Janice was the last person Samuel ever expected that afternoon. Outside the drowsy city moved on, the street cars, carriages and passersby oblivious to the moment she emerged into his store barely upsetting the chiming of the bell Samuel had nailed into the frame.
There was nothing to prepare him for the moment. That Thursday in mid September the morning sun glinted off the bottles on the west side of the room like they always did when he arrived to unlock the dispensery. Sun poured across the street between the buildings on Government street. The younger clerk arrived in a rush under the slight scowl of Samuel’s gaze, the key his was given lost somewhere in his coat pockets. Samuel waited for a moment, looking over the rim of his steel frames as the man outside continued to fumble, his movements jerky and his face occasionally looking up to stare contrite at the older man in the white coat behind the black cash register. Finally, pushing the latch to open the low swinging gate he came to the young man’s rescue, with the boy in the long coat and felt riding hat looking regretfully at the older face on the other side of the pristine, clear glass.
“Eight thirty, Joshua,” the older man said simply as he opened the door.
“I’m sorry sir, I mean…it’s not an excuse but the tram left early…I tried to run after it but…”
“Well, at least you’re here,” he said as they both went back behind the counter surrounded by vials and bottles, the disinfecting alchohol in the large teardrop shaped glass and the wall of pestal and mortars. The room smelled only slightly of lavender and the disinfectant that was used to clean everything in the white walled dispensary that sat near the corner of Broughton between the café and the grocery.
The young man scurried into the back quickly as Samuel continued to go over the notes he made the day before on Mrs. Wensten’s prescription for anti-fungal cream and her Humalog diabetic insulin supplements. He kept all his notes in perfect order, his handwriting as clean and clear as the Colonist’s printing press, with every necessary note organized within the confines of the single black leather book. The book remained in the same place of his low front shelf, it’s corner’s frayed and smooth like the skin of a well worn leather shoe.
Samuel had just finishing entering the journal notes when he realized they were getting closer to opening time. Exactly fifteen and half minutes away by the pocket watch which never left his favorite red waistcoat, the watch a gift from a friend of the St. Andrew’s and Caledonia Society which he met with on Wednesdays like so many others who had come from Scotland or, like in his case, had parents from the old country.
Soon, Joshua emerged from the back of the dispensery in his white coat, doing the regular cleaning that was his job first thing each morning, only the young man was trying to do the same cleaning at twice the pace, quickly rushing over the furthest corner with the store’s straw broom.
“Slow down there!” Samuel said firmly with his eyes never leaving the black book and his smaller notes ledger beside where he wrote down the specific notes for that day.
“I’m sorry Sir, it’s just…we open in just over ten minutes and I was late. That’s my fault.”
“I’m very aware of the time, Joshua. You can continue to clean after opening hours just this once. I can’t afford for anything to be damaged,” he explained.
“Now, can you please open the front door and clean our exterior walk? Mrs Amberson will be by early this morning to pick up her supply for the St. Joseph’s dispensary. I’ve already laid out the packages on this back table with the documentation. I hate to keep the lady waiting.”
“Hallie Amberson!” He replied suddenly with a desire to straighten his coat and tie, pushing his hair back, looking at the mirror that hung over the topical creams on the south wall “She is beautiful, isn’t she?”
“None of that, if you please,” Samuel said to the smirk of Joshua.
Soon the young nurse from the Fairfield hospital arrived to the smiles of Joshua who continued to sweep door the outside walk. Samuel felt back the urge to roll his eyes at him as the young man then came in to gather all the parcels for her to put in the large case that she had brought. She smiled back at him and he just stood there for a moment, mooning like a cat.
“Now you can sweep the back of the store, Joshua.”
The young man managed one more smile at the young lady before going to fetch his broom. Samuel could swear the young man was one step away from being better off as a coal miner like his brothers. It seemed if he wasn’t prattling on about this or that he was talking about his new accommodation over by the bird houses.
Samuel could only just remember those younger days in his life when he was still studying under Mr. Hainsbury. He now owned a small house down Moss Street which was perfectly situated near the Foul Bay streetcar line. Each morning he woke quite early in the quiet when the sun had not yet risen, having his breakfast in the front room that was shaded during the day by the two arbutus trees he had planted himself out front. After his morning routine was finished he would head out early, paper under his arm to the corner of Moss and May where he would meet Scott Cook driving the first street car run of the morning, a fellow member of the Scottish society and a recent arrival from Aberdeen. The red and white sided car would click and clack its way along the smooth rails towards Cook Street and the park before turning it’s way towards the heart of town.
