Pills and Peaches
There are too many pictures for such a small
coffee table, and Harold knocks one over as he reaches for
the egg-timer. It had gone off suddenly, without provocation,
but neither he nor Millie flinches. Millie, her withered frame
wrapped in a blanket, murmurs and continues to watch television.
Harold, also resigned to the noise, resets the timer and replaces
it. He was sitting next to her on a wooden chair imported
from the kitchen—there is no room for another full chair like
Millie’s—but now he rises, picking out a drinking glass from
the cluttered table.
Millie rocks a bit from side to side in the dim,
flickering light of the television while Harold digs around
in the small kitchen just off to the side. There is no dining
room anymore. He removes from the cupboard bottle after bottle
of prescription pills, opens them all and begins to count
them out onto a plate. They have organized their life around
pills, their days broken up into hours like individual capsules.
Harold’s hands sort quickly and familiarly, but with so many
it still takes a bit of time.
As if he cannot take another moment of this,
Harold suddenly brightens. He fills the water glass, and with
a sudden inspiration drapes a towel onto his arm and pushes
into the living room with a hop, striding toward Millie.
“We have a wonderful selection today, madam,
a plenteous feast—”
Without looking up from the TV says, Millie shushes
him. “Harold, I don’t want to miss anything, shhhh.”
Harold stands at attention like a farcical waiter
until a commercial comes on. He lowers the plate to Millie.
“Only the finest, madam: three plums, two pineapples, four
cherries, a custard, six bananas, kiwi-strawberry limes.”
“Tuesday is four pineapples, two plums.” She
pokes the pills and looks up with disgust. “And no custard.”
“No, love, it’s Thursday you get no custard.
Today being Wednesday it is, of course, three plums, two pineapples,
four cherries, a custard, six bananas and the kiwi-strawberry-limes.
Oh yes, and the giant peach for my peach.” He picks out an
enormous peach pill the size of his thumb and holds it for
Though grousing, she finishes them all, struggling
near the end. Harold coaxes her and refills her water glass.
She accepts his help and though her eyes are watering from
all the pills, she settles back to watch television again.
He returns to the kitchen and dismantles his act with a sigh
as he begins to put away bottles.
“Harold? Harold! … Harold, goddamn it!”
He is there in an instant. “Yes?”
“You have to fix the window, I’ll miss my show
otherwise. I told you already to fix the window, the one that’s
Harold glances over the window. Like the coffee
table, the walls around it are crammed with too many pictures.
There was simply not enough room. Harold tells Millie he thought
he already fixed it; she turns around to say that No, there
is still a draft that she can feel, and they banter for a
moment. Harold removes from a broom closet a feather duster,
blowing on it to demonstrate how easily his breath moves the
feathers. Back at the window, he tests for a draft by holding
the duster in front of various parts and satirically scrutinizing
it like a biologist with a microscope, watching for any signs
of movement. He backs away, testing for a draft at other points,
and blows on the feather duster again as if to make sure it
Eventually he backs his way into Millie’s chair,
and he teases her with the duster, placing it on top of her
hair like a wig. She pushes him away, though not without laughing
a little. He replaces the duster, gets a coat from the closet
and opens the outside door. A few newspapers on Millie’s table
rustle from the wind.
Millie, transfixed on the television again, bellows
without turning around: “Now look, Harold, this is what I
mean—fix that window. I swear I’ll kill you if I miss any
more of my shows.”
Harold steps out into the afternoon, closes the
door, and the living room turns dim.
Harold enters from outside with a long, thin
bundle wrapped in a blanket. His shoes are covered with snow,
which he does not bother to wipe off before tracking it through
to the kitchen. He sets the package on a table behind Millie,
along with his coat, and gets his wooden chair from the kitchen
to sit next to her. Just as he is about to say something,
the egg-timer rings on the coffee table. He reaches up, turns
it off again, and again resets it, before grabbing the glass
and returning to the pills. He has fewer pills to get this
time, and upon returning waits for a commercial before he
Millie says, “Squash and green beans? I hate
“Yes, I know. But the yellow one is buttered
mashed potatoes, your favorite.”
“Hmph. Not my favorite,” she says, her mouth
full as if they were real mashed potatoes. She tries to swallow
two at once and chokes a bit. Harold is ready with a glass
“That a girl. That’s my girl.”
“I’m fine. Cough, cough. I would have been fine.”
“I know you would have been,” Harold says, and
“And if you don’t stop that waiter bit, I’ll
kill you, I swear. It’s patronizing. And did you fix the window
yet? My show’s on later and I don’t want to miss it again.”
“Didn’t you sleep through it last time?”
“I swear: if you don’t get that window fixed!
It’s too cold for the television otherwise. It doesn’t work
in the cold, the antenna doesn’t.”
