Chapter 25—Dan: What the doctor ordered

May 18, 2020

5 p.m.

Rex hasn’t moved all day. Neither has the Monster. 

My dog has lain on the floor beside my bed, his big head resting on his crossed paws. If I shift, he looks up. If I turn over, he looks up. If I talk to him, he looks at me. Those big brown eyes are pinned on me the way a retriever keeps his eye on the prey he’s running to, well, retrieve.

As for the cat, he prefers my pillow. He’s planted his skinny little body right above my head, moving only when I bump him. Which I don’t do too much.

I feel like crap. At this point, I haven’t gotten out of bed since it was dark, I guess, early this morning. That’s when I remembered Rex might be hungry because I know I never fed him last night. 

I trudged downstairs, stubbing my toe on the coffee table in the growing dark. When I got to the kitchen, I realized I needn’t have worried about the animals. From the looks of things, they’ve made themselves right at home. The trash, again, is everywhere. The dog food container, a big dog-proof plastic thing has been shoved around but not opened, thank goodness. A bag of Oreos, however, has been torn open. They didn’t leave even one cookie for me, the brats. 

Not that I could eat anything.

I’d worry if there was real chocolate in those things. Chocolate once made Rex really sick, and the vet chided me for having it where he could get at it. 

I shove what I can pick up into the trash can, stick it on the cellar steps, and lock the door. I really have to find a convenient place to keep the trash but for now I’ll have to live with coffee grounds, slimy lettuce leaves and hardened bread crusts on the floor.  I don’t have the energy to find the broom. I know I have one somewhere around here.

Instead, I fill the dog’s food dish and the cat’s saucer. He’s happy with dog food for now, which is a good thing since I’m in no condition to go to the store. Besides, I’m in quarantine for another week.

I haven’t even taken the lid off the container before Rex noses his way into the kitchen, followed by Monster. They sit quietly until the dishes land on the floor. So much for their concern for me. I leave them to their evening repast and trudge toward the stairs. First, I turn on the light and still I stub my toe on the coffee table. Damn, that hurts.

I pick up my phone which I find under the offending table. It’s dead so that means I have to find the charger cord. It’s where I vaguely remember leaving it, on the top of the recliner by the front door, with my car keys. 

I grab it and lock the door. Of course, it’s been open since…I guess, since I came home from the doctor’s office. That means three days. The phone’s been dead just as long. I got a call into Claire telling her about my situation just before it died and I went to bed.

What an awful state to be in. No phone. No computer. Nobody around. 

I don’t know for sure if I’ve got the virus but I have to behave as if I do. Stay in bed. Take my pain reliever and my cold medicine. Stay away from people. Fourteen days of this. 

And I don’t care one bit. I’m tired, achy and my throat is too scratchy to hold a conversation anyway. 

All I want is my bed. 

I head into the bathroom for a couple of Tylenol as a pair of big feet race up the stairs. I won’t sleep alone anyway. My guard dog is on duty.

Good dog, Rex, sitting erectly, waiting for my return. And Monster, who’s back on my pillow. Only now, he’s busy with a bath. I swipe at him to move. I want the pillow. After I plug in my phone. I’m hoping it will ring later on. I’m hoping someone will miss me, worry about me, think of me. I’m hoping it’s Jessica. Even though I know better.

The last of the day’s sunlight is filtering through the maple tree growing outside my house.  Usually a signal that it’s time to close my computer and call it quits for the day. 

In pre-pandemic days, it was happy hour. I hardly remember what that was like. A group from the newsroom would meet at the dive next door to our building for a Natty Boh or a glass of wine and we’d bitch about our day.

That would be so nice to do again. 

In my sports days, it often meant I was at the stadium, wrapping up pre-game interviews and getting to my seat in the press box to watch the game. I do miss baseball.

I hear they’re talking about a late opening day. I hope that happens—but I have to wonder if we’ll actually get to see a game in person this season. I kind of doubt it.

For now though, I’m happy to climb under my covers, close my eyes and hope I feel better tomorrow.

+++

May 19, 2020

7:30 a.m.

I dreamt about Jessica. I’m not sure what happened in the dream except for her standing in the park with little Lori. The child was crying. I don’t know why but I was bringing Rex over to see if he could make her feel better. 

Jessica seemed angry. I guess, at me. 

My eyes aren’t even open and she is already filling my thoughts. I don’t really want to open my eyes. My pulse beats in my aching head so that I think I can hear my heart thudding against my skull. Swallowing hurts. Oh, hell, everything hurts. I struggle to take a deep breath, something I always do as I open my eyes every morning. 

It’s so difficult I decide against opening them. Instead I lay there, my head snuggled against my overstuffed pillow, my body overheated under the sheet, blanket and comforter. And the warm body of my dog. 

The way my conscience stabs at me, I don’t think I’ll be able to go back to sleep but eventually images of an angry Jessica dissipate and the next thing I know bright sunshine is streaming in the bedroom window.

I roll onto my back, alone this time without an animal in sight, and stared at the ceiling. There’s a little water spot there I never noticed before. I guess when things open up I’ll have to call a roofing guy in to see if I have a leak somewhere. Or maybe it’s a pipe in the attic. I guess I could check that out myself. 

