Posted on: July 26th, 2009 The Recovery Room

by Tait McKenzie Johnson

By the time Rosita and I got to the Recovery Room the Pandemic had already begun: all the hip young bods dancing in their tightlegged latex, the girls sporting the new antimicrobial kid gloves, in varying shades of neon like floral radiation warnings, clapping and waving in the sterile blue lights. DJ Grippe was spinning the latest off N1H1 Records, Afro-Iberian dance beats that’d make your heart skip, the club the perfect vessel to blend all the strains of young international health into one rollicking party. You can see it in the eyes, every one of us still living, not like the alleys full of victims we had to pass on our ride here, choking and swelling in the endless dry winter, spreading the disease molecules with even one careless breath.

We got drinks–thin-necked bottles sipped through straws like delicate proboscises–and found a table with an empty table on either side of it so we could breathe freely within the current World Health Organization regulations. Rosita made sure to swipe each surface with a sanitary napkin before she sat down. Without actually touching anything I gave the appearance of leaning against the wallpaper, velvety winged pigs this month, the design sported by all the bartenders. It would all be burnt tomorrow and decontaminated for next month anyway. The owners of the Recovery Room tried to keep up with the latest fashions, since the first club to host the Pandemic fell into quarantine for hosting what would have been an ironic barbecue, except everyone fell sick. You couldn’t get kicked out of here for anything faster than an errant cough or sneeze. And everyone was watching, because the latest fashions were swathed around our faces.

I pointed them out to Rosita: the Japanese folkpunks in their austere Kabuki and Kami prints, several clowns and mock-stars (famous politicians, actors, etc…the Barack wasn’t so popular this season after a failure to provide national healthcare), it seemed the abstract contingent had done away with representing the mouth altogether in favor of Mandrian-like lines. There was even some old rocker sporting the Rolling Stones lips over his own, everyone with their projected desires plastered like smiles across their plastic faces. Rosita sipped discreetly through the side of her mask while I explained how the first international influenza pandemic wasn’t nearly so colorful, at least, you didn’t get your vaccine in a shot glass at the door. It’s all a big blast, don’t you think? Not as contagious like the Red Death, now that would be some gala!

What about her? Rosita asked, pointing a violet trembling glove across the room. Wandering through the crowd, stumbling as if actually ill, and leaving a wide empty void around her as she moved, was a girl clearly breaking some taboo or illusion of sanitary. We could hear it in the whispers behind the masks around us. Look at that shaved head, so last century, so chemo-chic. And those eyes, gaunt, horrific, what does she think she’s carrying? And then she turned our way and we saw what was causing the stir. Of everyone in the Recovery Room, this girl alone was not wearing a protective facemask. But no, it was something else, a thick scar running along the exposed collarbone as if some vital gland had been removed, and there, at the base of her thin-necked throat, a growth like a rotting blossom, dead set on consuming the otherwise unblemished skin from within.

Does she want to catch the flu? Rosita asked as the girl moved away, her delicate ungloved hands trailing on every dirty countertop, a pariah in this land of hermetically sealed emotions and collisions. She couldn’t go home like the rest of us and wash away the germs and be well again. I couldn’t get my mind off that tumescent flesh, so real, so malignant. I’ve never seen a neck so smooth and sorrowful. A reminder of the anarchy trembling at the cell walls of each of us, an endemic that can’t be hidden or held off by any pretty face. No, I sighed, that’s cancer. Don’t worry, it’s not contagious. Ugh, Rosita shuddered, I wish they’d kick her out anyway. You ready to dance yet? Hold on, I said, and then brazenly pulled off my mask to drain the rest of the bottle, even though people stared at my own naked uplifted cheeks, pallid from months without sunlight or fresh air.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories

2 Responses to “The Recovery Room”

  1. Lyn Aspey Says:
    July 27th, 2009 at 9:36 am

    This is a cool, bad ass story. Slick and current. Thumbs up. Well done.

  2. Lyn Aspey Says:
    July 27th, 2009 at 9:36 am

    This is a cool, bad ass story. Slick and current. Thumbs up. Well done.

  3. Rachel Green Says:
    August 1st, 2009 at 12:19 am

    Excellent. You paint the scene so vividly.

  4. Rachel Green Says:
    August 1st, 2009 at 12:19 am

    Excellent. You paint the scene so vividly.