“Masks do absolutely nothing to protect people from this virus,” Allen stated defiantly at the entrance of his local Menard's Home Improvement Store.
“I'm sorry sir, it is store policy to require masks in this store. If you don't want to wear one, you can't come in. This is your choice,” said the employee at the door.
Allen watched as other customers walked freely in and out of the store. He needed to get that joint to finish fixing his washing machine. If he didn't come home with that part, Abby would be very upset at him. Reluctantly, Allen pulled a mask out of his pocket and put it on. The employee who was monitoring the entryway nodded and let him through. Allen went directly to the area of the store where his part was sold, grabbed a joint, then hurried to the checkout where he had to stand on a sticker 6 feet away from the person in front of him. He waited impatiently for his turn in line. When it finally came, Allen paid for the item and high-tailed it out of the store.
Once outside the building, Allen took off the mask and shoved it into his pocket again. Abby always made sure he had one with him, even though Allen insisted they were not just confining but also a waste of time. Allen breathed in the fresh air and got into his car for the long ride home.
Allen and his wife, Abby, lived in a small, isolated town in the middle of Iowa. There were no instances of COVID in their area, and the pervasive attitude among the community members was either it didn't exist or the Government was using the virus as a way to control the population. No matter what was really going on, those people were not going to wear masks unless someone made them do it.
Allen pulled his old beat-up truck into his gravel driveway and parked in front of his ranch-style house. Abby met him at the door, a curious expression on her face. Raising the plastic bag with the Menard's logo on it, Allen smiled at his young wife and watched the expression on her face turn to relief. Allen would do anything for Abby, she was his world.
Soon the washing machine was fixed and Abby began washing the week's worth of clothes that had been piling up. His job done, Allen took a bottle of beer out of the fridge, opened it up, and plopped down in his favorite soft chair out on their front porch.
His friend and neighbor, Dwayne, saw Allen on the porch and sauntered over for a chat. “Did you hear about old Mr. Wilson?” Dwayne asked after he had settled into a chair and taken the beer his friend had offered him.
“Nope,” Allen replied. “What did the old fart do this time?”
“He went to Minnesota for a High School Reunion and came back sicker than a dog. Minnie said he's in the hospital and they aren't sure he's going to make it.”
“What's he got?” asked Allen after he finished gulping his beer. He knew already without asking, but he didn't want to assume anything.
“That COVID thing they've been talking about. Looks like it's real.”
“They say it's highly contagious. Let's not assume anything unless someone else comes down with it.”
“We don't know if someone else gets it because a lot of people don't show symptoms. Hell, we may both already have it and not even know!”
Allen finished his beer and thought about what Dwayne just said. Could he have it and not know? Allen got up. “Do you want another beer?” he asked his childhood friend as he turned towards his front door? Dwayne nodded and Allen went inside.
Abby was in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal. When she saw Allen she ran over to him and gave him a big hug and kiss. Allen held his wife a little longer before releasing her. “Dwayne is out front. Says Mr. Wilson is sick and in the hospital,” he said as he grabbed another two beers from the fridge.
“Does he have COVID?” Abby asked, trying to see Allen's eyes. Allen nodded and shut the fridge door. He did not meet his wife's gaze.
“Ask Dwayne if he wants to stay for dinner. It will be ready in 20 minutes.”
“OK,” Allen said as he walked out of the kitchen.
Dwayne decided to stay for dinner and asked if he could extend the invitation to his wife, Minnie, who works at the local hospital. Abby said it was a good idea, believing that Minnie might appreciate a meal she didn't have to make herself. Soon the group was seated around the dining room table enjoying a homemade Shepherd's Pie.
As they ate, no one dared to mention the one thing that was on everyone's mind. Was COVID really in their small town? Finally, Abby could stand it no longer so she breached the subject with Minnie. “I know you can't talk due to privacy laws and HIPPA, but can you tell me if the rumor” she looked at Dwayne, “is true that someone in our town has tested positive to COVID-19?”
Minnie nodded as she scooped a mouthful of food into her mouth. “Yes, someone has it but I can't talk about it.”
