged a bottle of over-the-counter cold medicine for an old woman who was busy sneezing into a handkerchief. Does anybody even use those things anymore? she wondered to herself. "Here you go, and get well soon." The woman nodded at her, grabbing the bag in her clean hand. Walking out of the door, she stopped to read a poster about flu shots, then disappeared into the warm summer morning.

"What a rotten time to get sick, eh?" Melly's friend and coworker Lois Hartford shrugged.

"I wouldn't know; I've never really had much experience with illness." Lest this remark seem silly for a girl who works in a pharmacy,and is no doubt exposed to hundreds of types of viruses per day, it is quite necessary to explain that Lois had never been sick a day in her life. Therefore this job was perfect for her; a person with a weaker immune system would find it more difficult. Regular customers would often high-five her for good luck, which Lois didn't mind a bit.

The woman who had just departed was the only customer who had been in the store. Therefore, it was just them (the two cashiers that handled purchases of non-drug/over-the-counter items) and Morris Hughes, the pharmacist who practically lived at the back of the drug store, mixing chemicals that relieved and soothed the ailments of the community. It was usually, when the place was this deserted, the time the two girls spent talking about current events, and gossiping.

Melly reached for a newspaper form the rack. "I'm getting this for my parents," she said, "but there's no reason why I can't read it first." It was something Melly often did, as the community of Eckland (pop. 1,573) was mainly rural, with a city part on the fringe of it. Since Melly's parents farm was out of range, just at the border of their area, they couldn't get regular paper delivery.

Melly flipped through the pages, murmuring. "I can't believe they're going to build another library...........there's three already. I tell you, someday the distance between our houses will be almost nonexistent. They've had to repaint the sign 3 times this month already. And it's nothing to do with babies being born."

Lois grinned. "Maybe they'll build a McDonalds next."

"Oh the horror! Can you imagine the road to your farm being lit up by a ghastly "Eat Here" sign?" The two girls giggled.

"The crime pages are empty again, I see," Lois said, making her way over behind Melly's counter. "I almost wish we'd have a bank robbery or something to spice things up."

"Are you serious? I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Why even dream of people being injured or killed?"

"I didn't say I wanted violence. Just a little action." Lois looked up at the door. "Better put your paper away, we're going to have a customer." An old man, white haired and with a weatherbeaten face was reading the hours open sign. After a minute, he walked in.

"Don't you know who that is, Mel?" Lois asked.

"Not really."

"Think...........when you were 7, and you fell down off my deck."

A flash of recognition came to Melly's face. "Dr. Ferris?"

"Of course, dimbulb! I can't believe you didn't recognize him right away."

"Are you sure it's him?"

"Positive. Sure, he's aged, but so have we. It's been 10 years." When both girls were 12, their family doctor had left town. Dr. Rich Ferris always had a kind word for everyone, but he had left years ago due to a job he had been offered in an Alberta hospital. It meant more money and a chance to start over after his family home had burned down in an electrical fire the spring of that year. Everybody had been saddened to see him go. The kind man, who had been in his 50s when he left , lived alone with his wife at the time; his oldest child, then 23, had moved out 2 years prior into an apartment in the city.

As if to confirm Lois's pronouncement, the first thing the man did after having picked up a shopping basket was to go over to the counter Melly sat at.

"14 stitches and a broken wrist?" he asked, smiling at Melly.

"Hey, you remembered!" Melly said. She opened her arms,as the doctor, who had also been a family friend, embraced her. "I wasn't sure if you were open, or not. Had to check the sign. So, how's it going kids? You make me feel so old. So does my grandaughter," he remarked. "In fact, that's why I'm here. I was visiting Jason's house…….you know, he moved in over at Fellow Corners, and Zoe asked me to come to her soccer game. I said I would and I did. Well, right in the middle of the game, she's taking this wild shot at the opposing goal, when suddenley her leg gives out. Lands flat on her face. I went out to the field to ask if she's okay. She says her leg really hurts. I looked at it and it turns out she sprained the muscle in it."

"That's awful," Lois remarked. "Is she any better today?"

"Some, but it's still killing her.Can't hardly walk. Jason asked me if, when I go out next I would get her something for it. You know he's a cop, and has confusing hours, and Liza's laid up with a cold. Lucky she's got some cold medicine or I'd be here for that too."

"Tell her I hope she feels better soon." Lois said. She walked out from behind the counter, and started down the aisle to where the greeting cards were, no doubt to make one out for Zoe.

Dr. Ferris went down another aisle, the one where over-the-counter meds were kept. He looked at a few boxes, then made his selection and went back to the counter. He looked at the display of chocolate bars, then selected a milk chocolate one.

Melly took the selections from him. "Aspirin and a MilkChunk. I'm sure Zoe will love the chocolate."

"She does," Dr. ferris agreed. "Not the healthiest but it sure tastes good."

Lois dashed up the aisle, pen dangling from her hand, and held out an envelope. "Get well card." She looked at Melly. "I signed it from both of us. That okay?"

"Yeah, sure." Melly rang up his purchases, bagged them, and accepted his money. Making change, she ripped off the receipt. Dr. Ferris pulled a pair of glasses out of his shirt pocket to read it. "It's not that I don't trust you, it's a habit, girls."

"Same prescription?" Lois asked.

"Practically born with it. Can't read a thing without 'em." He walked out of the drug store.

The next day, it was raining. It was Melly and Lois's shift again, and the day was even duller.

"Guess all the sick people are doctoring themselves, eh?" Lois remarked. "That was really a hoot, seeing Dr. Ferris again, wasn't it?" She paused. "I wonder if Zoe's spill made the papers up in the Corners."

"Let's check our paper." The Heathland County Times covered the whole county, aptly enough,

and often reprinted articles from local publications. Eckland didn't have one, but Fellows did.

Sure enough, there it was. "Glitter girl takes spill; FC wins game" was printed on the sports pages. There was a picture of an 8 year old girl being helped over to the bench by her teamates. She had dark black hair and an understandably upset face. The caption read, "FC Glitter player Zoe Ferris is escorted to the bench by her teammates Lorainne Phenney and Suzan Kulp after taking a nasty spill. Glitter won the game 3-1."

"That's Zoe Ferris?" Melly asked. "She's sweet, isn't she?"

"Yeah," Lois said. "Poor thing."

Melly put the paper on the counter. "I knew it! I had suspected it from the first! There was one thing, but I wasn't sure, but now seeing Zoe, I definitely am! Lois, that man is not Dr. Ferris! And whoever he is, he can't have any good reason for saying he is!"

What tipped Melly off about the fact that "Dr. Ferris" might not be genuine? And why does Zoe's picture clinch it for her?