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Day 21: Life in the Cardboard Mountains

When H5N1 actually sprang, I think I was a little dazed. How could I leave Nina? I stayed put, started the blog weeks ago. That’s where you all came in.

Nina’s bank planned for a lot of employees to telecommute during the emergency. Until the dust settles, she’ll work on state-of-the-art marketing ploys from my walkup in a recovered crack house. It’s not as if they’re going to launch this year.

A month of enforced intimacy has been tough. I suspect we’re each accustomed to prompting others to leave us alone when we don’t feel like communicating. That’s not possible in three cramped rooms occupied by that many strong-willed creatures.

INSIDE LOOKING OUTA more recent complication is that Nina hates it when I go out. I don’t understand why it makes her so nervous. (She’s not overjoyed when I’m home, either.) She denies that she minds my occasional forays into the real world, but coming home is getting strange.

We take turns working in my living room under looming stacks of protective gear. Nina uses her iMac during working hours; it’s ‘mine’ all night. I cook in the kitchen under piles of household supplies. (She’s accustomed to eating out or ordering in.) Joined by the cat for family hour, we dine in the bedroom under a mountain of boxes she brought from LA. I’ve run out of exciting recipes. Alcohol is no longer much consolation. It’s merely necessary.

I meet the shipping people in the hallway and reenter to scrub off as she taps away on her iMac.

We have principled differences, of course. Nina loathes Sneeky’s array of empty cardboard boxes, calls it Kitty Waco in honor of the Branch Davidian compound that the Feds attacked in Texas. She doesn’t get Gene Clark at all, says there’s no beats. At 19, Clark and the Byrds brought Dylan to the masses—and all she cares about is beats?

Nina finds my breakfast of granola, rice milk (keeps till you open it, no nasty hormones), and dried fruit (tasty, nutritious, and easily stored) unthinkable. Perhaps because she’s got some Russian blood, she favors a diet I call Cream of Bacon, tough to fulfill these days. Does she slip out to forage for bootleg fried chicken while I sleep?

H5N1 has hideously weakened her impact on the bank. My city can’t entertain. Her friends are in California and Europe. She’s working through our wine supply faster than I had anticipated.

He Who Detected it….

Nina had barely heard of bird flu before I mentioned it in an email, had it mixed up with SARS, probably chicken pox, too. I remember her asking if I was a “movie-of-the-week freak.” She loathes hypochondriacs—maybe people who are genuinely sick, too.

I fear I am The Father of H5N1 in her eyes: He who detected it infected it. Subconsciously, she blames me for the whole crisis.

She’s lost interest in chess. She sets romantic comedies up for me to view in bed. I watch actors fall in and out of love and wonder what she meant to suggest as she snores through happy endings. Eyes ablaze with borrowed pixels, Sneeky stares at us from the windowsill. Our neighbor’s dog cries out to distant shut-in pals. Pets on my block want to know what’s gone wrong.

Living with a person is challenging. Having to stay with them 24/7 is deadening, especially when it feels as if they don’t like you.

This disease will turn us into cellmates. I hate it, too, Nina.

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