Abby sighed. “It was inevitable.”
“What does this mean?” Allen asked, turning to look at Minnie. “Is it as bad as the news tells us?”
Minnie put down her fork and looked at Allen. “I don't know. I just know there are protocols to follow to stay safe and that's what we are doing.”
Allen shook his head. “Masks don't work! How can they? You can smell a fart through 2 layers of clothing, how is a little mask going to keep particles from getting in or out of your face?”
Abby put her face into her hands. “Hun, we've talked about this. They have done studies and found the mask helps.”
“Well, I don't believe they help so I only wear one when I absolutely have to.” Allen picked up his fork and finished eating his pie, the whole time looking at the women as if to dare them to continue the discussion. Neither one wanted to approach him on the subject knowing his mind was made up.
Dwayne suggested at the end of the meal that he and Allen go down to the local bar and shoot some pool. He could feel the tension between Allen and Abby and knew masks were a sore subject between the two. They left for the bar as soon as they finished helping clean off the table.
The Hill Top Inn was packed with patrons, even though there were restrictions on capacity, and masks were required in all places of business. Allen looked around and didn't see anyone else wearing a mask and he felt at home. The two friends shot some pool, drank some beers, and talked with other people at the bar. At one point someone coughed on Allen, but neither of them paid attention to the incident. Once Allen had cooled off, he went home and apologized to Abby for pushing his opinion onto her. She forgave him with a kiss.
Two weeks later, Allen noticed Abby wasn't moving around as fast as she normally did. “Are you feeling alright honey,” he asked as he touched her forehead. She was burning hot. Abby's eyes looked droopy and she wanted to sit down most of the time. “Allen, I think I'm sick,” she said. “We should phone the doctor.”
“OK. I'll call her up and see what she has to say about it.” Allen called their local clinic and was told not to bring Abby in because there seems to be an outbreak of COVID in the town. They suggested he bring her into the COVID testing lab near the hospital and see if she has it. They also recommended Allen be tested.
The testing lab was a tent in the back parking lot of the hospital. A nurse took a swab sample from the inside of their noses and the swabs were placed in a container, marked, and shipped out to a lab. The couple was told to stay at home until they get their results back. If Abby's temperature got above 100 for more than 6 hours or got higher, they were to bring her into the hospital. Allen brought her home, the whole time praying she didn't get the virus.
The results came back two days later, both of them had COVID. They were told they needed to quarantine for 2 weeks and then be retested to make sure they were over it. At this time, Abby was feeling better and the fever had broken. Neither one of them had a cough.
The next day there was a phone call from the contact tracers who wanted to know who they had been in contact with during the last two weeks. Allen tried to remember ever where he had gone, but it was a little difficult. Abby reminded him of the dinner party they had with Minnie and Dwayne and then the boys going to the Hill Top Inn after. The contract tracer informed them of a known outbreak at that bar and figured that was where Allen got infected. He then gave it to Abby, since he was asymptomatic and didn't realize he was sick. The contact tracer was going to call over to Dwayne's house to let them know.
Dwayne had gotten sick as well, his case was bad enough to send him to the hospital. Fortunately, he didn't require a ventilator and was able to recover. Minnie had it as well but was asymptomatic like Allen had been.
By the time COVID had gone through the town, there were 300 out of 500 people who tested positive and 149 people died. The town was devastated by the loss of friends and neighbors. And, in unison, the town all decided to adopt the CDC recommendation of wearing a mask, washing hands frequently, and social distancing. From then out, you couldn't go anywhere without seeing someone wearing a mask in public.
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Hi Ruth, this is a powerful story and very topical. Your characters are strong. I would suggest showing rather than telling us what the characters are doing. An example would be "she forgave him with a kiss"; as a reader, I don't necessarily want to be told she forgives him if I know she kisses him. Perhaps describe her mood when she kisses him instead. But overall I enjoyed this story!
Thanks for the suggestion! I will keep that in mind as I write. Too bad this story has been approved or I'd make the change here. Thanks for reading it and sharing your thoughts!
Great story! :)