In the last waning cold days of February influenza fell over the entire city like snow, drifting in under a heavy sky, and settling in the chests of those who hadn't heeded the 6 o'clock news' warning of a bad season. It was almost like a bad joke, escaping the winter season and in the last dregs a particularly bad strain of bug infecting everyone.
Faye, who at the time was a child and had been vaccinated, could remember her mother falling ill. "Falling" was such an appropriate term for it, as first it started in a cough, then by the next day her mother was bedridden. It took almost three weeks before her mother was well again and it had been terrifying.
Her mother was not remotely close to death, but for a girl of five, the strangeness of the situation had thrust mortality and her understanding of in Faye's face. What would she do without her mother? What if she awoke one day and her parents were gone?
Faye didn't remember this now, but she had an aversion to sickness for a few years after that, a penchant for cleanliness that lasted until high school and even now, sitting across from Spike, her distaste for the ill was almost like cellular memory.
She found it more disgusting than anything to do with a fear of germs. There was a pile of tissues next to Spike he hadn't moved, hardened from snot and Faye's nose wrinkling in disgust as her eyes swept the scene didn't escape Spike.
"You can leave if you want," he muttered, the vaguely mismatched irises rolling to the corner of his eyes to watch her. "I don't need a nurse." The usual sarcasm and lilt of barely contained exasperation when he talked to Faye was only in trace amounts in his voice; it was hoarse and sounded as raw as his throat probably felt.
"Jet told me to watch you," she replied, the suggestion of babysitting him intended to needle.
It had the desired effect. "No," said Spike, "Jet told you to make sure I didn't puke on the floor again before he could get a bucket."
"Yeah, that's why I'm watching you," said Faye. "Y'know, I might end up being the one throwing up if you don't do something about your snotty tissues."
"Damn, you are so cold. Here I am, and I'm probably dying and you're thinking it's funny. Did you ever have a heart, Faye?"
"I can't remember," Faye replied, smiling, having done what she intended to do, and that was annoy the piss out of a needy Spike. Boy, was the guy needy when he was sick and he'd never admit that. He would act tough, like he didn't want mothering but his voice betrayed him. Not kicking him while was down was almost an act of mercy, but Faye wasn't into that.
An act of equal mercy was gifted to the both of them, however, by the arrival of Jet, who looked every bit the ship's unofficial harried dad. He held up the retrieved bucket, which was so dirty that a little vomit wouldn't be out of place in it and set it down next to Spike.
"It feels the least I could do," Jet muttered. He bristled, guiltily. He really didn't need to feel bad, Faye figured, because if she had been the one to contract a 24-hour sickness and then pass it on to one of them, the infected party staying sick for days after she'd gotten well, she'd feel she dodged the bullet, sorry fella.
"Yeah, feel bad," said Spike, sarcastically. He coughed, a fitting prelude to his next point. "I mean, we eat the same shit, you probably smoke more than I do. I end up being the one out of commission."
"You're such a kind guy, Spike." Jet waved his hand and grunted. "If I was the one who got sick, who'd cook? You'd all starve to death. I don't even think any of you knows how to cook."
"I can open a can." Faye smiled and batted her eyelashes, an insult said with a purr. "I mean, that's basically what you do, right, Jet?"
"I'm pretending I don't hear an ungrateful opinion like that." Jet raised his eyebrow on the scarred side, looking sidelong at Faye and Faye knew he'd long since deflected any of her barbs, if they ever stuck to him to begin with.
"We don't have anything that'd be good for a cold," Jet sighed, sitting down next to Faye, obviously ignoring her frown, forcing her to move her legs. "Not like broth or anything."
"I'd eat a big steak," Spike replied. "With mashed potatoes."
"Buttery brioche," Faye continued. "And chocolate cheesecake for dessert." She looked at Spike and almost expected to hear his stomach growl.
Spike moaned. "I would eat anything right now that'd get my ass fat."
"The two of you are pathetic," Jet said, "Spike, you're throwing up more than you're putting in. You'd waste anything you eat right now."
Spike closed his eyes, put a hand on his chest, a moment of silence for his hungry stomach. He pointed a finger at Jet. "And who's fault is that?"
Jet slapped his hand on his thigh and looked sharply at Spike. "No one's. I'm not gonna let you guilt trip me into playing nurse for you."
Spike opened one eye. "Who said that was what I wanted?"
"If I wasn't so sure she'd get sick, I think Ed would play nurse for you. She needs to stay away, though, because the last thing we need is a sick kid." Jet blinked. "Where the hell is Ed anyway? I haven't--"
As if their life wasn't already a sitcom of lesser quality, Ed bounced in right on cue, Ein in her wake. Start the laugh track, thought Faye.
"Doctor Ed!" Ed shouted, giving a small salute.
"Aren't you too old to be playing doctor?" Faye frowned at the girl. She didn't really know how old Ed was, but discouraging her from going near Spike was good. Jet was right; they didn't need a sick kid. She couldn't even imagine what that would be like. Or if all of them got sick. What a nightmare.
Ed looked at Faye and giggled. "I'm a computer doctor."
Ein had crawled on top of Spike and was using his helpless position to lick his face, ignoring his feeble protests. No one made moves to help him.
"I'm a doctor who uses a computer!" she said, grinning. "I looked it up on the internet and the news and people are getting sick everywhere! It's a bug!"
