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The Holiday Cold (Severance, M)

Lady Blessington

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“Oh my God, Mark.  You should have seen your face.”

“Just literally grey,” Ricken supplies.  “The colour of a cold November sky.” 

“Come on,” Mark blushes.  “It wasn’t that bad.”

“Oh, no, it was that bad.”  Gemma sits up.

The four companions rouse and sip their tea.  The many candles flutter in the room.  Deep red hibiscus waves through the screen door.  The ocean roars and crashes in the dark.  

“Yeah.  First of all, you brought four things of wine.”  

“A bottle each,” he shrugs.  “What, is that weird?”

“So I thought you were drunk,” Devon goes on.

“I mean,” Mark says, “I usually am.”

“You looked like zombies had eaten your brain.”

“You looked like you’d donated half your blood.”

“You looked like Bambi after his mom died.  It was a lot.”

Mark blows his nose and smiles.

“You come in with your four bottles of wine and hand them off to Ricken.”

“You big lush.”

“And then you turn around and you spot me, and you go really still.”  Now Gemma winks.  “You looked at me like I was pumpkin pie.”

Mark coughs and presses Kleenex to his face and Gemma scoots in closer on the couch.  His eyebrows disappear under his bangs and he convulses in a juicy sneeze.  He hums out a loud breath and gets cleaned up.

“Bless you,” the others chorus while he honks.

“Whew!  Thank you.  You don’t have to keep that up.”  He drops his tissues in a bag that has a hand-drawn biohazard sign and pulls some fresh ones from the Kleenex box.  

Gemma pets Mark’s warm back.  “How’s it going?”

“It’s just a cold,” he sniffs.  “I think I’ll live.”  

The sea breeze ruffles everybody’s hair.  Outside, a coconut falls with a thump.  Mark scuffs his feet, dislodging pale dry sand.  He clears his throat and can’t suppress a cough.  

“The streets hadn’t been salted,” Gemma says.  “I thought I would die like, three separate times.  This is how charmed I was by all of you.  Ice Storm Thanksgiving!  Our first holiday.”

“The ice storm!  Oh my God,” Devon agrees.  “I can’t believe we went through with our plans.  I must have really wanted you to fuck.”

“And thank you for your service,” Gemma nods.

“His hair was longer then.  Remember that?  And all his socks had holes,” Ricken recalls.  “I just wanted to darn them all myself.”

“Ricken!  You gentle man.” Mark rubs his nose.

“Thanksgiving,” Devon says.  “You’re late, of course.  I’m getting to know Gemma finally.  You walk in with this rosy, mussed up look.  Your nose is red and you’re all wobbly.  I’m furious.  I think you’ve driven drunk across sheer ice and that is not okay.  You beam at Gemma with these shiny eyes and then you say the world’s been dipped in glass.”

“This poet,” Ricken sighs, remembering.  “I take your wine and sit you on the couch and bring you out some water,” he goes on.  “You’re looking out the window at the ice and then you turn around and look at me.”

“He looked so scared.  Oh God,” Gemma supplies.  “Just drunk and scared and restless suddenly.”

“I’m so embarrassed,” Mark moans nasally.

“You couldn’t help it, buddy.  You were sick.  What was your temperature?  A hundred five?”

“You get up and you say you have to go.  You just remembered you’ve got laundry on and now you’re sure there’s going to be a flood.  Something’s wrong with the washer, you forgot.  You take two steps and you faint on the floor.”

“My head hurts,” Mark admits.  “It’s just a cold.  That was pneumonia, guys.  I have a cold.”

A rustle goes around the room and soon there’s a cool face cloth on his head.  He shivers and a crocheted blanket wraps itself around his sunburnt frame.  Mark blinks around in bleary gratitude.  “Jesus.  I’m not an invalid, but thanks.”

“Poor dear,” says Ricken, tapping pressure points on Mark’s collarbone and then on his face.  

“You’re very swee–...  HH-heeee–... ah-hahh–... HADZDZZHHeee!”

