Ham­ster

The Iowa Review - - NEWS - Ruth madievsky

Iwas limp­ing down East Eleventh Street with a film can­is­ter full of opi­ates when I stum­bled into one of those open-air mar­kets where they sell quinceañera dresses and ham­sters in tiny cages. This new ther­a­pist I was see­ing had told me I should take more walks. Some­thing about en­dor­phins and how they trick your brain into think­ing you’re on hy­drocodone. Her of­fice smelled like old tamales, and the jew­elry she wore re­sem­bled some­thing you’d get at Mardi Gras for show­ing your tits. This morn­ing, she had worn these pur­ple and yel­low beaded neck­laces, one on top of the other, and the more per­sonal her ques­tions got, the more she tugged on them, so that by the time she got to “Have you thought about hurt­ing your­self in the last week?”, her fin­gers looked like honeycomb. I pulled my cam­era out of my bag and took a photo of the ham­sters. Their cages were stacked on top of each other in a pseudo-pyra­mid. I won­dered what would hap­pen if some­one wanted one from the bot­tom. “Fif­teen dol­lar,” an old wo­man said to me. “Twenty-five for two.” “I don’t have that kind of money,” I said. It was a lie, but af­ter giv­ing me a once-over, she seemed to be­lieve me. “Ten dol­lar,” she said. “Very good ham­sters.” I squat­ted near the pyra­mid and peered into their cages. The top and mid­dle con­sisted ex­clu­sively of baby ham­sters, all roughly the size of my film can­is­ter. The bot­tom were adults with long yel­low nails and eye crust. Most of the ham­sters were sleep­ing or pre­tend­ing to sleep. A few were en­thu­si­as­ti­cally nib­bling on brown­ing let­tuce in a way that made me think they’d ac­cept any­thing you gave them. I won­dered what would hap­pen if I slipped one of my pills through the bars. “Good pet,” the wo­man said. When she smiled, I counted more gaps than teeth. I was sup­posed to be scal­ing back on impulsive be­hav­iors, which I had in­ter­preted to mean mak­ing as few abrupt changes to my life as pos­si­ble. I’d been off pills about three weeks but was still sell­ing. Noth­ing big. I was a re­cep­tion­ist at a com­mu­nity hospi­tal and only took what­ever the phar­macy was throw­ing out—opi­ates, an­tipsy­chotics, an­tiretro­vi­rals—what­ever was near­ing its ex­pi­ra­tion date. I had an agree­ment with the phar­macy tech­ni­cian in charge of waste dis­posal. She pock­eted

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