Microbes

by Ryan Mills

Eric sat in the pew listening to the priest drone on about carrying a cross or something. He was fidgeting.  It was almost time for the “Our Father.”  Eric tried to wipe the sweat from his hands.  He normally tried to sit alone, but today he had to go to the Mass at 11 and there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.  He hated this, the sweaty, germ-infested hands of strangers touching his white, clammy fingers.  It made him sick.

“Our Father, who art in Heaven,” the congregation began.  Eric stared at the two hands holding his.  The old lady in the pink hat and green blouse with flower print was squeezing his hand tightly and methodically reciting the prayer.  The boy to his right was wearing a white button down shirt, black pants and a blue clip-on tie.  His red hair hung in his face as he silently stared at him, holding in a laugh.  Eric looked down at the boy and scrunched his brow.  The boy still stared at him, well, at his mouth anyway.  Eric was wearing, on his face, a 3M™ #9970 High Efficiency Respirator, an advanced form of an allergy mask, like the kind people wear when mowing the lawn.  He bought it online at allergyclean.com for 9.99 a piece.  In fact, he bought 365, and for every 100 masks bought, there was a 200 dollar discount.  Spending over 3,000 dollars on allergy masks may seem ridiculous, but this was a matter of life or death.  Germs are, or course, all around.  You can never be too careful was Eric’s motto.

Eric turned his attention away from the boy to concentrate on the prayer.  It was hard to do.  He could feel the germs crawling from their hands to his; tiny green and red monsters biting him, burrowing into his hair follicles.  “Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven,” the congregation chanted in a practiced unison.  His arms tingled with the feet of a thousand microscopic bugs infesting every pore.  He sneezed and to his horror was unable to remove his mask.  The microbes exploded, unchecked, into his mask.

“Oh God,” Eric thought.  The prayer was finished, and as the lady in the ugly green blouse and the brat with the red hair released his hands he stumbled past the others in his pew.

“Scuse me.  Sorry.”  Eric made it out of the pew and fled to the bathroom.  This was his favorite part of this church.  Everything in the restroom was automatic; the soap dispensers, the faucets, the toilets, even the paper towel dispenser.  Eric stood for a second in front of the door with the sign that said, “Push.”  He pushed the door open with his foot and stepped into the white-tiled room.  He ripped the wet mask off of his face and tossed it into the trash.

He walked to the sink placing his hands under the sensor, wetting his skin.  He put his hand under the soap machine and began to scrub.  He cleaned his face, in case any sneeze landed on his skin (he was sure some had).  Eric heard a door to one of the stalls swing open and felt eyes glaring at him.  He looked up, hands and face foaming with soap, “Can I help you?” Eric asked the man.  The man stood there with his mouth gaping open revealing his tongue.

“Uh,” the word sputtered out of the man’s mouth, “nothin’” he muttered.  Eric turned back to the sink to rinse the foam off.  Finally confident he had killed all the germs, he went to get some paper towel.  He waved his hands in front of the black paper towel dispenser three times to get enough towel.  He hated how you had to wave at the black eye so many times just to get enough paper to dry yourself.  After he was patted dry, he waved his hand at the black, staring eye one more time.  He looked into the mirror and made sure his brown hair was still gelled into place.  His brown eyes surveyed his reflection and straightened the collar on his white polo.

Walking to the door, whose sign now read “Pull,” he grabbed the handle with a paper towel covered hand and, holding the door open with his foot, he arched a swish into the trash can.  Eric could hear the communion music playing and looked through the glass wall that separated the hallway from the congregation.  He watched the mindless zombies, one by one, going up to communion.  He saw each server grabbing the Eucharistic wafers and placing them in the hands and, worse, on the tongues of the dutiful people.  The wafers glowed a neon green from the millions of germs that jumped gaily from hand to bread.  Then the germs that sat, menacingly on the wafers, landed on the tongues of the unsuspecting crowd and waited to leap to the cool glass that carried the blood red wine.  All the germs leaping and crawling and exchanging from one body to the next, it was a wonder that the whole church didn’t all contract each others’ diseases.

