Home Sweet Home

March 2, 2012
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May 2002:

“Do you see it?”
“You’re not looking carefully enough.”
Jeremy Taylor leaned closer and squinted his eyes, staring through the slight smudges on the kitchen window. Before him stretched out an endless ocean of farmland: miles of green split only by an empty dirt road. His mom nudged him again.
“Look at the sky! That cloud looks like a dog!”
He raised his gaze upward to the dark clouds in the distance. His mom babbled on in the background about where the arm was, the leg, the head, and the tail. Sure enough, as she spoke, he began to see the image come to form in the sky before him: an enormous dog limping its way toward the house. It was there for only a moment. One blink and it was gone. Funny, he probably wouldn’t have noticed it had his mom not mentioned it.
Two days later.

Jeremy’s mom grabbed two glasses from the kitchen cabinet, filled them from the tap, sat one on the kitchen table in front of Jeremy and kept the other for herself. She stood silently for a moment, draining the contents of her glass and then fixed her eyes squarely on him in an unbreaking stare.

“So, you wanna tell me why you didn’t get back until two last night?”

“How did you even…”

“Answer the question Jeremy.”
“I dunno. They were doing a lot of construction down in Atlanta or something. I couldn’t even find a way out of the city until like 12:30.”

Becky Taylor had the remarkable ability to transmit the fear of God with one look. She kept her piercing gaze on Jeremy for some time and then nodded, and gestured at the clunky, black cell phone beside him.
“We got you that for a reason. We finally trust you with some freedom and this is how you repay us? Leave me wondering where you are until some unholy hour. Next time, you call. Give me this.”
She plucked the phone up from beside him and waved it as she spoke.
“This is a privilege, a sign that we trust you. Frankly I don’t think I can do that right now…”
“Oh my God mom…”
“Don’t you dare talk like that to your mother! I work all day while you do nothing!”
She carried the phone over to the sink, dropped it in, turned on the faucet, and then returned her gaze to Jeremy. His mouth hung open.
“You’ll be better off without those distractions for a while anyway…don’t know why we buckled and let you get that thing in the first place. I’ve heard they cause cancer! When your father finally gets around to getting the home line fixed, you can talk to your friends again. If he ever gets out of bed, that is! You’ve got plenty to do around here in the meantime.”
Jeremy silently got up, took one last sip of his water and exited the room. He slunk over to the battered old TV in the den, and turned it on. At first there was only static. He fiddled with the Rabbit Ears some and eventually got some sign of life. As he settled down into one of the two wooden chairs facing it, he felt a firm hand on his shoulder as Becky’s harsh southern accent assaulted his ears.
“Did you take your medicine?”
“Why do you always ask that?”
“The way you were arguing with me this morning seemed very…impulsive. Now you’re in here trying to watch TV instead of being productive. So, did you take your medicine?”
She immediately held out her other hand with the three pills resting in the palm.
“Take them and then go wake up your father. See if he’ll do something around here for once.”
As Jeremy downed the tablets with another sip of water, the low tones of news reporters caught his attention.
“Hang on a sec…”
Becky opened her mouth in protest and then shut it. Jeremy leaned forward and turned up the volume. The headline ran along the base of the screen, reading “Epidemic in Atlanta.”
“We aren’t exactly certain of the scope or cause of the outbreak. What we do know, is the past fifteen hours have seen an unprecedented number of visitors to the E.R. Authorities are urging all citizens to stay in their homes until further notice, and to avoid as much contact with others as possible. Isolate anyone who begins demonstrating unusual behavior or symptoms of psychosis. Again, for the time being, we are unsure of the cause of this disease or how far it has spread, but the Atlanta area has been closed off until further notice. Please remain in your homes and do not panic.”
As the reporter continued with more of the same, Jeremy slowly turned to face Becky. Her eyes bulged out of her now, pure white face.
“Guess it wasn’t construction down in Atlanta after all then…”
“Go get your father. Now”
Jeremy nodded silently, and trudged out of the room as the noises of the TV continued behind him. To his surprise, Bill Taylor, a large man, was already awake when he entered, unshaven, with disheveled hair, and a toothbrush hanging out of his mouth.
“Mornin’ bud, what’s up?”
“Mom needs you to get downstairs. Now”
He looked perplexedly at Jeremy.
“Can I at least finish brushing my teeth? What’s going on?”

