I look around for wood to touch each time. Just a little knock to stave it off. The fact that we sailed through December and early January bug free (apart from the old parasitic eye) is something of a miracle which needs to be guarded. I’m hell-bent on guarding it. I try not to tell anyone that the bugs have eluded us – the lack of a solid piece of wood nearby to stroke to ensure our good fortune is usually the reason. If I have to mention it, like I did the other day to an elderly neighbour when she asked, then I search for wood to touch without being noticed. There was no wood nearby. I’d have to have left her standing in the middle of the road, talking about how she burst both eardrums the last time she had it – such was the force of the cough. It was tempting. Lovely old pine trees a short trot up the road, branches swaying in the breeze, beckoning. So even as I said it, as I admitted we had escaped and I touched the car in case there’s any wood lurking in the ancient metal, I knew I had blown it.
In the pharmacy later that day to pick up my ultra expensive eye drops (€180 per week, thank god for the DPS) I dance away from anyone who is coughing. They all seem to be coughing. Not a tissue over a mouth in sight. So I dance up and down the aisles pretending to be searching for something and wait until the coast is clear. Then I waltz up and claim the drops that will save my eye.
It’s that very day that I begin to know. I send an important text message. It’s to elicit support from a teacher for a slightly bruised son. I compose it carefully. It’s crucial that it be understood in the way it is intended. I press send. My eyes well up and spill over. It’s then that I know it’s brewing. A super supportive text is fired straight back to me. Exactly what I had been looking for. A great result. Not something to weep over yet weep I do. I’m getting the bloody flu.
There’s one person in the house who cannot get the flu, under any circumstance, and he has had the vaccine, just. Five days before my symptoms show. I remember the acuteness of the attack from the last time I had it three years ago. Back pain, muscle aches in legs, mild to moderate delirium, dry cough, sore ribs, fever and chills, wiped out unable to move. I’m the only person in the house who should not bring this upon us. I’m not meandering about in big crowds like the kids in school or himself squished on the dart at rush hour, or on a packed office floor, or at the 3,000 peopled Pendulum Summit. No. I’m knocking around pretty solo, ducking and diving away from anything that sounds like a cough. How could this have come my way?
In my delirium I blame him. He had the vaccine on the Friday. On the Sunday there was, how should one put it, a passionate exchange. Can snogging someone after they’ve had the flu jab give you the flu? It seems utterly plausible and vaguely scientific. In a social science sort of way. The inactive virus in the flu jabbed host becomes super excited and hyper-active when it comes into contact with a stranger’s saliva. I google it and convince myself that this is exactly what has taken place. There’s an article that backs it up. At least that’s how I’m reading it. He won’t get it from me now which is some consolation. I’m taking the hit for him. Phew. Or was it the little girl who sat beside me in Starbucks, also on the Sunday. I was sitting there writing, early in the morning while everyone else slept. The last lie on of the holidays. Just me. Until a father shunted his two kids in my direction, despite the rest of the place being empty, and they sat beside me. They were loud and I could’ve moved, but I like kids and I’m used to working in noise. Besides, if I had moved I’d most likely have stopped writing altogether and gone home instead. Then she started to sneeze. I should’ve moved, but I was mid creative thought, coming up with an ending and feeling exceptionally good. In the zone. A little kid’s sneeze wasn’t going to throw me off. I might’ve shot a glance in her direction, taken in the florid cheeks and the sickly eyes. Which might’ve alerted the father to tell her to put her hand over her mouth when sneezing. A little late. He knew what was coming my way.
I try to steer clear of my own kids. There’s a big birthday looming for marque 3, tipping the balance in favour of the teenagers in the house. I don’t want to be the cause of it being a damp squib. They come in to see me and I dismiss them, waving my aching hand to shoo them away. There’s a dog on my bed minding me. He won’t leave. He’s ensuring a speedier recovery than would otherwise be possible. Every time I see his little face sprigs of joy tickle my brain, ensuring the release of some chemical or other fighting the virus head on. Next year I’m getting the flu jab and I won’t snog anyone to pass it on. I swear.