“All right, I will,” he says and rises. To himself
he mutters, “I did.”
Harold looks over the window as Millie rebundles
herself in her blanket. After a perfunctory glance at the
frame, Harold goes to the long package, which he unwraps to
reveal a rifle, worn but usable. He pulls out a list of instruction
from his coat pocket and consults it as he silently undoes
the bolt and checks the chamber. Millie doesn’t notice anything.
He sets it down and a new show comes on the television.
Harold, suddenly aggravated, puts on his coat,
heads to the door, and stands again with it open. Papers rustle
and Millie doesn’t move.
“I have some errands to run. To the bank. I’ve
got an hour before . . .”
“Fine, Harold. Shut the door, please!”
Harold bows and then slams it behind her. Blackness
Harold enters again with a folder of papers that
stick out over the edges. He puts it near the rifle and pulls
from a pocket a small, greasy box that sounds as heavy as
lead as he lays it down.
Removing his jacket, he smiles impishly. Sneaking
up behind Millie, he slides himself onto the arm of Millie’s
chair, leaning against her. She protests a bit and shoves
him, but he teases her and shoves back.
“Just for this one show. I’ll move then, I promise.”
Millie harrumphs, but lets him remain. As soon
as they are settled, the egg-timer goes off. Harold closes
his eyes and sits motionless for a moment. After stopping
it, he lets it fall to the table and heads to the kitchen.
“I’d almost forgotten, just once.”
Harold digs in the cupboard for the bottle of
peach pills. He also removes a different colored bottle from
the cupboard and pops one pill himself. Millie, for once,
looks over her shoulder at the kitchen door.
Harold, who is still swallowing, croaks: “Yes?”
“Is that my peach you’re digging up? I’m not
Harold, relieved that she hasn’t caught on, resumes
his hamming and returns to the living room: “Oh, but this
peach pill is the important one. The rest of those just keep
you living, but this one, this one is one that gives you pep
and zest. Why you’d just sit around all day if it weren’t
She scowls. He puts the pill on her tongue like
Communion, but she defiantly doesn’t swallow, holding it in
her teeth before spitting it into her hand. Harold shrugs
and settles onto the arm of the chair beside her, with the
same gentle tussle as before. Again, she lets Harold stay,
despite her annoyance. They watch for a few moments.
“Millie, I do believe this is the year we finally
get our honeymoon.”
Millie, half paying attention: “I thought we’d
cured you of that twenty years ago. But every winter . . .”
“No, I really mean it this time. I’ve been at
the bank, figuring a bit.”
“Ha! You’ve been working with some figures? Ha,
ha, ha. So are we paupers or millionaires? I guarantee you
got the numbers wrong—it’s just a matter of whether or not
you got them wrong in our favor.”
“Hardy har har. One of your old colleagues helped
me. Nancy. And we worked it all out. Provided that we thrift
a bit and drive there, of course, we can’t afford to fly,
Nancy agreed with me on that . . .”
Millie shushes him once again, but gently this
time, putting a finger to his lips. Then she turns to watch
Harold sets the egg-timer and protests, “Really,
the numbers came up great.”
“Why would Nan sit down with you and not me?
If anyone’s going to meet with Nan, it’s me. I am the one
who gave her first job. I should be the one to meet with her.”
“Well, Nancy was a little hesitant without you
being there. But you know me—I can talk an Eskimo into buying
a bag of ice, right? I talked you into marrying me. Once I
convinced her, she was a great help. Didn’t tell her everything,
of course, but enough. She showed me all the calculations
to make, how to jiggle the numbers a bit—I like that phrase,
‘jiggle the numbers.’ She asked about you, too, how you were
doing especially. ‘Fresh as always,’ I said. You were good
friends with Nance, weren’t you?”
He watches television for a moment before standing
up to walk about. He ends up kneeling beside her. He can’t
help but start in again. It’s got ahold of his mind.
“Think about it Mil. No, don’t get hissy. Let’s
go on our honeymoon. I’m serious. We’d see where they launch
the space shuttles and try out those white sandy beaches with
warm water. People our age down there. The whole time we’d
be thinking, ‘Just over there, just on the other sides of
all this water is England, and Europe after that.’ Damn, wouldn’t
that be fine. And do you know the best part would be, the
“No, damn it. Don’t laugh at me. To hell with
shuffles and shuttles. The best part would be right before
we got there. Right at the Georgia border. I heard somewhere
that it’s peach season now, and we’d get a real Georgia peach,
right off the tree. Fat with juices. We’d eat it in the car
knowing that with every bite we were getting closer and closer
all the time.”
He nods eagerly.
As a consolation, she gives him a quick kiss.