Eric stood behind the glass watching the scene, thankful that he did not partake in the ceremony.  He glanced at his watch, noting the time; 11:45.  He had an appointment with a new psychologist at 1:00.  His old doctor had retired to Florida, but before he left he had recommended one of his colleagues.  He decided he had better start to the doctors; it would take him the better part of an hour to get to the office.  The doctor’s office was in Grand Rapids, about a 30 minute drive from the small town of Belmont, where Eric lived, but with the construction on 131, he would need the extra time.  

Eric walked out of the church and dipped two fingers into a small fountain to make the sign of the cross.  After crossing himself he thought about all the hands that dipped into the fountain everyday and wrinkled his face at the thought.  He figured he’d be all right though, it was holy water after all and something holy couldn’t be evil, right?  He thought of Jesus healing sick people with just a touch of his hand, touching hundreds of sick and dying people and exposing himself to billions of germs, yet remaining safe.  “It was ‘cause he was holy that he was safe.,” Eric figured. “I wonder if Jesus could cure me?”

That’s why Eric went to church every week; he was waiting for a miracle.  He figured, though, that God didn’t perform miracles like the good old days, so it couldn’t hurt to look for other answers too, hence his doctors.  It also couldn’t hurt to sanitize his hands, holy water or not.  Eric reached into the pocket of his khakis and grabbed a small bottle of Purell hand sanitizer and rubbed it into his hands.  He found his car in the lot and unlocked the door with the automatic key.  His car was a white Jetta; white was his favorite color.  He grabbed his handkerchief and opened the door.

***

Eric pulled into the parking lot of the doctor’s office at 12:40 and found an empty spot.  He grabbed a plastic bag from his backseat and started toward the building.  Walking in he was pleased to find that the waiting room sparkled with white walls and a white ceiling.  The receptionist was wearing a white dress and sitting behind a white desk.  Even her computer and keyboard were white.

“Now, this is a place I can like,” Eric said as he neared the receptionist.

“Sir? Did you say something?”  The receptionist gave him a weird look and Eric noticed her eyes dart quickly to his white mask.

“Never mind, I am here to see Dr. Schultz. I have an appointment at one.”

“Mr. Jensen?”

“Yeah, you can call me Eric.”  He smiled at her and then realized that she couldn’t see the smile through his mask and frowned.

“Just one second, I’ll page him.” She picked up the phone, “Dr. Schultz, Mr. Jensen is here to see you.”  Eric could hear some muttering on the other end and the girl hung up the phone. “He’s ready for you.  His office is on the third floor, room 12.”  

“Perfect. Thank you.”  Eric made his way to the elevator and pushed the up button and the door immediately opened.  He grabbed his Purell again and rubbed his hands.  The doors slide open to reveal the third floor, which was also painted white.  Eric located room 12 and was pleased to discover the door propped open.  He pushed it the rest of the way with his foot and stepped into the office.

“Eric?”  A bald man with gray-rimmed glasses stood up to shake hands, “I’m Dr. Schultz.”  The man grabbed Eric’s hand and gave it a hearty shake.  After he released his grip Eric squirted some more sanitizer on his hand and rubbed it in.

“Nice to meet you, Doc.”  Eric’s eyes darted around the room, analyzing his surroundings.

“Why don’t you have a seat there on the couch?” The doctor pointed to a beige couch that was positioned next to a black leather chair.

“Yeah,” Eric stared at the couch and opened the plastic bag he was carrying.  He pulled out a white plastic couch covering and wrapped it around the beige couch.

“You carry that everywhere you go Eric?”  The shrink had already settled himself into his black chair and was writing in his notebook, an amused expression on his face.

“Better safe than sorry.”

“So how are you feeling today?” The balding doctor asked with pen and pad in hand.

“Well, there are a lot of germs in your office.  When was the last time you dusted?”  Eric glanced helplessly around the room.  He could see the little green germs crawling up the lamp pole and the framed diploma hanging in the corner.

“We dust here twice a week, Eric.  In fact, we dusted yesterday.”

“No, no, no good.  You need to dust three to four times a day.  For sure.  I dust four times a day and vacuum four, too.  Three to four, four to three.  Those are good numbers don’t you think?”  Eric stared questionably at the doctor, but received no answer.

