Prose / Short Story

Infected by Michael C. Keith

Physicians of the utmost fame

 Were called at once, but when they came

 They answered, as they took their fees,

‘There is no cure for this disease.’

 

                         –– Hilaire Belloc

It was a momentary lapse in judgment––a split second impulse with grave consequences––that impelled Connor Hickman to breathe his germs into his wife’s open mouth.

If she gets my bug we may not have to go to her parent’ house, reasoned Connor, as he exhaled. The last thing he wanted to do was spend three days with his in-laws in upstate New York.

Only seconds after his thoughtless attempt to infect Clare Hickman, she sneezed. Now I’ve done it. How stupid and selfish of me. You know she has a weak immune system.
 
The next day Clare had a fever and felt achy all over.

“I think I caught your cold, honey,” she informed Connor, without accusation. “Bound to happen when we’re so close to each other.”

Connor felt terrible. Yes, maybe she would have gotten my cold anyway, but maybe not if I hadn’t placed my bacteria on her lips. He felt like a criminal for behaving so incorrigibly and chided himself for his unconscionable behavior.  Let me be the one who gets the most sick, dear God . . . please.

                              *          *          *

Two days later, he took his wife to their longtime doctor, who prescribed an antibiotic for what he termed a “nasty infection.”

“Some really strange bug out there,” observed Dr. Corman. “Making people feel real odd. Won’t believe some of the things I’ve heard. Wildest symptoms.”

“Like what?” Connor asked.

“Sorry, doctor-patient privilege. Can’t say, but take my word for it. Most unusual.”

“I hear off tune violins and then some things look real flat as if they’ve been pressed down by a big weight,” commented Clare, out of the blue.

“Like that,” responded Corman, looking at Clare. “Just lay low, take the pills, and drink lots of liquids. You should be better in a couple of days. You don’t sound all that great yourself, Connor.”

“Yeah, I’ve had something, but I feel pretty good. Maybe a little funny, but generally okay. She probably got this from me,” replied Connor, sheepishly.

“It’s possible. You never know. These things do jump from host to host, so proximity is a factor.”

I knew it. I gave it to her. You’re such a son-of-a-bitch. God, make her better, pleaded Connor to himself as they returned home.

By evening, Clare appeared improved, and Connor was thankful, but he still felt culpable for his wife’s illness. Why’d I do that? he asked himself over and over, his sense of guilt undiminished.

                              *          *          *

What ground Clare had gained the night before she had lost by the next morning. Her symptoms were twice what they had been and now she was vomiting. Connor called Dr. Corman, who advised taking her to the ER where he was presently on call.

“I don’t like the sound of this, Connor. Get her here as soon as you can.”

It took every once of energy Clare could muster to put her clothes on, and at one point she nearly fainted.

“You’ll be okay, honey. They’ll clear this thing right up,” Connor told his wife as he deposited her into their car.

“You’re so good to me, Connor. I’m so lucky.”

Not that lucky. You have a creep for a husband. How could I have done this to you? The one person I love more than anything, and I deliberately make you sick. What’s wrong with me?lamented Connor, his foot pressed hard against the accelerator.

Minutes after reaching the hospital in El Centro, Clare was undergoing a series of tests. Connor sat anxiously in the waiting room. Directly across from him was one of the loveliest women he had ever seen. While Connor mindlessly thumbed through a ragged and ancient National Geographic, he found he could not keep his eyes from drifting in her direction. To his surprise and considerable satisfaction, she glanced at him. Finally, he gathered the courage to speak to her.

“My wife is here with the bug . . . or something.”

“My husband, too,” responded the woman, smiling beguilingly. “Guess it’s the season.”

“I suppose,” replied Connor, returning her smile. “Just getting over the grip myself. Think my wife caught it from me.”

                              *          *          *

For several more minutes they lingered in each other’s warm gaze, and Connor felt his heart race.

“You look familiar. Do I know you?”

“Funny, I was just about to ask you the same thing. By the way, my name is Linda,” replied the shapely brunette with piercing grey eyes.

“Connor . . . Connor Hickman. Linda what?”

“Smith.”

“Nice name,” replied Connor, completely smitten.

“Yeah, real unique,” laughed the captivating stranger.

“I mean Linda. Always loved that name. I had a crush on a Linda when I was little. In fact, she kind of looked like . . ..”

The woman rose and took a seat next to Connor. Her perfume aroused him, causing a stir in his lower extremities.

“There’s something about you . . ..” whispered Linda, feeling light-headed and giddy.

“Exactly how I feel. Like something is, ah . . .” muttered Connor, the ground seeming to roll under his feet.

“Should we . . .?”

“Yes . . . yes let’s,” said Connor, clutching her arm and standing tentatively.

“What about them?”

“Who?”

“You know . . . them,” said Linda, nodding in the direction of the emergency room doors.

“Oh, them. They’re sick,” said Connor matter-of-factly.

“Of course, I forgot,” chuckled Linda.

The blissful couple clung to each other and made their way out of the hospital.

“Nice sunset,” observed Linda pressing against Connor.

“I’ve never seen both suns look so beautiful,” he agreed.

“Do you fly, Connor? I mean really high?”

“Yes . . . yes, I do,” he answered, extending his wings.

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