Eddie Sauer limped off the bus, favoring the sore knee that had flared up since he had helped his mother move out of her apartment that morning. He headed across the parking lot to the drugstore, carrying a cloth bag with work shoes for his part-time job that night at a wedding reception. He needed a refill of pain relievers to make it though the six-hour shift of tending bar and bussing tables.
"Dr. Summer called in a prescription for me," he told the pharmacist, who flipped through a bin of envelopes and picked one.
"Identification, please?" said the pharmacist, looking over the rims of his glasses.
Eddie handed over his driver's license. The pharmacist checked the name on the envelope and returned it. "That will be twenty-eight dollars."
Eddie handed him his credit card. The pharmacist swiped it on the electronic device and tore off the slip. "Have you taken Vicodin before?"
"It's a refill."
"Take no more than four a day. Limit alcohol consumption. Don’t drive for two hours after taking."
Eddie signed the receipt, picked up the sack, and headed out the door.
He walked back to the bus stop and sat down on the bench, rubbing his sore knee. After helping his mother pack her boxes and suitcases, he had returned home and elevated his leg on a pillow while paying bills, grading final exams for his summer school students, and clipping coupons for Sunday shopping.
Eddie’s sore knee was a constant companion, never forgotten. When he awoke each morning, the pain in his knee was inert, silent, like a lump of soap. He would take his first painkiller of the day and head to morning classes. By noon, he would take a second pill when the pain was like a chunk of burning coal. He took his third pill of the day when he returned from school in the afternoon; the pain by that time was like molten lava spewing down his leg. He spent most evenings on the sofa, holding an ice pack on his knee and gritting his teeth while sweat poured down his neck.
Ten years after a high school football injury, Eddie’s life revolved around his damaged knee. Painkillers, surgeries, physical therapy, and leg exercises had brought minimal relief. His orthopedic surgeon had delivered the grim news last month that arthritis had set in and he needed another surgery. At twenty-eight, Eddie faced a lifetime of pain, limited mobility, and a knee replacement.
Eddie stepped gingerly aboard bus No. 56 and sat in the front. He had two stops: one before the causeway and the other at the hotel where he worked weekends and for special events. The bus passed under the highway, where traffic was crawling with SUVs and vans crammed with baseball fans headed for an evening game at the stadium across the bay from the hotel. A flotilla of sailboats lazily sliced the flat blue water as the twilight bathed the bay in a fiery glow. Even though it was hot and muggy, the wedding party would be comfortably chilled that night in the air-conditioned banquet hall that served as a convention center during the week.
Today would have been a perfect day for Eddie to picnic on the beach with his fiancée. But on Saturdays Eddie worked a second job at the hotel to support his ailing mother and save money for the future he planned with his fiancée.