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Sick

I was six credits short of graduation when I got the Virus-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named. At first I thought I could tough it out– a mild cough was no excuse to slack off on my schoolwork. Next thing I knew, I was bedridden and delirious, unable to translate my racing thoughts into coherent speech.

The nearest three hospitals were at full capacity, and my body temperature wasn’t high for very long, so I quarantined at home. As I cooled down, I spent my days binging reruns of mid-2000’s shows on numerous cable channels– one perk of living with my parents at 23.

Only my eldest sister was brave enough to enter my room. Mariana would don gloves and her Powerpuff Girls face mask, then dash inside and leave presents on my bedside table: water bottles, store-brand oyster crackers, tissues, and low-grade painkillers. She even gave me an open bag of mini Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. I tried to force myself to eat one of them, but ended up regurgitating the thing into my trash can almost immediately. In hindsight, I think I might have forgotten to unwrap it first.

My middle sister was not as kind. No surprise there– she’d always hated me. I don’t mean, like, normal sisterly tension. Dulce had openly despised me for as long as I could remember. Luckily, she had only tried to murder me once, when I was a little over a year old and she was 3. I have no recollection of this event, but Mariana was apparently the one who stopped her from pushing me off the crappy second-story balcony at our old house.

After I started showing virus symptoms, I didn’t see Dulce’s face at all for many weeks, but I could hear her diatribes through the closed door. I’d turn up the TV volume to drown her out, though I still caught the occasional epithet. “Bitch.” “Freak.” “Monster.”

I wish I could say her words didn’t bother me, but they got under my increasingly clammy skin. The worst part was, I didn’t even have the energy to deliver any comebacks.

******************************************************************************************

Early in the pandemic– long before we understood exactly how it spread– Mom and Dad had sent the three of us to stock up for what we thought would be a few weeks of lockdown. I was in charge of grabbing non-perishable foods.

“You better not fuck this up,” Dulce warned. As if I couldn’t read a damn label.

“Leave her alone, Dulce,” said Mariana.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “You’re in no danger of starving.”

It was a low blow, I’ll admit– Dulce was sensitive about her weight.

Mariana obviously thought the same. “Lourdes, please don’t escalate this. Just get what you can and meet me back here, okay?”

“Okay.” I turned around and walked away before Dulce could start yelling at me.

The canned stuff was wiped out. I had never seen the shelves so empty. All I could find were some beets and sardines, which I took with great hesitancy. I hoped I’d never be hungry enough to eat them.

I had better luck with the jarred and dry goods. There were plenty of nopales– not many Mexicans in our part of the city. And Dad was probably the only Jew around for miles. I practically emptied the kosher section into my cart: matzo ball soup, egg matzos, pickles, and gefilte fish. I always thought gefilte fish tasted like a kitchen sponge that someone had used to wipe down a seafood counter, but I knew it would make Dad happy.

I was just turning the corner to look for ramen when something rammed into my exposed lower leg. Wait, not something– someone. A snot-nosed, tow-headed kid between, like, 2 and 7. I can’t guess ages for shit.

His mother, who could have been anywhere from 25 to 45, came running over. For a second, I was concerned she’d blame me, but she immediately looked at me and said, “I’m so sorry! He just…jumped out of the cart. I had him buckled up, I swear!” She turned to the boy, who was gnawing vigorously on a crusty old doll. “Caden, please apologize to the nice lady.”

He grunted something in my general direction.

“It’s okay. Thanks,” I said, more to the woman than to her son.

As I browsed the aisle for a ramen brand that didn’t exceed 150% of my recommended daily sodium intake, something compelled me to pause and check on my leg. It didn’t really hurt, but there was a vaguely itchy sensation right where the kid had collided with me. I doused the area with some hand sanitizer from my purse. The sting that followed assured me the sanitizer was killing germs.

It didn’t kill enough.

******************************************************************************************

Outside my room, my sisters were at war.

“You know well she ain’t comin’ back from this,” shouted Dulce. “Just end it already!”

“She’s still there,” Mariana insisted, but I detected a quiver in her voice.

Suddenly, my door swung open, and I saw Dulce’s disgusted face for the first time in– wait, how long had it been? Her death glare was the same as ever, but she looked a lot older than I remembered.

“You ain’t a person, if you ever were one. You’re just a skinny bitch and a monster. I’m fuckin’ sick of you!”

“Stop it! Leave her alone!”

Mariana tried to stand in her way, but Dulce had a good 90 pounds on her– and something like 110 pounds on me. Maybe even more since I’d gotten sick.

As Dulce approached me, a utensil gleaming conspicuously in her hand, two things kicked in that I hadn’t experienced for quite some time: motivation and a sense of smell.

She probably thought I would be one of the slow ones. I wasn’t.

The knife clattered to the floor as I sank my teeth into the fat, juicy meat in front of me. My mind flooded with memories of the melt-in-your-mouth pork chops I used to order in at the local steakhouse. I never thought I’d taste one of those again. Now I could feast on them to my unbeating heart’s content.

I vaguely registered a high-pitched screeching noise against my cold ears, but a second enormous bite put a stop to it. This meat was stringier than the shoulder, and far juicier. I gulped the spray eagerly, my long thirst finally quenched.

I felt energized. Alive.

My eyes met Mariana’s as she stood, trembling violently, in the doorway. I tried to give her a reassuring smile, but the crimson liquid in my mouth kind of ruined it.

She screamed, slammed the door shut, and screamed again. This was followed by the sound of rapid footsteps, which faded impressively quickly.

I ambled contentedly around my room, an episode of Monk playing in the background. Dulce lay sprawled across the floor right next to my bed, beckoning me to come back for seconds. For the first time in my life and death, I found myself feeling grateful for her.

Sure, she had always hated me. But boy, was she delicious.

Recommended2 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Horror, Humor

Responses

  1. We have a member of our writers’ group (the “Hinckley Scribblers”) who writes just this sort of thing -a true story that turns into fantasy, the trick being to discover where the first turns into the second!

    I really enjoyed this – thank you!