Steve soon drifted off to sleep. The little prions playing in his brain made for an interesting dream. Steve was inside an aquarium filled with octopus with faucet-shaped mouths. Steve had to shoot at the octopus with paintballs. Each octopus he shot disintegrated, and allowed him to escape the aquarium. Soon it was becoming difficult for Steve to breathe underwater . . .
Steve woke up with the blanket over his face. He pulled it off to make breathing easier, lest he die even earlier than he was supposed to. Steve met a nurse on the infectious disease floor named Zoe Dabkowski. Zoe had a blonde ponytail, green eyes and a septum ring, with a top-heavy body. It was nice to talk to Zoe for a while, because Zoe’s smile symbolized that she was full of life.
Richie was on his way to the hospital with the box of clothes. After passing a metal detector, ascending via an elevator and being admitted to the infectious disease floor, Richie found Steve’s bed. When Richie saw him, Steve was munching on a bowl of granola.
“Good news, Steve!”, said Dr. Thakkar. “You have a visitor!” Could this be?
Richie raced up to Steve’s bed carrying a cardboard box, then let go of the box so he could throw his hands into the air. “Hey, Steve!”
Steve smiled. “Richie, you made it!”
“Is it safe to hug you?”
“Nope”, said Steve with a frown. “You could get DZD from me!”
“Dizzy D? Is that a rapper?”
“No. DZD. It’s a disease.”
“Well, we can still talk, right?”
“Of course. I can never become too sick to be your friend.”
“Hey, good point. You still together with Rochelle?”
“Actually, we were supposed to have a date today. I don’t know how this is going to work out. But she did say she’d come to see me today.”
“Tell Rochelle I said hi.”
“Definitely”, Steve said. He attempted to force a smile, but his zygomatic muscles just wouldn’t move. It was as if they were paralyzed from the horror of having a prion-induced death sentence.
Steve then looked down at the box of clothes at the side of his bed. “Hey, Richie, when we’re done talking, I’m going to change!.”
“Grilling. I got you everything you asked.”
“Well, that’s good, because I’m going to think about what to wear today. Maybe I can wear what I was wearing to the party. Speaking of which, what was I wearing?”
“You don’t remember? You had on cargo pants and your striped T-shirt.”
“Oh, of course. How could I have forgotten something like that?” Steve’s face wrinkled up. He knew exactly why he was forgetting. It was the disease.
Richie changed the subject. “Hey, Steve, what are we going to do for this summer? Vacationwise, I mean.”
“As soon as I’m better, we’ll, we’ll . . . we’ll go to Florida.”
“Are we really going to go to Florida? We go there every year.”
“Well, it’s just that that’s what I’d been expecting since last summer.”
“Maybe we can make a break from our plans and go to . . . Ecuador this year!”
Steve’s mind turned to Ecuador. Beaches with thousands of nude people. Eco-communists. Hippies on communes. Bohemians playing tecnocumbia, lorito, indie-rock, folk-rock, grank and kuro. Good thing he had broken up with Luann, as he would never be able to take her there with him for his summer vacation. It would be like Steve and Luann dating in the middle of the Haight-Ashbury during the late sixties.
All this dreamy vacation planning. Speaking about it made it seem as if Steve couldn’t die.
Steve felt he finally needed to drop the D-bomb. “Hey, Richie?”
“Ja, man?”, Richie asked.
“I have only two months to live! EVERYONE WHO’S HAD THIS DISEASE BEFORE HAS DIED!”
Richie screamed out of shock.
“No! Steve!” Richie walked up to Steve and hugged him. “My best friend!”
“Richie!”, said Steve.
“Steve! How am I going to live without you? I’d be like . . . like . . . like Bleach trying to continue without Mark Giannakis!”
The two hugged some more, putting aside worries of contagion for a little while. After all, what would be the purpose of those last two months of life if Steve couldn’t hug Richie?
As the two chatted, the time wore on and Steve was visited by nurses. When lunchtime came, they served Steve some chicken soup and Richie said good-bye. “Bye, my friend.”
“See ya, Richie”, said Steve. “I will see you again, right?”
“Right!” And Richie walked off.
As Steve ate his chicken soup, he thought about how to spend the last weeks of his life. He should probably get a will made. Whom to will all those concert posters to? Whom to will his skateboard to? Whom to will his brown suede jacket too? Would Richie wear his green-and-blue striped polo?
After he finished the soup, he changed into his red-and-white-striped T-shirt and cargo pants in the box by his side. When he finished with that, Zoe offered to put a little tag on his box to keep track of the clothes as being his.
As Zoe walked off, Steve’s mind wandered. He should probably make notes to Rochelle, to his brother Brad, to Richie, to Jessica, to Jeff, to Adrian, to Sharon, to Peter, to Jocasta, yes, Ramón . . . to everyone in his life who really mattered to him, basically. He would leave “OPEN UPON MY DEATH” messages on the outside of his notes, and once opened they would contain . . . well, timeless messages from Steve. Steve had grand abstract ideas about what these “timeless” messages would be like . . . how about writing, “And never fail to value . . .” . . . hmmm . . . Steve’s mind was trailing off again. When it got to the specifics, Steve really had no idea what to write in these messages. He’d get to them later, after all, he had three months, right? Or was it two months?
