“Hope you feel better soon,” I tell Imma, handing her a receipt as she leaves. The next lady in line, inches away from releasing her purse onto the counter, suddenly frees herself from gravity and sucks her possessions and facial features upward. She leans away, but hisses with the air of someone leaning in: “Does she have The Flu?

“Oh no, just a sore throat I think,” I reply, from within a mask of cheer.

“Oo. Ooo,” she coos, peering at the counter as she would a fresh grave. “I’m a huge germophobe. I think I don’t want to set anything down here.”

“Well, ah, I’m sure I could wipe it down for you, or would you like some sanitizer?” I reach for my spray bottle and cloth, but her face remains frozen in arches.

“Um, I think I’ll just go to another desk.”

Her caution has saved her from the plague, she thinks. But who do you think touched the door handle, I want to ask her, or the pens? The delivery confirmation slips? Who stacked the brochures there for you? Who stocked the walls with boxes and stamps? Who coughed in the entry? Who sighed? Her lack of thoroughness in paranoia is disappointing. Why settle for neurosis? If one really wants to be positive of one’s hygiene, commit to psychosis. Witness the colorful festival of bacteria dancing on all surfaces, not just toilets and doorknobs. Acknowledge the legion of supremely creative viruses, struggling to evolve as all life forms do, all of us parasites thriving upon other beings to survive. Tremble at the ugly, though incomplete, truth: it’s a race to the death, and enemies dwell within necessary oxygen, food and drink, elimination. There is no escape.

The woman has settled at Shanelle’s counter. Shanelle hands her a book of stamps, perfectly concealing her sinus headache and congested nasal passages, smiling and nodding. Meanwhile, I greet my next customer, who twiddles his sniffly nose, then reaches forward kindly to shake my hand.

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