Lamely, the obsessive use of hand sanitizer is the thing that inspired me to write about this...
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January: Fear and a Suitcase
“It started out as practically nothing...a few cases in some obscure town. And even when it started to spread, to all over the world and everything, I didn't really pay much attention to it; that is, until it happened to me.” -Mel Rydstrum “We can't do this.” Zeke stands rigid, his words faint beneath cigarette smoke. “You know we can't.” I clutch the handle of my suitcase and scowl at the ground. The night air is cold, especially against my back, causing me to shiver. Zeke's too tough to shiver. “Youri?” He wants me to look up, but I refuse. I hold onto the handle tighter in defiance. “Youri.” “I heard you.” His eyes are narrowed, irritated when I finally raise mine. He shakes his head and sighs. “...comes to my house at 3:00 in the morning,” he murmurs to himself, “with a suitcase.” He pauses to laugh. “A f*ing suitcase...” His porch lights shut off and we are immersed in darkness. Darkness and frustration. Zeke doesn't speak at first, but I can tell that he wants to; wants to tell me off and convince me that I'm overreacting. I'm a drama queen, he says. An emotional mess. But I open my mouth before he's able to. “You know he's going to die.” I spit. This takes him back a little, which is a hard thing to do. “Shut up.” The cigarette butt wiggles as he speaks. “Give it a couple weeks. I swear, Ze-” “I said shut it.” And I do, for a minute or two. But I'm compelled to continue. “He's sick.” Zeke doesn't argue. He knows it as much as I do, if not more. He's seen the trembling; the paleness, and the nausea. Mel is an ideal case, fitting into every niche and cliche of the Gastromesis Handbook. But Zeke sets his jaw hard despite that. “I told you not to come around here anymore.” “Because he's sick, right?” Zeke can only stare at me. “It's doesn't matter.” “Bullshit.” Zeke sighs and pinches his temples tight, clutching his eyes in frustration. Stays like that for a while before speaking. “Go home, Youri.” I hate him sometimes; I really do. The way he can remain calm, and take drags of that stupid cigarette of his. “Let me see him.” My voice quivers and I hate it. “He's asleep.” “Wake him up.” He's been living with Zeke for about three months now, kicked out of his parent's house when he started to show signs of having the bacteria. He'd been unfortunate enough be be born to scared, young, high-school kids, with no pressing concern for their son's well being. Two bleach blondes without a clue, stuck with a child who could never measure up to their football-star, popular-and-outgoing, prom-king-and-everything-else-we-want-you-to-be dreams. Now that they're older, and have been blessed with another child, they’ve suddenly transformed into the picture-perfect parents. They never want to make the same mistakes again. Zeke was Mel's go-to guy, and mine too. An adolescent outcast who grew up to be a twenty-three year old outcast; and, not to mention, a busboy at the local Pizza Hut. He was moderately violent and perpetually aggravated, but the guy had strong paternal instincts. He was a stereotypical bully in almost every physical aspect; long, lean, and a tad frightening. But emotionally, he wasn't so bad. Closed off, maybe, and a little short-tempered, but he never dunked a kid's head in a toilet for the pure pleasure of it or anything. He used to hang around the elementary school playground when he was a freshman, and took food from whoever he could intimidate that day. The most available loser, per se; and Mel and I were always the most available losers. We found out something fast though; it wasn't because he was mean, but because he was hungry. Desperate. It became a thing; we'd give him food, and he'd provide protection of sorts. Yeah, Mel and I were both cruising on rock-bottom of the Elementary school food chain, but hell, we had a ninth-grader around. We were unfortunate persons, Mel and I. And Zeke loved nothing more than to look out for his fellow unfortunates. It's a stupid plan. I might be young, and overly-dramatic, but even I can acknowledge that. Deep down, I am fully aware that it is impossible to run from; that the bacteria is everywhere, and even if it's not, will be sometime soon. But it's something. It's not sitting down and just waiting for it to happen. “So what,” I sneer, “we're just going to let him lay there and die, huh?” “Go home.” Zeke's voice is level, calm, which scares me. “Let him choke on his own vomit? Let his digestive system go to s***, and not even try to do anything?” Zeke's done with me at this point. He grabs my shoulders and pulls me in hard, close to his face. The smoke on this breath makes me gag. “I'm not going to say it again, you little s***.” I squirm, trying to break out of his grasp, but it only makes Zeke's hold tighter. “Get out of here. I'm tired, Mel's asleep...and we're not going anywhere.” I glare at him, fuming. He glares right back. “I hate you.” I hiss. “He's dying and you don't even care.” He makes an odd noise, like a whimper, from the back of his throat. Bares his teeth like a chimpanzee and winds up his fist. I don't have time to dodge. You'd think, in the eight years that I've known him, and in all the beatings I have endured in that time—playful ones or not—that I would get used to the pain. It's like a firecracker going off in your face; a spark of anger, followed by a full-out electrical fire. He's tougher than he looks, and he looks pretty damn tough already. “You're killing him!” I scream. But he's walking away. I can tell from his posture, his hunched shoulders, that he's hurt. But I can't stop screaming. “You're killing him! You're killing him you're killing him you're kill-” The door slams shut. I yell a bit more, but soon the porch lights shut off and the coldness starts to get to me. The blood pounds in my head like a drum, a mixture of frustration and possible head trauma. I walk home. But I leave the suitcase.