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Day 214: School’s Out Forever

Thanks for your better wishes. There were even some kind words from folks who had called me a rotten traitor.

I’m lying low. I have finally and definitively transgressed, added to my list of ‘crimes.’ My activities remain relatively victimless, though the latest was a little tricky.

LOUIS BRANDEIS WOULD HAVE SMILED ON MY CRIMEHaving obtained the Relenza that made risks worth taking, I went to Brandeis High School with a box that contained a few masks I was able to gather. I bet everything on double zero. I feel certain that ol’ Justice Brandeis would have looked the other way.

First I arranged for a getaway car and a driver to get us to it. Then I labeled the box of masks with a phony purchase order from A. Rand MD. Next I convinced a National Guard with a southern accent and a fuzzy improvised mask that smelled of lemon detergent that I was delivering emergency medical gear to a doctor at the school. He was standing at the gates of a surprisingly modern building that must have replaced the original school.

An edgy moment came when he asked if I was sure there was a doctor on duty. Are these places untended by physicians? I reached into the box and handed him a proper mask, which he appreciated.

No one bothered me once I got upstairs. The second floor was stuffy and smelled awful, as if the world’s biggest septic system had erupted like Vesuvius. The classrooms were packed with people on metal cots moaning softly, hopelessly—a symphony of death paced by wheezing and rattling lungs and occasional grunts and moans. The sturdiest souls blinked at me as I scanned for Anna.

If I’d been wearing black and carrying a scythe, I doubt they would have stirred.

The attendants were draftees in lime green t-shirts and caps with RAISE logos. They wore soggy paper masks that couldn’t remotely suppress the stench of death, urine, vomit, and crap. They were supervised by nurses in white paper masks that smartly matched their uniforms. One seemed particularly fatigued as she patiently taught a clueless rookie how to keep patients hydrated. Her legs were unsteady as she rambled on.

I give them all credit for trying. No one was disregarding the plentiful misery. The staff lacked tools to do anything substantive. There was very little equipment, no ventilators or monitors.

Anna was in the corner of a big classroom at the end of the floor, sweating under a big display about French verbs. J’irais, it said, right over her head, which looked prettier and smaller than anyone else’s. I would go. And that’s what we did.

I dressed Anna under the covers. She didn’t recognize me. She looked so vulnerable. Her face was flushed, lips dry and cracked. She was dying.

I heard a death reported in the hallway, the voice of a conscript reverberating with fear. A radio crackled as someone called for a truck. For once I hoped it wouldn’t come soon.

I could feel Anna’s fever through my jacket when I lifted her. How could she already have lost so much weight? It was awkward carrying her and the box, but the masks were too valuable to leave behind.

A pair of draftees approached to ask what I was doing. I hadn’t thought of anything clever, so I explained I was taking my wife home. Evidently this entails visits to various city agencies for authorization.

The Challenge of Authority

I promised a doctor would see her, kept moving. They looked at each other, speechless.

Then I heard the voice of authority, barking that I wasn’t taking the patient anywhere. This nurse was like a nun I once knew, a short-fused guardian of order named Sister Valencia. There could be no appeal to reason or emotion.

I secured Anna over my left shoulder and rammed my hand into the box so I could wield it like a cardboard club. I raced away from quickening exclamations into a stairwell that would drop us near an exit on the ground floor.

Downstairs, the nurse was already aiming a soldier our way. The exit was locked, a violation of the fire code. We were trapped.

Calmly, I strode toward the Guard. He held his M16 ready while I explained that I needed to take my wife home now, that I had medication and a doctor awaiting her. I could see this made sense to him. He was a southerner and it’s what he’d want to do if his wife were filed away to die alone in a big, smelly brick schoolhouse.

He radioed for his sergeant. There were at least three Guards on duty.

He looked away when he started describing my situation. He felt guilty.

I moved by instinct. I think I bent to slide Anna onto the floor and then rose up under his weapon and into his belly. He was bigger than me, so he had more wind to lose. I ducked and hurled my shoulder into him again. I was celebrated as a gritty tackle in high school, making up in focused dementia what I lacked in brawn. I may have slammed him three times. He fell hard, his weapon clattering on the floor.

Shouts and bootsteps followed as I hoisted Anna and burst through the front door, past the first southerner. “She’s mah wife,” I yelled. “We’re from Missoura!”

As we passed the gate and reached the curb, I heard more than one click as Guards cocked their weapons. I could only run eastward, hoping they’d pause at the thought of shooting an unconscious patient.

A car screeched between the M16s and us, as if to ask me for directions. A chorus of curses erupted as I leapt into the back seat with Anna in my arms like a broken doll. I heard a shot as we screeched around the corner, down Columbus Avenue.

I can say that Anna is resting in a safe place. She still hasn’t spoken and has issued some blood. She can’t be moved.

Wish us well. I’ll do my best to keep you posted.

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