There’s no one at our bus stop.
The yellow beast chugs toward the corner, heaving to a stop. Its loud industrial honk blares through the neighborhood three times before the sliding doors pull closed on no one and the machine ambles forward, on to the next street where a pile of children push each other and laugh and fight with delightful pre-school energy, straining their necks for that glimpse of yellow but also hoping never to see it.
The day is brisk and vibrant with shards of sun lighting the way. At the door, I have to shield my eyes from its brightness. I can’t believe how fresh the air feels, how invigorating, how healthy. I suck a deep breath in, letting it center me with its crisp cleanness, hoping it will help prepare me for my day. Greedily, I take another moment and another sublime breath.
My house reeks of stale and sick, sapped of energy and hope, piles of soiled laundry, children crying, husband lying in bed moaning. An alternate world exists outside this house, one full of life, with everyday problems and everyday troubles – Did you finish your homework, Will you stop torturing your brother, Should we have tacos for dinner or chicken cutlets. It all seems so bright and entertaining in the throes of misery.
I am one of the infected and so I must shut myself away from the outside world. I must lay on couches and beds, wrapped in blankets shivering, close to the cool, lovely bathroom tile, the swirl of infection billowing in the air.
“Mama?” I hear, but I can barely lift my head to address him.
“Coming,” I muster and lift my body, heavy with the effort of sickness, but weak with emptiness over to where he huddles.
“What can I do for you baby?” I ask, wanting to die, wanting not to catch any more of what he has or to give any bit of what I have.
“Water,” he croaks, “And hugs,”
The water is easy and he takes a halting sip before lying down again spent. In place of hugs, I curl up in his bed around his feet.
Now 36 hours later, my husband is off to work armed with a bottle of Pepto, Tylenol and a Ginger Ale and two out of three of my boys are in school. I am slowly recuperating. I know because I am actually thinking about lunch although not sure if I can actually stomach anything. Also, a shower. When before the idea seemed a fantasy I didn’t even have the energy to want, I am now craving it with every inch of my crawling skin.
My middle son relaxes on the couch complaining of a headache but asking to play a board game, and my cleaning ladies are just finishing up removing all toxicity from our house; the smell of organic chemicals a sonnet to my sniffer.
They leave and I toss the last load of laundry into the machine. Over the last few days, I have successfully washed every fabric in my house. I crack the windows to let the fresh air in, look over to my boy and breathe a little easier. We’ve made it to the other side. “Can I get you something?” I ask, feeling his head which seems slightly warm.
He gives me a wan, funny smile like he’s not sure how he wants to answer and then throws up all over me.