Plague Daddy

I wish I didn’t see the fever cloud mounting his eyes.

But he hits the 100s F by noon. Coughing.

My wife and I trade heavy words about the risks of waiting rooms.

He thrashes and screams at bath time. Soaks my jeans.

I try to coax him into Cookie Monster PJs. In his frenzied resistance, his own fingernail summons blood to his cheek. He clips his head on the dresser leg.

I spank him. Our fevered two-year-old. Because I don’t know how else to protect him.

Another reason to loathe myself this week: I say the words “Shut up, baby.”

I say it because touching our sick son and our newborn daughter in succession could put the baby in the ER and we just got out of the NICU.

We’ve set up quarantine inside quarantine. We’re mortgaging a Russian doll.

In an alternative universe, I pause Netflix to pet the labrador. Maybe take up sewing.

But in this universe, my mirrors will soon be Civil War portraits.

My wife sequesters upstairs, turning stress into breast milk. Wincing to protect her C-section from sneezes.

The doctor’s office has not called back.

I take our sick boy for a drive so my wife can hold the baby and watch Gilmore Girls or something.

My son sits listless in his car seat. Then perks up to point at a flag rippling above a McDonald’s.

I let his interest lead us and we end up in a cemetery. A flag-enthusiast’s jackpot.

We loop the grounds twice because my boy also likes flowers. Thlaüws was one of his first words, in fact.

Visitors are standing at graves.

“The flowers help people remember their mommies and daddies,” I tell my son.

I don’t try to explain flags because I’m not sure what flags mean anymore.

The doctor’s office finally calls. They have an open slot.

The nurses’ eyes are wide and shining when we arrive. But their masks are off and they are smiling when we leave.

When we get home the baby is asleep upstairs.

I need a minute. My wife needs our boy. I go out to get the mail.

A wail arrests me on the porch.

The timbre is different than my daughter’s, though.

I drift out to the lawn. The cries are coming from a house across the street. I didn’t know they had a baby.

A week ago its crying would have unnerved me.

Now it makes me feel a strange kind of better I’ve never felt before.