Germophilia

“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.

We’re gonna die

We both know this. As for me, you tell me that maybe I’ll fall into an unmarked hot spring and boil. Maybe I’ll buy a car without side airbags and be crushed. Maybe Yellowstone will blow and I’ll have picked an apartment on the wrong side of the Mississippi. Maybe I’ll lick cookie dough with salmonella. Maybe I’ll puncture my throat gesturing with a sharpened candy cane. Maybe I’ll walk to the bus stop on a dark night instead of driving, and be dragged off to an unspeakable end. Yes, one of these fates which you illustrate for me out of love, out of care, or one of a thousand other fates all ending the same place, will be mine. And despite vitamins, safety features, savings, insurance, prudence, mistrust, fear, despite health food, moderation, and vaccinations–one day you’ll die too. Cautious one, beloved friend, choose your path through the wondrous wreckage of this world. Step with all the care you please. The way may be just as you like, or otherwise. And as we fall, one by one, or perhaps hand in hand, as we lose gravity, weight and our entire collection of atoms, may we be thankful for our days. May we die in pain but without bitterness. May we think not “If only I hadn’t–” but “Oh! this was worth it!”

Consuelo

She’s growing thin and wobbly. Can’t eat like she used to. She seems to have lost her sense of smell, and her eyes are tired, half-closed. We buried her sister on the mountain last summer; by now the snow is falling over the body. Where will we bury her? It is too cold to dig the earth now. Sometimes I hear her struggle, from the next room, where I sit and read library books and pretend not to think of her. I wish she would die and get it over with, and also I wish for her to linger, for us to enjoy what is left of her company for a few days more. Thus, I give her peanut butter, but not vitamins—love, but not a fight.