Honking loudly, the geese flew on. In the air currents above them, the rest of the viral particles freed from Dr. Alexander Kellis’s lab drifted, waiting for their own escorts to come along, scoop them up, and allow them to freely roam the waiting Earth. There is nothing so patient, in this world or any other, as a virus searching for a host.
* * *
We’re looking at clear skies here in the Midwest, with temperatures spiking to a new high for this summer. So grab your sunscreen and plan to spend another lazy weekend staying out of the sun! Pollen counts are projected to be low…
June 13, 2014: Denver, Colorado
Suzanne Amberlee had been waiting to box up her daughter’s room almost since the day Amanda was first diagnosed with leukemia. Her therapist said it was a “coping mechanism” for her, and that it was completely healthy for her to spend hours thinking about boxes and storage and what to do with things too precious to be given to Goodwill. As the parent of a sick child, she’d been all too willing to believe that, grasping at any comfort that her frightened mind could offer her. She had made her lists long ago. These were the things she would keep; these were the things she would send to family members; these were the things she would give to Amanda’s friends. Simple lines, drawn in ink on the ledger of her heart.
That was thought. The reality of standing in her little girl’s bedroom and imagining it empty, stripped of all the things that made it Amanda’s, was almost more than she could bear. After weeks of struggling with herself, she had finally been able to close her hand on the doorknob and open the bedroom door. She still wasn’t able to force herself across the threshold.
This room contained all Amanda’s things—all the things she’d ever have the opportunity to own. The stuffed toys she had steadfastly refused to admit to outgrowing, saying they had been her only friends when she was sick and she wouldn’t abandon them now. Her bookshelves, cluttered with knickknacks and soccer trophies as much as books. Her framed poster showing the structure of Marburg EX19, given to her by Dr. Wells after the first clinical trials began showing positive results. Suzanne could picture that day when she closed her eyes. Amanda, looking so weak and pale, and Dr. Wells, their savior, smiling like the sun.
“This little fellow is your best friend now, Amanda.” That was what he’d said on that beautiful afternoon where having a future suddenly seemed possible again. “Take good care of it and it will take good care of you.”
Rage swept over Suzanne in a sudden hot wave. She opened her eyes, glaring across the room at the photographic disease. Where was it when her little girl was dying? Marburg EX19 was supposed to save her baby’s life, and in the end, it had let her down; it had let Amanda die. What was the good of all this—the pain, the endless hours spent in hospital beds, the promises they never got to keep—if the damn disease couldn’t save Amanda’s life?
Never mind that Amanda died in a car crash. Never mind that cancer had nothing to do with it. Marburg EX19 was supposed to save her, and it had failed.
“I hate you,” Suzanne whispered, and turned away. She couldn’t deal with the bedroom; not today, maybe not ever. Maybe she would just sell the house, leave Amanda’s things where they were, and let them be dealt with by the new owners. They could filter through the spindrift of Amanda’s life without seeing her face, without hearing her voice talking about college plans and careers. They could put things in boxes without breaking their hearts.
If there was anything more terrible for a parent than burying a child, Suzanne Amberlee couldn’t imagine what it would be. Her internal battle over for another day—over, and lost—she turned away, heading down the stairs. Maybe tomorrow she could empty out that room. Maybe tomorrow she could start boxing things away. Maybe tomorrow she could start the process of letting Amanda go.
Maybe tomorrow. But probably not.
Suzanne Amberlee walked away, unaware of the small viral colony living in her own body, nested deep in the tissue of her lungs. Content in its accidental home, Marburg EX19 slept, waiting for the trigger that would startle it into wakefulness. It was patient; it had all the time in the world.
* * *
Amanda Amberlee is survived by her mother, Suzanne Amberlee. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be sent to the Colorado Cancer Research Center…
June 15, 2014: Reston, Virginia
The lights were off in the main lab, leaving it in claustrophobic darkness. Most of the staff had long since gone home for the night. That made sense; it had been past eleven when John Kellis pulled into the parking lot, and the only car parked in front of the building was his husband’s familiar bottle-green Ford. He hadn’t bothered to call before coming over. Maybe some men strayed to bars or strip clubs. Not Alex. When Alex went running to his other lover, he was always running to the lab.
John paused before pushing open the door leading into the inner office. The last thing he wanted to do was upset Alex further when he was already so delicate. “Sweetheart? Are you in here?”
There was still no answer. John’s heart started beating a little faster, spurred on by fear. The pressure had been immense since the break-in. Years of research gone; millions of dollars in private funding lost; and perhaps worst of all, Alex’s sense of certainty that the world would somehow start playing fair, shattered. John wasn’t sure that Alex could recover from that, and if Alex couldn’t recover, then John didn’t think he could recover, either.