Part short story, part screenplay
Please note: The following is a work of fiction and came from my imagination. It was written for an adult audience.
A suburban side street in the wee hours. The light from a street lamp provides just enough illumination for us to see a man, heavy-set and seemingly lost in thought, pacing back and forth, back and forth in front of a large ranch home.
He stops and walks over to the two steps leading to the front door, and sits down on the top step. He leans over, head down, and wraps his arms around his knees as if cold, even though it is a relatively warm night.
Abruptly, he straightens up, his body rigid. He holds out his right hand, palm up, and looks down at it. He spits into it. Once. Twice. Three times.
Janine Keeler, tall-ish and whippet-thin, rinses cups in her kitchen sink, pausing every now and then to gaze out the window to her back yard.
She dries her hands on a dishtowel and opens the window a couple of inches, just enough so that a slight breeze caresses her cheek. She breathes in and closes her eyes.
Her reverie is short-lived as a clattering noise behind her alerts her to another presence in the room. Her lips tighten in a grim line, but as she turns to greet her husband, her expression is composed…practiced.
Alan Keeler looks like the insomniac he is. Exhausted and rumpled from another night of tossing and turning.
He approaches his wife who offers her cheek for his air kiss. It is a ritual.
“Morning.” they say, in unison.
Alan pours himself a cup of coffee and sits down at the kitchen table. He scrubs a hand through his thick head of hair while Janine watches.
Something flickers in her eyes and then fades. Something dark.
Janine grabs a sponge and starts wiping down the kitchen counter. There is something manic in her movements.
“Did you sleep?” she asks.
Alan shakes his head. “Not really. I got up a few times…didn’t want to wake you.”
Janine rinses the sponge and sets it back in its caddy.
She leans against the counter, her arms folded across her chest.
“So you didn’t use the mask. Again.” Her tone is disapproving, like a school teacher disciplining the class screwup.
Alan’s shoulders tighten. He grips his cup. He turns to look at his wife and both their expressions speak volumes. This is a couple in crisis.
“Here we fucking go. AGAIN. I can’t use the fucking CPAP if I can’t fucking fall asleep. What don’t you get about that?”
“And you’re a fat ass who needs to lose weight and exercise! What don’t you get about THAT? It’s your God damned fault you can’t sleep. YOURS!”
Alan shoves his chair back from the table and gets up. He faces Janine.
“You unconscionable monster.”
Jeanine is breathing heavily now. “What did you call me?”
Alan spits his words. “A monster. You won’t be happy until you nag me into the grave.”
He refills his cup and turns to leave. But he can’t resist a parting shot.
“I’ve got actual work to do. Paying work. Why don’t you go down in the basement and do whatever it is YOU do.”
And he’s gone.
But Janine’s not finished. “I spend my days in the basement because I can’t stand being stuck in this house with YOU.”
A large finished basement. Janine sits in front of an iMac, her fingers racing across the keyboard.
A television plays in the background. CNN. There is only one news item worthy of 24/7 attention: A virus, a pandemic that is sweeping the world with an almost unprecedented virulence.
The anchor, in a tired monotone, recites the death toll of the day before.
Janine stops typing and bites her lip. She turns to look at the TV with its images of hospital beds and ventilators and makeshift morgues.
Quickly, she turns back to her computer, shoulders squared. Her cell phone buzzes, alerting her to a text. She looks at it…smiles.
Alan stands in the kitchen, his car keys in one hand and a leather jacket in the other.
For the merest second, he looks uncertain as to what he’s doing there.
He walks to the basement stairs and calls down to his wife.“I’m leaving for my blood test. I might pick up a few things, too…I don’t know.”
The only response: “Bye.”
A red Subaru Forrester pulls into the parking lot of a “walk-in” healthcare facility associated with a major hospital.
Alan gets out of the car and enters the building.
In the entryway, a woman wearing a mask and gloves wields a thermometer.“Sir, I need to take your temperature before you can go it.”Alan nods. “I understand.”
She swipes the thermometer across his forehead and behind one ear. After a second, she looks at it, frowning.“You’re elevated,” she says. “101.2.”
Alan shrugs. “I feel fine.”
She pulls a paper mask from a box and fits it over Alan’s face, then hands him a pair of disposable latex gloves.
“Put these on please and follow me,” instructs the technician.
Alan sits in a room, hands clasped, head down. It is typical of such rooms in such facilities: Cold. Gray. Nondescript. Random pamphlets in a rack on the wall detailing a variety of disorders, none of them pretty.
He has been there for twenty minutes.Just as Alan gets up for a stretch, the door opens and a tall, thin man of indeterminate age enters.
He’s fully suited up: Mask, cap, gown, gloves. He carries a clipboard.“I’m Eugene Mendoza, Physician’s Assistant.”
Alan holds out his hand. The PA just looks at it.Awkwardly,
Alan pulls his hand back and looks at it. Right. The gloves.
Mendoza looks down at his clipboard and then at Alan. “You’re positive,” he says. “You have the virus.”
Stunned, Alan blurts out, “What?! How can that be? I’m not sick, I’m not even coughing!”
