“You dode know what idt feels like,” Carol muttered from the sofa between hacks and sniffles. “It’s awful. How could dis happen?”
Damon stood in the kitchen, drying the dishes with trembling hands. “I have no idea, dear,” he said. “Just try to relax for now.”
He did have an idea, though. His wife was almost an hour late coming home from the stables tonight, the third time this week. There was always an excuse – her student was late, a horse needed shoeing – but this time was different. This time, she came home sick. She may as well have come home with the word WHORE tattooed on her forehead.
“I feel like I’m dyink,” she said, lowering her nose into a napkin.
Damon had never known anyone who got sick – it just didn’t happen. Not anymore – not since the Federal Health Exchange started inoculating children en utero generations ago. When Carol came down with this affliction earlier today Damon had felt a mix of revulsion, worry and gratification. Sickness could only spread through the most invasive means of human contact, at least that’s what he thought. Now he had to know for sure.
“Carol, why were late tonight again?” he asked. She responded with a short scream, sounding like she’d stubbed her toe on the doorjamb.
Damon looked into the family room. “Are you okay??”
“Gyess…” Carol snuffled miserably. “I dunno what that was.”
“MIRI,” he said, addressing their Auto-Search. “What was that sound?”
A female voice responded over his head. “The sound she made was…a sneeze. It is a reflex that causes an expulsion of air through the nose and mouth due to an irritant inside the nasal mucosa. A sneeze can be caused by many different conditions of the body, including a viral infection.”
Damon retreated back into the kitchen and whispered: “MIRI. Private talk, please.”
She whispered in his ear. “I am here.”
“Carol was inoculated at birth. How did she get sick?”
The computer responded: “The only way viruses and bacterial infections can spread today is through sexual contact or blood transfusion.”
Damon’s throat knotted up. “Thank you, MIRI,” he whispered. “Thank you very much.”
Hearing this confirmation was like a lance to his heart, but at least the uncertainty was gone. His wife was having an affair and now her faithless body was defenseless. Even a minor respiratory infection could spell doom for people these days. He could almost see the micro-organisms wriggling in the air, smelling the weakness in her blood and feeding with great satisfaction.
A person with such an infection could easily suffocate in her sleep. Yes, Damon thought there was a strong possibility that his wife might not live through the night. So sad.
He returned to the family room and took a seat on the loveseat next to her, smiling with reassurance. His ashen-faced wife was in red flannel pajamas, sobbing with a napkin clutched in her fist. Her nose was raw and crusted with flakes of green, her eyes red and streaming with water. Every breath she took smashed through her chest like waves on coastal rocks.
“Oh sweetheart,” she wept, “I feel terrible…”
“There is a doctor in Baltimore that specializes in infectious diseases, at least from an academic standpoint. I sent a message and I’m sure he will get back to us. For now, you need to rest my darling.”
“I’m scared, Dame,” Carol said. Her red-rimmed eyes stared at him with stark fear. “Am I going to die?”
“Not from this,” he said, smiling at her. “I know that much.”
She smiled back at him weakly, rubbing at her neck again. “I do feel a little better, actually. Maybe a good night’s sleep will nip it in the bud.”
Damon watched her watched her stagger down the hallway into the darkness of their bedroom, and then he got up, went to the cabinet and found a bottle of single-malt scotch. He poured two fingers into a tumbler and drank slowly, reflecting on the difficult chore ahead of him now.
It was an act of mercy, really. Carol would likely die soon now that her body was an open door to viruses long starved by science, and given the choice she would surely opt for a quicker death. He finished his drink and rinsed the tumbler in the sink, drying and putting it away, like always. The scotch did its work, calming his nerves. He crept down the hall and pushed open the door to their bedroom.
The room was darker than ever with the shades drawn against the moonlight. He found his side of the bed and stopped. Carol’s breathing – it was quiet. The rattling, wet clamor in her chest was gone.
Strange, he thought, but unimportant. She was still infected, and so were their vows.
Damon got under the sheets. He took a moment to feel sorry for what he had to do, offering a soundless prayer that she find health and happiness in the next world, then he rolled onto his side to face her, taking a pillow into his hands.
He was just about to sit up when her voice emerged from the dark. “You know I’ve been with another man.”
He froze. “Wh-what? You’re dreaming. Go back to sleep.”
“He said it’s not so bad, being sick. He said it wouldn’t hurt at all, and you know what?”
A quick snap of the sheets and her mouth was on his neck. Twin daggers tore into his flesh and he could feel the germs pouring in. He tried to push away, tried to spring off the bed, but she reached over and grabbed the side of his face with an ice cold hand. Long, sharp fingernails tore into his cheeks, pulling him closer to her thirst.
Damon lay still, listening to his wife finish, his limbs heavy with sleep. All around them he could see the worms dancing in anticipation, waiting for their share of what was left of his body. He didn’t have long to wait.