Mad Scientists

Mark Foss

When I was eight years-old, a friend and I would pour, squeeze, or sprinkle anything we could find in the cottage bathroom into a large glass. Sometimes we waited for bubbles and smoke, the warning signs of an imminent explosion. Other times we believed the potion had special powers to grant wishes, but it smelled horrible and we didn’t dare taste it. I never told my wife this story because it was so lame. When she was the same age in Tunisia, she swallowed cleanser. They had to pump her stomach at the hospital.

If my father had known we poured our magic potion down the toilet, he would have disapproved. He was often anxious, especially about the septic tank. Decades later, when it all started going wrong for him, medications largely tamed his paranoid disorder, but no pills could treat vascular dementia. In a rare lucid moment, he asked, “Can’t you bring me back to normal?” I pursed my lips helplessly, wishing for an elixir to reverse his decline.

He’s been gone a decade, but out of inertia I keep his pills in the bathroom cupboard at the cottage. He would have approved. You never know when something’ll come in handy, he liked to say, which is why I’ve kept my wife’s dosette for the past five years. One day I too may have a chronic illness and I want to be prepared.

Of course I also keep the dosette because I bought it for her. She loved the butterflies on the metal lid, how no one could imagine plastic compartments inside. It was hard enough making independent films without people gossiping about her illness. In her last few months, when swallowing became difficult, we looked into surgery to reduce the intake of pills. But the idea of connecting electrodes in her brain to a pacemaker-like device made her skin crawl. She did not trust authority, fearing the experiment would go haywire. Better to keep taking pills than become Frankenstein’s monster.

None of this explains why I kept her meds when I moved — the pyramid of bottles stacked in the medicine chest, her weekly supply from atop the refrigerator, the stash behind the oils and vinegars in the kitchen cupboard, the surplus from the French pharmacy stored in a make-up kit in her closet. There are also the pumps — nitroglycerine for her heart, Ventolin for her chest and L’Heure Bleue perfume for her wrists.

I’ve thought about flushing the pills — all the asaphen, patoprazole, domperidone, pramipexole, pro levocarb, azilect and teva entacapone. But there are so many of them and they are so hard to pronounce. I worry they would clog the drain, and I’d have to plunge the toilet before water seeped into the apartment below. I cannot tame these fears. Perhaps that’s the real reason I’ve kept my father’s meds in the cottage cupboard.

I could hand my wife’s pills back to the pharmacy for proper disposal, but can I trust them? The servant in her childhood home had said the cleanser would kill her. Yet when she drank from the bottle, it only made her ill. As an adult, she would try two more times before choosing to live.

There’s no choice, really, but to keep the pills. Perhaps I will mash them into a fine powder. I will spray perfume to quench the smell and nitro to set off the smoke. Then I will pretend something will happen to bring life back to normal.


Based in Montreal, Mark Foss is the author of two novels and a collection of linked stories. His CNF appears in Star 82 Review, Hobart, JMWW and elsewhere. He is the co-editor of The Book of Judith (New Village Press, 2022), an homage to the life of poet, writer, and teaching artist Judith Tannenbaum and her impact on incarcerated and marginalized students. Visit him at