This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or events, is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
Everything around me was quiet and still, which is just how it should have been at four o’clock in the morning. The neighbor upstairs was not due to start clomping around on the bare wooden floor until another hour or so. Meanwhile, our two black rescue cats were still asleep on the beige blankie in the livingroom. All critters in the vicinity, great and small, were laying cool, calm and collected among the shadows of the night. But those were the conditions in the surroundings outside of the bedroom. Within the safety of my own blanket and pillow, things had not been going as well. In fact, the cold dampness of the sticky, wet T-shirt against my back woke me up. It turned out I was drenched in sweat. The armpits of the shirt smelled like warm chicken soup. My hair was completely soaked, as if I just stepped out of the shower. Though I usually ran hot, none of that was normal, not even for me.
Having left the window open precisely one inch overnight, the air in the room was noticeably colder. Yet, the chilly draft was not as sobering as one might have thought, no matter what time of the year. Realizing all of that, I looked around in a glassy-eyed stupor. Next to me, Melinda, my wife, or Mel, as I called her, was in a deep sleep lying unaffected by the motions of the mattress. I glanced at her, then the ceiling, back to Mel and finally to the old digital clock on my side of the bed, where the numbers still glowed bright red. Five minutes had gone by since I woke up, yet nothing was better. I started to question a pain that developed in my lower right abdomen before muttering under my breath, “Sh-t man, what the hell is that?”
At 4:15 am I experienced unexplained sweating as the pain in my side worsened. I pushed hard on the mattress with both arms in order to sit higher up on the bed. Even so, my heart was racing from having a slew of bad thoughts that snowballed out of control. I was worried my symptoms were all connected to some insidious malady that had been lurking for years. All at once and without my control, things became bumped up a notch, or maybe two.
Under cover of darkness, I silently slipped out from beneath the blanket and sheets and crept toward the bathroom without causing the floor to creak even once. After a frantic search of the medicine cabinet, I discovered the family thermometer was missing. Panicked, I couldn’t help looking at my reflection in the mirror. I clearly lost all color in my face. I saw a pale disheveled post-Rocky Horror Show Tim Curry staring back at me, complete with bloodshot eyes. Nevertheless, all I could think about was that damn thermometer. It was hard to understand how it went missing. The thing just didn’t get up and walk away by itself. How else was I going to tell if I had a fever? I knew it had to be there somewhere. About thirty seconds later I spotted a blotch of light green plastic sticking out from behind the mug that held the hairbrushes. It was our thermometer. But after all of that, it didn’t matter. The battery turned out to be dead. That was the only thermometer we owned.
With no way to confirm a fever, I felt like I was going downhill fast. It didn’t take long before shortness of breath set in. There I was, sitting on the toilet, staring down at the floor while sucking in small amounts of wind and dripping with perspiration. Not a pleasant sight.
Wrought with emotion, I moved into the livingroom, only to begin pacing back and forth between the window and the television set, a distance of about 15 feet. One of the cats raised its head and stared at me. It was Roger, the smaller of the two. I kissed him on the neck before walking over to the patio door. Though it was only open for a moment, the night air surrounded me in no time. Living at the shore, the marine breeze instantly dried the sweat on my brow, doing little to lessen the angst of the immediate situation. The thought of needing a doctor started to set in. Afraid that something could be simmering, I decided to wake up Mel. The click of the light switch on the wall resonated with a new loudness.
“Mel, Mel, I think I’m sick. Mel, Mel, get up, I think I’m sick, Mel.”
“Hey, huh, what, what’s goin’ on. Why is the light on,” she stammered in a sleepy daze.
“Mel, I think I’m sick. I might have to go to the emergency room.”
“The emergency room, what? Whaddaya mean? Are you alright? What’s going on,” she demanded.
“I mean, I’m sick and I can’t explain it.”
“Hold on. Are you throwing up, or are you sick on the toilet or something,” she instinctively quizzed.
“No. and I don’t know if I have a fever because we have no thermometer.”
“It’s in the bathroom. What’s wrong with the one we have?”
“The batteries are freaking dead, damn it,” I snapped.
“Okay, okay, I’ll get a new one tomorrow. I have to go to the pharmacy anyway,” she explained.
“No, please, listen, do me a favor and get a brand new thermometer tomorrow, a modern one, one that works.”
“Okay, I will.”
“Right now, my neck bothers me down both sides and my stomach is jittery, really jittery. I’m not kidding you, Mel. I can’t explain it. I’m sweating and I’m soaked.”
“I can see. Your neck symptoms sound like anxiety. Come over here and let me rub your neck and head,” she suggested.
“No, wait, what about my stomach. I can’t believe how jittery it is. I’m not kidding you. I was sleeping, but now I have a pain in my side. All this crap and the sweating woke me up too. Suppose it’s my appendix?”
“It’s not your appendix. My ex-husband had his appendix out. You would know if you were having an appendicitis attack, trust me,” she replied.
“Yeah, you might be right. In high school, my buddy John kept getting sick before he finally had to have his appendix out. I mean he got violently ill for weeks. At first, nobody knew why he was getting sick. But he was barfing and all kinds of stuff.”
“Wow, you see. So, come over here and let me rub your head because I don’t think you have appendicitis. C’mon, let me rub your head. I gotta’ go to work in a few hours,” she grumbled.
“That sounds good. But remember to get another thermometer tomorrow, if you can.”
Photos: Man and cats, digital clock, disheveled bed, Kit Cat Clock– own work; Thermometer – Berthold Werner, own work/Creative Commons; Video – own work; usage of photos does not constitute endorsement.
Paul Wolfle is an independent eBook author and the publisher of musicinterviewmagazine.com.