“You look nervous Eric, are you okay?”

“I get nervous in small rooms with so much dust.”

“Is that why you are wearing that mask?”

“Huh?  Oh no, I wear this anytime I leave my apartment.  Never can be too careful.”

“So, you don’t wear the mask at home?” he was furiously jotting notes on his pad.

“Did you not read the file that Dr. Brown left?”

“Yes, Eric, I read your file.  Fascinating stuff, but I like to get a feel for my patients in a more personal way than just reading a piece of paper.”  The doctor set the pad on his knee, “So, why don’t you wear it in your house?”  Eric was staring at the coffee table to his right, a thin layer of dust blanketed the brown oak. “Eric, are you listening?”  Eric stared at the table and saw what looked like a circus of germs dancing to and fro.

“Sorry, I was just watching the circus.”

“Excuse me?”

“The germs.  The circus.  The green little bugs were…” Eric let his voice trail off, “Never mind.”

“So, tell me about your apartment.”

“I live in Belmont in one of those new apartment complexes by the highway.  It has a doorman and everything, even a guy to work the elevator.  It’s pretty fancy for being near such a small hick town.  I live on the fourth floor in room 420.  Four is such a good number, don’t you think?”

“Yes, four is a good number, my daughter is four.”

“Really? It’s too bad she can’t stay four forever.”

“Why’s that, Eric?”

“Four is such a nice number; three, too. 12 too.”

“Eric, why don’t you wear your mask in your apartment?”

“It’s clean in my apartment.  I clean it four times a day.  I told you.  I also have an air purifier that gets rid of air pollutants.  My house is very sterile.  Lysol and Windex are great, don’t you agree?”

“Eric, I read in your file that you attend church every week?  Do you still attend?”

“Since I was a kid. Yeah, I still attend every Sunday.  I go to pray.”

“And does praying help?”

“I hope it does one day, but that’s why I’m here too, just in case.”  Eric squeezed some Purell onto his hands and rubbed them together.  He noticed his bottle was getting low and made a mental note to get more on the way home.

“What do you mean, ‘just in case’?”  The pad was back in his hand, pen ready.

“In case miracles are dead.”  Eric looked solemnly at Dr. Schultz, “If miracles are dead, then God is dead and all I have is science.”  Dr. Schultz scribbled away on his pad.

“Do you have faith, Eric?”

“I go to Mass every Sunday.”

“Yes, I know. But having faith is more than just going to church.  Faith is absolute, unwavering belief.  Do you have that?”

“I think my mom did.  She had faith in everything she did.”

“Really?  What was your mom like?”

***

The incessant beeping rang in Eric’s ear and he slapped the clock off his bedside table, killing the noise.  He rolled over and shoved his head under his pillows to block out the morning sun.

“Eric.” His mother yelled from the bottom of the stairs, “Get up, it’s time for school.”  Eric crawled out of bed and, with one eye opened, stumbled to the bathroom to take a shower.  When he was cleaned and dressed he ran downstairs.  His mother had toasted some bread and buttered it for breakfast.  “Eat some toast and then we’ll start our lessons.”  For nine years this had been the routine, Eric would wake up, shower, eat breakfast and then go to school, which was the kitchen table.  The teacher; Abigail Jensen, housewife extraordinaire, aka Mom.  Eric finished his toast and went to wash his hands and face, it was Mom’s rule; wash your hands and face after every meal.  Her other rule was, wash your hands and face after touching anything infected with germs.  For Abigail Jensen, that was anything outside of her home.  This rule was easy to follow since Eric wasn’t allowed outside, save to go with his mom to the store and to attend church.  She cleaned the house and everything in it three or four times a day, so nothing in her house had germs, but God forbid you bring anything contaminated into the home.

Eric had contaminated the house once when he was seven and had since learned his lesson.  He had been sitting in his room reading a book and his mom had been taking a nap in her room.  He heard the kids outside playing football and had gone to the window to see what was going on.  The kids looked so happy that Eric decided to venture outside to watch them play.  He tiptoed down the stairs and quickly unlocked the door.  He sat on his front lawn and watched the boys play ball.

