Volume 31, Number 2


Margaret Karmazin

Lauren made her usual plea for Jesus to watch over Trinity as she watched the girl back the Subaru her father gave her out of the driveway and head off to the university. Lauren’s aberration of an ex had paid for the car with his new husband’s endless supply of money.

Across the cul-de-sac, she watched the professor, that liberal jackass, Dr. Irwin Husik, climb into his own Subaru and head off to the same school as Trinity. There, in his general psych class, he would fill her daughter’s brain with socialist and atheistic ideas. Irwin Husik was a skinny old coot, tall and stooped with a head that resembled that of a buzzard. She had heard that he suffered from asthma with an occasional attack ending in the ER. Too bad one of them hadn’t finished him off.

“Oh, Mom, he’s a gem. You just don’t know him.” Trinity had laughed earlier as Lauren went off on one of her rants about him. “He’s a good person. You’re always going on about Jesus but Professor Husik actually does Jesusy things.”

“Don’t say ‘Jesusy,’” snapped Lauren. “That is disrespectful to our Lord.”

“Whatever,” shrugged Trinity. “The fact remains that he puts his money and time where his mouth is. He works with underprivileged kids in Miners Gap to get them into college. He’s gotten several into Marsten already. That’s more along Jesus’ line than doing nothing while you bitch all the time.”

“Yeah and look how he undoubtedly votes! For killing babies! I don’t like the way he gets you thinking along communistic lines either.”

“What communistic lines are you talking about? Universal healthcare? Is France communist?”

“I’m sure it probably is,” snapped Lauren. “He’s warped your thinking. And he’s so creepy-looking.”

“I don’t know what you mean by that,” said Trinity, turning to leave. “He looks perfectly normal to me.”

Trinity slipped her crossbody bag over her head, picked up her briefcase and headed to the door. How grown-up her daughter looked, Lauren thought, and how professional. She was a beauty with her peachy coloring, arched eyebrows and dark brown hair, attributes she’d not gotten from her dishwater-blonde mother. She just couldn’t let the girl’s mind be poisoned. Before she knew it, she’d be marching in the streets with lesbians. That horrible professor—Trinity had him this year and would again next year, probably for Abnormal Psych at least and those extracurricular activities he ran. Lauren had to do something, but what? What could a mother do when her child was legally an adult?

Lauren continued with her prayer. “Please protect her mind and soul, Jesus, and keep her immune to the mental poisoning of Dr. Husik and his kind. May she get through her program with her faith intact instead of falling prey to communism, free love and all the other atrocities connected with liberal thinking. I sure wish, Dear Lord, that there was another way to become a nurse without having to walk through a Valley of Death. In your name, Amen.”

Her friend, Linda Ryan from church, worked in the registrar office at the school and knew everything that went on there. She knew that Husik ran the very popular “Friends of the Earth” club in addition to that other one in Miners Gap and took students on marches, etc. It nettled her to the core that her own daughter, who’d been carefully raised to respect the teachings of their church, revere her country and to avoid those types of people now had to kiss up to them in order to become what she wanted to be. It was a crime. For surely, in spite of how Trinity presented things, she would not choose those activities and ways of thinking on her own.

Lauren went to make herself breakfast before heading off to Oaktree Manor. She was herself an LPN there, never having managed to finish the schooling to become an RN, but Trinity would make it to RN; Lauren would make sure that she did.

The professor was long gone by the time Lauren, wearing her teddy bear scrubs, climbed into her old Focus and headed off to work. She supervised two other LPNs and four aides, though Mary Rice, an RN was over them all. It made her so relieved that her father, who’d been a farmer all his life until her mother died, was now a permanent resident. What a streak of luck to be able to see and take care of him there professionally without having to give up her and Trinity’s privacy and space at home. Of course, he had to turn over his house and everything he owned, but she didn’t care. He’d never helped her in life anyway, so she wouldn’t miss it. She did love her dad even if he was a nasty old coot. She still remembered his occasional beatings, but with Jesus’ help, she’d forgiven him, and now he was pretty helpless with severe COPD, diabetes and beginning dementia. Once in a great while, she “forgot” to change him when he had an accident, let him sit for a good long while in his mess, but that was as far as she went in returning his meanness.

After checking in and going over charts, she made her obeisances to Mary Rice and headed down Wing B to check on her father. “That fucker next door, keep him away from me!” he cried, shooting spittle in all directions. “Came in here this morning, his dick hanging out and coughing all over the place! Had them spots on his face.”

Spots on his face? Lauren perked up. “What kind of spots, Dad?”

“The kind on the TV, you moron. What do you think I mean? Them little red dots on his skeleton cheeks!”