“Bless you!”



Mark honks his nose and then itches it with the drenched Kleenex.  “This painting of this grass’s making me sneeze.”  They all look at the painting of long grass bent over in a breeze on the far wall.  “It’s tickliiiih... HHITCHCH!”

“Oh, bless!  So sick!”

Mark empties out the tissue box and stares.  He soaks more Kleenex with a gurgling blow, then breaks out in a sweat and shivers hard.  “Could we turn up the heat and the A/C?”

“Oh, buddy,” Gemma says, feeling his cheek.  “Sounds like the flu, my bridegroom.  How’d you feel?”

Mark’s eyes well up at Gemma’s gentle words.  “Oh, boy.  I think I, uh.  I might be sad?  Can we pretend this isn’t happening?”

“Mark.  All of your feelings are welcome here.”  Ricken crouches before him, pats his knee.   “You’re doing a great service to us all, and I for one am honoured by your tears.”

Devon sends Ricken to go make more tea and find Mark tissues.  Mark has gone bright red.

“Hey, you.”  Gemma’s refolding the face cloth.  She blots Mark’s cheek, his neck, his stuffy head.  “We’re human, babe, and this is in the mix.  In sickness and in health.  You’re all good, Scout.”

Devon settles down on Mark’s other side.  She slings an arm behind him on the couch and thumps his knee.  “Sorry you feel like shit.  We’ve got you, buddy, ‘kay?  It’s not your fault.”

This splits Mark open and fresh tears gush down.  He gasps and wipes his red nose on his shirt.  Some crickets call each other in the grass.  He nods.  “Okay.  Ugh.  Thank you.  I’m okay.”

He lets the others soothe him while he weeps.  After a while they put him in the shower and Gemma helps him wash.  He doesn’t fall.  Then, toweled off, he’s tucked fresh into bed.

They’ve set him up in the clean, breezy room that looks out on the beach.  The bed is huge.  They all curl up and listen to the surf and give Mark little pats where they can reach.  The wallpaper is birds and bright red flowers.  The candles light it up for them to see.

Mark blows his nose for the eight hundredth time and gratefully drinks the tea, then snuggles down.  His wife kisses his forehead, rubs his chest.  His sister gives his foot a gentle squeeze and Ricken rests a warm hand on his hip.  Mark’s voice is scratchy but it’s not gone yet.

“When you brought me home from the hospital, and I had slept for like a whole week straight, we all got back together.  Remember?  You came to my apartment with fresh pie, and sunflowers, and sat around my room.  We just listened to records and ate pie.  It was the best.  And then I fell asleep.”

“Fuck yeah!  That was a good time,” Devon says.  “Ugh, Ricken’s pumpkin pie.  Best in the west.”

“You looked like a drowned kitten,” Ricken sighs.  “I just wanted to tuck him in my coat.”

Mark struggles up.  “You did?  God, that’s so nice.”

“My husband, everyone.  The nicest guy.”

Mark sinks back down and flops towards Gemma.  She pets his back and fondles his eyebrows.

“You were so quiet, but you had that smile.  Yup, that’s the one,” says Gemma, kissing Mark.  “Your nose was red, just like it is right now.”  She nuzzles it.  

He gently turns away. His eyes brim and he squints and sucks in air.  “Oh– HAH– ugh– whew– KIGGH-ahhh… WAAHTZH!  Hud-DTTZSHSH!  EH-HEH-HISHHOOOO!”



“Mark!  Bless.”

Mark laughs and coughs and thanks them nasally.  “Mark: two, holidays: zero.  Sorry, bros.”

“Don’t even,” Devon says, shaking his knee.

“I ruined—”

“You got sick, silly, that’s all.  In sickness and in health,” Gemma repeats.  She strokes Mark’s hair, her eyes warm chocolate brown.

Lush vegetation rubs itself outside.  The candles flicker in an ocean breeze.  Mark’s people look at him and he looks back.

“Thank you,” he says again.  “Thanks, family.”


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