The spot, just a ragged little sort of a circle, seems to dance on the ceiling. I close my eyes and see its negative version behind my eyelids. And the ache in my temples throbs a little more. 

Time for more pain reliever I suppose.

Just as I pour myself a glass of water, my phone rings. I race for the phone still hooked to the charger. It’s Frank.

Somebody does care about me, after all.

“Hi-ya, Frank.”

“You’re alive. I’ve been worried about you, bud.” 

“Yeah, I guess you could say that.” I tell him about the last few days, including the animals’ antics. “I figure I’ve got ten more days of this.”

“You don’t sound too bad. I’m glad about that.” Frank’s the best fraternity brother. Loyal, you know?

“Thanks. I’m worried about Rex, though. He’s not getting his daily walks. I’m just throwing him out in the backyard a couple of times a day.”

“He’ll be fine. Dogs can handle whatever you can do. What would he do if you were at the office and had a late night meeting?”

“Poop on the carpet and eat a sofa cushion.”

“Did he do that?”

“Yeah, when he was a puppy. I don’t think he’d do that now.”

“I didn’t think so.”

“That cat, though. I don’t know about him yet.”

“Cat? When did you acquire a cat?” Frank hates cats, thinks they are only good in barns full of mice, not fit for civilized living.

“It adopted me. I found it starving and filthy on the next street over a couple of weeks ago.”

“What? It followed you home?”

I have to chuckle. “Not exactly. I felt sorry for it and carried it home for a bath and some food.”

“How’d that go?” 

“Well, the scratches are pretty much healed and he’s emptying my garbage can on a regular basis. So, good, I guess.”

Now Frank laughs, loud and hearty. That makes me feel better.

“I assume your girl’s been over taking care of you?”

“What girl?” I know he means Jessica but I never called her “my girl.”

“C’mon, man.”

“If you mean Jessica, well, I’m afraid she’s not my girl. I don’t think she’d appreciate you calling her that, that’s for sure.”

“You two have a falling out?”

“Sort of. I let slip an item mentioned in confidence—”

“Oh so it was Jessica.”

“Jessica? What do you mean?”

“You told me you opened your big mouth but didn’t say what happened. I thought it might be Jessica. I bet she is pissed as Bella predicted.”

“I’d like to see her, Frank. Ask for forgiveness. Promise never to do it again.”

“In your current condition?” 

“A bad idea? I can hardly sleep sometimes thinking about her.”

“You think she’s mad now. Imagine if you exposed her to a deadly virus—not that it’s going to kill you, man.”

“Could I call her and ask her to take Rex for a walk?”

“Hmmm. Let me think…’Hi Jessica…I’ve got the plague and my dog is sitting here filling my yard with poop. Would you take him for a walk even though you’re furious with me?’ ‘Oh sure, Danny boy. I’m so mad at you I could spit but I’d be happy to come down and pick your big old smelly dog so I could do a huge favor for you. It would be my pleasure.’”

I can tell not only by the words but from the exaggerated tone of my friend’s voice he doesn’t think it’s a good idea.

He’s right. I know he’s right. If I was feeling well, I wouldn’t even be thinking something so insensitive. I am worried about Rex, though. He needs to have a walk.

“Look, Dan. Apologize to her.”

“She’s not answering my phone calls. I tried an email and a text and she hasn’t responded to anything at all.”

“Try again. She’s got to know you’re sick. The newsroom knows everything, because they all have big mouths like you.”

I had to interrupt. “Rashima hasn’t told another living soul.”

“Well, Jessica knows you told, right? So others may know, too. That’s not my point. I mean she knows you’re sick and she’ll be feeling sorry for you. And maybe she’ll be willing to let bygones be bygones.”

“You think?”

“Who knows, man? I’ve been married to Bella for six long years and I still haven’t figured her out. It can’t hurt to try. And get better. Hear me?”

Frank clicks off and I collapse back in my bed. That water spot’s looking larger than it did. I glance at the window. Nope, no rain today. It looks like a beautiful spring day. 

I haven’t put my phone down. I hold it up and punch in my contact list. Jessica is listed in my contacts as “A Jessica” so it appears on the top of the list. It would be so easy to punch the number.

But I can’t. I’ve been stupid. Insensitive. And downright wrong. 

My head pounds so bad I’m forced to drop the phone and close my eyes. I can’t call. I’d only say all the wrong things. And make her even more angry. I can’t do that. 

Maybe when I wake up, I’ll feel better and then I can call. 

No, that’s when I will call. I miss her. I can’t deny that. I need her. I’d like her to walk the dog but really, I do miss her voice and her pretty face. 

Yeah, when I wake up, I’ll…

Next Monday Chapter 26—Jessica: Hanna to the rescue

Coming on Wednesday, the next audio chapter, Chapter 24—Jessica: Corona effect

Dan and Jessica’s story needs your ideas.

Every Monday I’ll post a new chapter until Dan and Jessica find love, lose it and, we hope, find their happily-ever-after. Do you have an idea, torn from your own pandemic stay-at-home saga, that might help them? The final chapter is due to be posted Nov. 30.

If you have a suggestion for #what happens next, send it along with your name and hometown to whathappensnext.19@gmail.com. (Copy and paste the address, please.) Or comment below.

Together we can write a great story to remember the lockdown of 2020.

Ⓒ2020 MARY K. TILGHMAN

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