She turned and rushed next door to stand in the doorway and look at Mr. Delgado. How on earth, if it was what she feared, had it gotten into Oaktree Manor? The closest reported case of Rio Verde, or “Verde” for short, was last she heard, over seven hundred miles away. The virus, unlike so many others, which had begun in China, had originated from Brazil, hence the name of the river near where it was first detected. It had wiped out two Indian tribes.

Mr. Delgado, an alcoholic who’d ravaged his body from years of booze and forgetting to eat, was nothing but ashen skin stretched over bone and she saw right away the telltale spots, not just on his sunken face but along his emaciated forearms. Lauren turned and ran, first to the front desk in search of Mary Rice and then down the various halls until she found her in one of the female patient’s rooms. “Mary!” she whisper-yelled, madly motioning.

The RN rushed out of the room. “What?” she said irritably.

“Verde,” Lauren whispered, her eyes huge.

“What are you talking about?”

“Rio Verde!” Lauren wanted to scream it at her. “Delgado!”

Mary shook her head. “Now let’s not get all worked up. It’s highly unlikely. This is not a hit area.”

“Are you kidding? All it takes is one person to come in here to start it! Wasn’t somebody from AA in here a few days ago to see Delgado? You know they come by now and then to keep up his spirits. I’d never seen this one before.”

“He’s hanging by a thread anyway,” said Mary. “Liver failure and now his kidneys.”

“My father is next door,” said Lauren.

“Well, the only place we have empty rooms is the women’s wing and that’s out. Glenda Wright’s daughter-in-law, Mrs. Muckity-Muck, wouldn’t stand for it. You’re just going to have to put all precautions in order, end of story. If this Brazilian pestilence is like that Chinese one in 2020, it’s mostly the old and already sick who’ll be taken out. Soon the government will be in here, and they’ll find every molecule of feces we missed under a toilet seat.”

Lauren had the constitution of a healthy horse; she’d taken after her father’s side of the family who’d run a pig farm and played in the muck when growing up, so she rarely worried about her own health, though now she felt some anxiety. This virus was a killer. As directed, she began all prescribed precautions, but by the end of the week, Delgado was dead, and Lauren’s cantankerous father had the disease.

“Grandpa’s got it,” she told Trinity that evening at dinner. “It attacks the lungs like that last one but can eventually go to the brain. His lungs are already shot from the damn cigarettes, the idiot.”

“He’ll make it,” said Trinity cheerfully. “He’s got the determination of a bull.”

“I don’t know,” said Lauren vaguely. Her mind, for some reason, had flickered to Professor Husik with his asthma. “What did Professor Communist teach you today?”

Trinity’s face scrunched up. “I hate when you talk like that,” she snapped. “I really do. If you think that makes me want your church running my life, you really don’t know me. As I’ve said before, Professor Husik is way more Christlike than anyone I’ve met at church!” Her eyes flashed and her cheeks flushed.

For a moment, Lauren wanted to slap her. “My church? How is it just my church? You were raised in it. You officially joined it at sixteen. You still attend every Sunday!”

“Because you make me go, Mom. I haven’t been into it for years. Like Dad did, I go to keep you happy.”

“Oh, my God,” said Lauren, beginning to cry in frustration. “Your father! Pretending to love me for twenty years, taking me to the prom! Making love to me under that big tree, in his car, in his mother’s basement but all the time seeing men on the side, oh my God! You align yourself with that?

Trinity’s nostrils flared just like her father’s when angry. “Times were different then, Mom. It wasn’t like today when people can say right out they’re gay, even in high school, though not that everything’s easy for them now. Maybe he didn’t know himself right away; he was probably fighting it. He didn’t set out to hurt you, geesh! And even if he had been honest, you would have automatically hated him. You disapprove of everything that doesn’t fit into your tight little world of Dick, Jane and Spot!”

Lauren shook her head. “And here we have it, exactly what I suspected. Your mind totally poisoned by that horror of a man over there!” She nodded in the direction of Dr. Husik’s house. “I suppose he saw you coming, knew what kind of background you came from and set right out to destroy your mind and morals! I can tell he’s never liked me!”

“He’s never said anything about you,” said Trinity, rolling her eyes. She pushed her half-empty plate away and stood up. “He probably hasn’t given you a single thought! Why should he? People like that have things on their minds that you wouldn’t be able to grasp!”

“Oh, so far above me, is he? I’m just an idiot here, even though I’ve managed to support and raise you on my own.”

“You have not supported and raised me on your own! Who’s paying for school? Dad! Who helps me with math and science subjects? Not you. You barely managed to make it through practical nursing school, you said so yourself! Seriously, Mom!” She crashed her chair into the table and steamed down the hall. Lauren heard her bedroom door slam.