Though not placated, he settles onto the arm of the chair
beside her, this time without a struggle. She takes the pill
she’s been holding and as the television goes to commercial,
Millie and Harold are sitting in the chair, she
sleeping while he stares at nothing. The television drones
unintelligibly. The egg-timer rings. Harold reaches to stop
it out as if stiff and in pain. He picks up the water glass
and heads to the kitchen, where he gathers Millie’s pills
and has another one for himself. Not satisfied, he takes another,
and opens a can of beer to wash it down. Upon returning, he
sets down the plate and unplugs the television.
Millie, wakes at this. “Hmm, wha? Harold what’s
“You have a few to take. Lemons and limes.”
Millie, wrinkles her nose. “What happened to
“We’ll get to that. But we need to talk first.”
“Harold, if I miss my show—”
“You won’t miss it, I promise.”
Millie slowly begins to down pill after pill,
and Harold paces, impatient but waiting for her to finish.
When she does, he begins immediately. “Millie,
we are going on our honeymoon. We are, and that’s final.”
Millie looks at the clock. There are three in
this room, there being no where else to put them. “Harold,
I swear, if you make me miss my show—”
“We’ll set the timer, all right?”
Harold does so roughly.
“Now, as I said, we are going to take our honeymoon
this year—to Florida. I had an acquaintance, a man I know,
check the car over, and we will leave tonight, immediately
following your show. Don’t worry, I’ll pack for the both of
us. The way I figure it, we have at least two weeks down there
to really live it up. It will cost at least $200 per day,
but the way Nancy and I figured it, if we plan correctly,
we can fit quite a few things into a fortnight.
“Two weeks? Harold, we’re skimping as it is.”
Harold brushes the objection away with his hand.
“That’s part of the reason we’re taking the trip. The pills
are—no, let me start over. A few years ago, when you had to
retire, I found an investment through an acquaintance of mine.
I thought I’d make up the difference quickly and slip the
money back into the account. It, well, didn’t quite work out—but
all I needed was a little bit more capital. I like that word.
Capital. We’d get back quite a tidy sum, it would just take
a bit. Investments, you know. You understand that I couldn’t
just drop this on you without getting at least the initial
“What are you saying? How much did you lose?”
“Not everything. No, no, certainly not all.”
Still trying to be regal, he adds, “We still have the house,
yes? It’s smaller than we’re used to, but we don’t need much
any more, right? And the car is in fine shape. An asset. But,
Millie you’re getting distracted. The point is that we have
enough for our honeymoon. Our honeymoon! I’ve mapped it out,
let me show you.”
He walks briskly to the folder and pulls a single
paper from it. “We arrive at the Ohio border, then Kentucky,
Tennessee (all wonderful places, I’ve heard) and then we hit
Georgia. Georgia, Millie, and right there—”
“Harold, stop it. Just stop it. Stop fantasizing.
I swear I’ll kill you if you don’t stop fantasizing. Don’t
walk away from me. Get back here and answer me. Tell me, in
plain words: how much of our savings went into that investment
“Now, see, it wasn’t the investment. You’re getting
confused again. It was the pills, mostly. I couldn’t tell
you how expensive they were because I knew you’d refuse them
and say we couldn’t afford it. The investment was just to
make up the difference. And it’s a hell of a thing that it
didn’t work out. But, but, love, I still think you’re missing
the point. I’ve given up fantasizing. I have. This is real.
We do have enough money for a honeymoon. I’ve figured out
how to get us out of this scrimping—it’s beneath us, don’t
“What the hell kind of an answer is that? I want
you to answer me, like a man, what did you did to—why do you
keep walking back there? Stay in front of me when I’m speaking.
What are we going to do after this honeym—”
As an answer, Harold peels the blanket back from
the rifle. They watch each other for a moment. Harold, ashamed,
looks away first, but he doesn’t try to conceal the gun. Millie
turns back to the television, babbling to herself.
“Harold, what … ? Never mind. I don’t want …”
“I can explain this Millie. Just give me a moment,
The egg-timer rings, startling them both, and
neither move to stop it. It rings and keeps ringing for too
long, and Harold finally runs over and kills the noise.
Trying to return things to normal, Harold covers
up the rifle with the blanket. He plugs the television back
in. Millie has talked uninterruptedly to herself the whole
time. “I-I just want to watch my show. We’ll watch my show
and then we’ll talk about this. Like adults—no, no I don’t
want to talk about this: there isn’t anything to discuss.
You don’t talk about things like this. I just want to watch
my show, and then …”
Harold begins to walk away, but she reaches out
and stops him. She pleads with her eyes, and pulls him down
into the arm of the chair.
“You’ll stay until the end of my show, won’t
you Harold? Promise me. Until it’s over, promise me.
Harold sighs and blackness falls: “Yes, Millie.
I promise. I’ll stay.”
