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Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Return to lately 2006.
something once so wild
december 1, 2006
I fell under the tall wheels of a cold, for the first time in years.
Mary and I rarely go out anymore, so it's hard to know how I caught it.
I don't remember anyone in the post office sneezing in my direction, anyone with red nostrils at the supermarket handing me the spooled white tape of my purchases.
But somehow, it happened.
About three days after we last went out, my neck started to hurt. I cleared my throat more often, then had to blow my nose over and over, walking slow-limbed through our rooms.
The next morning, my fingers shoved aside the Q-tips and dental floss in our medicine cabinet, air-lifting out a box of Thera-Flu. Brought it out to the kitchen, heated in the microwave a cup of tap water, blue and white outside decorated with snowman and starry sky. Pulled a black-handled pair of scissors out of a drawer, snipped off the top of the Thera-Flu envelope, beheading all its warnings and suggested dosages. Poured its contents into the steaming cup of water, tapping the stiff bottom of the envelope to make sure I had tumbled everything out.
The contents of the envelope didn't fully dissolve in the hot water, medicinal scum on the steamy surface, but I drank it anyway, lemony, grainy.
Later, standing by the wide window in our breakfast nook, head full of an infinite number of bubbles, I sneezed violently, birds on the ground outside, startled, winging upwards.
During the time we were unable to leave our home, snowbound by our colds, I kept trying to remember the popular saying.
Starve a cold, feed a fever? Feed a cold, starve a fever?
Most sayings have some alliteration to them, so feed a fever sounded right, but not quite, plus, since I had a cold, I wanted it to be feed a cold. Which made sense, sort of, because when you have a cold your nose is stuffed, which means you're probably not eating as much, so you need to make sure you have regular meals (plus maybe some potato chips). But then I also thought, don't most people normally get fevers with a cold? So if you have both conditions, cold and fever, what do you do? Feed a cold and a fever, but then purge?
I have the same confusion with that whole daylight savings time saying.
Fall forward, spring back? Or spring forward, fall back?
The whole spring part sounds like hunting. If you're the predator, you spring forward, to catch your prey. But if you're the prey, you spring back, to avoid the fangs. So which is it?
Does anyone really fall backwards? That sounds like you could get a serious concussion. Falling forward, at least you could raise your arms to have your hands brace your fall, bracketing with your elbows the otherwise fatal smack of forehead to floor.
What makes the most sense is spring forward, fall forward. Know where you're going. But if we set the clock forward an hour in Fall, then again in Spring, aren't we going too far forward into the future?
Then there's the Thirty Days Hath September prompt.
For years and years and years, here's how I thought it went:
Here's how it actually starts:
In all seriousness, I was shocked when I finally found out my version was wrong (even though my version scans better).
After a week or so, Mary and I had to go outside, to forage.
We didn't bother showering, just pulled on street clothes. Got in the car, feeling miserable. I didn't glance up at the rearview mirror, because that would just discourage me at how awful I looked.
We did it Sunday morning, seven a.m., when we figured the supermarket would be deserted, most people getting ready for church, standing in front of a full length mirror, hands on the lapels of their suit jacket, or rolling over in bed, stupid-mouthed, sleeping off hangovers.
The supermarket's parking lot was not as empty as we had hoped.
We went inside, holding hands. Grabbed the metal back of a shopping cart, started pushing it down the bright aisles.
Threw into the metal cart eight boxes of Kleenex, four boxes of Thera-Flu, a big cold white jug of milk, some red coffee cans, lots of frozen dinners, two ten-pound bags of kitty litter.
We wheeled our cart to the front of the store, but all the cashier lanes were unlit.
Apparently, the cashiers, on Sunday, don't show up until eight a.m.
Which meant we had to wheel over to one of the self-serve check-out lanes.
The first two self check-out stations we went to, the computer wasn't working.
We're dying. Sniffling, hump-backed, achy. Got to the third station. I have no idea what we're supposed to do (We don't use self check-out stations. What are they going to do next? Ask us to come in Saturday night to help count inventory?)
I call over one of the help, a middle-aged black woman.
There's all kinds of machinery at each station.
It turns out, you swipe your store card across a rectangle of glass first, then pass each store item over a horizontal glass plate. The plate reads the bar code, beeps.
Then you have to touch the beeped store item to a yellow strip to the right of the bar code reader.
Then you have to place the item on a lazy susan contraption that somehow registers weight has been added to it.
The woman showed us the basics, after which I said, We can probably take it from here.
Except, we couldn't.
Part of the problem was the rectangle of glass couldn't, for whatever reason, read all the bar codes.
Another problem was the lazy susan on which you had to place all your purchases, after you bar code swiped them, was only designed to accommodate about a dozen items. Since we had far more items than that, the system started to malfunction. The woman had to come back over, assist us with each item, trying to balance each new item, after it was bar-coded, on the tall pile of lazy susan items.
The supermarket, incidentally, was a Kroger's. When are they going to learn we want actual check-out people? Albertson's, another major American supermarket chain, tried the same self-service experiment, and wound up losing millions of dollars. They're in the process of closing dozens of previously-profitable stores across the country, because the stores didn't perform well under their new self-service dictatorship.
Anyway, the middle-aged black woman finally got all our purchases accepted, then lifted both twenty pound bags of kitty litter off the lazy susan to swing them onto the bottom shelf of our cart.
I opened my mouth to say, Let me lift those, they're heavy, just as she swung them under our cart, banging the lower front of her teeth against the shiny metal bottom of our cart.
She stood up, wiping at her lower lip.
We felt awful.
She tried to keep a professional air, waving us through to the checkout register at the front of the self-serve stations, to write a check, pressing a white paper towel against her lower face, pulling the towel away every ten seconds to check the width of blood across the whiteness.
Out in the parking lot, we tossed all our purchases into the back of our CRV, got in the front seats, backed-up, the poor woman walking across the parking lot to perform another of her chores, retrieving all the stray shopping carts, long white bit of paper towel sticking out between her lips like a cigar.
We felt awful.
After about a week, I felt I was coming out the other side of my cold. Still blowing my nose every five minutes, but I had more energy.
I pulled some clothes on to get our mail.
The street we live on, the mail isn't delivered to each door. There's a sturdy metal kiosk a minute's walk down the road, separate locked compartment for each house.
It was a cold morning, temperature down in the thirties. On the way past the bottom of my neighbor's driveway, I realized he and his daughter were at the top of the driveway, standing by the bed of his blue pick-up.
He hailed me with his friendly Texas twang. "Hey, Rob. Wanna see my buck?"
I walked up the slope of the driveway.
He's a hunter, so by 'buck' I figured his sense of pride was about a deer, rather than a dollar bill. I've never hunted myself, never had any desire to, wouldn't myself want to go into the woods and kill an animal, but I'm a member of the shrinking minority of people who don't insist everyone in the world agree with their own opinions, so I see nothing wrong with hunting.
I had to get to the very top of the driveway before I could see down into the blue metal bed of the pick-up. A full buck deer inside, root beer spine curled against the inside gate, something once so wild now utterly still, looking very much like a Doberman Pincher, except with antlers, larger eyes, red candy slit down its beige belly, throat to crotch.
Waterstones, the U.K.'s leading brick and mortar bookstore chain, will be selling Read By Dawn, the anthology by Ramsey Campbell that features my short story, The Little Girl Who Lives in the Woods, in sixty of their retail outlets, nationwide. Congratulations to Adele Hartley, who's responsible for the anthology's success.