Mother knows best

A short story

I scurry across the hallway, hellbent on finding a treasure trove in the old medicine cabinet at the top of the stairs. Previously, I’ve discovered a scalpel (which I used to carve my name into the underside of my desk where my parents wouldn’t see it), bandages that I’ve used to pretend I’d broken both my arms, and the arnica cream my mother religiously rubs on my booboos. 

There they are: three perfect plastic cylinders in a pale blue, chock-full of homeopathic pellets—tiny, perfectly spherical pills—glazed in how forbidden they are to my midnight hands. I reach out, take one of the tubes, secure it in my palm, and make a run for it. I don’t run just because I have gone foraging in the medicine cabinet again—I also run because I am afraid of the dark. Shadows hug my heels as I sprint back to the only place that is safe: under the covers in my bed. 

Safe and sound, I count out what I assume to be a regular dose. 12 pellets seems like an appropriate amount. I am 10, after all. I pop them on my tongue with all the seriousness of a knowledgeable child. I lie back with the covers up to my chin and wait for them to dissolve. I roll the small sugary beads across my tongue, already excited for the next dozen. 

Years later, my uncle dies. Grief enters through my shock-opened mouth, courses through my body and comes to rest in the form of warts under my feet. Try as we might, we cannot get rid of them. My mother takes me to a man who lives out in the countryside. I lie on his operating table with my shoes and socks off. The man stands at my feet and holds out his hands in front of them. He never touches my feet, just holds his arms out for a length of time most pro athletes would struggle to match. “Do you feel the energy passing from my hands through your soles?” he asks. “Yeah,” I respond politely. After a few minutes, I think I might feel it, but I’ll never really know. We pay him using his preferred currency, as stipulated on his website: chocolates in his letterbox. The warts are so stubborn they are eventually frozen off using cryotherapy. The pain is unbearable.

Years later, my mother takes me to another man who lives out in the countryside. This time, with no concrete problem to fix. He holds my hands and silently swings them around for 15 minutes. I am told he can read my brainwaves and I spend the rest of the session wondering what the odds are of this being true. Low, but not zero. His diagnosis: I should never ever eat red capsicum or drink alcohol. His words go into one teenage ear and right out the other. 

Years later, I need to get my wisdom teeth taken out. My mother calls me to remind me for the fifth time that I should buy a homeopathic wisdom tooth removal kit. I wander into a local pharmacy and ask for one. I cascade the pellets into my mouth at the appointed times: one day before, two hours before and an hour after. My face doesn’t swell one bit despite my teeth getting ripped out of my head.

Years later, my sister is a doctor. “They’re just sugar and water,” she repeats. “Ok,” I answer.

Today, I have a medicine cabinet of my very own. Plasters, painkillers, phytotherapeutic antidepressants, and empty pill packets of Ciprofloxacin, Malarone and Doxycycline line its shelves. An almost-empty yet never-ending tube of arnica cream presides over them all.

Next to my bed, a packet of pills with a label enumerating latin plant names alongside sugar and lactose. 

I have not outgrown my midnight snack.

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Photography by

Hanna Torseke