Thursday, April 02, 2009
(flash fiction story)
It all started with Scabies.
Sophomore year of college isn’t clean for anyone. The dishes undone, the towels mildewy and most often on the floor. Where Caleb caught the little beasties remained unknown. He itched for days before mentioning it, much less seeing a physician. The doc determined right off: “bugs.”
They washed everything once in very hot water. Threw out wool. Beat the bedding in the backyard. Fumigated all floors of the four-storied flat house. He never did see himself as the cause – someone else gave it to him, after all. Six degrees of Scabies.
His girlfriend, Ann, cut out pictures of bugs from kids’ science magazines she got at St. Vinnie’s for 60 cents and pasted them in key places around the apartment after that. In the laundry room, on the washing machine, an 8.5x11 inch spider, shot through a microscopic lens. A mosquito on the bathroom door. Fire ants, eight individual ones, posted along the edge of the counter from the fruit ripening bowl to the sink. She kept extras on hand as passive aggressive reminders to pin to remaining dirty items – Caleb left his towel on the tile floor again? Box Elder Bug. Archie didn’t do his dishes, still caked from three days ago Marinara sauce? That bowl she covered up with a close up of maggots. And Susan, her best friend, even she erred sometimes; won a sticker of worms or winged unidentifiable crawly for underwear draped off the doorknob for days or shoe treads covered in mud and tracked all over the clean wood floor.
Caleb had grown up on a farm, and lived for dirt. Ann hadn’t realized how attached he was to the earth until the Scabies incident. Even with the weeks of irritation and permanent scabs after (not to mention the “Ew” factor even he felt at the idea of bugs burrowing into him) he still kept up his already permanent habits.
Two months after the Scabies, cockroaches. Ann saw them first, of course. They caused a fight between Caleb and her, and she ran to Archie for sympathy. Archie killed the beetles dutifully and placed out bait to bed the rest. Then he bedded Ann. She quite enjoyed making love with Archie. He was, for the most part, for a male, pretty clean. Did his laundry regularly. Showered every day. Even if he did need to work on his dishes.
No one knew they were together. On the down low, glossed over like a shellaced field of manure. The secret stank to Ann, but she rebelled, allowing herself this one imperfect corner to mess in as she wished. Caleb continued to enjoy her company – even as they quibbled more and more – never suspecting a thing. Susan had no idea, wrapped up in her own tryst.
So when Ann went in for her annual Pap, which she attended without fail every April 1st, she was shocked at the results of her STD tests. HIV+. HIV? Where could she have picked that up from? Her first thoughts went to Caleb – who was (supposedly) a virgin when she first met him. Archie? He was – well, clean. Besides, they hadn’t been together long enough yet. She’d been around him a lot since freshman year – same with Caleb – neither dated much.
Ann told no one – not even Susan. Now adapted to secrets, she shielded herself with shame. She withdrew into herself, silently sorting and waxing the mess she had relaxed into. She couldn’t help but think about the Scabies, which invaded the house and yet never affected anyone but Caleb. Could she be as lucky as he was?
Ann had been with one other guy before Caleb. He had also said he was a virgin. The idea that she was at fault here haunted her like a cobweb above a shelf so high she couldn’t even reach it with a duster on one of those extended poles. In the back of her mind, a dust storm began to blow and she was the wind spreading it. Still, she told no one.
When the Scabies returned and got into everyone’s skin, she broke it off with the both of them and moved into a studio to be alone. She addressed a goodbye note to them both at the same time, as she had been asked to inform anyone she had slept with ever of her current status:
Archie and Caleb,
I apologize for the mess I left.