First things first.
Every night, Frank gives his wife two calcium tablets before they go to bed. She opens her rosy palm and he plops the white capsules on top of soft flesh. She always laughs, joking about what’s really in the tablets but swallows them obligingly. He kisses her cheek before turning out the light.
When the kids are little, Frank ties the laces of his son’s tennis shoes into double knots. He buys his daughter fluoride toothpaste. Makes both children drink a glass of whole milk at every dinner.
Frank flosses twice daily, tries to get at least seven hours of sleep a night and avoids paper cuts. Frank visits health food stores just as easily as the general practitioner. He’s not a black-or-white man, believing in both Eastern and Western medicine. A good shot of antibiotics cures his son’s strep, St. John’s Wart his wife’s depression.
Frank’s a concerned yet cautious husband and father. It’s his job. His family appreciates the stakes he puts on their health.
One day he goes to fill a prescription. Nothing serious; just a healthy, doctor-prescribed dose of vitamin B12 and iron supplements. The Pharmacist, ringing him up, asks Frank if he’s heard about the latest epidemic that’s cropped up.
They say it comes in waves, says the Pharmacist. Decimates.
Frank’s hand tightens around the Rx pill bag.
He wants to know what else is out there. The lurker around the corner. Frank goes to the library and checks out books on communicable diseases. Reads about necrotic tissue and scarlet fever and Ebola and a myriad of other ailments. To test for meningitis, Frank touches his chin to his chest daily to see if anything’s amiss. He watches his family move quietly in their usual routines and shakes his head, thinking, So much. So much more out there.
As they grow older and careless, Frank tries to tighten the reins.
His son wants to try out for the high school football team. Frank thinks of the broken bones and the inevitable concussion and the late nights with lack of sleep and tries to suggest a different, safer sport.
Frank believes his daughter is sleeping around despite his wife’s insistences to the contrary. Frank acquires birth control pills and begins slipping them in his daughter’s glass of skim milk. She drinks it unknowing, wiping froth from her lips.
Frank cancels their yearly trip to the Caribbean. He doesn’t trust traveling; especially out of the United States. Learning to scuba dive was on their agenda but not anymore. Decompression sickness can get you, he tells his wife, brain amoebas too.
It’s too much, Frank, she says, retiring to the bedroom. Frank laughs.
She says, No really, it is.
Frank adds more numbers to his speed dial. The top five, bypassing his wife and his mother, are 911, The Centers for Disease Control, the family doctor, the local fire department and Animal Control because he just never knows when an unleashed and possibly rabid animal will be loosed.
Frank plots. Plans. Comes home one bright, early morning bearing gifts. When his wife sees what he’s bought she calls him an impolite word. She leaves the house. Stung, Frank regrets ever giving her the calcium pills and vows to let her fend for herself from now on.
He’s bought gas masks; green, long-nosed muzzles with mesh orbs for eyes. Alien masks. A two-for-one deal at the Military Surplus store that made Frank think, Well, why not? They’re not the rinky-dink kind either. They cost a pretty penny but he’s sure domestic preparedness is worth it.
Frank feels safe inside.
He stores the gas masks in a plastic tub under his bed and waits.