Solum - Rose Malana
Kore lay on her bed, her feet dangling on the edge of her bed. She stared at her ceiling, focused on individual blades of the spinning fan. It was a dull way to pass the time, but she didn’t have the energy for much else. She contemplated whether or not she should take the drug her psychiatrist prescribed. The pills sat in an unopened orange bottle on her nightstand.
“It’s been hailed as the new panacea,” Dr. Leigh explained. “I don’t know if it can do everything they claim it does, but as an antidepressant, it’s certainly worth a try. Especially given your background.”
“My background?” Kore asked.
“The primary ingredient is derived from soil.”
Kore flinched when Dr. Leigh said that word. Soil. What did Dr. Leigh know about soil, about its effects on humans? What did anyone from these awful megacities know about soil or plants, or natural life? They didn’t know. No one around her for miles could tell her what it felt like to plunge their hands into the earth and feel its cool, soft, damp love.
They didn’t know what it was like to feel the love of the planet. They didn’t know what the loss of that love was like.
Kore missed gardening. She missed the gorgeous visage of vibrant colors all around her. She missed the smells of damp soil, sweet flowers, and tree fruits. She missed the feeling of moving soil with her fingers, playing with roots as she planted nursery plants. She even missed the nearby buzzing of worker bees and the wake-up call of pretty birds chirping in the morning.
Her promotion had taken her away from all of these things. She hated the muted colors interrupted by blinking traffic lights, the odor of urine on city streets. Her hands became restless, and she fidgeted nonstop. The cacophony of sounds bombarded her, tires screeching, cars honking, and now she woke to an irritating alarm. If the drug brought any amount of the calming fullness or contentment from her previous work, then perhaps these new days will become bearable. She missed happiness.
Kore looked around her bedroom. Her eyes roamed over the cream-colored walls, the black metal and dark wood furniture. Everything was straight and at right angles. Sunlight didn’t peer through her windows the way it did at home. The whole room felt gray and lifeless.
She looked to the right corner beside her bed. A large armchair, soft and mint green with the images of sprawling green vines, sat in that corner. A plush, red-knitted blanket draped over the back. A tiny end table sat next to it. There was nothing on it.
I could put a plant there, she thought. She’d avoided buying plants of any sort for her apartment. There was not enough sunlight to sustain anything. The only real light this room got was fluorescent.
“You know there are houseplants that thrive in low light, right?” Dr. Leigh said one day in one of their sessions. Kore stared at her.
“A lot of houseplants prefer low-light. You’ve probably never been in a low-light environment, so you wouldn’t have experience with them. You can also buy some artificial lighting that works. I have a pothos that prefers low-light. You can make your apartment as close to home as you want,” Dr. Leigh explained.
Kore gaped at her.
Kore thought of that conversation as she stared at the tiny end table. Why hadn’t she taken that advice? Why had she stored that information away, only to think of it now?
What was holding her back?
Her employers liked her well enough, it seemed; they gave her a mini bonsai tree for her desk, and her office had a wall-length window to look out of. She wished the view was different, though.
She worked as a Farming Representative. The company that owned her town asked for the people to elect someone to represent them and their needs. Most people, according to her boss, wrote Kore in. They trusted her to fight for them, and she refused to let them down.
She read reports and graphs, cold summaries of the hard work her people did. She argued for more resources and grants to benefit her people. Then she pushed for patience and forgiveness when the quarter didn’t go according to plan. Kore would lead her people to the greatest successes and will one day go back home to their open arms.
She pulled her laptop close as she rolled to her side. She opened it just to see the articles she’d found days before. She’d tried to research the antidepressant her psychiatrist prescribed her and found a lot of results.
She found the article someone wrote when the drug first came out. It read:
April 1, 2039 - Pharmaceutical company Retemed just announced the release of the new drug, Solum, nonproprietary name myvacophone, today. Solum is meant to treat stress-related inflammatory ailments, lung problems such as allergic asthma and tuberculosis, and skin disorders such as atopical dermatitis and eczema.
“We are pleased to finally release Solum, a product of the decades-long dedication to research and wellness,” Retemed representative Cameron Fox said at today’s press release.