“Hey kid?  You wanna play?”  Someone had yelled and threw the ball at Eric.  Eric stood up and tried to catch the ball, but had missed and the ball struck him right in the chest.  The mud covered ball splashed all over Eric’s shirt and the neighborhood boys laughed.  Eric, forgetting to be quiet, ran inside crying and slammed the door.  This had awoken his mother who came bolting down the stairs.

“What’s wrong are you okay?  What happened?”  The scream that followed could have shattered glass.  Abigail had grabbed Eric with one hand and yanked him up the stairs to the bathroom where she had scrubbed his body down three times.  The clothes she had wrenched from his body she ran through the washing machine four times and the house, which she had already cleaned four times, she cleaned an additional three times.  After Eric was clean and his mother had thoroughly cleaned the house, she grabbed a leather belt and whipped Eric good.  As she whipped him, she cried saying that he was too much like his father and she’d beat that devil out of him.

That was one of the few times that Eric had ever heard his mother speak about his dad.  The little that Eric did know of his dad he had learned from his grandparents (his mother’s parents), whom he only saw once a year on Christmas.  George Jensen was a mechanic and had worked for the same garage since high school.  He had died when Eric was only three.  When Eric asked his mom about his death she said, “Your father didn’t just die, Eric.  He was killed.  He worked in a dirty garage with dirty people and the germs and bacteria of that place killed him.”

***

        “Eric?  Do you really believe working at the garage, exposing himself to germs killed your dad?”  Eric looked up; his eyes were glazed with the flashback from his youth.

        “Of course they did.  I found out later the details of his death and it was definitely the microbes.”

        “Mind telling me what happened?”

        “Dad was working on the underbelly of a car when one of the jacks came loose and the car fell on his leg smashing it.  The dirt, oil, and gas that were on the car infected his leg.  A bacteria known as Clostridium Perfringens contaminated his blood stream and a rapidly spreading form of gangrene set in.  It was only a matter of minutes before toxemia and shock set in; Dad died on the way to the hospital.  Oh, it was definitely the germs, no doubt.”  The doctor sat in his chair copying down what Eric had told him.  Eric looked at his watch, it was 1:45.  He noticed the doctor was checking his watch, too.

        “Eric, do you remember when I asked you if you had faith?”

        “Yeah.”

        “Well, I want you to have a little faith right now.  There is a room down the hall, a clean room with an air purifier.  We have a few minutes left.  I want you to come with me to that room to finish the session.”  Eric’s eyes lit up.

        “That sounds good doc.”  Eric stood up and quickly packed his couch cover and followed the doctor to the door.  The doctor held open the door as Eric slid through.

        “It’s just down the hall here.”  The doctor pointed to a door marked simply with an “X.”   “This is where we keep our medical supplies, and it’s the most sterile room in the building and has its own air purification system.”  The doctor opened the door and let Eric enter first.  Eric walked around the room examining the shelves of supplies and the small table that sat in the corner.

        “They must dust a lot in here.”  Eric was eyeing the seemingly clean white walls and dustless surfaces.

        “Why don’t you take off that mask?  Let me see your face.”  Eric looked at the doctor hesitantly.  “Don’t worry, Eric.  This room is probably cleaner than your apartment.”

        “I highly doubt that.”  Nonetheless, Eric removed his mask slowly.

        “Now, breathe in the fresh air.  Doesn’t it feel good to have that off your face?”  Eric nodded his agreement.  “What if I told you that you would never have to wear that mask ever again?”

        “I’d say, ‘Sign me up doc’.”

        “Good, that’s what I wanted to hear.  Do you remember when you first started wearing the masks?”  Eric nodded, it was when he went to college.  

***

        Eric had been sitting in front of the door for most of the day waiting.  He was expecting two things, his package from allergyclean.com and his acceptance letter from the University of Michigan.  Around 3:30 in the afternoon the mail finally slipped through the slot in the door, this was followed by two quick knocks.  Eric jumped up to open the door and saw the mailman already halfway to his mail truck.  He looked down at the porch.  There were three boxes stacked on top of each other.  He quickly picked them up and brought them inside.  He rummaged through the mail and saw the letter from Michigan.  Taking his mail, he ran upstairs not wanting his mother to see the boxes that would surely contaminate the house.  He went to his room and closed the door.

