I awoke to the tantalizing sensation of my wife’s fingers racing along my ribcage. Still in a drowsed state I reached about, searching for her hand. As I began to caress her fingers, I felt her quickly pull away as she began to poke at my sides before muttering something unintelligible. Blearily, I reached for my phone and recoiled as the sharp light filled my vision. With only one eye open I could see that it was just a few minutes past two o’clock in the morning.
“The extra sheets; where are they?” she asked as I rubbed my eyes and lifted myself to a standing position. I felt my back crackle as I stretched and, slowly, my thought process began to grind once more with each new movement of my body.
“Again?” I asked through a yawn. This was the third time in a week. “There’s an extra set in the bathroom closet.”
I had grown accustomed to sleeping on the couch since this had started. I made my way to the lamp and squinted once more as the parlour illumed. My wife began ascending the stairwell, in her arms was a set of dark red linens. As I followed her upstairs, I pondered if these may very well be our last usable set of sheets. I entered the bedroom and initiated what had become by now a routine.
“You need to make sure your side is tighter,” she softly scolded me while she pulled the fitted sheet into position. I drew it a little more, ensuring that the wrinkles were out and gave her a little smirk in return. As we prepared the next sheet the red fibers glistened just a little in the dim chamber and I remembered how we had spent our first night together between this very set, and how much different things had become now.
“Do we have any more blankets?” I asked, looking around the room.
“Just the one on the couch now,” she replied.
I let out another deep sigh. My chest was growing tighter as the apprehension of this entire ordeal wore on me. Just how much longer would this continue? I went over to the nightstand and tore off a piece of paper from a yellow notepad. We had once used this to record our dreams or ideas that had come upon us in the night. However, I was now busy writing down our surname and address for the third time this week. I looked over to the bed, at the tightly wrapped remains of my father, and carefully pinned the paper to the sheets.
“Alright, let’s get him out.” I said as my wife and I carefully carried the cadaver downstairs, through the front door, and stacked him on the curb alongside the vestiges of my mother and brother. The National Guard would come any day now to remove them and any other tightly wrapped victims of the pandemic from the street. It was the new normal.
We walked back to the house, holding onto one another’s hands. Inside I retrieved the last blanket from the couch and, returning the bedroom, we lied down and enveloped ourselves in its soft threads. In the madness we laughed.
My doctor had assured me that experiencing changes in my hair was a normal occurrence for men my age. I was reluctant to even make the appointment at first, as I was dreading the prospect of being seen in public again with my uneven strands and clumps giving way to visible bare spots. I had been outside before, and I heard the laughter of children and teenagers as they shouted rude names in my direction, insolently pointing at me in the streets and drawing further attention to my predicament. It was an embarrassment that I didn’t want to endure again so soon.
“Just apply the serum to the affected area, and you should start seeing results within a few weeks,” the doctor had told me. “Head to the hospital in the event you experience any sort of reaction, this stuff is strong.” Great. I love it when the cure is just as bad as the affliction, or worse.
After another endurance test in the pharmacy, with customers staring, smirking and outright cackling just feet from my face, I was able to retrieve my prescribed salvation. I tried to hide the clumpy hair under a free hand as I ran through the lines and out the front doors, clenching my potion with my other, praying it would bring me relief and freedom. Begging God that within that bottle, some angel’s grace would restore me to my former self.
With the memories of the laughter pecking away at my shoulders, I immediately headed to the safety of my bathroom. I applied the serum all over my hair and the surrounding bare patches and gently rubbed my brush over it, working the medicine deep into the foundation of my personal Hell.
For days, I repeated this ritual; application, brushing, and surrendering myself to any higher power that would liberate me from this misfortune. After a week, I began to notice hairs in my brush. Just a strand or two at first, then whole clusters of curls wrapping themselves around the teeth of my miniature rake.
I cautiously looked into the mirror for the first time in months and could see more bare patches than ever before. I smiled and wondered; just how long would it take for all the hair growing from my tongue, cheeks and gums to finally disappear?