The First Day
By Tom E. Chase
Bright shards from the morning sun intruded through Chip’s bedroom window and he rolled over and covered his head with a pillow, a long, muffled groan issuing from underneath. After a few minutes, he threw the pillow to the floor and sat up, feeling as if he hadn’t slept in a week. There was an annoying itch growing in his mind like burning thistles with what the day signified. It wasn’t so much that he needed to take her in, but the terrible possibility that he would have to leave her. He grunted audibly and slowly forced his weary body out of bed and trudged to the kitchen. As he kept busy with breakfast, he tried not to dwell on the next few hours—to no avail.
It started last week when he realized she wasn’t doing well and reluctantly made the phone call. With a shaky voice he described her symptoms and was told to his dismay that he should bring her in immediately.
The chance that such a thing could happen to her was always in the back of his mind—like manifest destiny. The only way to avoid it would be to never allow her to venture away from the confines of the house, which was more absurd than refusing to take her in now that she was infected. They all at some time or another caught it, he told himself; a ghastly truism of manifest destiny.
“Rotten virus,” he croaked and rubbed his clammy hands together. As he stood at the kitchen sink, he kept telling himself that it could always be worse. But for the life of him, he didn’t see how. His stomach protested with a loud grumble, apparently not believing this conviction either. “Enough stalling,” he said with a quaking voice.
He put the few breakfast dishes away and went to the bathroom and wet a washcloth. He entered her room with his head hanging down and just stood for long minutes staring wordlessly at her blank face. He eventually came out of his trance and shuffled over and wiped her face with the warm washcloth.
“This won’t be that bad,” he whispered, the washcloth becoming a knot in his nervous hands. “A lot go through this. It’s natural. You’ll be home in no time,” he choked out, his eyes unable to look at her blank face.
He tossed the washcloth on the desk and grabbed the tattered blanket that he used every night to cover her, which he thought appropriate for the trip. He experienced a momentary pang of guilt wondering if he employed the blanket to make the trip safer for her, or to ease his own pain. It didn’t matter, as the results were the same and she would travel safer.
His eyes darted around the room, knowing what an arduous task it would be to enter her space again if there were complications and she couldn’t return home anytime soon—or at all. The notion didn’t compute in his muddled mind, and he reasoned with diluted denial that such a travesty would never befall her. He held the blanket in his hands and admired her smooth face as the dreadful silence speared his heart.
“Okay baby, this is it,” he whispered and took a ragged breath, his lungs wheezing like a high-pitched wind. “It’s time.
While gently whispering to her that it would be fine, he carefully and meticulously wrapped her in the blanket. After checking twice that all the corners were tucked in, he picked her up and cradled her in his protective arms and exited her room.
The walk through the living room transformed into a foggy ordeal as his eyes watered with the realization that he was really going to follow through with his intentions of taking her in. Suddenly, his legs felt like rubber and his hands turned clammy and he concentrated not to drop her—as if such a thing were possible.
“I can do it. I can do it.” Chip repeated the litany until he was across the wide expanse of the kitchen. He held her on a weak knee and grudgingly opened the door to the outside world. “Well,” he wheezed, “I have to do this now, my precious. I can’t go through all this again and stay sane.”
He held her tightly and ever so gently as he trudged to his car, knowing there was no turning back now; he had crossed the point of no return. The wind whispered harshly as it rustled through the branches of the trees looming over him, as if warning him that this was a day of foreboding. The early morning bird songs high in the sky sounded surreal with their high-pitched squawks that he dare remove her from the protection of her home.
He hunched his shoulders and hugged her to his chest and carefully opened the passenger door, ignoring nature’s outbursts. He placed her on the seat, but couldn’t go around to the driver’s side until he checked three times to ensure the seat belt was securely fastened. He got behind the wheel and carefully put the car in reverse. Before he moved, however, he reached out a shaking hand and yanked on the belt to insure it was secure. Whenever he encountered a bump, pothole, railroad crossing, or sharp corner, he reached over and patted her reassuringly.
Each time Chip thought about the possibility of leaving her, the more his nerves frayed. So it wasn’t a surprise that he cracked when a couple of inconsiderate, low-life, drivers from the deepest realm of Hades pulled out in front of him. He stomped on his brakes, and the driver’s of the heinous infractions were punished with vocal reprimands and sign language. Afterwards, he shook his head in surprise that such phrases and gestures came so quickly—and easily. It was just how dare them endanger her!
By the time Chip reached his destination, he felt as if eons had passed and he had aged considerably. He pulled into the parking lot and his heart pounded and vibrated off the windows and his head felt on the verge of exploding. It took two attempts to turn off the ignition, as each time he turned it off he panicked and turned it back on.
After he won the battle with the ignition, he made his way around to the passenger door and placed his hands on the roof and concentrated to capture a decent breath. The trip had completely exhausted him. No, it was more than that. It bordered on total weariness of the soul. His energy—his life force—had leaked out somewhere along the trip.
He took two more deep breaths to reclaim his courage and opened the door and carefully unhooked the seat belt and cradled her in his arms. Anger and fear shot up his spine, and he kicked the car door shut. As he walked heavy-footed into the building that in the past had held such awe, now held his and her fate.
He placed her carefully on the counter and patted her face and muttered, “Be gentle with her, Richard. She holds in her memory the last five years of my life.”
“Like she was my own,” Richard said reverently and laid a hand on the monitor.
Chip walked out of Computer Rescue World with his head hanging down and his lungs wheezing in protest. She was now in the best care possible and rescue was the operative word. And yet, the day would be tedious—full of imaginings of the worse kind.