Prose Header

An Arm and a Leg

by Susan Bass Marcus

See who’s at the door, Frank. It could be that neighbor. Oh, never mind. I’ll go myself. Hello? Who’s there? Who? I can’t hear you.

Frank, stop, don’t seal it yet. Let me talk to him. Hello? Still there? Dwayne who? What? Yes, I’ll let you in if you’re immune. You are? Alrighty, then. Come in. Hey, you don’t look so good. It must be bad out there. Well, come on, don’t dawdle. We’re just about to seal the door.

Here, let me take your pack. Okay, okay. Keep it.

Pretty touchy guy, Frank. Keep your eye on him.

Never been through this before? I’ve lost count, no joke. Sure, you can stay for a while, at least, until we break the seal. Of course, we’ll be able to do that soon; we all have had our shots, like any person with forethought.

We could leave today if we wanted, but it’s better to be careful. Remember how the plague rolled right through the city in late April? Reminded me of those traveling tent shows, in one morning and out by nightfall.

We knew it was coming; we’d seen the signs before. One of the few benefits of living so long is knowing the signs. These old friends of mine and I, we try to handle whatever problems we can, together. One for all, et cetera. We’re not rich, but... What? Sorry, I talk too much.

You look so tired. Want to sit? What? How did we beat it last April? Our savings. We pooled whatever we had for a contract with Fit-Rite.

Those cut-backs were brutal, I agree. We decided to take the Fit-Rite Care Center deal and after that, we were fine; but I don’t know how the labs can keep up with this round. We heard they lost a lot of personnel and can’t make enough vaccine.

Sorry about your friends; nobody’s naturally immune. Why weren’t they vaccinated? The cost? But all they had to do was... Look, Fit-Rite just took our samples; they used them to give us all the meds and shots we needed. They vaccinated us for this one before it even showed up. So we could go out, they gave us each a receipt. How about showing us yours?

That’s all right, Don’t sweat it.

Little joke there, Frank.

Take your time. Where is... What? Oh, they’ve been alerting us on the screen. Yeah, said they stockpiled serum and our tissue samples. After that, they had the vaccine ready. Messaged us on the screen.

Anyway, this is Lila. You met Frank, and here’s Mesh, Meshulam. What’s your name, again? Sorry, what was that?

Why is he coughing, Frank?

We were the first to line up at the Care Center as soon as we saw Fit-Rite’s message. We’d been watching for it, taking turns, days before the city was hit. Frank woke me from a nap and he called Mesh and Lila away from their lunch.

Frank pointed to the screen where CC camera views of the Cincinnati sector scrolled right to left. Daylight views. No one outside. Abandoned cars, one with a rear door open. I saw a pair of dirty, dangling bare feet. “It’s déjà vu all over again,” Frank quipped, “to quote a sage.” You see this megascreen? Years ago, we had it installed in our sharehouse, pretty much like our neighbors did. Most people replaced their front windows facing the street with triple-paned glass, too. The kind with mesh wire in between the panes. Seemed like a good idea but, for our budget, the choice was either those windows or Fit-Rite.

You’ve probably had to face choices, too: five pounds of vegetable protein or a half-pound of generated meat; maybe one set of heat-resistant shoes or seven pairs of cheap slip-ons; maybe choosing between xeriscaping around your sharehouse or installing melt-resistant polygrass. Sorry, I’m talking too much again. About your receipt...

You haven’t had to make choices like that? Oh, I forgot. You said your mother... Well, you’re welcome to stay with us while the plague passes, since you’ve had the shot. You did, right? That’s what I thought you said.

When you told us about your mother leaving for the North, I knew you were well off. Imagine, all that water. I haven’t met anyone else who’s gone north. We have Fit-Rite, though, and they’ve left reps here for us subscribers.

Only people with an ID tattoo can use the Care Center near us. They were still open last week, before we decided to seal. Funny, their screens have been down for a couple of days. We’re guessing server drain, maybe? Not enough power? They probably had to choose, like us: keep the meds cold or charge the cameras. They must have gone with the meds.

I apologize for that thing you’re sitting on. Lila would have replaced the couch long ago — this was once her place, you see — but we wanted to pay for our co-op subscription once we set up this sharehouse, so we patched and covered up whatever was wearing out. It’s not dirty, just shabby.

No, no, don’t apologize. I know you didn’t mean it. Glad you came by. Lately, the on-screen mind retreats have been sort of dull. We’re supposed to feel expansive, open, at one with the cosmos when we watch them. Lots of luck. Oh, forget I said that. They’re really beneficial, I’m sure. Frank loves them.

Anyway, what else is there to do? Once the screens are up again and we can see what’s going on, we’ll put away those stale Smashin Rashins and restock over at Fit-Rite. Want to lie down? Go ahead. That’s fine. We can sit on the floor. Let me find you a pillow or something.

Better? Feels good to put up your feet, even when you’re young. You must have walked for days. These shoes — no, it’s okay, all that dust and dirt — showing a lot of wear. You were lucky to make it here before we tightened the last gasket.

Thirsty? Sure. I’ll get you something.

Frank, is he flushed?

Water O.K. for you? Good.

* * *

I’m back. Here’s a nice cool cup of... He’s asleep? Why’d you... Oh, never mind. Go, look through his pack. Maybe the receipt’s in there. We shouldn’t have let him in without looking at it. Ought to have known better. Yes, you’re right. He looks fine, just that sweat — see how he’s soaked his shirt. Mesh, is the screen up yet?

