“Yes, I know. Your life is so important.”
I glanced at Angie, seeing that she and the surgical tech were nearly finished. “I’ll ask him, but like I said, he has the girls.”
“He has the girls a lot. Have you been going to the bars every weekend, or what?”
“So what else is more important than raising your children?”
“I have to go.”
“Sensitive subject. You’ve never liked to be told you’re doing something wrong.”
“It’s his weekend, Mother, like it is every other weekend.”
“Well. Why does his weekend have to be the weekend I need help?”
“I really have to go.”
“Did you at least send dresses with them so their daddy can take them to church? Since he’s the only one who seems to care to teach them about the Lord.”
“Good-bye, Mother.” I hung up the phone and sighed just as Dr. Pollard came in.
“Afternoon, all. This shouldn’t take long,” he said. He held his hands in front of him, fingers pointing up, waiting for Angie to put gloves on them. “But by the looks of it we’re all in for a long night, so I hope none of you had plans.”
“Is that true?” Ally, the scrub tech, asked from behind her mask. “About LAX?”
“It happened at Dulles, too,” Angie said.
I glanced at the clock, and then walked over to the phone, pecking at the numbers. Andrew’s phone rang four times, and then his voicemail took over.
I sighed. “It’s Scarlet. Please call me at the hospital. I’m in surgery, but call me anyway so we can coordinate. I’m coming there as soon as I get off work.”
Another eight-hour day that didn’t mean a damn thing. When I clocked out from the office, freedom should have been at the forefront of my mind, or at least brought a smile to my face, but it didn’t. Knowing I had just wasted another day of my life was depressing. Tragic, even. Stuck at a desk job for an electric co-op that made no difference in the world, day in and day out, and then going home to a wife that hated me made for a miserable existence.
Aubrey hadn’t always been a mean bitch. When we first got married, she had a sense of humor, she couldn’t wait until it was bedtime so we could lie together and kiss and touch. She would initiate a blowjob because she wanted to please me, not because it was my birthday.
Seven years ago, she changed. We had Zoe, and my role switched from desirable, adoring husband to a source of constant disappointment. Aubrey’s expectations of me were never met. If I tried to help, it was either too much, or it wasn’t done the right way. If I tried to stay out of her way, I was a lazy bastard.
Aubrey quit her job to stay home with Zoe, so mine was the only source of income. Suddenly that wasn’t enough, either. Because I didn’t make what Aubrey felt was enough money, she expected me to give her a “baby break” the second I walked in the door. I wasn’t allowed to talk to my wife. She would disappear into the den, sit at the computer, and talk to her Internet friends.
I’d entertain Zoe while emptying the dishwasher and prepping dinner. Asking for help was a sin, and interrupting the baby break just gave Aubrey one more reason to hate me, as if she didn’t have enough already.
Once Zoe started kindergarten, I hoped it would get better, that Aubrey would start back to work, and she would feel like her old self again. But she just couldn’t break free of her anger. She didn’t seem to want to.
Zoe had just a few weeks left in second grade. I would pick her up from school, and we would both hope Aubrey would turn away from the computer just long enough to notice we were home.
On a good day, she would.
Today, though, she wouldn’t. The Internet and radio had been abuzz since early morning with breaking news about an epidemic. A busy news day meant Aubrey’s ass would be stationed firmly against the stained, faded blue fabric of her office chair. She would be talking about it with strangers in forums, with friends and distant family on social networks, and commenting on news websites. Theories. Debates. Somewhere along the way it had become a part of our marriage, and I had been edged out.
I waited in my eight-year-old sedan, first in a line of cars parked behind the elementary school. Zoe didn’t like to be the last one picked up, so I made sure to go to her school right after work. Waiting forty minutes gave me enough time to debrief from work, and psych myself up for another busy night without help or acknowledgment from my wife.
The DJ’s tone was more serious than it had been, so I turned up the volume. He was using a word I hadn’t heard them use before: pandemic. The contagion had breached our shores. Panic had broken out in Dulles and LAX airports when passengers who’d fallen ill during their international flights began attacking the airline employees and paramedics helping them off the plane.
In the back of my head, I knew what was happening. The morning anchor had reported the arrest of a researcher somewhere in Europe, and while my thoughts kept returning to how impossible it was, I knew.
I looked into the rearview mirror, my appearance nearly unrecognizable to anyone that had known me in better days. The browns of my eyes were no longer bright and full of purpose like they once were. The skin beneath them was shaded with dark circles. Just fifteen years ago I was two hundred pounds of muscle and confidence, now I felt a little more broken down every day.
Aubrey and I met in high school. Back then she wanted to touch me and talk to me. Our story wasn’t all that exciting: I was on the starting lineup of a small-town football team, and she was head cheerleader. We were both the big fish in a small pond. My light-brown, shaggy hair moved when a breeze passed through the passenger side window. Aubrey used to love how long it was. Now all she did was bitch that I needed a haircut. Come to think of it, she bitched about everything when it came to me. I still went to the gym, and the women at work were at times a little forward, but Aubrey didn’t see me anymore. I wasn’t sure if it was being with her that sucked the life out of me, or the disappointments I’d suffered over the years. The farther away I was from high school, the less making something of myself seemed possible.
An obnoxious buzzing noise on the radio caught my attention. I listened while a man’s robotic voice came over the speakers of my car. “This is a red alert from the emergency broadcast system. Canton County sheriff’s department reports a highly contagious virus arriving in our state has been confirmed. If at all possible, stay indoors. This is a red alert from the emergency broadcast system . . .”