Lunch was the small café just next door run by Annie and Nathanial Humphries, which had been a family business since the earliest days of Victoria. She was always happy to see Samuel and frequently insisted that she could offer him a discount for her famous coffee and sandwiches that always comprised his meal. This was due to Samuel looking into a diagnoses that he found didn’t square correctly with what she had been diagnosed before. Samuel had actually visited and discussed with the physician so the prescription was changed to medication that took her relentless migraine headaches away. Samuel appreciated the offer of the discount each time she brought it up, but respectfully declined, not out of a dismissal of charity (which he also did not approve of) but due to the fact that it was his job to do exactly that and that he would stop practicing the moment he ever cut corners.
Back in his shop, with Joshua over by the other side of the room cleaning the tables where the recent shipment had just arrived by train, the door chimed softly.
That was the moment when Samuel’s eyes went wide. He felt something inside his chest that he had not felt since he was the same age as the young man across the room. He set his pen down and walked slowly to the front of the counter as the two people entered, their presence in the room raising Joshua’s eyebrows as well. They rarely ever saw people from the Songhees inside their dispensary.
Behind Janice, whose brown eyes fixed on Samuel, stood her large framed brother, George Andrews Jr. She was dressed in a shawl and he was dressed in the clothes of a labourer. Samuel pushed his glasses back slightly.
“Good Afternoon…George…Janice,” he said trying to steady his voice. He could only hope that his voice didn’t sound wrong. Beneath the cotton white coat, waist coat and shirt, his heart thudded hard.
“Samuel,” George replied, with Janice just looking at him before averting her gaze to look around the room.
“Um…what can I do for you both?”
“Janice?” George asked his sister.
“Yes…sorry,” she said before looking at Samuel sorrowfully and then looking down into the pockets of her shawl and finding a written paper. She walked up to the counter and Samuel swallowed slightly as she came close, her shawl brushing the other side of the white wooden counter. She handed him the prescription, Samuel looking down at her soft slight brown hands covering the doctor’s scribbles. He looked up at her and then back to the paper which he took. Coughing, he studied the paper.
“I can…” he said before coughing again “set up an account for you with us, if you want so we can track…”
“That won’t be necessary,” George said firmly.
Joshua came over the side of his employer, looking at him with his head slightly tilted to one side.
“Can I get you something, Sir?”
Samuel just looked at the notes on the paper, his head focused on returning to his work immediately. People came to him because he was a professional. In truth, he was considered the best pharmacist in the finest run dispensary on the south island, but he always refused to accept this notion.
“It’s…it’s a prescription for Miss Janice Lynn Andrews for the following medication,” he said beginning to write a note for Joshua to follow in his usual precise handwriting so their could not, would not be a mistake. One was an expectorant…one 250 mg of Azithromycin…another special tropical cream that was less commonly used but otherwise benign. At least, he thought for a moment, it was nothing really bad. Most of these were for simple ailments.
“These are for yourself?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered.
He cleared his throat and with his hand slightly shaking he wrote the note and passed it to Joshua who rushed off with a small bag to fill for her.
“How much this gonna be?” George asked, his voice firm.
“Shouldn’t be too much. These are fairly common medications and from what I understand the physician you met set a one-week trial dosage. If anything feels wrong, stop taking them immediately, but they should clear up things within one week,” he explained consulting the pricing book next to the register and entering the numbers.
She handed him the forty-two cents it cost for the bag of medication that Joshua produced. He fingers brushed his only slightly when she gave it to him which set a rush of fire through Samuel, something he felt in his legs so strong, he had to keep one hand flat on the counter. For a moment, all for of them stayed put like they were posing for a photograph.
“Come along, Janice.”
“Goodbye, Sam,” Janice said with her eyes locked on him. The rest of the world seemed to stop. The rest of the world seemed quiet.
“Take care,” Samuel replied. He could not move.
“Come along, Janice!” George said more firmly. It was firmly enough for Joshua to look at the taller Native man with concern.
As they left, the younger clerk looked at his employer who seemed dazed, staring out the door as they left.
“You alright, Sir?”
“Yes, perfectly fine. Let’s get back to work.”