January 20th 2016: Flu season
Just a Visit
, by Brittney D. Herz

The coffee was bitter causing the sides of my tongue to tighten as I drank it. My eyes drifted over the words on my Kindle from an eBook about China’s economy and it’s resistance to the ever present depression, or something along those lines. I wasn’t really absorbing the details just enjoying the still. 

My wife had the television on and was sitting, just barely, on the edge of the coffee table. With her thin frame seemingly floating and her delicate fingertips covering her mouth she looked more like a statue than a human being.  I looked up to see what she was so in shock over.

A middle aged woman on our television spoke “…the disease first hit in Bridgeport, Connecticut, but has since traveled south all the way to Virginia. Over ten people have been confirmed dead. The epidemic has caused thousands in the area to retreat into their homes. No travel is being urged at this time. If you must travel please get to your destination with minimal stopping in between.”

“Jesus,” Jess said to the television. “It’s getting pretty bad, huh?”

“Mmm?” I look over the top of my Kindle.

“The disease?”

I tighten my lips. “Oh, we’re fine.”

“What if they ground the planes? Then my parents won’t be able to stay for Thanksgiving.”

My eyebrows shot up. “You think?”

Jess turned to me. Her arms folded together over her flat chest and her mouth dropped open. “Daniel, you cannot be happy about that. Not like this.”

I smiled and let the Kindle fall to my lap. “Of course not!  No, I wouldn’t dream of it. But, maybe you should call them?”

Jess nodded and walked to the kitchen. I went back to my eBook but the words were just floating soullessly on my screen. I imagined Jess’ parents, both sick in the hospital, reaching out for me. Help, they would ask and I would say-

“They are still coming!” Jess jumped into the living room like she was a six year old who just found out her parents were coming to her dance recital.

“Oh goody!” I closed out of the story shifting uncomfortably in my seat. “I should run to the store then.”

“Don’t forget the coconut milk for mother. And some bourbon for dad.”

I smiled before getting up to leave.

The air outside bit at my ears, the only exposed skin I had. On the shore there wasn’t much activity from Halloween until after Easter. What takes me an hour to do in the summer, I can do in about fifteen minutes in the fall. A pang of guilt hits me as I pass the diapers and baby wipes. I sometimes imagined Jess and I as parents. We waited to try because of our careers only to find out I was shooting blanks. Jess wanted to adopt  but I didn’t really want a kid that wasn’t mine.

By now all of our friends had children, most of them at least two, and they would still invite us to birthdays and cook outs. We usually made an appearance but only to drop off a Wal-Mart gift card or some book that Jess read about that was good for the age of the child in question. I personally never cared too much for the snot and piss and shit but still…

The cashier seemed distant as she rung me up slowly. Her eyes were dark but appeared much darker behind the gray skin that hung below them. “Beatrice” her name tag said. Her hands shook slightly as she bagged my items. A small cough went into her palm before she told me my total.

Her breast pushed against her yellow button up hard making it difficult to stare more at her pale face. I pictured how heavy they would be in my hands.

“$47.92 please.” Another cough.

“Sure.” I handed her a fifty. “You got yourself a cold there?”

“Oh yeah, I think it’s just allergies.” She handed me my change.

I nodded. “Well take care now.”

“Thank you.” She smiled letting a little light enter her face.

Jess’ parents arrived two days later, right on time. The Wrings’ were an odd couple in all sense of the phrase. Mrs. Wrings, Claire, was a very defined woman. Round everywhere but at the same time always stiff. Her light hair was always cropped to her chin. Mr. Wrings, Al, was always aloof. He was usually enjoyable enough but it got to the point where we couldn’t really have any sort of intelligent conversation about anything.

“Darling,” Claire said hugging Jess softly and giving her a pat on the back. “So good to see you Jessica, and Daniel.” She held her hand out to be kissed like British royalty. I shook it and gave her a smile.

“Claire, pleasure. Al, good to see you.”

“Daniel, my boy, I’m parched.”

“Right.” I gave him the thumbs up and disappeared into the kitchen. When I came back with a tray of glasses, one with bourbon the others with a strong eggnog I had made earlier, everyone had already gotten comfortable on the couch. Claire sat in my spot. Jess and I made eye contact and she shook her head low warning me to let it go. 

“So Jessica, we just got back from Margaret’s house, oh you can’t imagine the commotion there.” Claire grabbed one of the eggnog glasses.

“She needs to get those heathens in check.” Al grabbed the bourbon.

Jess and I grabbed what was left. I made myself comfortable on the floor.

“Well at least she has heathens to check.” Claire started.

“Wow Claire, you haven’t even been here ten minutes, I think that’s a record.” I spat out not able to hold my tongue.

“Daniel!” Jess turned to me and stabbed me with her green eyes.

“No, no Jessica he is right. I just got here. We have all week to talk about it.” Claire smiled and sipped her eggnog long through her tightened lips.

