B. J. Jones

Five pills

we fill prescriptions. Every day, filling prescriptions. On a slow day, we may fill three hundred. On a busy day, six hundred. On the weekends, two hundred. We stand while we fill. We stand all day long. We stand in front of pods. Pods are like desks, but without chairs. The medicine is located on a shelf and brought back to the pod. The medicine’s bar code is scanned to make sure it is the correct medication and dosage. The medicine is spilled from the bottle to the counting tray. On the left side of the tray is a gutter where the counted medicine will be swept. The medicine is swept into the gutter with a spatula. It looks like a butter knife. We count in fives. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty.

Ten pills

I ate peas one night for dinner after my first week of work in the pharmacy. I had been filling prescriptions all day. For seven hours, my right hand clutched the spatula and swept the pills into the counting tray’s gutter. Swift flicks of the wrist. At dinner that night I clutched the butter knife and started counting peas and swept them to the other side of the plate. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty.

Fifteen pills

The pharmacists are trained at pharmacy colleges. They are well paid and overworked. The technicians are trained at the pharmacy. They are not so well paid, but still overworked. At least they get two fifteen-minute breaks and an hour for lunch.

The pharmacists are pharmacists, but the technicians are not just technicians. They are college students who are not studying to be pharmacists, college dropouts wishing they were studying to be pharmacists, grandmothers, single mothers, and struggling musicians dreaming of fame and abusing pharmaceuticals.

We answer the phone. It rings all day long. It rings every three minutes. Patients are calling. Doctors are calling. Pharmacies are calling. Patients are calling for refills. Doctors are calling in new prescriptions. Pharmacies are calling for copies of prescriptions. We don’t fight over who answers the phone. The phone rings once. No one answers it. The phone rings twice. No one answers it. The phone rings three times. Someone finally answers the phone and stares down everybody in the pharmacy. We don’t want to answer the phone because it could be that one customer.

“Hello, thank you for calling the Walmart pharmacy, how may I help you?” I said.

“Hello. Can I transfer something from Walgreens in Wentzville to your store?” she asked.

“Yes, you can. So you would like to transfer your scripts from Walgreens in Wentzville to our Walmart pharmacy in St. Peters?”

“Yes. Walgreens.”

“You are sending your scripts from Walgreens to Walmart?”

“Yes. Walgreens,” she said.

“Ma’am. This is Walmart.”

“Yes. Walgreens.”

“No ma’am. This is not Walgreens. This is Walmart.”

“That’s right. I’m transferring them from Walgreens.”

“In Wentzville?” I said.

“Yes, Wentzville,” she said.

“And you want to transfer them to our pharmacy at Walmart in St. Peters?”

“Yes, Walgreens.”

“Ma’am this is a Walmart,” I said.

“Wait. Is this Walmart?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I want to send my scripts to Walgreens. You’re not Walgreens?”

“No, this is Walmart.”

“Okay. Never mind then. I will call Walgreens. Bye!”

We don’t like to answer the phone.

Twenty pills

I dream about the pharmacy at night. I dream about filling. I count the pills in my sleep. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty. It’s not like counting sheep: I don’t wake up rested. I wake up and have to go to work where I have to fill. Nothing else happens in the dreams. I just fill. I’m not filling in the midst of an alien invasion and have to fight back the big-eyed beings with my light-saber spatula. I just fill.

Twenty-five pills

There has been some excitement in the pharmacy. There was once a rogue pharmacist. He came in one afternoon full of loud, exuberant greetings. He squinted at the nametag on my shirt and then must have said my name five times before he announced what he wanted. He wanted our doctor’s pad. This pad is used to take down new prescriptions over the phone from doctors. He could not have this.

“I can not give you the doctor’s pad. I can give you some scrap paper,” I said.

“You don’t understand me. It’s okay. I’m a pharmacist. I just talked to the doctor. He said it was okay. I just talked to the doctor,” he said.

