Author : Lillian Cohen-Moore

Friends are the people you call when you’re sick. Old lovers are the ones you call when you’re afraid you’re dying.

Times have changed.

We print a self-isolation guide in the front of phonebooks now. The Infected Hotline operates 24/7, 365 days a year. He called the hotline asking for someone to check him out. I asked to take his call as soon as it came in.

Leo has been infected once, with the UK strain. I listen and watch as he talks, sweat beading on his face. He’s scared this is not just a rickets-like resurgence. This is the real deal. The American mutation is more deadly than the Beijing. The American mutation carries a doubled risk of permanent brain damage in comparison to the Parisian virus. We’re both hand cuffed too far away to touch. Regulations and all that.

All I can do for him is smile.

Within the hour, a team will arrive. Leo Wyzotsky will either test positive or negative. If he’s negative, he’ll get counseling for the scare before he goes back home to England. If he’s positive, they’ll try to ID the strain.

They’ll do their best.

As for me?

I was bit by a twelve year old girl last night, who bled out on her way to the hospital. I had a choice when I came in here, but I ignored it. I didn’t tell my boss. I just asked for the next call. I was gentle when I got here. We talked. I walked him through what would come next. I hand-cuffed myself to the shower stall, after I cuffed Leo to the toilet. Its regulations, but it’s necessary.

It prevents us from trying to eat each other.

I’ve been talking him down for awhile, now.

They’ll test him first. Then they’ll me. If I test positive, they’ll take away my license. I’ll never be allowed in a Hot Room again. I’ll be confined to a desk for the rest of my life.

If you test three times in a row for American, it’s over. You don’t, you won’t—there is no coming back.

So I wait. 25 minutes. In 25 minutes, Leo will either test positive or negative.

I lick my lips and smile weakly.

“I’ve been up for about a day. It’s ok, Leo. Keep talking. I’m not going to fall asleep.”

I lost my husband during the first flush of the pandemic. I’ve never slept well since those days. They say part of it’s residual brain damage from the first infection.

In 20 minutes, they will evac Leo from this hotel room before they shoot me in the head. In the old days, we had friends to call when we were sick. Old lovers to call when you thought you might be dying.

Things don’t happen like they used to.

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