Fear Me, Fear You: 1
My mom shimmied the hazmat suit over my hips, my pink bedazzled jeans chafing the plastic material. She yanked the hood tight around my oxygen mask and my breaths fogged the glass in front of my eyes. I rubbed at the outside with my bulky gloved fingers, but the mist had to clear away by itself.
She knelt down in front of me with a stern expression. “Tell me the rules again,” she prompted.
“I know, Mom,” I complained.
“Rule number one,” she prodded.
“At least ten feet away from everyone.”
“Don’t look at them. Don’t talk to them,” she added.
“Don’t take off my suit. Don’t touch anything unless absolutely necessary.”
“And if you have to touch something?”
I patted the pouch with the disinfectant bottle stowed away. “Spray first.”
“Good girl,” she smiled.
After my mom stood, she whirled around in the fashion of showing off a dress, though her orange protective suit didn’t carry quite the same flare.
“Do you see any tears?” she checked. “Any weak spots that could be dangerous?”
I shook my head. “What about me?” I mimicked her.
“You’re good, baby,” she cooed.
I bounced in excitement. “Then let’s go!”
She led me to the front door and then laced her hand in mine. Before twisting the knob, she asked, “You ready?”
“Yes, yes, yes,” I chimed.
With a flourish, she welcomed me to the outside world. The sun rays gleamed off my glass mask and blinded me temporarily, but I reveled in the natural light. A hardy inhale rushed into my lungs before I realized that the fresh air couldn’t reach me without being filtered. I accepted the limitation with ease. The joy of an outing still awaited me.
She guided me onto the sidewalk where I scuffed at the dusty grime of the streets. Her arm constantly tugged at me in impatience and I finally noticed her growing agitation since leaving our humble hovel. Her glance darted around in suspicious search of passersby and our pace increased with every step. I trotted along to keep up and focused my concern on her.
“What’s wrong, Mommy?”
“I gotta be cautious,” she explained. “It can be a scary world.”
I pondered at the trees, streetlights, and bricks of the houses. “I think the world is pretty.”
“Being pretty and being safe isn’t the same thing, babe.”
With delight, I yanked her to a stop in front of a townhouse window. “But look!” I pointed.
In a garden trough, a patch of white daisies whooshed around in the breeze, the yellow coloring of their center beaming out in a brilliant hue. I tilted my head at their charm.
“Yes, very nice,” she appeased me, dragging at me to move on.
Our elderly neighbor approached in her slow manner. Her usual bright blue suit protected us all, though due to its long life the material appeared a bit worse for wear. Mom squeezed me into the side of the house in order to keep distant as she passed.
“Good morning, Ms. Sherry,” I exclaimed.
My mom nudged me in disapproval, but I bore no shame. Clearly wary of the correspondence, Ms. Sherry curtly nodded as a reply before making her way past.
Mom chastised, “You scared her. You have to be more careful.”
Back to my investigation of the flower bed, I frowned at one particular bloom that caught my eye. “This one is wilting.” The plethora of petals thinned and the coloring dulled against the health of the others.
“That’s what happens to all of them in the end.”
“It can’t happen yet,” I cried.
As the rubber of my fingers stretched toward it, she snatched me back. “Do you think it’s absolutely necessary to touch that?”
I bowed my head. “No.”
Her alertness suddenly drew elsewhere, sensing something that I missed. My mind still strayed to the poor daisy, approaching the twilight of its life too soon. I peeked up at my mom, but her attention honed in on something in the distance with acuteness. Grateful for the distraction, I discreetly plucked at the little flower, severing its stem, before hiding the blossom in my pouch.
“Oh no,” she whispered, interrupting my triumph. “Come here, baby.”
She scooped me up without warning and raced into the street, cutting in front of cars in her desperation. Despite their honks, she showed no remorse. She cupped my head to her shoulder and leapt onto the curb of the opposite sidewalk, maintaining her speed. Cradled this close, I heard the quickened echoes of her breath and shared in the panic of her aura.
“What is it?” I asked.
“An immuno,” she panted.
Down the pavement on the other side, in the direction we had been heading, the figure of a man strolled along. As he neared, his details solidified in my vision until I finally understood the alarm. He wore a short sleeved shirt and khakis. No suit obscured his wardrobe. Every toxin residing within him freely danced about without any hindrance.
Mom instinctively skirted the buildings regardless of the fact that the width of a street now stood between us and the careless pedestrian. We scurried on, putting the man behind us.
“Can’t he get sick?” I asked.
“Then why is he dressed like that?”
“Because he doesn’t care if he gets sick.”
Mom walked on with my form still perched on her hip. I watched over her shoulder as the man sauntered down the walkway, my musings confused and peeved. I never met anyone without their suit.
His strides stretched long and he covered a lot of ground in a short time. Within a minute, his shape blurred again, yet I remembered him well enough to fill in the details. He closed in on another familiar individual, this one with a pleasing blue persona. As he blew by, within inches of her, Ms. Sherry suddenly convulsed, presumably into a fit of coughing. As the spasm went on, she eventually collapsed on the concrete and her outward distress slowed.
I smacked Mom’s arm, hysteric. “Ms. Sherry fell down!”
She whipped around to witness the mishap herself. Her mien sank into sorrow. “It’s already over. There’s nothing we could have done.”
“What happened?” I wailed.
“The immuno got her,” she mourned. “I knew her suit was getting too thin.”
The bundle of blue that used to be Ms. Sherry now collected in a heap on the street, no signs of life left within the contorted outline. My chest ached like it never had before and every exhale hitched in a strange way. If Mom hadn’t held me off the ground, my longing would have flown me back to our kindly neighbor, to hug her for the first and last time.
Surveying our surroundings, I realized no one shared in my tears. The so-called immuno carried on, practically whistling along with his jaunty step. Any other walkers that noticed the pitiable body of Ms. Sherry turned their heads the other direction. No cars stopped. No help came. The world continued on.
Even Mom donned a stoic attitude and raised her chin high. Once we rounded the corner of the block and put Ms. Sherry out of sight, we forgot her.
My lamenting seemed foolish in comparison to everyone else. I knocked my knuckles against my mask in a foiled attempt to wipe the waterfalls from my cheeks. Since this task proved impossible, I resolved to add no more teardrops until my eyes dried. Studying the control in my mom’s features, I imitated each pull of a muscle until my countenance mirrored hers exactly. Pretending to be indifferent hurt more than the actual misery, but this was the expectation and I wouldn’t let my mom down.
To be concluded in Fear Me, Fear You: 2...
© 2020 by Kelsey Garber