The Birth of a Chemical Dependency

It was a hotter July than usual, perfect weather for unspeakable crimes, the kind people can't stop talking about. The small house sweated. Two philosophers, husband and wife, travelled a short distance from their respective corners and converged at the kitchen countertop, where their child sat on the polished granite. It was a dark, silica and feldspar-rich blend that cost them near a month's salary at the university, but was worth every penny as a central platform of luxury from which to begin each day. Once more, it provided the coolest surface in the house.

The little girl's hair, unbrushed, drooped across her ears and forehead in damp blonde mats. Her lap supported a crusty Bertrand Russell doll stuffed with beans, who appeared worn out from many debates with pudding cups. Her hand clutched a plastic pharmacy bottle which lacked the cap. It was empty.

"What have you done, honey?" inquired the logical positivist of his daughter. His lecture-hall crisp baritone echoed from the empty vial.

Recognizing the tone used to introduce a scolding or a lesson on the finer points of logical syntax, the little girl clenched her jaw and tried to conjure up colossal shadows in which to conceal herself.

Her father turned to his wife, a phenomenologist. "Call the poison control. I'll get the Ipecac."

His wife turned to comply, then hesitated. "Where's the number?"

"Right next to the phone - where it's supposed to be," he said. He took the child's fist and began to pry her fingers open. "Let me see that."

He thrust the freed bottle toward his wife with the authority of a well constructed syllogism. "Take this. You'll need to tell them exactly what she took."

The phenomenologist glanced at the label while fumbling with the phone, the cord twisted like a malformed bundle of genetic material. "Do we really need to call, Martin? They're just de-wormers from when Toby was a puppy. Couldn't have been more than a couple left."

"Let's talk to the experts. Okay?"

She began to push the digits, but without conviction, loath to involve nameless authorities. She looked at her daughter, who had no apparent symptoms of ill-effect, while they both listened to her husband bound up the stairs, two at a time. "Won't they put us on a list or something?" she shouted.

His response penetrated the walls and ceiling with ease. "Call the damn number!"

His organization of the medicine cabinet facilitated the hunt through a vast array of bottles and tubes. When he returned a minute later, however, his wife held a pill in the air like a trophy. "Look! She must have spit it out. You see. She's smart. How many children her age would know to spit it out?"

"Of course she's smart. Did you call?"

She moved her head in a cautious, circular pattern. "Uh-hmmm ... they say it's probably nothing, just to keep an eye on her."

A look of disbelief flashed across his face. Instead of his instinctive need to challenge her statement, he turned to his patient, the emetic ready. He tore a paper towel from the rack just in case. "Here, sweetie, open up."

"Are you going to make her throw up anyway?"

"We'd better be sure." He pressed the jaw muscles of the toddler between his middle finger and thumb. "Open up," he repeated. The little girl could not deny the strength of her father's logic, his mathematical certainty, his absolute faith in scientific truth.

The phenomenologist began to pace, as well as she could within the compact breakfast nook, certain civilization was ending. "It's your fault for teaching her things before she's ready. You shouldn't encourage her to solve problems by herself, not at this age."

"What are you talking about?"

"She managed to remove the child-proof cap, didn't she?"

"Let's turn you on your stomach," he explained to the child, then addressed his departmental colleague, sometimes bedroom companion. "The problem is the opposite, Simone. She has the fine motor skills, but lacks the requisite cognitive processes. She can't foresee the consequences of her actions."

"She's only fucking two."

His head jerked up with an angry glare. "Don't talk like that in front of her! I tell you she's old enough to begin formal language development. That's final. Tomorrow we'll begin with reading."

The phenomenologist felt a sudden craving for nicotine. She retrieved her supply from her purse and went to the back door. "At least allow her to pick out the book." She knew he would start with Wittgenstein, as opposed to a treatise by Doctor Seuss. "I hope you fail, though, Martin. When she shoots you, I'd prefer she's not tried as an adult."

Her hand turned the latch with more force than necessary. "I'm going outside for a cigarette, if that can pass your test of empirical verification."

"Enjoy your servitude," he answered. He glanced down at his daughter, who had been positioned over the aluminum sink until the medicine could take effect. "Be still. It won't be long now."

Simone pressed her nose against the glass and watched the procedure. What did it all mean? She thought of one her favorite lines from Merleau-Ponty. "Ambiguity is the essence of human existence," she mumbled.

A stream of water from the faucet drummed the metal as if anticipating a firing squad. Drops bounced into the little girl's face, a cool mist that did not lessen the discomfort. She took a deep breath and continued to struggle, despite her father's directive, but the forces at work against her proved overwhelming.

About the author:

J. R. Salling is an antiquarian bookseller specializing in the history of science and medicine, a fact sometimes reflected in his written work, more often not. In addition to Pindeldyboz, his writings have appeared in Flashquake, Eyeshot, Thieves Jargon, Monkey Bicycle, Word Riot, Mad Hatters' Review, Poor Mojo's Almanac, Gator Springs Gazette, Rose & Thorn, Ten Thousand Monkeys, Opium Magazine, and Slow Trains.