Mendoza is unmoved. “You’re asymptomatic. You’ve obviously been exposed to COVID-19, but aren’t showing any symptoms. But you must understand that you can spread it.”
Alan pulls at his gloves, nervously. He stretches out one finger. “So what do I do?”
“You go home and you stay home,” says Mendoza. “If you start to feel sick, call your primary physician or come back here.”
He pauses, then, “Are you married? Living with someone?”
Slowly, Alan nods.
Mendoza sighs. “Then it’s imperative that you keep your distance. You must quarantine yourself or you will most certainly infect that person or anyone else for that matter.”
He turns to go, then, “That mask is good for a couple of days.”
It is late. Alan and Janine sit on opposite ends of a sofa in their family room. The TV is tuned to a Netflix original: “Ozark.”
A half-finished bottle of bourbon sits on the coffee table in front of them.
Alan is not wearing the mask.
He casts sidelong glances at his wife as she fiddles with her phone.
“What are you doing?” Alan asks.
Self-consciously, Janine covers the phone with one hand and looks at the TV.
After a couple of tense seconds, she replies, “What do you mean?”
“I MEAN, what the hell are you doing with your phone? I thought you wanted to watch this. You’re getting to be just like those kids we used to make fun of. The ones who stare at their phone all God damned day.”
Janine works up some righteous anger. “Oh, don’t be such a Luddite. I’m checking out freelance gigs on Indeed.”
Alan glares at her. “NOW? You have all day to do that.”
Janine pouts. “I was working on a story, not that it’s any of your damned business.”
Alan lets that sink in, then, “You didn’t ask about my appointment?”
Janine takes a deep breath, more like a huff. “What’s to ask? It was routine blood work, right? It was your decision to go, even though we’re supposed to keep our asses at home. You could have rescheduled. Anyway, I’m sure you’re just fine.”
Alan turns back to the TV. “You know what, Janine? Fuck you, your phone AND your story.”
Janine goes back to her fiddling. “Fuck you, too.”
Two a.m. The TV is still on. CNN now. As Alan watches the scenes playing out in virus-ravaged cities all over the world Janine snores softly on her side of the couch. They’ve finished the bourbon and she’s knocked out.
For several seconds, Alan just stares at his wife. He knows what he doesn’t want to know — something he has sensed for a long time and that realization is evident in his expression, which toggles between anger and despair.
Janine’s phone rests by her side.
After a moment’s thought, Alan leans over, slowly, carefully, and palms the phone.
He straightens up, grabs the empty bourbon bottle from the table and tiptoes from the room.
In the kitchen, Alan dumps the bottle in the trash and then sits down at the table. He looks at Janine’s phone, deciding.After a moment’s hesitation, he hits the button opening it. It’s unlocked.
Alan murmurs, “Oh Janine, you dumb bitch.”
He sees a number of texts from a “Patty Benson.” He scrolls through. There have been at least a dozen today.
As Alan’s grip tightens on the phone, we close on what he’s reading.“Heart” emojis punctuate nearly ever text.
“How you doin,’ sexy?”
“Staying strong? Just think what it will be like when we’re together, again.”
“I can almost taste you…smell you.”
“I think my wife knows…but I don’t care.”
“God, I miss that sweet pussy.”
And on, like that.
“I’m so sick of being locked up with HIM!”
“I want you so badly…I can hardly stand it.”
“I’ll take you in my mouth like the last time, remember?”
Alan drops the phone. He rocks back and forth, his face in his hands.
His sobs are soft…muffled.
Back in the family room, Alan puts Janine’s phone back where it was and shakes her awake.
Janine’s eyes pop open. “Wha….?”
“Go to bed,” Alan says. “It’s late.”
Outside, the air is soft, like a caress. It is quiet, peaceful. A night for contemplation. And redemption.
Alan sits on the top step of his home and looks at the stars. They are very bright, almost unnaturally so. He whispers to them, and to the moon, a silver sliver of light.
A sudden fit of coughing catches Alan off guard. He bends over, hands over his mouth, the sound a dry hacking. He sits up, gasping for a full breath.
After several seconds, he breathes normally.
Inexplicably, Alan smiles, then laughs, as one possessed. Wildly. He stuffs a fist in his mouth to muffle it and then stops.
Just as suddenly a whimper escapes Alan’s lips.
He bends over, wrapping his arms around his knees, as if cold.
Abruptly, he straightens up and holds out his left hand, palm up.
He spits into it. Once. Twice. Three times.
Janine and Alan’s bedroom.
Janine, too trashed to care, has not closed the window blinds so there is sufficient light from the streetlamp to see that Alan stands beside the bed.
He looks at Janine, sprawled on her back, her lips slightly parted, her face, slack. She makes no sound now. Dead to the world.
Alan hunkers over Janine, once the love of his life, and dips his right index finger into the palm of his left hand, which he is still holding out. An offering.
He fingers up the spittle and, like an artisan, smears his venom ever so carefully over Janine’s lips, even being so bold as to poke a bit of it inside her mouth.
She doesn’t stir.
Satisfied, Alan straightens up and wipes his hands on his jeans.