“The medication makes me better.”

Words I have to remind myself of every time I shake the bottle out over my hand.

“The pills take away my pain.”

A lifeline to live by.

‘The things you see aren’t real, they’re just your way of coping.’

Words I hear reflected back at me, ones I’m meant to repeat as the supreme mantra for mental health.

Except: that isn’t how this works; it isn’t how any of this works. I can abide by their rules and listen to their lies and take their so called medication, but it doesn’t make reality any less real. I can shoot the shit with false idols and play backgammon with bleeding gods til the crows come sprawling but I’ll never be able to shake the sweats that come when night falls.

And now, it’s dark. Night’s fallen.

I’m walking to my local cornerstore; my boots are sinking straight into the pavement but I pull them out with a huge suck suck suck every step of the way. I just need a pack of cigarettes. I’m down to my last two, plus my lucky. I’m walking, thinking about simple things like how they’re tearing down every other ancient building to make a lot for the one next to it, how the clouds look like mushrooms and I wish that could mean something more than a metaphor for nothing; I’m thinking about how I need to pay my phone bill before it gets shut off for the third month in a row; like I said, I’m thinking about simple things.

I’m standing here on the corner outside the concrete storefront painted a flaking pale blue and white, colors to make you calm, the colors of the sky and soft linen nurseries and other sanctified things; I’m shaking out the change in my pocket, the few quarters that’ll make a difference between cancer and slightly better-tasting cancer, and I see the lamppost across the street blink once, twice, and then go out altogether.

I’m thinking: “Man, tax dollars at work, eh?” I nudge the man next to me in my head. I don’t actually touch him.

The lamppost bends over, touching the ground, and the plastic cover across the pale citrine beam opens up with a mouth; its got three rows of equally yellow jagged teeth. It spits soft, steaming fire.

I’m thinking: “Man, I really need to get that prescription refilled, cause the doc sure ain’t gonna like this one.”

Sniffing the ground, smelling up chewed gum and piss and god knows what else, the lamppost crawls up to a rat footing its way through the gutter. It sniffs once, twice, then strikes out; a rat’s death throe squeals sound like a human child if you strain your ears hard enough.

I smile.

I’m thinking: “Man, good thing I take that medication cause city lights never looked so hungry as they do tonight.”