Steve’s mind wandered some more . . . the sound of Sulfur Pie music . . . the flies that were conspicuously absent from the hospital wall . . . that MRI magnet they had held up to his head . . . and before long, Steve realized he had forgotten what he was originally thinking about that caused his mind to go on this excursion. Steve knew he had forgotten a lot of things lately, even though he couldn’t bring up any examples in his mind right now.
As Steve was gazing at the ceiling, Zoe told him he had another visitor. Could this be –?
Steve’s blue eyes turned to the hazel-eyed Rochelle. She had a peach-colored heart-shaped box in her left hand and a cardboard vase of flowers in her right hand. Two Dutch irises stood up next to a calla lily and three orchids. She was wearing the baby doll dress she had worn to the party.
“Hi, Rochelle!”, said Steve.
“Hey Steve, how you doin’?”, Rochelle asked as she set the cardboard vase down on his nightstand and the heart-shaped box next to it.
“I’m not doing well”, Steve said bluntly, “I’m going to die.” His face was dismal and hopeless.
Rochelle’s wet eyes looked up in the air, as if for an answer. “Who told you that?!”
“It was that man who works here with the square glasses. Dr. Thakkar.”
“Steve, I may not get another chance to say this”, said Rochelle. “I love you.”
“And I love you.” Steve jerked his head around. “Hey, nice dress.”
“Thank you, Steve”, said Rochelle. She looked at Steve’s striped T-shirt like he had worn to the party. “And that’s a nice T-shirt.”
“I notice you brought me this box. What’s in it?”
Rochelle wondered why Steve didn’t remember she had mentioned she was going to bring him flowers and chocolate. “Chocolate”, she said slowly.
“Oh, and thanks for the flowers.”
“Y’welcome, Steve. Suri picked them out for me. She says calla lilies give a bouquet a Californian look.”
“Suri? The florist from Green Hand?”
Curious, Steve opened the chocolate box. He picked one out, wondering if it would be his last time eating chocolate. It was a circular piece with a flat top and raspberry filling. He put it in his mouth . . . and then chewed. Chocolate had never tasted so good.
Rochelle patted down Steve’s messy hair. “Steve . . . I don’t know how it’s all gonna work out with you and me. We may date, but when I’m 30 and want to get married, I’ll have someone else to give my love to.”
“That’s OK”, Steve said. “We couldn’t agree on whether to have kids anyway.” Just then, Steve’s face showed a sharp, agonized look. He started to tear up. He didn’t want to lose Rochelle. Steve remembered his resolution to make this last.
Noticing the expression on Steve’s face, Rochelle walked closer to her boyfriend. “What’s wrong, Steve?”
“Rochelle, I’ve broken up with ten different girls.”
“Ah”, said Rochelle. She understood. “Well, I guess my flowers will keep me smelling pretty when I’m atop the garbage heap.” Rochelle scooped up the vase with her hand while she said it.
“I’m going to be the one who’ll be smelling bad soon”, said Steve.
“Steve, would you be well enough to go on a trip to Marine World with me before you pass away? Like, be able to stand? How sick are you?”
“Well . . . I have this thing called Diamond-Zuckerman. A disease where prions invade your brain. And the rest of your body.”
Rochelle cried. Her new boyfriend was being eaten alive by zombie prions.
Steve handed her a pamphlet on DZD the staff had given him.
“I’ll read this later”, she said.
Just then, Steve’s cellphone rang. Steve forgot where he had put it, and couldn’t tell where it was.
“It’s coming from your cargo pants pocket”, said Rochelle. How could Rochelle know that and Steve not?
“Hello?”, Steve said after he pulled it out.
“Stephan, this is Sandy”, said his interlocutor. “My cat’s coughing up catnip and I don’t know what to do about this.”
“Sandy, have you tried calling a veteran? I mean a veterinarian?”
“Actually, I haven’t”, said Sandy.
“I’m caught up with this disease right now . . .”
“Well, I’ve got a cold.”
If only Steve’s disease were merely a cold! “Sandy, we’ll talk later.”
“OK, Stephan. I’ll just see what the vet has to say about this. Bye-bye.”
After the cellphone dinged, Rochelle asked, “Sandy Olson?”
“Yep”, Steve replied. “Her cat’s coughing up catnip.”
“I see you have lots of clothes at the hospital”, Rochelle said, nudging the box with her foot.
“Oh yeah, Richie brought that over. Called him on my cellphone.”
“Is Richie still with Sharon?”
“Knew they’d be good for each other”, Rochelle said. “Just like you and me.”
Just then, Rochelle walked up and patted Steve’s hair again. “Love you, boy.”
“I love you too, girl”, Steve replied as Rochelle picked up the pamphlet and walked away. After Rochelle blew Steve a kiss, he could see her opening the pamphlet as she walked out the door.
As the minutes passed, Steve sat there with a pained look on his forehead. He agonized over resolving to call more friends.
Over the next hour, Steve called several friends and contacts, telling them all about the disease. He spoke to Adrian and Jocasta, and invited both of them to the hospital. He also called Kevin, Sharon, Peter and Jessica. The next hour, he spoke with Brad and his mother. Then he put his cellphone back in his cargo pants pocket and drifted off to sleep.