At breakfast I decided to immerse myself in the local news to avoid first morning talk. The first news channel was talking about the flu so I changed it to the next. It was also talking about the flu.

“Huh,” I turned the volume up. It was a younger man, in his late 20s early 30s, wearing a lab coat to appear smarter and reading off of a clipboard. He was talking to our local news commentator, Brian. The guest was an official from Washington D.C.

“One of the first signs is fatigue and fever, sore throat. On some victims purplish rings have appeared mainly on the chest. Sometimes they burn or itch. When you see these please go directly to the emergency room. Do not touch anyone and especially do not share saliva with anyone. Persistent cough and fatigue shortly will follow, you may notice your skin turning a grayish color. For safety measures we are strongly urging no more travel until a decrease in outbreaks has been reported.”

“I told you it was bad.” Jess’ voice made me jump.

“Oh dear.” Claire’s followed.

Our local commentator Brian, an elderly man who always wore blue suits that accent his strangely blue eyes, just nodded. “What are the numbers being reported now Adam?”

The young man looked down then off screen in an uneasy fashion. “Uh, I don’t know if I can report that at this time Brian.”

Brian furrowed his brow. “Why on earth not? Our viewers deserve to know.”

“We just, we have to caution people to stay indoors for the time being.” Adam shifted slightly then said. “Okay I was given the okay to release the numbers only because we want to emphasize our severity. So far there have been 1,459 cases.”

“This is just from the ten a few days ago?” Brian sounded as shocked as I felt.

“Yes.”

“How many of these cases have been fatal?” Brian asked seemingly forgetting he was even on the air now just talking.

Adam looked down and up again, “all of them.”

“Well they can’t leave Daniel.” Jess paced around while I stayed on the bed.

“Jess, sweetie, its one plane ride. They can’t live here.”

“They are staying until this is over. That’s that.” She didn’t look at me to end the conversation but stormed into the bathroom.

“Fine.” I didn’t have the energy to fight so I yell back through the closed door. I lay in our bed quietly until Jess comes out brushing her wet hair.

I went into the bathroom behind her. I almost gasped at the sight of myself. It wasn’t extreme but I was definitely not my normal color. Could it…no. I knew not. I just washed my face, twice for good measure. Instead of crawling into our bed I grabbed my pillow and made my way out onto the couch. I decided to ban anymore news after tomorrow.

 

“The virus is now thought to be spread by saliva. Don’t drink after anyone or get too close to anyone who seems sick.” The television wakes me. At first I forgot I was on the couch until I have no room to stretch out. “The numbers are even more devastating than originally thought…”

As I start to move I notice a pain on my chest. Sure enough, when I look down into the collar of my t-shirt I see little rings starting to form. No, this can’t be happening.

“Any exchange of saliva can be fatal.” The news caster continues.

“Look who decided to finally grace us with his presence.” Claire said smugly not mentioning my being on the couch.

“Jess I need to talk to you.” I said panicking.

Her eyes dart from her mother to me. “What is it Daniel?”

“No I mean-“

“He means not in front of me dear. He obviously can’t man up while his mother in law is present.”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“I heard you last night you little toad. Wanting to throw me out are you? Well listen here, no man is going to tell my daughter what she is to do. Especially a man who isn’t enough of a man to even give her a child. You are pathetic Daniel and I curse the day I let Jess marry you.”

I laugh. It’s the only response I can think of. I don’t even think I thought of it, it just happened. I laugh until my ribs hurt. My wife’s completely horror filled face just makes me roll even harder.

“Yeah laugh it up. It’ll be hilarious when she leaves you for the mail boy at her job.”

“Mother!”

This makes me stop.

“Claire.” I straighten up. “Go fuck yourself.” It’s the last thing I can say. My throat is tightening and the razors in it are growing. The heat on my face is almost unbearable.

I leave them at the table and walk, almost fall, into the guest bathroom. I sat on the toilet with my head in my hands. Through my fingers I see my mother-in-law’s pink towel that she has to have with her on every trip. I stand slowly. I stick my tongue out as far as it will go and lick the dry fibers. Over and over I lick every inch of the towel like I’m a mother cat bathing her kitten. I can’t control the smile that comes as I imagine her drying her face with the now infected fabric.

“Breakfast is ready.” My wife’s voice is muffled from the door between us. “If you think you can watch your mouth you can come out.”

For a moment I have a hint of panic but it’s soon replaced with a large smile. I put her towel back on the rack where it was and quickly rinse my mouth out.

“Coming dear.”

*

Brittney D. Herz currently works as a Library Manager in Ocean City. She also runs a local literary online magazine, InkOnTheShore.com, and an educational blog called, ImprovingIndifference.com. When she’s not reading or writing she’s playing with my daughter, drinking a delicious hot beverage, or crafting something useless. Find her on Facebook.com/bdherz and on her website!


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