by B.W. Jackson
Over fifty years of marriage, they could count them all. Every year was different, even when every day seemed the same. They loved each other.
But they had not kissed each other in over a year. They would kiss each other in the morning, at the back door, before he left for work, but he had stopped going to work. They would kiss each other over the hot stove, as she fried chicken cutlets in the cast iron pan, but she had stopped cooking with the cast iron pan. They would kiss each other when they made love, but they had stopped making love.
They held hands when they went for walks in the neighborhood. Their legs would touch when they sat on the couch together to watch the news in the evening. He still mowed the lawn, and she brought him out a glass of ice water. She dabbed the sweat from his forehead with her apron. Side by side, they did their shopping together at the grocery store. He pushed the cart and she selected the items. Sometimes he would help.
“Should we get the one on sale?”
“Yes, dear. That’s a good idea.”
They were scared for each other. The virus began in some chaotic market in some foreign place they had never been. The virus was so far away at first. Day after day, the virus spread, from person to person, from country to country. And the news spread faster. The virus caused a fever, and shortness of breath, and a terrible cough. The young people would be okay. But the old people were too weak. The virus had no mercy on the elderly.
“Oh, dear. We must be careful.”
“Yes. We must.”
Finally, sooner than expected, the day arrived when the first case was reported in their small county. A woman had visited a friend in a big city. A few days later, her son had driven her to the hospital. The next day, her son’s daughter had gone to school. The virus spread quickly in their small county.
Shelves at the grocery stores were bare. Bowling alleys closed their doors. The nearby street lined with bars and restaurants was dark at night. People walked alone in the neighborhood. They wore gloves. They waved to each other from across the road. They never shook hands. They stayed in their houses. They talked on the phone. They read books. They watched long movies.
They went to the grocery store first thing in the morning, when the doors and shelves and floors were clean. They looked long at the shelves before deciding which item to buy. They stopped with their grocery cart and stood out of the way when another grocery cart came down the aisle. They nodded solemnly at other customers.
One week passed. They sat together on the couch to watch the news. She felt a twitch in her chest. She coughed a single cough.
He woke in the morning when the light came through the window. He was alone in the bed. The covers on her side of the mattress were turned over. He went down to the kitchen. She was sitting at the small oak table in her nightgown. On the table next to her was a thermometer. She had a fever, and shortness of breath, and a terrible cough.
“We must go to the hospital.”
“Yes. We must.”
They ate breakfast. She went to the bedroom to change out of her nightgown. She put her gray hair in a bun. He took a shower. He put on a light blue dress shirt and a navy blue sweater. He combed his white hair all the way to the side.
She was coughing a terrible cough when he came down the stairs. She sat in an armchair in the living room. He put his hands on the arms of the chair and bent down slowly. He kissed her on the lips.
“You’re not going anywhere without me,” he told her.