Hong Kong Flu
Fever came on fast. Without warning. Kept rising,
rising, rising, til my head felt like it exploded.
My parents noticed something wasn’t right
after I passed out on the dining room floor.
Doctor visited me at home, and said I had the Hong Kong flu.
My mother convinced him she could take better care
of me than the nurses in the hospital. He knew the real reason,
shook his head sadly, and left her with medicine.
I wrote letters to boys in Vietnam and knew Hong Kong
was somewhere in that direction. Fell asleep dreaming
of envelopes filled with colorful germs, but no words.
Weeks passed lying on a cot in the living room.
Down the street, a girl died of this same flu,
and I curled up on the stiff cot wondering if I’d notice
the difference between sleeping forever and sleeping through my feverish
of watching people wearing big straw hats pushing carts down narrow streets.
I longed for an encylopedia so I could find some connection
between my fever and this faraway place.
If I lived, I was certain my parents would buy an entire
encylopedia set. A salesman might even give them a deal
if he came while I was burning in fever. Suddenly
my head was swimming in visions of Hong Kong and
I worried they’d buy H if we could only afford one volume.
I missed our dogs who lived in the yard
and whispered, “Buy D,” before falling asleep
dreaming of dogs wearing straw hats, dogs chasing carts,
dogs running through rice fields.
Before the Phone Goes Dead
I answer the phone and listen to a woman ramble on about
how she has locked her keys in the car and nothing is going right.
"I know this is the wrong number and I'm in this dark parking lot."
Then the phone goes dead and I'm left wondering if I should trace the call,
notify the police, or simply finish reading my daughter her books before
Phone rings in the middle of the night and I must decide whether to
or wait until morning to see who has died.I pick up the receiver but say
"Pendejo! ¿Sabes quien es?" he laughs.
I have no idea who he is and remain quiet.
"La cagamos," he continues.
"Portate bien," I say before the phone goes dead,
hoping he'll believe he's called his mother by mistake.
On a hot afternoon the phone rings and a man begins talking about how
only four hundred more miles to drive and everything will be fine this time.
He's sorry about what has happened and is certain it won't happen again.
"Baby, I can't wait to see you. Baby, why aren't you saying anything?"
"I think you have the wrong number."
"Quit clowning, Baby."
Then the phone goes dead.
As a child, I'd rearrange the living room furniture
before my mother returned from another stay
at the hospital, looking somewhat faded and less
complete after having tumors removed here and there.
Feeling incapable of providing a miracle,
I'd haul the worn-out orange chair to a different
corner in the living room and the beat-up couch to another wall.
Knowing my mother would be spending her entire day
sleeping on this couch, I'd try to find a view that'd
replace oldness with new. Make the place look like
a living room instead of the dying room it always became.
Mother would stagger in looking confused. Too young to understand the
disorientation of morphine,I'd watched my mother find the couch and
mumble it looked
so nice and clean before falling asleep, rearranging her dreams.
Diane Payne is the author of the recently published short story
collection Freedom's Just Another
the memoir Burning
and the young adult novel A New Kind of
<http://www.amazon.com/New-Kind-Music-ebook/dp/B003QTDMH0/ref=sr_1_3_title_1_kin?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1364566592&sr=1-3>. She teaches creative writing at University of Arkansas-Monticello, where
she's faculty advisor of Foliate Oak Literary