|On my blog, I brainstormed a list of ten ideas having to do (some more than others) with zippers. This one was the second on my list, and the one I will elaborate on for this prompt: |
The giggles and squeals had died down to hushed whispers after the third time that Tracey's dad had come out and barked at us to be quiet. Girls were starting to drift off to sleep. I wasn't sleepy, and my legs itched. I had flea bites all over my shins and ankles and no matter how many times my mom had warned me to not scratch at them lest they break open, bleed, and become infected I still scratched. I tore at them with my fingernails, shuddering at the relief that came with each scraping of my nails while trying simultaneously to not dig too hard. It was a fine balance, an art, and one I had a lot of practice with.
Lots of my new friends had pets, I'm sure, but for some reason their homes didn't seem to be overrun with fleas as ours was. We'd only lived in this house for a few months but already our two dogs and two cats had taken over the place. The cats took their meals on a countertop in the kitchen, which was something that had seemed perfectly normal to me until I started visiting the homes of my new friends. These sparkling suburban tract homes came straight from the screen where I watched sitcoms every night. These were Brady Bunch homes, Bewitched homes, Partridge Family homes. None of these TV homes were places where cats would jump up on the kitchen counter to eat from their bowls, nor were Tracey's or Colleen's or Caryn's homes. And if any of my friends' cats had caused a chronic flea infestation such as existed in my house, it would not have been tolerated, I realized at some level. Indoor cats would have become outdoor cats overnight but in our house, the kids would have been thrown outside as soon as the cats.
I scratched and scratched and suddenly I felt something warm and sticky on my legs. I felt sick. My mom had many times warned me ominously that if I were to break open the bites with my scratching they would become infected. That's as far as she ever went with this scenario. It seemed obvious that infection was not only guaranteed but also pretty much the end of the line.
As I felt the blood on my legs I tried to stifle my wails of panic. I had to go check out the damage in the light, in the bathroom. With shaking hands I grasped the zipper pull of my sleeping bag from the inside. It tended to stick. I didn't have a fluffy pink or floral sleeping bag that was meant especially for indoor sleeping, for slumber parties and sleepovers with girlfriends. I had my grandfather's old WWII sleeping bag. Khaki-colored, heavy-duty, and musty-smelling. I had always compensated for my embarrassment of it by reminding myself that my grandfather had slept out in the trenches in it! At war! But many years later I did the math and realized that he couldn't possibly have, a fact that was corroborated by my mother. "Your grandfather bought that sleeping bag in an Army-Navy store when I was a kid! I don't think he used it much..."
But the zipper was tricky and I was emotional and the panic was rising in my throat so when the thing finally gave a little bit the sound of the zipper tore out into the room of softly snuffling girls and if that didn't wake them, my whimpers from the hallway bathroom soon brought them running to my side. They clustered around me, peering intently at my bloodied and bumpy, swollen legs. "What is it?" someone asked, wide-eyed. The shocked silence affirmed for me that no, none of my friends thought it was normal to have so many flea bites. I waved off this unimportant fact. What did it matter about that when I'd likely lose a leg - maybe both! - to a ravaging infection that was so clearly inevitable?
Renee, the most practical and clear-sighted among us, was quiet at first. Then she shrugged. "Why don't you wash the blood off? It doesn't even look like that much."
I pouted a little, took the washcloth she procured for me from a cabinet and started to do just that. She was right. It didn't seem that bloody. But... what about infection? Shouldn't we call my parents? Or at least Tracey's mom?
The girls had started yawning and filing back to their sleeping bags. No one seemed too concerned about the possible, no, probable, loss of my legs to infection so I dabbed at the bites with my washcloth and eventually groped my way back in the dark to my musty old sleeping bag. This time the zipper was quieter as I tucked myself in.