Solum is a drug of its own class, making Retemed the first to decide its class name. The suffix “-phone” refers both to the drug’s mechanism of action and to the Greek goddess Persephone. A lipid derived from the bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae inhibits inflammatory processes once it is consumed by immune cells.
“Our primary focus for the drug is its ability to prevent and treat stress-related disorders, such as PTSD,” Fox said later in the briefing. “We believe the drug should primarily be classified as a new type of antidepressant.”
Afterward, Kore looked up testimonies from people who took the drug. Many accounts reported positive effects, but she couldn’t tell if anyone came from the same background as her. She didn’t know if anyone else came from the Farms. She didn’t know if this synthesized version of the bacteria’s lipid would have the same effect as the soil she actually held in her hands. If she could find an account from someone who came from the Farms, she’d trust them.
Then, she found another article. Parts of it made her think twice about the drug and where it came from.
February 19, 2042 - Amid growing concerns regarding the abuse of the new drug, Solum, pharmaceutical company Retemed announced its decision to work with the FDA.
Recent reports detail the use of Solum in common street versions of opiate derivatives. The purpose of this is to cause a sense of happiness in addition to the high the other drugs cause. Drugs that include Solum have been nicknamed Vaccaetion. Though Solum does not contribute to any of the physiological dependence the other drugs come with, there is some reason to suspect that a small emotional dependence is created through sustained use of the drug.
“We are considering placing Solum on the list of Schedule V drugs given its similarity to gabapentin,” said FDA representative Cameron Fox. Fox, a former representative for Retemed, recently transitioned to a similar position with the FDA.
Kore became aware of the drug’s position on the controlled substance list when she signed for it at the pharmacy. The pharmacist smiled at Kore’s questions and reassured her that there wouldn’t be problems. Kore didn’t feel so sure about that now.
The thing she was sure of was the ache between her shoulder blades, the stress of her thoughts resulting in physical, painful tension in her muscles. She rolled onto her back and stretched her arms out on either side. It didn’t help. She felt a headache forming at the front of her head, right where the worst of her thoughts formed.
he couldn’t get away from her bed. Something kept her from even functioning within her apartment. She wanted to use the bathroom, her bladder hurt. Her feet felt weird at the thought of touching the carpet.
Kore had tried, really.
She went on walks to explore the surrounding neighborhood when she first moved. The street vendors seemed nice at first, until she realized they only cared to get her money. They sneered at her when she wouldn’t buy their greasy food. She tried to meet and befriend her neighbors in her building, but they weren’t interested. She didn’t understand that; why wouldn’t someone try to be friends with her when they lived so close?
Kore thought of the bonsai tree in her office, and her vision went blurry from tears. It took her two and a half weeks to kill that poor plant. She’d never taken care of one before, and she couldn’t find information about its care online. She’d need to know the exact species, and she’d had no clue. She tried to guess what it needed, but it didn’t work. For the first time since she was a child, she’d killed a plant.
She bought a fake bonsai to replace the dead one. She hoped no one would notice the difference. It made sitting at her desk uncomfortable.
Eventually, Kore thought therapy would help. If she was having such a hard time adjusting, talking to someone would improve her mind. She found Dr. Althea Leigh online. She offered psychotherapy and medication management, but the thought of starting on medication made Kore nervous.
Dr. Leigh was a nice woman, but not very warm at first. It took a few sessions for her to realize that Kore needed the kind of friendliness she was missing from the Farms. After that, she became Kore’s crutch. Every two weeks, stepping into Dr. Leigh’s office was a relief.
The stress of her job made Kore sick. She’d thought she was better seeing her psychiatrist just a couple times a month, but she realized that she needed something every day to help her feel better. That was when Dr. Leigh recommended Solum.
Kore sat up and turned her head toward the window. She’d been deep in her thoughts for hours now, and she just noticed how the moon took her place high in the sky. She reprimanded herself for missing the rise; she cherished the moments the moon hung low, when she appeared larger than she did the rest of the night.