        The first thing he opened was one of the brown cardboard boxes.  Inside were three dozen white masks.  Eric smiled at his genius.  Next, he opened his letter from the University:

                Dear Mr. Jensen,

We are pleased to accept you into the College of Literature, Science and the Arts here at the University of Michigan.  Enclosed are your information packets containing housing details, your orientation date, and a form for your MCard, your official UofM id card.  Please take the time to read and fill out the necessary paperwork and mail it back by June 20th.  We look forward to hearing from you and seeing you in the fall.

Eric couldn’t believe it, he had been accepted into Michigan.  He ran down the hall to his mom’s room, carrying a mask and his acceptance letter.

        “Mom?”  Eric peeked into her room.  She was lying in bed reading a magazine called Prevention.

        “Yes dear?”

        “I got my letter from Michigan.  I got in.”  Eric stood at the foot of the bed, his mouth wide with pleasure.

        “Congratulations Honey, but you can’t go.”  Eric’s mouth hung in an unbelieving gape.

        “What?”

        “I will teach you.  I’ve done it since you were in kindergarten.”

        “Mom, you can’t teach me everything.”

        “Eric, honey, the world is dangerous.  It is a filthy germ infested, polluted place.  If you go to Michigan, you will have to live in the dirty dorms, catching diseases from your roommates and being exposed to whores.  Do you want to end up like your father? Do you? Do you?”  Eric could see that she was getting upset.

        “Mom, listen, I’ve thought about all that.  I have a plan.  I will live in a single dorm room so I can keep it spotless.  I will cook my own food in my room, sandwiches and stuff. And the best part, I found a way to safely travel around the campus.”  Eric showed her the mask that he held in her hand. “It’s a mask that prevents any pollutants from entering your lungs.”

        “That is nonsense, Eric.  You aren’t going to that school, it’s too dangerous.”

        “No, Mom, it’s not.  This plan will work.”

        “Fine.”  His mother’s voice had risen to a menacing volume. “If you want to end up like your father then go.  Abandon me.  All I’ve ever done is love you and care for you.”  Eric could see the tears building up in his mother’s eyes. “Go then, but I will not contribute to your suicidal actions.  I will not support you.”  Eric stood for a moment longer at the end of the bed before running to his room.  He slammed the door and lying on the bed, cried himself to sleep.

        A week and a half later, another letter came from the University; they were offering him a full tuition scholarship.  Eric’s mother could not stop him from leaving now and at the end of the summer, Eric moved himself into his new dorm and began his new life.  His mom refused to help him move in and didn’t talk to him for nearly three months after school started.

        Eric spent the next four years living alone, studying, and going to class.  He didn’t drink, for fear of the bacteria used to make beer and he didn’t screw around.  Not only was sex a gross exchange of bodily fluids, it was hard to get a date when you are always wearing a mask and never going to any parties.  But, despite his social inabilities, he graduated with a degree in accounting and after college got a job with an accounting firm.  He was one of the best accountants the firm had and they allowed him to work on his cases from his home, which was nice.  

        He barely saw his mother in those four years, except at Christmas time.  Her mental health began to deteriorate, and in his senior year, she was admitted to St. Catherine’s Home, a mental hospital for the elderly.  Eric rarely visited; he couldn’t bring himself to look at his mother in that mental state.

***

“Good, now that was a big step in your life, right?”  Eric nodded again. “Well, it’s time for one more step and all you need is faith.  Not faith in God or science, but faith in yourself to get better.  You do want to get better don’t you?”

“Yeah of course doc, but it’s not that easy.”

“Yes, Eric.  This time it is that easy.  Now listen, you need to believe and you need to have faith.  You can go outside without that mask.”

“No, no, no, I can’t doc.”

“Yes, you can. Listen to me.  The germs are in your head.  If all the world were contaminated with germs how come so many people live healthy lives.  How come, Eric, I am right here living and breathing beside you.  I wear no mask, I…” Eric cut him off.