“Just come downstairs…”

“Becky…there’s no way I’m gonna be able to get the phone fixed today. Least we’ve got the TV to keep us updated…”
Becky nodded, biting her lips nervously. Her face had remained pale white since the announcement two hours earlier.
“Where’s the boy’s phone though. If you wanna get in touch with anyone why not just use it.
Her pale face was suddenly marked by a scowl.
“He lost it...He didn’t take his medicine yesterday…I’m sure that’s why he was so…irresponsible.”
“Becky this isn’t the time for that. We’ve got bigger things to worry about right now…”
Her face began to turn red as a renewed vigor began to course through her.
“It’s never time for you two, is it? Always some reason to delay…”
Bill ignored her as he fiddled with something inside a dark wooden chest. She scowled at him while Jeremy stared silently in the corner. Bill produced a double-barreled shotgun in one hand and a handful of shells in the other.
“In case we get any trouble…”
Becky sighed and nodded. The three of them trudged slowly back into the den, where the TV continued feeding out its stream of updates.
“Investigators have determined that the source of the disease may have stemmed from a contamination of the water system. This has not been proved certain as of yet, but as a precaution, refrain if possible from ingesting any tap water.”
All three turned to face one another. Shaking, Bill spoke.
“We just need to stay calm. For all we know, whatever this is hasn’t left Atlanta. They said they quarantined it. It’s a decent drive from here to there. Whatever this is probably hasn’t had a chance to reach us…”
“Bill, we’ve all drunk tap water for days…”
“…and we all seem fine right now.”
He gave a sleepy smile. Becky angrily shook her head.
“How would we know if we’re fine right now…honestly? How do we know when it’s safe to drink again, or if we’ve caught whatever this is?”
“Becky, you heard the symptoms. Hallucinations, violent tendencies, paranoia…I don’t see any of that?”
Jeremy snickered.
“You pretty much summed up mom in a nutshell…”
Bill’s eyes narrowed into a glare as he spun around to face Jeremy, while Becky shot her arm out and grasped her son by the earlobe and twisted, biting her lips in an expression of anger.
“Jeremy, shut up. Please don’t intentionally try to piss your mom off. Go grab some bottled from the fridge and bring it in here. And Becky, let him go. He’s a teenager and therefore an idiot. We all just need to stay calm. We’re all here and as far as I can tell we’re all okay…We’ve got the garden out back for food and I’m not supposed to be at work until tonight, so let’s just wait it out and see what happens.”

They all sat silently in the den as the faint noise of the TV droned on. Bill’s head rested downwards as he snored, still clutching his gun. Jeremy stared blankly at the pages of a book, while Becky sewed. They had stayed like this for close to three hours, none doing anything else except for occasionally shooting a suspicious glance at the other to see it they were demonstrating any signs of sickness. Finally Jeremy spoke, his voice barely a whisper tinged with anger.

