What is it about bookshops that draws the infirm from their sickbeds late at night? These folks are clearly not up for the excursion, not with the square footage of today’s stores. Rasping, blowing, sneezing and snuffling—they stagger through the aisles completely oblivious to The Healthy, who are forced to dive from teeming auras of contagion.
One can only imagine the scene that might prompt The Ailing One to climb out of bed and venture out into the cold night air…
The lights are dim. The smell of Vaporub hangs in the air, and the room is silent but for the battery of beeping machines surrounding the patient. Phlegmy Leonard lies on his hospital bed, steeped in sweat and gasping for what could very well be his last breath. His skin is grey and clammy, his eyes rheumy and weeping. Family members dab their tears by his bedside, taking turns masking themselves and peering through the germ barrier to check on his condition.
It doesn’t look good.
The doctor makes her way into the room, gloved and double gowned, her face grave from behind an N95 mask. With a glance at the relations, she disappears inside the Iso-tent to examine the patient. Leonard’s relatives hardly dare to breathe as they await the diagnosis. They’ve tried everything… steamy vapors, immune boosters, saline drips, antivirals, antibacterials, leeches and Echinacea. To no avail.
Moments later, the doctor reappears, peeling off her purple neoprene gloves. She shakes her head. “His only chance now,” she says, gazing up to the heavens as if receiving divine medical guidance, “is the book store.”
Leonard’s snowy-haired grandmother gasps and clutches a tissue in front of her face, willing to cling to the tiniest shred of hope. In an instant, the loved ones are mobilized, gathering coats and wallets and preparing to lift Leonard from his cot.
The doctor throws back the plastic curtains surrounding the bed. “Don’t stop until you reach the Hot-in-Fiction section. Let him smell the inks, feel the paper.” She narrows her eyes, slowly nodding her head. “It’s what he needs now. And HURRY!”
Outside the bookstore, they flutter around him like hummingbirds, fluffing his hair, wiping his nose. With a Fisherman’s Friend on his tongue and a ball of tissue in his hands, Leonard wheezes as they push him through the great double doors.
Within seconds, the Hot-in-Fiction section is cleared of The Healthy. Leonard sways and bobs, standing in front of the hardcover books. His relatives outside gasp as he sneezes one, two, three times into his sleeve.
Behind him, others approach—the Nauseous, the Dizzy and the Febrile, each clinging to his own bookstore prescription. One, I’m certain, is followed by a nurse holding a bedpan.
Leonard’s eyes clear and his back straightens. The wad of tissue drops to the floor and his relatives, noses still pressed to the window, hold their breath as his face strains, preparing for another hacking, wheezing attack. But, miraculously, it passes. He reaches for a glossy trade paperback original and traces the raised type with his finger. He brings the book closer to his swollen nose and inhales its sweet elixir.
Leonard feels his sinuses drain and his chest clear. He turns to the window to face his shivering family, and crumples his face into something he remembers to be a smile.
He’s going to pull through.
*This is an encore performance by Phlegmy Leonard.