“You don’t understand,”  Eric yelled at Dr. Schultz.  “If it were that easy I would have done that.  It’s not that easy.”  He was on the brink of exploding.  His face was hot with anger, his fists clenched.

“Yes, Eric, it is that easy.  You are doing it right now.”

“What? What? What?”  Reeling, Eric felt the room spin.  He wanted to hit something.  Actually, he wanted to slug Dr. Schultz.  He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“Eric, listen to me.”  Eric tried to maintain balance and look the doctor in the eyes.  He was beginning to feel light headed and felt himself passing out.  “This room here,” the doctor spread his arms into a “V”, “is not a clean room.  It’s just like every other room here.  You see?  Eric? Eric?”  Eric almost lost his balance, but grabbed a nearby shelf for support. “You okay?”

“No, no, no, I’m going to be sick.”

“You’re going to be okay.  Breathe slowly.”  Eric tried to put his mask back on, but the doctor grabbed his arm. “You don’t need that.  Just a minute ago you were breathing fine.  You believed that this room was air filtered and sterilized and you were fine.  You had faith and you weren’t afraid.  You need to have that same faith now.”  Eric pushed the doctor back and swung his fist hard into the shelf.  The pointed metal edge cut his hand and he stared down at the blood pooling in his palm.

“Fuck you doc.”  Eric knocked the doctor over and ran out the door.  He ran down the corridor, his plastic bag in one hand and his mask in the other.  He got to the elevator and pushed the button.  He could hear footsteps banging loudly down the hall.

“Eric, wait.  Come back.”  Dr. Schultz was yelling at him as he ran down the hall. “Don’t leave, we had a breakthrough.  Can’t you see that?”  Eric slid into the elevator as soon as the door opened and pushed the door close button and floor “G” at the same time.  He set down his bag and slipped his mask back on.  Taking the Purell from his pocket, he squeezed some into his hands.  The sanitizer burned his cut hand.  His pulse was beginning to slow and his breathing was back to normal.  The elevator doors opened revealing the beautiful white waiting room and Eric hurried out.

“Mr. Jensen.  Do you need to schedule…”  The receptionist in white trailed off as Eric sped past her to the automatic doors leading to his car.  He ran to his car, fumbling to get his handkerchief as he went.  He opened the door with the cloth covered hand and started the car.  He threw his handkerchief on the back seat and sped off.  Eric drove toward the highway to head home.

“Damn shrink.  What the hell did he think he was trying to pull?  I damn near had a heart attack back there.”  Eric stared out the window, not really seeing the road.  “I mean, who gave him the right?”  Eric was so lost in thought that he almost missed his exit. “Oh shi-.”  Eric veered quickly to his left, cutting off the car behind him.  The car honked at him and Eric waved an apology.  He drove down Post Drive and could see his apartment building.  He pulled into his spot and got out of the car, beeping the lock and alarm.

He ran to the front of the building holding his hand, which was now bleeding profusely.  A man opened the door.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Jensen. Are you all right?  Your hand. . . ”

“I’m fine Jeffrey; it’s only a flesh wound.”

“Might I suggest you go to the med center?”

“No, really it’s fine.”  Eric hurried into the foyer and ran to the elevator.  The employee manning the elevator didn’t look familiar.

“Where’s Jimmy?”

“He’s out sick, Sir.  What floor?”  Eric saw the man eyeing his hand.

“Fourth.”

“Rough day Sir?”

“You have no idea.”  Eric turned his face away hoping this would end the conversation.

“You may want to go to a med center; you’re bleeding on the floor.”  Eric looked down and by his feet were three droplets of blood.

“I’m fine; my hand is fine, really.”  The elevator stopped at the fourth floor and Eric turned left as he exited.  His apartment was at the end of the hall.  He got there and opened his door.  He felt the cool rush of the purified air hit his face and he took off the mask and breathed a sigh of relief.  He was home, he was safe.  The first thing he did was go to the bathroom to wash and disinfect his wounded hand.  He found some Neosporin and some gauze in the closet and used it to bandage his hand.   The bleeding had slowed a little.  He looked in the mirror, “You’re pathetic.  A 26 year old man who’s afraid of the world.”  Eric shut off the bathroom light and went to the kitchen.  He saw that his answering machine was blinking.  He pressed the play button to listen to the messages.