“I can not give you the doctor’s pad. Your doctor will have to call it in to our pharmacist.”

“I’m a pharmacist!”

The other pharmacy technician beside me opened a drawer and took out the yellow doctor’s pad. She handed the pad through the window to the alleged pharmacist.

“Thank you, dear. You know what you’re doing. He just doesn’t understand anything.”

The rogue pharmacist wrote out a prescription for his daughter, who was standing with him but not saying anything. He handed us back the yellow doctor’s pad through the drop-off window.

“When can I pick this up?” he asked.

“I don’t think we can fill this, sir,” I said.

“What! I talked to the doctor! I’ll come in there and fill it myself!”

We did not fill his prescription, but he left the store with the sheet from the doctor’s pad—it was an illegal prescription. He reached across the drop-off window and grabbed the yellow pad from the other technician’s hand. We had to call all of the local pharmacies and warn them about the rogue pharmacist. No one was going to accept his illegal prescription.

He later came back to our pharmacy with his daughter asking if we had filled his prescription. Security and management surrounded the man and listened to him plead his case. They did not believe him. He and his daughter eventually left the store—calmly and unassisted.

The prescription was for eye drops.

Thirty pills

11:30 a.m. Thirty minutes before lunch.

Thirty-five pills

We all had to write up reports and send them to the district manager. By this time, I was tired of hearing the story. Every day someone else would retell the attack of the rogue pharmacist—something different to talk about other than the usual rude customer. I wanted to send in a different story to the district manager. I wanted to send in a story where I was wearing a cape.

The rogue pharmacist approached the drop-off window with a sneer and a gun. He pointed the gun at us and demanded all the controlled substances. The women in the pharmacy were frightened and pleaded with the evil pharmacist to not hurt them. He looked at me and said, “Hurry it up, four-eyes.” I pushed my blacked rimmed glasses up on my nose and said, “I’m sorry sir, not without a tamper-proof prescription from your doctor.”

I ripped off my blue polo, revealing rippling muscles constrained in a tight fitting outfit with a large “B” on the chest. I jumped through the drop-off window and kicked the gun out of my nemesis’s hand. I punched him in the face with a swift right followed by a left and doubled him over with a quick jab in the chest. I stood over Rogue Pharmacist with a foot on his chest and my cape flying in the breeze.

A crowd of people gathered with cameras flashing. Reporters asked questions. I answered a few, signed some autographs, kissed a couple of babies, and turned down a thousand dates; but then I had to go back to work.

Forty pills

A customer approached the window.

“Hello. Can I help you today?” I said.

“You got a couple thousand dollar bills back there?” he said.

“No, sir. We don’t.”

“Well, here, take this then.”

He handed me a prescription.

“Have you ever used our pharmacy before, sir?”

“All the time. Only reason you stay in business is because of me.”

“I see. We will have this ready in about fifteen minutes,” I said.

“Fifteen minutes! How about making it a little quicker for me?”

He smiled like a game show host.

“Sorry sir, there are other customers ahead of you and the prescription has to go through all of the check points before it is ready.”

“Right. I’ll be back.”

A customer approached the window in my mind.

“We will have this ready in about fifteen minutes,” I said.

“Fifteen minutes? How about making it a little quicker for me?”

He smiled like a game show host.

“You would like to get it sooner?”

“That would be great. Could you do that for me?”

“Yeah, sure. Whatever you want.”


“You’re welcome, sir. We will get that ready for you in about fourteen minutes.”

Sometimes I like to think of myself as the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld: refusing to serve soup to annoying people and banning them from the restaurant for a certain amount of time.

Instead of refusing soup, I would refuse medications and thus become the Drug Nazi.

“Can I help you?” I said.

“You got a couple thousand dollars bills back there?” he said.

“Very funny, sir. No drugs for you! Three months!”

“Pharmacy, can I help you?” I said.

“I would like to refill my blood pressure medicine.” she said.

“Do you have the prescription number?”

“The thing is I threw away the bottle.”