"See?" Jet whooped, looking relieved. "You could've gotten it from anywhere. Hell, we may have both gotten sick at the same time. So stop blaming me."
"Is someone gonna do something about this damn dog?" Spike leaned his head against the arm of the sofa and Ein sensed defeat and settled in on his chest. The movement and pressure caused Spike to begin coughing and Ed swooped down and grabbed Ein.
"Don't get near him," she said in the dog's face, "he's got germs. You'll get the doggy flu." Ein tried to wiggle out of her arms but she kept a death grip.
"Wait," Faye said, sitting up. "Spike has the flu?" Great, she thought, I hope I don't get sick.
"Everyone's getting sick with the flu!"
"Then I guess we have to quarantine Spike." Jet stood up, reaching a hand out to Spike. "Do you need to help getting to your room?"
"Treat me like a leper, okay. And no, I don't," Spike replied, promptly standing up and falling over onto Ed, who dropped Ein and held Spike up.
"Looks like he needs help!" said Ed, brightly.
"Goddammit," Spike coughed. "I guess I'm weaker than I thought ..."
"Here, Ed, give him to me," said Jet, reaching out and allowing Spike to throw his arm around his shoulders, Spike feebly walking along to his room.
Faye wasn't sure why, but she felt an unwelcome cold feeling in her chest. It wasn't there before, but was there now. She wasn't exactly worried for him -- he was a hearty guy -- but there was this odd, clenching feeling. It was like a dream she didn't remember but only felt lingering parts of.
The only sound in the room for a moment was the fan turning overhead and Ein's panting. Ed was watching Jet half-carry Spike away.
She broke the silence first, turning to Faye and announcing cheerfully, fists in the air, "Don't be sad, Faye-Faye! He's not gonna die!"
"Who said I was sad?"
Ed cocked her head to one side, her red hair flopping over one eye, like a puppy herself. "Your face says you're sad." She left it at that, grabbed Ein and walked off in the opposite direction, humming, oblivious to the world again.
Faye wondered if she was right.
It was nearly night, the sun setting below dark clouds, a bubble of red in the sky. Faye stood on the deck shivering slightly, her hair catching in her mouth from the wind as she moved to take a drag of her cigarette. Jet had requested they smoke outside, in case it bothered Spike's chest. How nice of him. Faye needed to clear her head anyway, and leaned against the cold rails, watching the clouds moving faster in the sky, obscuring the last vestiges of day.
She took another drag and exhaled slowly, the white smoke dissipating into the blowing wind.
She felt ill; maybe a smoke wasn't what she needed.
Putting out her cigarette, she decided on heading back inside. It wasn't even the weather or the colder days from impending autumn that made her feel gloomy. She wasn't sure what it was herself.
It was dark inside as well, and quiet. She could hear Spike coughing from his room, and against her best judgment (she didn't need to get sick either) she followed the sound to stand in the doorway of his open room, her body making a long shadow from the hallway light across the floor. Inside the room a digital clock by his bed blinked 6:00. Spike stirred and sensed someone was there, or maybe saw her and croaked, "Is that you, Jet?"
She said nothing.
Spike laughed, almost humorlessly, that sort of laugh of a man who's thinking, a sort of far away quality to the words.
"You're a good friend, Jet."
"Friend. Do you remember when we met ... y'know? That was crazy."
A second passed. "I don't know why I'm thinking of it ..."
Spike was obviously delirious and any other time Faye might've found this amusing and broke out a pen and paper, ready for blackmail material to slip from his feverish lips. She simply stood and listened.
"God," he continued, "I sound like your wife, but there's nothing romantic about it, is there? It's almost like you saved me."
"I think sometimes it's like ..." Spike coughed. "There's a part of my life before, and then when I met you it was the after. There's two parts." He sighed. "I don't know what I'm saying. Sometimes I lie here thinking... I mean, I just wanted to say thanks for taking care of me."
He sighed. "I guess I'm going back to sleep. Don't worry, I'll be up tomorrow..."
It was so out of character and said so sweetly. He might've even been dreaming.
The room was quiet again.
It's me, Faye, she mouthed.
Two parts, the before and the after.
Faye curled her fingers on the door frame, wanting to say something but instead kept silent. Her hand balled into a fist, long fingernails leaving half-moon impressions in her palm.
It felt so real, that dream-gloom feeling. It was the same feeling she felt in the pit of her stomach when she thought of her memories or lack of. She felt it when she thought of her life she could not remember (the before) and her life now (the after.)
The words of the sick being strangely and topically poignant.
Faye wandered away and sat by herself on the couch, curling her legs up, the entire room black now that night had fully set. The only light was from hall, weak and fading into the darkness around her. She considered turning on the television, but the dark and quiet settled around her felt welcoming.
Who said I was sad?
Sometimes her emotions betrayed her; a feeling of melancholy out of nowhere, a feeling of happiness when looking at a photo in a magazine and she wasn't sure why. It was this painful, bittersweet sensation because she knew there was a reason she was having a certain emotion but the reason she was never revealed itself to her. There was something there, out of her reach, despite her desperate grasping. It was these out-of-place bursts that she attributed to her former self, some bits of it seeping in like water through a sieve, anything substantial filtered out.
She supposed earlier, if she were being honest, she was sad.
And she wished, more than anything, she knew why.