“Why do you keep looking at me like that?”
“Just checking on you…you know, you were down there last night. If any one of us is sick, wouldn’t you be the most likely?”
“Says the woman who fried my phone and twisted my ear?”
She scowled.
“Did you take your…”
She trailed off mid-sentence but it was too late. Jeremy’s face began to turn red and his voice erupted.
“Will you quit asking me that anytime I do anything? I am not a mental patient!”
Bill’s eyes shot open.
“What is going on here?!”
“Your son is out of control!”
“and your wife ought to be medicated!”
“Quit it! Both of you!”
Jeremy and Becky sat seething at one another; their faces still bright red.
“Look, we’re together as a family. This should be when we’re at our best, our strongest. There are people who might be dying of a disease down in Atlanta and we’re here fighting over something stupid!”
“Bill, maybe you’d be a little more willing to argue if you ever actually stayed awake long enough to have to deal with him!”
Finally Bill’s face flashed with anger as well. Beads of sweat began to pour down his forehead as his normally calm voice exploded out.
“Oh I’m sorry that I go out and work the night hours to provide you with food…”
“Don’t you dare come at me about not doing anything! I practically run this family while you just sleep! Don’t you dare go there!”
Bill tried to speak, but said nothing. Breathing heavily, he picked up the double barrel and stumbled towards the front door. He stared out for a moment, not saying anything, and then stepped out to the front porch. Jeremy just stared blankly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the “breaking news” headline flashing repeatedly: “human transmission of disease is possible. Symptoms may be fatal.”
Becky whispered slowly to Jeremy.
“I think you should go check on your father. I’m not going to be the one to talk to him…”
Jeremy nodded, and slowly stood up and walked to the front door and stepped out into the early evening heat. Bill sat slumped in a wooden rocking chair on the front porch, his eyes shut.
“Dad…are you okay?”
Bill did not move. Jeremy laid a hand on his shoulder and gently pushed. No response. His eyes gradually widened.
He placed a hand on Bill’s wrist. There was no pulse.
“Mom??? Come Here! Dad isn’t moving?”
A few seconds later the porch door swung open and Becky stepped outside. They both stared open-mouthed at the sight before them. Jeremy’s eyes began to glisten as he leaned forward to hug his father’s body, when Becky shot an arm out and held him back.
“I think he was sick…don’t touch him?”
“What? He’s my dad! Maybe he’s just fainted.”
He leaned forward again, his mouth opening and closing like a fish. Becky grabbed him by the shoulder and forcefully pulled him back inside.
“Did you see him screaming at me back there? Is your father the kind of man who normally yells at a woman like that? Do you think it’s just a coincidence that he collapses like that? Your father was sick…”
Jeremy’s lips began to quiver as tears trickled down his cheeck.
“We can’t just leave him out there! Can’t we drive him to the hospital? He could have had a heart attack! He needs help!”
“You’re not going anywhere near him! We can’t take any chances…”
Jeremy spun around and shoved her backwards. She stumbled, and collapsed with a stunned shriek.
“Jeremy, get back here right now!”
He stepped towards the door again as she crawled to her feet, her eyes wide with wrath. Jeremy breathed in big vibrating sobs.
“Mom…not so sure I should be around you either…you’re acting a little strange yourself..”
She lunged forward and grabbed him by the hair this time.
“Blame it on your mother of course! It’s always my fault! You know what you are? You’re an ungrateful, horrible little boy, do you know that!”
Her eyes burned with fury; a fire that burned even amidst the lake of tears forming in her eyes.
“I hate you mom! Do you know that?!”
“You brought this here! Last night! You got your father sick as well, I’m sure!”
He twisted out of her grasp again, slapped her across the face, and ran back towards the den.
“Stay away from me, damnit! I’m not the sick one here!”
He lifted a hardback book off of the floor and hurled it at her as she neared him. It struck her squarely in the forehead and knocked her down with a horrible thud. He stood motionless for a moment, panting, and then moved over to her. She didn’t move. A pool of blood began to trickle down from the gash in her forehead.
She lay there, motionless. He slowly inched away from her, tears widening the river on his face. He entered the bathroom and scrubbed himself down with a bar of soap so as to clean off any infection his mother might have released and then returned to the den. She still lay motionless. He couldn’t even tell if she was breathing. He suddenly felt the urge to vomit. It exploded forth from within him, splattering the floor as he turned away from the sight of his mother. He heaved again and again, and then slowly turned to face her one more time. More tears trickled down his face. He was sick too, there was no doubt about it. The vomiting was just another symptom. Between heaves and sobs he began to squeak out a few words to the limp body before him.
“Taking my medicine sure helped today didn’t it?!”

He was wracked with another wave of sobs as he looked at her again.

“I’m sorry. For everything, I really am…”

He turned towards the TV one more time. The reporter was saying something new. He wiped away a few of the tears to read the headlines more closely. He didn’t need to. The reporter’s voice was loud enough.
“We have in fact determined that the spread was an incident isolated only to the Atlanta area. The surrounding state has not been affected. The city will remain under quarantine until further notice, but all those worrying about the spread of this infection beyond the major Atlanta area can rest assured. There is no danger.”
Jeremy turned off the TV and sat down.

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