“First message, sent, 11:55 am.  Mr. Jensen, this is Rosemary from St. Catherine’s Home.  I was just calling to see if you were going to come to visitation soon.  Abigail, I mean your mom, has been asking about you.  She misses you.  Give me a call at 863-9553 and let me know when you can visit.  Thanks.”  Eric pushed a button. “Message deleted.”

“New message, sent 1:15 pm.  Eric, it’s Dr. Schultz.  I want to apologize for today.  I was out of line to push you that far in our first session.  Can you please give me a call at-.”  Eric pressed a button cutting off the message. “Message deleted, you have no more messages.”  He went to the fridge and poured himself some water from his Brita Filter.  He sat on the couch and sipped from his glass.  He thought about his mother sitting in her room at St. Catherine’s Home.  He imagined her tearing out her hair in frustration because she couldn’t clean her room.  He could see her yelling at the nurses, wishing she had a leather belt to beat some obedience into the staff.

“Is that what I will become?” Eric thought out loud.  He took another sip from his glass and then set it on the coffee table.  He stood up and went to the bathroom.  He flipped the light switch and stared into the mirror.  His face looked tired and drained.  He was pale from lack of sunlight.  “You’re useless,” he yelled at the reflection.  “Stop waiting for a miracle, and make one.”  He stared into his own face.  Maybe the doctor was right.  Maybe all he needed was faith.  Not faith in God or science, but faith in Eric Jensen. Faith that he can overcome his anxiety, his disease. “You will not become your mother, Eric,”  he shouted at his double. “The world is not your enemy, it will not kill you.”  He slammed his fist down on the counter and his hand started to bleed again. “Oh shit.”  Eric held his hand in pain. “Idiot.” He turned off the light and headed back into the kitchen.

He grabbed his mask and his keys and headed out his door.  He slid on the mask and walked down the hall, wishing he could rub some Purell on his unbandaged hand, but it was quite impossible. “You don’t need it.  You don’t need it.” He tried to reassure himself, but he could already feel the microbes crawling on his skin. He neared the elevator and pushed the button.  When it came up to his floor it was empty.  The elevator man must be on break, Eric thought.  He stepped in and pressed “G” and the elevator slowly made its descent.  When he got to the ground floor he ran outside.  The sun was shining brightly on his face and he could feel the wind blowing his hair.

Eric walked over to the side of the building near a bench and some trees.  He put his hands to his face and took a deep breath.  “Here we go.”  Eric grabbed the mask and lifted it off of his face.  He held his breath and his first instinct was to put the mask back on.  He resisted the urge and threw the mask on the ground.  His breaths were short and jerky and he felt light headed.  He could feel the bugs, not only crawling on him, but now in him, in his lungs and on his tongue.  The world felt like it was spinning and he steadied himself on the bench.  “It’s just like your apartment; there are no germs, it’s safe, it’s safe.”  Eric tried to reassure himself, but it wasn’t helping.  He reached for the mask and saw that it had landed in dirt.  “No, no, no.”  He was gasping for air now and too afraid to move.  His body felt paralyzed.  He tried to steady his breath, but it was no use.

He fell to his knees and looked toward the heavens.  “Help me.  Please, if you can hear me.  Help me.”  He prayed to the sky and the clouds.  The air began to cool and the sky darkened.  “Is it supposed to rain today?”  Eric couldn’t remember if he had watched the weather or not.  He started to sob, “P-p-please h-help meee.”  He could barely form the words.  His lungs screamed for air and he looked to the sky.  Thunder cracked overhead and the heavens let pour a fury of rain.  Eric spread out his arms as if to hug the air.  The microbes had temporarily captured him and, for a split second, Eric thought he would die.  They were illusions though, all illusions sent by his mind.  He was still alive and thriving.  Everything had turned out how it should.  Thank God.  Thank the heavens.  Thank Dr. Schultz.  Eric let the rain wash him clean and he smiled at the world.

“It is accomplished,” he yelled, his tears mixing with the rain.  “It is done.”