Discover more from Benjamin Allen's Modern Tales
Give Me Vitamin C
The delivery guy will drop forty-seven oranges and twenty-five clementines by the front door. He’ll step back a few meters and I’ll drag everything inside trying not to cough in his face.
It started with me running on my toes and spinning so quickly the bedroom floorboards were squeaking. Then I sat on the side of the bed, head snapped back, I flushed an invisible rope, and waited for an invisible bucket of water to pour all over me. Flash-Dancing the afternoon away.
That’s when my wife kicked me out of the bedroom. She’s all wrapped like a spring roll in our fluffy duvet. Her laptop sitting on my side of the bed showing a close-up of Patrick Swayze’s sexy jaw. Her index finger pointing at the door, she’s saying, “We are Dirty Dancing people. Never forget it.”
We should both be working, but neither of us is. It’s so hot in the flat it takes just a couple of episodes of a TV series for a whole washing to dry. We’re blasting the heating to full tropical weather. We’re both sweating so much, but we’re freezing.
Tomorrow the delivery guy will drop forty-seven oranges and twenty-five clementines by the front door. He’ll step back a few meters and I’ll drag everything inside trying not to cough in his face.
What our bodies are craving is freshly squeezed vitamin C. But what we really need is an answer to the question: Is Dirty Dancing really better than Flash Dance?
My wife grew up with her eyes stuck on the TV screen watching Patrick Swayze holding Jennifer Grey up in the air like a paper aeroplane. The guy at the VHS rental place didn’t even bother asking what movie she was after anymore. After a few months, her Mum asked for Santa’s help. On Christmas morning the Dirty Dancing VHS was wrapped under the Christmas tree with a ribbon sticker slapped on top. My wife sat on the floor facing the TV, pressed play and started watching it in a loop. She only got up on Boxing Day.
Today, she decided to watch it again because she can’t get out of bed. And that’s all my fault.
Last week a blew my nose five times in a row. I sneezed so much I made it rain. So I shovelled a stick up to my nose and two bright red lines appeared on the lateral flow test.
My wife started sleeping in the spare room. As a precaution, she said. We started practising a divorced life. We had dinner in different rooms, keeping the door open to look at each other. Shouting questions across the hall. Good-night messages sent on our mobile phones.
The thermometer said my body temperature was two degrees above the average. I needed to hold the wall with one hand before the room turned into a noiseless carousel.
I started spotting a bunch of handwritten notes scattered all around the flat. They pop on my pillow when I go to the bathroom. Under my laptop when I go and grab a glass of water.
A constellation of tiny hearts around the messages. My wife’s leaving them with a romantic note. And whenever I spot one, I just shout, “You know I’m right here, right?”
When I started getting out of bed without using the wall as a handrail, I made a mushroom risotto for dinner. I thought my wife needed a break.
We ate, we laughed and the morning after I could hear her coughing from the spare room. A second red line popped up for her too. She had to call sick at her new job before she even started.
I coughed on the risotto. That’s what she said. She could hear me pulling my nose over and over again while I was cooking. Since we were sick together, she decided to move back in the main bedroom with me. And our divorced life experiment was over.
In case you’re reading this right before you come over for dinner, so you know, I’m really not used to coughing on anyone’s risotto.
Now when the dog walker comes to pick up our greyhound we shout a “Thank you” behind all shut doors. My wife squeezes her face against the back of the door and tells her where the dog treats are. Then we go for a give minutes snooze and when we wake up half a day has gone.
When I walk back into the bedroom someone in Dirty Dancing is crying. I’m holding a freshly squeezed orange, carrot and ginger juice.
And my wife, she sitting on the bed, looking at her finger. Waiting.
We’ve got this blue clip that’s jumping all around the flat. You can find it next to the loo. By the kettle. Under a pillow. Now, it’s pressing on the tip of her finger and it’s saying her heart rate is way below the heart attack threshold. The infrared light goes from side to side, and the small display also shows her blood oxygen level.
The word is prevention. Monitoring. We keep measuring our heart rate when we walk back from the bathroom. As soon as we wake up. After a sneeze.
We grew up addicted to alcohol and late-night parties. Now it’s all about heart rate and oxygen level.
I leave the orange juice on her bedside table and when I lean towards her, my face hits on the palm of her hand.
My wife looks at me with a smile and says, “I’d kiss you, but you’re really sweating a lot.”
On the laptop screen, everyone is dancing their big last dance. It’s all twirling skirts and sweaty shirts. And my wife, she says she’s feeling better.
All those handwritten notes that sprouted around, she thinks I crumpled them in a ball and tossed them in the bin, but they’re all hidden between the pages of my copy of Big Fish on the bookshelf.
Tonight for dinner is a shepherd pie. With my sticky fingers covered in eggs and mashed potatoes, I managed to order the original vinyl of Dirty Dancing soundtracks. The delivery guy will drop it off next week days. And maybe when I open the door I won’t have to step back like a shrimp.
The shepherd pie is ready in the oven and I didn’t cough once. And while the timer on the oven is ticking our dinner away, I can hear my wife humming from the bedroom. She’s singing a made-up song so loud even our neighbours can hear it, “You make my heart warm, you make my belly grow.”
And she starts coughing so much the dog runs out of the bedroom whining.