This doesn’t feel right. No news, no info, not even from Fit-Rite. And they promised.

Watch out, Frank. He’s waking up. Anything? Oh.

Here, young man, your water. You are welcome. Feel better? You looked a little done in. Maybe you need some aspirin. Here, let’s see what the thermometer says. Say! You didn’t have to knock it out of my hand. Oh, hell, it doesn’t work now. Why’d you do that?

Mesh, he says he’s sorry and would like something to eat, didn’t you hear him? Go, go, get a couple of nutrobars, you know where.

Young man, maybe we scared you, but as I said, you’re lucky to be with us. We look old, but we can take care of ourselves — and you. Don’t mind Frank’s limp or that scar on his cheek. That’s from the war. Which? I forget. Which was it, Frank?

Right, the Caribbean. The second one. Anyway, we’re safe while the plague passes through. Don’t know how long, but we should all be fine.

Too hot in here? Well, I don’t think so. I mean, we’re comfortable, aren’t we, Lila? Lila and I were school chums. You should have seen her red hair when she was younger and thinner. Hey, don’t push, girl.

So, you said your name was Dwayne? Du-wane, oh, Duane! So, Duane, see our thick walls? They keep this house cool, like a cave. Where you going? Stay on that couch. You’re in no condition to...

Frank, help me here. Lila, you go wash up. Use the disinfectant.

No need to fight us. Where’s that receipt of yours? For the vaccination, what else? In your pack? I don’t think so. I mean, we had to see if it was there, just to be sure. Sorry, but we don’t know you. Yes, I know we shouldn’t have, but... What?

That’s no good, no good at all. Not vaccinated? Then why did you say you were?

Lila, Mesh, you heard that. Go get our masks. Frank, we have to do— Oh, thanks, Lila. We have to do something.

Sorry if my voice is muffled. You, what’s your name? Robin? You told us ‘Duane.’ Of course, you’re a little confused. Lie down again, no one here is going to hurt you. We’re just going to make you comfortable. Aren’t we, Frank? So you lied about the shot. Did you lie about your mother, too? Oh, I’m sorry.

Frank, he says she died.

Was she alone? Oh, with you. 24 hours and gone, just like that? Yeah, that’s what we saw on the screen, the way it kills you.

How’d you find us?

He says he’s from around here, guys. Does he look familiar?

Where, exactly? Just down the street from the Fit-Rite. Well, why didn’t you make a deal with them like we did?

They ran your sequence and turned both of you away? But you’re young and healthy or you were until a few days ago. Keep your hands out of your hair; it won’t fall out so fast. Go on, Fit-Rite said... You worked for them? Well, then, shouldn’t they have... Oh, just a clerk.

Sorry, it’s the mask; yes, she should speak up. Lila just said she thought everyone who worked at Fit-Rite had an in; they’d get all the shots, you know, be prepared because they have to work there.

Oh, come on, they can’t be. That’s not possible. We’ve had our deal with them for years and they were happy with our sequencings. That’s why I wear this glove, you see; it hides the missing finger. Frank gave them the first joint of his big toe; Lila doesn’t want me to tell you what they took from her. Mesh has only one earlobe now. He would have been happy to give a whole ear, but that’s all they wanted. At least we didn’t have to pay an arm and a leg, I shouldn’t joke. We never went that far. But you say they were sealing up and threw you out?

Frank, look at his forehead puckering up.

Robin... Duane... whoever you are, wake up.

He’s out, Frank, cooking in his own juices. We’ll have to put him outside. It’ll just get worse.

* * *

What’s wrong with Mesh? He’s torn off his mask.

Mesh, stop. You can’t— Frank, help me here. Why is Mesh screaming at the kid about the vaccine? Of course it was real. Why wouldn’t it be? Fit-Rite’s the only real agency left. Why? You know why. All the other pharmas were faking it. Fit-Rite used our own tissue for custom vaccinations. Everyone was talking about it. You sure liked the idea; you were the first to donate. You feel fine, don’t you? I do, and, look, we’ve been exposed, lots of times. Nothing. Nada.

No... oh, no. Mesh is on top of the kid. What’s wrong with him? Frank, pull him off! Pull him off, I said.

No? Well, Lila and I will. C’mon, Mesh, leave his clothes alone. Lila, scrub Mesh’s hands with that sanitizer. Look, the kid’s nearly gone. We’ve got to get him out of here. No, you can’t let yourself feel that way. It’s him or us. We’ll use the garbage chute.

Look, Frank and Mesh are just sitting there on the couch, now.

Lila, what’s the matter? Come back here, I... are you puking? What’s going on? Frank, get out of that couch. Frank, can you hear me?

Lila, I’m coming, I’m coming. Oh, dear girl, here, move over, I’ll clean it up. Honey, sit up, you’ll be fine. Just the shock of that kid dying on us. Wait, I’ll help you. I’ll wash my hands and... Oh hell, nothing’s coming out of the tap. Get up, get up. Okay, I’ll just cover you with this towel. Try to stay warm.

Frank, where ARE you?

What a mess. He tore a hole in the couch cover. Mesh, move over. No, not on the floor. I told you... I told... Frank, he’s gone. Frank?

You, too. So fast. So fast. What do I do now? You guys. We’re in this together, right? We are going to be fine. Fit-Rite promised. They made the shots just for us. Our life savings. Our lives. We are going to be fine. Just rest a bit. We just need to rest. I’m so tired. This business has just wiped me out.

Copyright © 2016 by Susan Bass Marcus

Proceed to Challenge 664...

Home Page