Lauren felt a perfect storm of rage working up. Ungrateful little… Trinity had no idea how she had sacrificed and suffered to bring her up alone the past few years! The good times she’d turned down, the men she’d turned down, men who might have helped her out financially, who might have taken care of things around the house like real men and not prigs like Kevin and that ladyboy he lived with! Those two with their gourmet-cooking and going to plays in New York, all that crap while she struggled by on $38,000 a year and ate hamburgers and beans!

She got up and went to a cupboard where she’d hidden a bottle of cheap vodka in the back and downed two swigs. Then she walked into the darkened living room and stared out the window across the cul-de-sac to where that monster lived who’d poisoned the mind of her daughter. A daughter who so clearly now considered the way her father lived as perfectly normal and that he deserved her love as much as Lauren did!

She looked down at her hands, which were red and dry from over-washing and constantly using hand sanitizer and thought, I should just walk out of here and let her pay her own bills and make her own damn meals. Let her father support her entirely, let him and his husband finish what Professor Husik started… but then she had another thought.

It was easy to do. The next morning her father was now coughing and wheezing, and his glands were painfully swollen. When she touched his neck, he swatted her hand away and barked at her. The disease was like a cross between mumps and whooping cough. Some victims choked to death from their own swollen throats. She knew from the news and nurses’ meetings that the virus lived on objects for at least a week, maybe longer. She kept all of her father’s used tissues in a plastic bag and stashed it in her purse.

Was she afraid of getting the virus herself? Not so much, though she figured she’d catch it eventually. Her age and general health were good; but the disease was a death toll for the old and infirm. Like the coronavirus before, it took down the already weak. If it took her father, she was okay with it. He had abused his body for eighty-two years and he was a bastard, there were no two ways about it.

That evening she knew that Trinity would be out, attending that damn “Friends of the Earth” meeting. That meant the professor would be out too. She knew what she was about to do was wrong, perfectly evil, even, but felt as if she’d been taken over by something not really herself. Or was that just an excuse? Well, let God sort it out. If nothing should result from it, that was His will and if it did, well, that was too.

She put on vinyl gloves, took the bag she’d hidden in her purse and, glancing about to see if any of the neighbors were around (it was dusk and she saw no one), she crossed the cul-de-sac and went around the back of the professor’s house. She knew he hid a key inside a fake rock from when Trinity fed his cat while he visited his daughter in Virginia. She easily located it and, again glancing about, let herself in. His black and white cat walked into the kitchen from the hall and stopped to stare at her. Wasting no time, she went to his bathroom and taking one of her father’s dirty tissues, smeared it all over his toothbrush, both ends. In his bedroom, he had an open book next to the bed and she wiped that where his fingers would go as he held it open. She wiped the remote control in the living room. Back in the kitchen, she opened his silverware drawer and wiped the tissues all over his spoons and forks. A pen was lying on the counter, and she covered that with germs too. Finally, satisfied, she let herself out, leaving no fingerprints, though who on earth would even think to look for them?

Her father did not die. “Amazing,” said Mary the morning his fever broke. He still had the swollen glands and some of the petechiae, but he was back to being cantankerous and Lauren knew he would survive. She felt a mix of emotion—was she glad or not? He was a bastard, but she had been worried.

The death toll in the nursing home was two so far, and this was not good for their finances, since no new residents were arriving to replace them. The following day, Mary said she had a fever. “And a sore throat and feel this.” She carried Lauren’s hand to her throat so she could palpate the lumps.

“Mary, you’re forty-six. You’ll be okay.”

“Aren’t you nervous at all?” Mary said.

“Not really,” Lauren said, though she was a bit. “I’m not looking forward to the potential misery of being sick, though. And who are we going to bring in to work? The nightshift can’t go around the clock and what if they come down with it at the same time?”

Mary grew quite ill. For some unknown reason, Lauren did not catch it. Did she possess a natural immunity? Supposedly, like the Covid-19 before it, no one had immunity, but Lauren figured that wasn’t entirely true. Her old sick father had survived it; she must have inherited some kind of resistance. The days passed, and she felt nothing. It was a good thing, because someone had to run things. Two of the nurses and three of the aides came down with it. By now, Lauren was practically living at the nursing home.

When she was at home, she was careful not to touch Trinity. No hugs or kisses, no sharing of food. They washed their clothes separately and ate and sat in different rooms in the evening. Still, in spite of being in contact with Verde patients, Lauren did not come down with the disease. But then neither did four of the nursing home’s day employees nor three of the night shift.

“How’s the professor?” Lauren called to Trinity from the kitchen where she was eating her dinner. Trinity was having hers in her room.

“He missed class yesterday,” Trinity called back. “Not like him to do that, so I guess he’s sick or something.”

“Hmmm,” murmured Lauren. “Shouldn’t they be closing the college for a while? I’m thinking you should stay home during this.”