“No drugs for you! One year!”

“I would like a refill on my sleep medicine,” he said.

“I’m sorry, but that prescription is out of refills. We will have to contact your doctor to get an approval for additional refills.”

“I don’t think so! I know I have more refills!” he said.

“No drugs for you! Ever!”

Forty-five pills

11:31 a.m. 29 minutes before lunch.

Fifty pills

I work with other technicians. They fill beside me.

“She finally went to lunch. I don’t think she was ever going to go,” she said.

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“It’s going to mess up everyone’s schedule now.”


“Someone should say something. The pharmacist won’t confront her.”


“She does whatever she wants around here. Doesn’t answer the phone. Doesn’t fill. I don’t know what the heck she does.”


“Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were counting,” she said.

“It’s okay,” I said.

“Back to work.”


Sometimes we talk while we fill.

Fifty-five pills

We fill a lot. We fill all day. We complain a lot. We complain all day. Rude customers. Lazy technicians. Bossy pharmacists. Stupid insurance companies. I go home and have new stories every day to tell my family. Many of them are funny, but most are frustrating. I have to vent to someone, so I complain to them. I complain about people hanging up on me. The circular arguments I have with customers. People who don’t have their insurance card on them. People who want round white pills instead of telling me the actual name.

I will often hear someone say that the job wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the customers. If it weren’t for the customers, I wouldn’t have a job. If it weren’t for the customers, I wouldn’t have to fill prescriptions. If it weren’t for the customers, there wouldn’t be a pharmacy. No pharmacy… No pharmacy… No pharmacy…

Sixty pills

The prescription is counted. The pills are dumped from the gutter to an orange vial. A label is printed and stuck on the vial and closed with either a child-proof or non-safety lid. The medication is placed in a basket and given to the pharmacist who looks it over to make sure it is correct. The little orange vial will then be placed in a white paper bag and sold to the customer.

One prescription is filled but many more are left. The phone is still ringing. Doctors are still calling in new prescriptions. Customers are still coming by the drop-off window to order refills or bring in a new prescription. The scanner displays what medication needs to be filled next.

Benazepril 10MG #90

B. J. Jones is a Virginia/Tennessee native currently living in Dubuque, Iowa, with his wife. B. J. has an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO. He is the assistant poetry editor of Stymie: A Journal of Sport & Literature and teaches poetry for the Dubuque Art Center.

“The construction workers will not allow me to enjoy my front porch. They are out there in my subdivision, building new homes for people. Groaning and squeaking yellow bulldozers and other ground-shaking behemoths I cannot name are rumbling every day and even on Saturdays. The people from these homes will not allow me to enjoy my front porch. They are in their newly constructed homes, playing their music with bellowing bass, screeching guitars, and caterwauling vocals, filling the neighborhood, penetrating through doors and walls.

“The insects know that I am not allowed to enjoy my front porch. Spiders, moths, grasshoppers, and other tiny tormentors spin, fly, and hop about my porch knowing that I never come out to enjoy the breeze. I let them live their short, carefree lives for a couple of weeks, then I attack with cans of Raid blazing. The sweet, chemical smell of the insecticide rains down on these creepy-crawly porch-crashers.

“My neighbors have flower pots, wicker furniture, and swings marking their homes as inhabited. My porch is as empty as the cans of Raid rolling around in the garage—exhausted after their extermination. My neighbors sip coffee and smoke cigarettes on their porches in the morning, before the yellow school buses come to take their children away, and then return in the afternoon with more coffee and the day’s mail to greet the returned children.

“I see it all from my office. My office window looks out onto my porch. My empty porch. Often I will swivel in my desk chair to look out of the window to see the bulldozers, survivors, and neighbors and wonder what it would be like to take my chair out to the porch, with headphones, and write in the sunshine. I would take my pen and moleskin out, but the bulldozers won’t let me. I would take a cup of hot tea, but the neighbors’ music won’t let me. I would bring my own music, but I won’t let me enjoy my porch.”