Hi, all. I’ve finished the first draft of my flash fiction story. It’s definitely outside my usual fare, though with a certain connection to my life. Input is always welcome. Thanks for reading.
The day dawned through weepy fog, yielding a blinding whiteness empty of warmth. In the early morning light, Eloise dressed in yoga pants and an oversized sweatshirt. The formerly tight pants slid down her hips, sagging and bunching along the length of her body. She shuffled past the mirror with her eyes on her worn running shoes. Her lean fingers traced over the letters embroidered on her sweatshirt, the initials of her former university. Once she had been so proud to wear them, before appearance and prestige had ceased to matter. Many of the threads hung loose, stained brown in areas where the tips of her fingers had bled as she picked away at the letters until they were indecipherable.
Before leaving the house, Eloise pulled her mask over her face. She adjusted the straps until the mask sealed around her nose and mouth. The claustrophobic too-shallow first breath panicked her and her fingers clenched in her hair around the straps. She dragged her hands out of her hair as her breathing returned to her new normal, regular but rasping. Grabbing her car keys from the bowl by the door, she registered without interest the clumps of hair that fell from her fingers.
In her car, Eloise found herself in heavy traffic. The early hour was no deterrent. The grocery store was receiving a delivery today, one of the few events to bring people out of the their homes. The fog was liquid as she drove, shifting and swamping first her car, then the next lane over. Each car was a quarantine unit, its driver and passengers isolated and dreading contact with the outside.
The radio played droning pop tunes until the first of the hour brought on the news. The distant voice of the newsreader turned to the only real matter of concern in today’s climate.
“The government estimates that confirmed cases will reach 250,000 by the end of the month,” the voice said. Eloise’s skeletal hands tightened on the steering wheel. “Symptoms include drastic weight loss, wet cough, loss of hair and nails, and general wasting. You are urged to avoid contact with uninfected individuals and report to authorities if you experience these symptoms.”
Eloise pulled her car into a parking space at the back of the lot and walked up to the supermarket. The exertion turned her rasping breath into a wet rattling. Her mask fogged over with her labored breathing. She pressed her lean frame against a wall as wary shoppers filtered past, each face obscured by a mask. Finally, with her breathing under control, she made her way to the back of the store.
The pet food aisle was full of shoppers, piling bags of dry food and cans of wet food into their carts for the only friends still safe to have. Eloise picked up a small bag of dog food. As she shuffled toward the checkout lines, the unfamiliar heat of so many bodies combined with her difficult breathing.
The cough started deep and quiet, but gathered strength. Her mask did nothing to contain the sound. It did nothing to reassure her fellow shoppers. As her cough wracked her thin body, the people around her stared and backed away. Their eyes took in the ill-fitting clothes and the patchy hair. The wet cough and general wasting were clear.
Eloise felt the panic rising as the area around her emptied of people. She saw retreating customers reaching for their phones. Her voice croaked out between coughs. “No, please,” she said. “I’ve been tested. I’m virus-free.”
She knew there was no hope of avoiding the authorities for long out in public. As quickly and quietly as she could, she paid a reluctant, worried-looking cashier for the dog food and made her way out to her car. The fog had burned away and she felt exposed in the bright sunlight of the car. Long minutes passed before she was composed enough to drive.
When Eloise arrived home, she was greeted only by the musty smell of the unaired house as she removed her mask. The dog had ceased running to meet her. Instead she remained in the corner, mourning a master that was not yet dead.
The phone that Eloise had been inseparable from in a former life was buzzing on the counter. She looked at the message from her mother.
El, please call me back. Doc says you’re def virus free. It can’t be your project. Please please call. Love, Mom
Eloise put the phone down and refilled the dog’s food and water. She hadn’t eaten in days. Her cupboards were empty.
The doctors said she didn’t have the virus. But she would always have the virus. She only hoped the general wasting would lead to eventual death before the virus reached pandemic levels, before they traced it back to her thesis work and labeled it with her name. She crawled back into bed.