by Cedric McLeod
There was a series of break-ins at my apartment in which several large wasps found their way in. I’d capture them, gently, and release them outside. Ezra’s parents had a party to remember him and several wasps showed up there as well. We avoided them, and they didn’t harm anyone. We went home, and the next day, found another. They stopped soon after my girlfriend washed the clothing Ezra’s mother gave us. I hadn’t wanted her to wash them, as they still smelled of his place, but she did it anyways.
I refused to wear his clothing for a couple weeks. The other day, I caved. I’d drank and choked on some apple cider. I’d had a hard time drinking things since he passed; the lump stuck in my throat had made it hard for other things to enter in. I sputtered on the cider and felt myself accidentally inhale it. The next day, I felt ill.
I woke up that morning, notably sluggish, and jumped in the car to drive to Boston, a good couple hours away. I’d promised to pick up my mother-in-law from the airport a week ago from this day, and I was obligated now. On the way down, I took a detour to Salem. It rained, and I gripped the steering wheel as I drove. An 18-wheeler’s rear tires blew in front of me and the car was pelted in rubber bits. I slammed on the gas pedal and sped by the wavering truck, going well above the posted limit. I felt the fever in my feet, it tore through me as I approached Boston. When I stepped out of the car to greet my mother-in-law, she stepped back before the traditional hug. I was steaming. She bade me to sit in the back while her ex-military boyfriend drove us up. I felt whirl-winded. We made it up in half the time it took me to drive down. They dropped me off at my place, her boyfriend had slammed on the brakes just before my street. The stop sign had jumped out at him just as I went to drink some iced tea and I got covered. The short walk up the stairs felt like climbing a mountain.
I arrived at my door and headed directly to the bedroom. The wet shirt was peeled off and I threw on a dry t-shirt. After dinner and some video games, I went to crawl into bed. It felt cold, even with my girlfriend snoring up a storm next to me. It might have been the fever, but I crawled out of bed, sleepless. In the bathroom, I downed a good dose of medicine. On my way back in the dark, I grabbed a hoodie out of the closet and put it on. I crawled back in bed and was out like a light.
When I woke up, I had a small rash on my back. The zipper was metal, and my skin reacted negatively to it. I hadn’t slept long, but felt better rested. Normally, I slept in just my boxers. My teenage cat pounced on me to ensure I’d feed him. I got up and the hoodie accompanied me to school, even though my outfit had changed. A couple girls said it looked good on me.
And now, heading to a meeting, I wore it with all the other clothes that seemed too big for my body. Dad clothes I called them, as I still was feverish and felt the need to let my skin breathe. I was the only kid in my family to head to college right out of high school, so I still had that pressure to perform. No sick days for just an infection. My older sister had earned a degree after she was inspired by me. We were a new type of warrior. There was more to our lives than just the physical fighting we’d learned and practiced as kids. We had fought off kids who thought we didn’t belong in their neighborhood, we fought off kids who hated us for being different, we fought for our very lives. Even so, I couldn’t fight this lump.
I got to the meeting and sat through it, the lump growing as if to form a cough that would never be born. Everything was cold to the touch now, I had one class after this and then I could go home. Home was a driving thought, for sure. The shower was at home. I could be warm there, if the water heater decided to work. If not, there were blankets to heap onto the bed and crawl under.
These feelings would be temporary, I reminded myself. They say he passed in his sleep. He was young, my age, just a twenty-something. We were supposed to die violent deaths this young, or have illnesses that we got set free from. I needed to process the feelings, the lump that threatened to swallow me up. I knew he wasn’t coming back. I wasn’t going to find out what his next costume was going to be, I wasn’t even sure if I’d dress up this Halloween.
What I did feel now with a deathly sort of assurance was that we weren’t supposed to pass like ships in the night.
I stepped outside into the freezing cold, bones creaking as the fever seemed to melt away my flesh. The only thing still on my body for sure was his sweater.
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