Abuela is mighty still. I look through the veranda again, my eyes plastering to the stilted wooden arc of the rocking chair. Maybe she’s just asleep. My grandmother has a weird way of resting where she lays still for a couple of minutes and then she gets up to walk around and then sits back down to fall asleep again. It’s odd. Matteo and I seem to think so at least. But this only occurs when she’s sitting on the front porch though. And so far, I haven’t seen her move from that rocking chair in about an hour.
I’m currently in the living room, playing Eat or Die on my PlayStation 4. It would've been a PS5 but I only have Bernardo and my job at Subway to thank. I honestly never get paid enough at Subway, and as for Bernardo, he’s just a punk-ass liar. He said he’ll buy me a PS5 on my happy seventeenth, and he didn’t. He’s very stingy and lives off an economical philosophy on how you have to “earn” what you work for and blah blah blah. Like, I get it, but he still owes me a PS5.
I’m half Mexican and I live with my Abuela and my two older brothers, Bernardo and Matteo. We live in an annoying, snobby rich neighborhood called Palvalla, which is tucked into the Phoenix metropolitan area right next to Arcadia. It's all a desert landscape (well, sort of) and there’s nothing but palm trees and cacti over here. Like a lot of them! Holy hell. You can find them anywhere really, you don't have to try. But if we're keeping tally, I’ve seen more palm trees than cacti over here honestly. The palm trees are ok, it makes you feel like you’re on vacation 24/7 and when the views kick in, it truly feels like paradise.
The sun is currently beaming through the window right now, which makes it kind of hard to see which zombie to kill on the screen. Burgeoning sweat starts to speckle my lips and forehead. It’s mad hot here, which is another thing I should’ve mentioned. It's nothing but dry heat in this stupid city almost all year round. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the hottest summer Arizona has ever had. Hell, at least it stops the snowbirds from swarming in. But they'll probably trickle in once the climate cools up a bit.
Oh, yeah, and my name is Addis or whatever. The name I usually pronounce is Uh-deece instead of Aaa-diis, which is how a lot of people usually pronounce it. It doesn’t really matter until role call starts coming up at the beginning of the school year and I look like a freaking idiot having to enunciate my name. I have a clean slit on my right eyebrow from that one time a feral chihuahua chased me down the neighborhood and nearly bit my eyes off. I didn't even know there had been a wild chihuahua lying dormant in the neighborhood, but it was pretty galvanizing to discover there was one. I didn’t press charges on the owner, but she kept up on hammering apologies and even offered me some money. I didn't take the money and she doesn't live here anymore. I kind of regret it.
“Hey!” Matteo cries, scraping his chair. “Why so many reverse cards?”
Bernardo and Matteo are across the hall in the dining room, playing cards. It’s Uno again, for the fifth time in a row since summer break started. They usually talk amongst themselves in Spanish or Spanglish and I routinely zone them out. I’m a little rusty on my Spanish anyway, but that doesn’t stop Bernardo from hammering in a “Why haven’t you picked up on your Spanish?” line in there somewhere. He’s very serious about preserving our Mexican heritage and is always breathing over my shoulders about it. Matteo isn’t as hardboiled about it, but still, he isn’t against it either. All I want to do is to play video games and hopefully make it to the world championships on Eat or Die one day, is that too much to ask? And besides, I don’t think the prerequisites for the championships are knowing how to speak some muy fuego Spanish.
“What?” says Bernardo.
“You rigged the deck, again. Next time, I’m dealing.”
Bernardo sniggers to himself. “How can you rig a game of Uno?”
Bernardo is twenty-six years old and is currently in his second year of law school. He’s the oldest of us three and is usually the one running things when Abuela is not around. He always makes sure to get a haircut, reads a lot of thick sturdy books, goes to a lot of boring car repair shops, and takes this thing called a Zumba. He’s a bit more subdued than Matteo and starkly reminds me of work.
Matteo, on the other hand, is a bit more playful. I like to think he’s almost the older version of me, except a bit goofier. He’s twenty-two, shields coffee-colored curly hair, and works as a mechanic but he’s recently been thinking about opening his own brewery. On the off days he’s really not doing anything, he goes on a hike with two machetes scrunched up in his hands. Yeah…don’t ask me about it. I stole two hundred dollars from his wallet one evening to buy a Supreme jacket and a Chipotle burrito at the mall.
I’m just kidding, I’m pretty sure he’d be mad as hell if I did that. All around, he’s a pretty chill guy, just don’t expect him to get too deep on you. He’s more of the spontaneous happy goer type.
“Uno, you pussy wiper!” The chair scrapes harder this time, echoing across the looming hall. It seems like it might fall down. I have never heard Matteo this excited over a game of Uno and they play it almost every other day.
“Addis, tally?” Matteo’s head slides up through the kitchen. He pronounces my name without the s. I don't know why but he always does it. He's the only one who does it too.
“Three over one,” I mutter sluggishly, as I fumble with the PlayStation controller.
Matteo springs up and starts doing the tango with an invisible partner. “I win! And d'you know what that needs? Paula! I need to see my sweet Paula to supplement this harrowing victory! Addis, get Abuela for me, I need a ride.”