“Don’t start, Mom,” Trinity yelled. “If they close it, then I’ll work from home, but if they keep it open, I’m going! Besides, kids don’t die of Rio Verde, it gets the old. You’d better watch out yourself!”

“Your grandfather lived,” Lauren yelled back.

“That’s because he’s a monster from hell. You’ve said that yourself!”

Lauren chewed silently for a while before calling out. “Was he at that Friends of the Earth thing this week?”


“Professor Save-the-World.”

“Yes, he was. Geesh, just shut up, I’ve had enough.”

“God said you are to respect your parents!”

“I don’t think He meant it if they’re acting like dicks.”

Lauren was silent but steaming. This is exactly what that creep has done to Trinity, she thought. She would never have talked to me like that before he got to her.

“What I meant was,” she said, making an attempt to keep her voice even, “do you think Dr. Husik has Verde?”

Trinity was silent for a long moment before she said, “I heard people saying he might.”

How had Lauren forgotten about his being in close contact with Trinity? Had she lost her mind? He wouldn’t have thought to take precautions with young people; he wouldn’t have known he was shedding the virus.

Four days later, Trinity came in from school with face flushed and her eyes glittery. “I don’t feel good, Mom,” she said.

“What’s the matter?” said Lauren, on alert.

“My throat,” said Trinity.

Lauren rushed to her and felt the sides of her neck. The girl had the telltale swellings of Rio Verde, and there on her left cheek were the petechiae. “Shit,” said her mother.

“You never swear,” said Trinity, but she didn’t laugh as she usually would have.

“Honey, it looks like you’ve got it, but don’t worry; as you said, it doesn’t kill the young.”

“It killed that boy in Mexico,” Trinity mumbled, her eyes half closing. “And those Indians.”

“That Mexican boy had kidney disease and diabetes. It has killed many old people but just the one young child outside of the Indians, that I know of, honey. The Indians, they don’t know why they were all so vulnerable. Don’t worry, you’re safe.”

She led the girl to her room, where she helped her remove her clothes and get into a night shirt. “Just lie down. I’ll make you some soup. You’ll be over it in a week or less. Don’t be concerned. I’m calling in sick to work.”

“But they’re short on staff,” said Trinity as she let herself be tucked into the cool, comforting bed.

“I don’t care,” said her mother, though of course she did. If she stayed home, she would lose her job, not to mention leave the residents unattended with many of them sick and some on the edge of panic.

“Mom, please go to work. Like you said, my chances of nothing serious developing are almost a hundred percent. Just go, and I’ll take care of myself. I’ll see you tonight. Go.”

Lauren looked at her daughter for a long moment. Trinity was staring into her eyes and it was as if they were communicating something, but neither said a word. Then when Lauren was at the door, Trinity said, “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too,” Lauren said and with a feeling of dread, she left the house.


“Mary’s in General,” said one of the aides. “They took her in last night. Things didn’t look good, her son said.”

Lauren stared straight ahead as if she had not heard, but her mind was racing. If things kept on, just she, two aides, one part-time RN and one LPN would be left alone in this place with twenty-six residents pissing and shitting and calling out in fear and one, as usual, bellowing to Mary, Mother of God, all day and all night long. It was hell, like something in a horror movie. And soon she found that Mrs. Jefferson was dead in her bed, her normally chocolate-brown skin ashen, her eyes staring emptily at the ceiling. Another soul gone and a mess to clean up and would how soon would the funeral home send someone? It seemed things were picking up too fast for them.

Trinity sounded as if Lauren had dragged her up from deep sleep when she called at noon, but the girl said she was all right and would make herself a peanut-butter sandwich. “Have an orange, honey, you need the vitamin C.”

It would be the last time Lauren heard her say anything. When she got home around eight, the house had an odd, empty feel to it. “Trinity?” Lauren called but there was no answer. She ran down the hall and burst into her room. The lamp was off and the shades drawn. The outline of the girl’s body was visible in the gloom and Lauren ran to touch her. She was ice-cold. “Honey, honey, Trinity! Trinity!”

No response.

Lauren took hold of her and turned her on her back. The girl was ice-cold and her eyes were closed. Lauren shook her and cried, “Trinity, wake up! Please, wake up!” But she didn’t and never would. Lauren screamed and screamed but no one heard her.

The autopsy showed that Trinity had had a heart defect no one had known about, and while her immune system had revved up as would have anyone’s her age, her heart was not up to the onslaught. If they had known about the situation, they could have had it corrected years ago.

The professor recovered, and so did the other students in his Friends of the Earth group. At Trinity’s funeral, Linda Ryan from the registrar office told Lauren that they all had figured they’d each caught the disease from someone in that group, but of course no one knew which person.