The Placebo Effect
By Paul Smith
Bill put the gun inside
his vest and went downstairs.
She was still there. Anna said she was going out for some pain pills, but it
had started raining. That was as good an excuse as any to keep her from going
out. She had these migraine attacks once in a while. They often started when it
rained. Then again, when the sun came out that could trigger a migraine attack.
Bill was getting tired of it. She was semi-slumped on the sofa. She had one of
those black daytime sleeping masks over her eyes, making her sort of look like
the Lone Ranger. She couldn’t see anything he was doing right now as the rain
fell. He could take the gun out of his vest and wave it right in her face. She
wouldn’t see a thing. Somewhere the dog slept.
“Want me to get that
Tylenol?” he asked.
“Why else would you
be going out?”
“Get some fresh air.”
“In this rain? You
call it getting some air? I
can’t go out. Enjoy yourself, then. I might as well just sit here on this sofa and
She might as well just die.
Life wasn’t fun
anymore. But then the migraines passed and she would be sunny and cheerful for a
while. This was part of their cohabitative lifestyle, Bill guessed. He thought
it would be different.
exactly happens when a bullet enters the brain? As the bullet travels
from the cranium and through the brain tissues, it causes laceration to the
brain parenchyma and also produces multiple high energy fragmentation,
resulting in shattered skull bone and bullet's pieces, which leads to more
injury. Not only does it damage the brain parenchyma, it also ruptures the
blood vessels leading to formation of intracranial hematoma. So there is blood
everywhere. This is usually followed by cerebral edema, and raised intracranial
pressure. Victim usually dies from profuse intracranial bleeding or direct
injury to the deep structures such as brainstem. Plus, there is a lot of
yelling and screaming.
liked the sofa. They bought it at Grace’s Furniture near Logan Square.
Grace’s was still there, after all these years. All these years she’d had these
migraines. All these years he’d gotten used to his helpless reaction to her
disabilities. Anna and Bill and Grace had aged together. They’d aged gracefully,
he thought! That was a good one. He nearly laughed. Their roof went drip drip
drip. It would be hard getting blood out of that sofa.
saying much, are you? I do appreciate it, though, you going out. Those
pills will help. They haven’t so far, but you know what?”
was expected to say something. “What?”
removed the sleep mask and stood up. “I believe in the law of
averages. I think that if you take Tylenol twenty-nine times, then maybe
fourteen and a half times it will help you.”
placebo effect,” he said.
she said. “That’s psychological. That’s when your mind is just
programmed to believe something good will happen. This is different. This has
to do with the chemical makeup of a Tylenol pill and how it affects your
system. It’s either in the pill that Johnson and Johnson made or something in
your bloodstream. I don’t know. I think too much. I’ve been reading Nausea
by Sartre. It gave me a splitting headache.”
thought too much. Bill didn’t like that. He avoided the Great Books
because in his estimation it only led to depression and suicide.
A bullet can destroy the shoulder joint rendering that
arm permanently crippled. It could sever nerves in the shoulder or
arm partially or completely paralyzing it. Or it could shatter the humerus
bone meaning extensive surgery and bone grafts
would have to be done to repair it. It could do lots
of damage, but wouldn’t necessarily result in death, just pain and
disfigurement. Or you could develop a blood infection from the wound and suffer organ
or die. There was always that chance. Plus yelling, of
Bill looked at his
vest to see if there was a bulge. Nothing. Then he checked the front of his
pants. No bulge there either. Hadn’t been one there in quite a while. But the
gun had not made a bulge, none that she could see.
“When you go out,
can you take Bowser for a walk? He needs to get out too.”
Bowser was her
dog, not his. She sweet-talked him into getting her a dog several years ago.
Now the apartment smelled bad, there was dog hair everywhere inside, dog poo
outside. He had to carry a pooper-scooper whenever they went out. Plus he had
to buy dog food. Bowser was a pit bull, which meant he better not lay a hand on
Anna, or else. Bowser made him feel emasculated.
“Sure,” he said.
Anna got up as the
rain continued to pound their second story flat. The gray Chicago afternoon had
settled in like a lodger that refused to budge, that refused to take a hint to
pack its bags and go somewhere else. She came up to him, threw her arms around
him and kissed him right on his mouth, pressing her body against his. “You are
so good,” she said. “Sometimes these headaches are so awful I can’t control
what I say or do. You understand, don’t you, Bill?”
understand a fucking thing about her. “Sure.”
“And when you come
back, I’ll give you a nice dessert,” she smiled.
“A nice dessert,”
he repeated. “With chocolate sauce?”
sauce, whipped cream and,” she put her forefinger to her lips for emphasis, “A
big red cherry.”
“A big red
cherry,” he repeated. “Come on, Bowser,” he said. “We’re going for a walk.”
They slid out the door together.
as the door slammed behind them. “You forgot the pooper scooper!”
He smiled. There
was no need for a pooper-scooper. Bill had heard that the safest place to get
shot was the buttocks. That was the body's largest muscle. Muscle tissue, when
torn or damaged, can take a long time to heal, and the pain can be immense. So
there were pluses and minuses to it. He opened the car door, and Bowser
scampered in. Bill had also heard that once you take down a gun you can’t put
it back without shooting it. It was some kind of universal law. Anna would know
where it came from. She would say it was probably a law that some old Russian
dreamed up as he was about to go into a duel.
Then there was the law of averages. The law of averages stated that
sometimes things happen, sometimes they don’t. Maybe sometimes you take a gun
down with the intention of looking your target square in the eye and then
pulling the trigger, blowing them to smithereens.
And then, maybe
Bill stopped the
car in the rain near an empty field on the way to the pharmacy. “Get out,
Bowser.” The dog got out and patiently stood there in the rain as Bill undid
his vest and pulled out his Sig Sauer.
“Now turn around,
Bowser, so I can look you in your buttocks.” Bowser did not understand a word.
Maybe Bowser had migraines like his mistress. Maybe he was just plain stupid.
Maybe he knew he had it coming—guilt by association. In any case, Bowser was
not budging in this damn rain. So Bill went and stood behind him, looked him
square in the buttocks and pulled the trigger. The nice thing about Bowser was
that he wouldn’t yell.
Click. Nothing. He must have forgotten to load the fucking
said aloud. “Your number’s not up, I guess.
Let’s see, the law about taking down a gun and firing it has been
followed to the letter. And the law of averages has been followed, too. Some of
the time you pull the trigger and a bullet comes out. Sometimes there is no
bullet. Check. And the placebo effect law has been followed too. By unsuccessfully
trying to teach you a lesson I settled something down in my craw that’s been
bugging me a long time. She has been bugging me a long time with her hypochondria
and sniveling and crying and her damn sleep mask. And you, Bowser,” he added.
“You bug me too.”
Bill’s eyes met
Bowser’s. “Now I’m going to get a treat,” he told the dog. “Not a doggie treat.
A grownup treat. With a big red cherry.”
bought the Tylenol as Bowser waited in the car. The thought of that cherry
waiting for him, or maybe just him pronouncing the word ‘cherry’ caused a bulge
in the front of his pants. Bill tried to remember if they had Maraschino
cherries back in the apartment. He wasn’t sure so he stopped again on the way
home and bought some. No sense in testing the law of averages twice in one day.
The sun came out and they went home.