I pause the game and borrow a glance at the veranda once more, feeling rather disconcerted. It’s strange for her to stay this long without moving. I go to the front porch to wake Abuela up, but suddenly I’m greeted with a paisley gown that's utterly coated in gooey blood. The scarlet saliva is dripping from her mouth and onto the gown and her snowy hair is resting on her shoulder but I don’t hear any breathing. Just the silent, mordant, whispers of death. My heart starts to patter like the zombie ones I shoot in the game.
I scamper back to the dining room. “Guys, I think something’s wrong with grandma.” My fingers feel slightly wet as I scrape them off and on my shorts.
Bernardo and Matteo exchange disquieted looks. They get up right away and follow me to the veranda. I see Bernardo grab his car keys and Matteo dig out his phone. The way that they are staring at each other tells me that some serious shit is about to go down. I’ve never seen this degree of solemnity, even from Matteo.
Bernardo crouches and starts to shake Abuela, which seems rather vain to me at this point. Why can’t my hands stop sweating?
“Mama. Mama!” Bernardo cries. He glares at me witheringly. "What did you do?"
“Call the hospital," He caws at Matteo. "Her mouth is bleeding bad.” Bernardo isn’t wrong. Her mouth is still pouring out blood like a tiny beaker.
Matteo’s phone goes on voice message. “There’s no signal. No one’s picking up over there,” says Matteo. It's alleviating to hear his voice is trembling.
Bernardo jingles his keys. “Then we’re going on a little road trip hermanos. Help me get her into the car.” We heft Abuela into Bernardo’s white Hyundai. Bernardo and Matteo decide to take the front while I sit in the back with the body.
We drive past a shopping center that falls twenty minutes south from our house and then we enter an exit ramp to the highway. A salmon pink hue falls behind Camelback Mountain as the car rumbles in between the lanes. Below the highway, I can see tall fingery palm trees and a few saguaro cacti spotted on the side of the roads and blending into the dry orange evening. I begin to think about Abuela and what kind of disease could’ve caused her to bleed like that. Like I know people get sick from viruses all the time and pandemics have happened loads of times in human history, but this one seemed different. What kind of grave virus causes you to bleed out of your lungs? But then I start to wonder if it’s even a virus to begin with. I pray in my heart that Abuela comes back to us and that somehow this is some cruel joke and things will get better. Then another disturbing thought crops up as they usually do during a crisis.
“What if she becomes a zombie?” I ask out loud.
“That’s stupid, Addis,” says Bernardo. “This is why should stop playing so many video games.”
“It was just an idea,” I snark back. “You think you can act like mom just because she’s gone, but you’re just an idiot.” I don’t know why I said that, and I don’t care. I like it. I think the chaos and stress are getting to me though. It's manipulating my brain to do things I never thought I could.
Bernardo’s eyes furrow in the rearview mirror. Mom and dad are a hot topic in the family, and we usually pretend they’re never there. I probably shouldn’t have brought it up, but I just can’t stand Bernardo’s smugness. The tension starts to solidify.
“Ok, let’s just cool it down,” says Matteo, cajolingly. “It’s not that deep.”
The Banner Health hospital is a massive brick and glass building that swallows up a sprawling parking lot and is interconnected with silver-blue tubes that lead to other glass structures. By the time we arrive, the area is swarming with various vehicles trying to squeeze into a parking space. Police cars roving the area like an irritated hound, and myriads of antlike people are cramming into the hospital. The line stretches like an endless python and just to get a spot, we are literally pummeling our way through the fray. We stand in the line for about thirty minutes and I start to wonder why so many people are at the hospital. Could they all be infected? And then, just like a domino effect, it begins.
A portly bald guy starts to make his way toward the line, but he looks strangely pale and enfeebled. As if all the life and color has been drained out of him. Hell, he’s even limping toward the line. Then he starts to cough up red lumpy blood, much more blood than Abuela had. He stands for a second and then collapses to the ground. Collective gasps and whispers have already started to gather and fresh eyes are aggregating toward the scene.
“Holy shit,” says Matteo. Bernardo and him are in front of me carrying Abuela like a body bag, staring sympathetically at the bald man. Suddenly Matteo’s phone buzzes.
“This is bad,” said Matteo, his eyes glued to the screen. “This virus thing, it appears to be everywhere. Take a look.”
He shows me a news headline by ABC15 on their app, detailing the recent events. Then he displays a YouTube video, scrounging up the events. So far it looks like everyone across the state has been infected and the camera is following various cities and their crowded hospitals and pharmacies.
Suddenly the coughing catches on and more people start to stumble down to the concrete. I avoid a teenage sandy-haired boy that nearly drops to my feet. “Mom, I don't feel so good,” I hear him sputter before his body relinquishes and his eyes regress into lamented nothingness.
“Ok, we need to get the hell out of here,” says Bernardo. We run back to the Sonata and drive away from the storm of coughing and death surrounding us. After what feels like a ten-minute drive, we arrive at a patchy desert hill riddled with prickly shrubs and cacti. We stop by a six feet lime green cactus and put Abuela’s body beside it as we stand next to her.
Up ahead I can see the frenzied town and the mountain, and it feels safe for now. Like we’re completely detached from all the chaos and infections. The wind is soaring into the crying city, and glittering, teary lights are starting to sprout up. Maybe we can live here for the rest of our lives, staring out from the impregnability of this hill. We can just dwell in Bernardo’s car and live by whatever we can scrape.
And then I hear a cough. I turn around hoping it’s Abuela, miraculously rehabilitated. But it’s not. It’s Bernardo.
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