‘Drop a dime and call the undertaker,” I told her, “this cold is slapping me down. My number’s up, sister.” The dame was having none of my sob story.
“I got work to do, mac. Blow your own nose.”
She left me there in the lawn chair where I was toasting the tenacious sniffles out of my thick-as-an-adobe-brick head.
“You’re a happy Thanksgiving ham with a DayQuil glaze. You’ll live.”
According to my Facebook feed, every Jill, Joe and José in this town has had this Andromeda strain, a plague that’s been passed around more than Kim Kardashian’s phone number.
“Quit your yapping and drink your fluids. Look on the sunny side of sick street, you dope. Live in the drowsy formula Comtrex moment. Chill. Let the sun knock the cold out of your kisser.”
She was right. I sank back into my jingle-brained Sudafed-Benadryl-Multi-Trex stupor. “And don’t operate any heavy machinery.”
“Thanks for tip, doll. I was going to toy with my chainsaw, but I got a mystery to solve first. Where’s my bell?”
I narrowed my red peepers, my chest more congested than Interstate 10 at rush hour and my nose running like the Rillito in August.
Nurse Ratched said, “You been swinging that thing like a Salvation Army ringer with the shakes. It sleeps with the fishes.”
“The bellhops at this hospital are lousy.”
“Go for a walk, get some fresh air. Scram.”
The dame was right as Robitussin. Patch Adams with gams had me. I doffed the blues and headed for the door.
“You look homeless.”
I looked in the mirror and saw a down-on-is-luck mug with Barney Rubble stubble.
“Nice bed hair, Fabio. You got movie star looks.”
“Kramer from ‘Seinfeld.’ What’s that?”
The skirt plucked a half-dissolved throat lozenge from my hair, laughed and drew me towards her.
“What’s that fabulous cologne? You smell like a eucalyptus tree.”
“You know what that does to me. What’s that on your T-shirt?”
“Chicken soup, cough medicine ... topical ointments. Sister, I’m wearing our medicine cabinet.”
She purred, “And those sweatpants.”
“I got a two-bit slant on sweatpants for you, sweet cheeks. The kahuna upstairs gave us sweatpants to wear only under two conditions: when you’re sweating bullets at the gym or when you’re sick. Not to shop at Walmart. If you can push a cart, zipping up a zipper is not too much for your mitts to handle.”
My smarts made her swoon. “With those sweatpants on, it’s hard to say goodbye.”
I arched my eyebrow, winked and took her in my arms. And then I sneezed and blew one of her earrings down the hall.
I walked around the neighborhood, the grim reaper on my tail. By the time I turned back, vultures were circling overhead, licking their beaks. I was coughing up biscuits. Back at my hacienda, the skirt told me a neighbor called the Sheriff’s Department to report a white zombie shuffling past his dump.
I laughed, triggering an expectoration festival. I coughed so hard I expelled my toenails through my nose. I sneezed so hard Kitt Peak observers reported a meteor shower over Oro Valley. Windshields were cracked. AFLAC asked me to be their honking spokesman. I whimpered like a prison snitch.
Mrs. Sunshine said, “At least you’re an adult.”
Where’s this heading?
“You don’t have to convince mommy you’re too sick to make it to school today with an Oscar-winning performance.”
The witch doctor was right.
As soon as mom left the room I’d yank the thermometer out of my mouth, press it against the nearest light bulb and watch it to be sure hot mercury wouldn’t blow out the north end. Too hot and it’s a trip up the river to the ER.
“No TV. Stay in bed. You have a 100-watt fever. Pine box?”
She had me like a rat cornered in an alley by a tough gumshoe. The following words still give me the shivers to this very day:
“If you’re well enough to watch cartoons, you’re well enough to go to school.”
The old lady wouldn’t approve of me sitting in an Adirondack under the Tucson sun like a cold-blooded lizard getting a solar massage. But there I was in my backyard heading for Rip Van Winkle land, watching tiny microbes swim around on the inside of my lids.
Maybe it was the Tylenol talking. If you squint and let a little bit of light in through your eyelashes, you’ll see awesome blurry spots.
A cactus wren chirped.
“Hey, pal, rub your eyes. You’ll see pretty geometric patterns. If you squint real hard you’ll see weird sparkly spots.”
Maybe I should pull back on the NyQuil.
Where’s that bell?