Zelda liked to have someone to blame if she got sick. Whenever she felt a symptom coming on, she’d cast around in her mind to think who might have given it to her. There was always someone. Then she’d tell that person exactly what she thought about his or her thoughtlessness.
“I don’t need your germs,” she’d lecture her friends. “I’ve got things to do. So if you’ve got a sniffle or a cough, stay away from me. The twenty-four hours before you even know you’re sick is when you’re the most contagious.”
Her friends (a dwindling number) were indeed very careful to keep their distance if they felt at all unwell, but strangers – well, strangers will cough on the bus, they will put their diseased paws all over the shopping cart, and they will spew sneezes like Mount St. Helens. This despite Zelda’s most ferocious glares.
She used hand sanitizer when she was out and when she got home, scrubbed her hands with hot water and soap for thirty seconds. She timed herself by singing the alphabet song with her own personal twist: “ABCDEFG, don’t you give your bug to me. HIJKLMNOP, I intend to be germ-free. QRSTUV,WXY and Z. Now I’ve sung my ABCs, use a tissue when you sneeze.”
The worst germs of all were baby germs. Zelda was convinced they had a particular potency. This was a problem because her daughter was a working mom and the grandbaby came down with something every other week. Zelda was often dragooned into baby-sitting so the parents could go to work. She’d wear a mask and gloves, and her daughter joked that the baby wouldn’t recognize his own granny on the street.
Of course, Zelda got every preventive shot available. Pneumonia, flu, shingles, tetanus. When she asked for gamma globulin, her weary doctor hinted that Zelda might be a bit obsessive.
“Germs help us build resistance,” he said. “Exposure actually strengthens the immune system.”
Zelda looked at him like he was crazy. Aside from the physical misery of being sick, she just didn’t have time. She was a busy woman. People relied on her; she had obligations and responsibilities. She’d explained that to him several times, but he couldn’t seem to take in how inconvenient a case of the sniffles was to her. So she took sensible precautions. Certainly she did.
But inevitably, it happened. That first tickle in the back of the throat. Sneezes. Aches. Coughs. Fever. Zelda denied it as long as she could, but finally had to admit she was sick. She knew exactly where she’d picked it up. Andy had been barking like a mad dog at the PTA meeting just three days before. But she was past caring. She crawled into bed and pulled the covers up to her chin.
Zelda slept most of the first day and night. The second day she watched some television, dozed and blew her nose. By the third day, the homemade soup a neighbor brought over tasted good. On day four, she felt much better. She took a shower, changed the sheets and slipped back into a fresh bed. There was an old Humphrey Bogart movie on television that she’d never seen. The afternoon passed pleasantly. Friends of the Library Committee called to inquire why she’d missed their meeting. “I’m sick,” she said. Really, people could be so demanding. She cancelled her dentist appointment, yoga class and oil change. “I’m sick, don’t know when I can reschedule.”
It was a happy moment when she discovered a tub of ice cream in the freezer that she’d forgotten. She ate most of it while she painted her toenails. Then she gave herself a facial and took a bubble bath. When people called to check on her, she said she felt too ill to talk.
Zelda did make one phone call, however, to Andy. He quaked when she announced that she was sick in bed because of him. “I, I, I’m so sorry,” he stammered. “I know I shouldn’t have gone to the PTA meeting, but Jill was receiving that award…”
“Actually,” Zelda broke in, “I called to thank you. It’s the best down time I’ve had in years. I’m going to get sick more often.”