The pharmacy had a particular aroma — I could close my eyes and tell that I entered a pharmacy anywhere, the aroma was identical, the scent of soap, perfume, dust-bane, and sometimes the sharp pungent odour of cod-liver oil, which all children dutifully had to take in those days with breakfast. In the dispensary there were bottles with barks from trees, plant roots, leaves, white powders, and a narcotics cabinet that was always locked. In the back of the drugstore was a special drawer of creams and ointments for ladies and boxes of things for men. Men came up to my father and whispered under their breath. Father looked back, gave them a serious nod, walked to the dispensary, and reached into a special drawer. He pulled out a small box and put it into a white bag before you could say Jackie Robinson.
“What was that you gave to that man?”
The men never looked at my father. They were staring someplace else, usually a wall or ceiling.
“Dad, what was that?”
“Prophylactics,” my father said. “They protect against pregnancy. We call them safes or condoms, just so you know, son. If I am in the dispensary, don’t bother me.” As soon as I could read, I checked the drawer in the dispensary when my father wasn’t looking and searched the boxes of safes. They had exotic foreign names—Sheiks, Ramses, Trojans. I opened a box up. They looked like folded yellow balloons and had a funny smell.
I was not sure what you did with them. They looked like bubble gum, wrapped up. I put one in my mouth. I chewed it, but nothing happened.