She was a full moon tonight. Kore realized that tonight was September’s full moon, the Harvest Moon.
The Harvest Moon was a night for celebration. Kore’s community held a Harvest Fest on this day to congratulate each other on a good year, even if it wasn’t. The people would play games and use local food to create a happy experience. They would come together to sing songs as the Harvest Moon rose. This was the first time she’d missed it.
She missed it because she was fixated on this stupid drug all day! Her obsessive thoughts kept her from making any purposeful movement, and as a result, she had wasted one of her few days off.
And she still couldn’t leave her bed. If her feet touched the floor, she’d have to make a decision. So she lifted her legs and brought them further from the carpet. She crawled higher on the bed and curled into the fetal position, facing the window.
Her headache had formed a band around her head, squeezing tightly.
She stared at the moon.
As the moonlight streamed through the window glass, Kore began to feel her eyelids droop. They became too heavy to keep open, and soon she succumbed to sleep.
She always seemed to dream no matter how briefly she slept. As if her subconscious couldn’t wait to show her what its own thoughts were. Darkness transformed before her eyes, and colors stormed together to form pictures.
Surrounded by luscious green life, Kore looked around her city bedroom. She saw patches of strawberries growing out of the floor, which appeared to be covered in soil. A lemon tree grew in the corner by the window. Vines came out of the floor and wrapped around the legs of her bed frame. Except for the blue gladiolus that sat on her nightstand, she didn’t recognize the rest of the plants that covered every available spot in her room.
Kore slowly got out of bed, almost floating, and stopped to smell the blue flower on her nightstand. They smelled of roses. Without making the decision, Kore then appeared next to a patch of strawberries. She plucked one and tasted it.
Sweet juice and a vibrant fruity flesh overcame her, and her surroundings became her mother’s kitchen back home. Kore grew up loving strawberries and their bold taste, as her family grew them for the community and the surrounding cities. She shared them with her mother, who often dressed them with desserts. Dipped in chocolate or whipped cream, strawberries were always available for dessert at the end of a long week.
“Somewhere in the cities, someone is enjoying a strawberry with us,” her mother used to say.
The alarming sound of a passing ambulance woke Kore. Her eyes snapped open, the images of fresh red strawberries replaced with the darkness of her bedroom.
The taste of the sweet fruit lasted on her tongue, and hunger pangs made her stomach growl.
She was hungry, and she had no strawberries.
She lacked the energy to care.
Kore couldn’t stand this feeling of indecision any longer. She had never been a person who agonized over decisions like this, but this promotion made her question herself every day. It gave her such unneeded stress when, in reality, she always knew the right answer deep down.
This new environment poisoned her mind.
And this drug could be the antidote.
he turned to face her nightstand. The unopened pill bottle seemed to stick out; the neon orange was bold against the muted colors of her furniture.
“Fine,” she muttered, voice hoarse, “you win.” She walked to the table, each step emphasized with the pounding in her head. She popped the lid of the bottle open and fished out a capsule. She grabbed her water bottle.
“Bottoms up,” she sighed. She downed it with a mouthful of water.
Kore stared at the ceiling, occasionally picking a ceiling blade fan to follow. The tension released, the pain between her shoulder blades subsided about an hour ago. Her headache did the same. She began to feel the strength of her muscles come back to her, their stubborn will to remain immobile fading.
She felt better, this was undeniable. The drug worked. It didn’t give her a high, but it did help with what her psychiatrist said it would.
Tomorrow, she would leave work early to visit the plant nursery down the street, and then the grocery store on the way home. She planned on buying strawberries, whipped cream, and chocolate. She needed some armor to fight against the poison of the city, and what better way to defend herself than the comforts of her home farm?
She finally, finally left her bed to stare at the moon. The moon had just reached her peak fullness according to the moon calendar by her bed. Not everyone was awake to witness her beauty, but Kore was.
And she could see her every night, no matter where she was.
Rose Malana is a young registered nurse who lives in Charlotte, NC with her one-eyed beagle, Cherry, and her boyfriend, Tim. Rose loves to learn about mental health topics, especially regarding neurodivergent diagnoses, and loves writing.