Millie is asleep in the chair, alone. Night has
fallen finally. There are gaps in the wall where pictures
have been removed. Harold enters from the stairs in back with
a suitcase and small valise. He sets the suitcase by the door
and puts the valise in front of Millie.
He paces during his soliloquy, while Millie remains
asleep. “Mildred—we’re packed. Everything is set . . . you
probably have figure out that I’m not coming back from Florida.
Hear me out, I have prepared what I want to say: I have in
the past two years abdicated my responsibilities, both as
a husband and as a caretaker. I do not deserve and do not
ask to come back and be with you. It took me a long time,
too long, to accept this. But I have, now, and have accepted
the consequences. This is something I must do. I want you
to support me in this decision, Mildred, but I am prepared
. . . ”
At this point, words run dry. He kneels beside
Millie and takes her hand. She is still sleeping.
“Do you remember that show you saw about a month
ago, a program about that prison in Florida? It was on a Wednesday
night. We were switching medications then, you were probably
a little woozy and fell asleep. Well, I remember it. I remember
it exactly, and I have not been able to forget. I did research
about it, and I found that the TV was right—everything they
said was true. You’ll have all your prescription costs taken
care of. The housing facilities are as good as any hospital,
and as far as I could tell you’ll have access to doctors all
the time. And good ones, who are used to taking care of older
people. Run-down people. Plus, the weather is far better for
you down there. You’ll be well protected, and you’ll be fine
down there, absolutely fine.
“I didn’t want to tell you this and get your
hopes up, but there’s a new medication coming out, a real
improvement, I hear, and the way I read things, people inside—well,
people who the government takes care of will be the first
to get a shot at it. Too expensive for everyone else.”
Unable to take it, he suddenly gets excited again,
and he picks up her hand. “Just think about that! A miracle
drug, and the government picking up all the costs! No more
scrimping or scrounging. No more worries, not a single one.
You’ve just got to do this one thing for me, Mil. Just one
thing. A few seconds, and it will be over. I can’t do it myself:
it’s not right and it’s not moral, and it won’t help you if
I do it alone. I know you’ll forgive me and I forgive you
ahead of time. Everything will be so much better after it’s
over. And remember, we’ve still got our honeymoon beforehand!
Two weeks together, and they’ll be better than anything we’ve
had in a long, long time. That’s how we should be: in control
of our lives, not . . . not dwindling away like we are now.
But you’ve got to help me, Millie. I can’t do it myself.”
He leans to her and kisses her once, then once
more, before withdrawing. He puts the valise on the table
in front of her and walks to the door, where he pulls on his
jacket, picks up the suitcase, and leaves. The door stands
ajar and the room is hushed with dark.
Silence hangs for a long moment, and then the
egg timer goes off. Millie rouses, but slowly, and the timer
continues to ring. The longer it does so, the more intense
its ringing grows, jumping in stages. Drowsy, Millie finally
manages to get it shut off.
She looks for Harold, wondering why he wasn’t
there, and notices the missing pictures on the wall. She settles
back into her chair, pretending she didn’t see—but then there’s
the valise in front of her. After hesitating, she opens it
and pulls out a bottle of her pills as if she’s never seen
“Harold? All my pills are here. . . Where—?”
The wind picks up and the door slams against
the wall. Millie tries to shout, but she lacks the voice to
do it. For the first time all day, she unwraps herself from
her blanket and gets out of her chair to shut the door. But
before doing it, she takes a cautious look outside.
Car headlights illuminate her. They flicker on
and off against the walls as the car struggles to turn over
and start. Millie slams the door shut against the wind and
light with both hands, holding it closed and locking it before
returning to her chair. Outside, the car sputters, so Millie
turns up the volume on the television to drown out the noise.
It doesn’t work, and the noises do not blend but clash.
At last, the car catches, and outside Harold
revs and revs and revs before falling the noise falls to a
seductive purr. Millie sits up in her chair to listen, even
shutting off the television. With trepidation, she tiptoes
to the window. Barely audibly, she says, “Harold . . .” before
withdrawing. She pulls a blanket over her shoulders and tries
to sit down again, but soon squirms as if someone is fighting
over the chair with her. The car gives one more ferocious
rev. Like a horse spurred by a gunshot, she runs to the doorway.
She stops, returns to the valise, and returns to the door.
It takes a few breaths and a moment of rest before she can
open it. The blanket is still around her shoulders, and, suddenly
not able to run any more, she takes a slow step outside into
the light. “Harold?” She doesn’t bother to shut the door behind
Inside the room, papers rustle in the wind and
lift off the tables, scattering themselves on the floor. A
picture frame standing on a small side table falls face down.
After a long moment, headlights swing through the room as
the car backs up and turns. Blackness falls and we hear a
faded honk, as if they’re excited to finally be leaving.