Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Patient Zero


Everyone says you should
throw out your old make-up.
But I love that lipstick color,
now discontinued.
And that eye shadow palette
cost me $40.
Seriously.
And it was never a problem for me
until the day I dug in my make-up bag
and found black mascara,
bought on clearance at the pharmacy
about three years ago.
It was the office Christmas party,
one of the few occasions
I’ll bother with eyeliner
and foundation.
I put on the mascara
like an amateur.
It was a bit gloppy,
but it did the job.
I went to the party
and managed to drip tomato sauce
on my new black dress,
but I didn’t drink too much,
and Tom from Accounting said hi
when he waited in line with me 
at the coat check
at the end of the night.
He even remembered my name!
About two days later,
I had a stabbing pain in my right eye.
Bloodshot, swollen.
I called in sick
and lay in bed all day,
warm compress on my eye.
The eye infection
turned into a throbbing migraine,
and I wound up with a fever of 103.
Freezing and shivering,
I wrapped myself tight in my blanket.
I couldn’t even find peace in my sleep.
Delirious and dehydrated,
I couldn’t count the hours or the days.
My cat peered at me from above,
either out of concern
or curiosity…
had his owner died
and could he start eating her yet?
My sister kept trying to call,
and a few days later I was able to speak to her.
“Half the city’s shut down!” she cried.
“Everyone’s got this terrible bug.
The only restaurant open
is the Chinese place down the block
that never closes.
Business is booming for them!
The emergency rooms are all full,
but they only want to see the worst cases.
Everyone else is supposed to just stay at home
and try to wait it out.
Old people are dropping like flies.”
“Oh my God!” I cried.
“Could it be…the mascara?”
She heard me out as I described my suspicions.
“That’s silly,” she assured me.
“It’s some kind of bacterial infection
that’s going around.
Antibiotic-resistant, though.
You want me to bring you some chicken soup?
I’ll leave it on your doorstep
along with some sports drinks.
Do you like fruit punch or orange?”
She’s right, I told myself.
It can’t be my stupid three-year-old mascara
causing this epidemic.
I finally turned on the television,
watched a news report
about the governor declaring an emergency.
I couldn’t help but be haunted,
when I imagined myself
at the office Christmas party,
rubbing my eye
and then picking up the handle of the ladle
sitting in the punch bowl.


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