The fear is if the filth takes her blood. My niece has MRSA. It’s pronounced, MUR-suh. The infection has become a beacon for the well-intentioned. They huddle around her like she’s a campfire, crowding.
“How does it feel?”
“I dunno…like nothing, or too much.” The last part comes out tiny and revocable.
When she was three I saved her from choking. She’d put a toy in her mouth that had a suction cup at the end of it. I saw her face expand like a plate, eyes breaking round. I saved her with my pinky; the smallest finger I had. The rubber disc flipped out like a tiddly-wink. Her mom screamed as it spun in the air.
Her mom, my sister, held her against her chest and cried softly. My niece didn’t do anything. Her wind was gone maybe.
I didn’t let her see the blood on my finger. I put my pinky into my mouth and sucked it clean. Her blood, my body.
I felt very important and clean.
The MRSA is on her leg. The rupture is the size and shape of a child’s wet, crumpled sock. Everyone wants to look at it and no one wants to see it. It’s very much like the beginning or ending of something that we cannot admit to.
“Keep it covered.”
“Change three times daily.”
“Watch it closely.”
Instructions. Words. Empty.
On her twelfth birthday I go to my niece’s house and give her twelve Gerber daisies: four red, four pink, four orange. She says they remind her of little suns.
“Thank you, Tita,” she says, hugging me, tugging me with her brown eyes.
“Let’s get a vase,” I say.
She cuts the stems off. They fall into the sink, spilled sticks. After each snip she hands the pretty ends to me and I arrange them into the tall glass; a sun bouquet.
The crowd is there as we cut. We brace against them while we work the flowers. Our shoulders combine; a shield. The crowd is the family. The crowd is the infection. The crowd is the reminder. We circle like wagons, but they tighten and wear us away.
“Tita?” She twists her shoulders, furrows her brow. Brown eyes begging. I glance back and see her face expanding, once again. I take a hand from the vase and reach through the crowd, hot bodies hungry. She takes my hand and I pull.
We run and hide with the flowers in a cave made by us and where we are; a colluded embrace. The cave is a moment fooling no one, but we stay. The crowd splits, breaks; we hear their calls in the distance. The lights of the lanterns flickering small and urgent, running through the trees.
I hold her there. She smells the suns and trusts.
I feel very important and clean.