The Fever by Emily Harrison

(published 8th October 2018)

The reddening was getting worse, splitting out across my sclera like the wetlands of southern Louisiana. It was a common symptom according to the experts – bloodshot eyes. A drop of saline could soothe it, but the wine red would still snake across my white; a marker that I was a sufferer – a casualty of the spreading allergen. It didn’t help that I constantly rubbed them, wound my index fingers anti-clockwise to counter the itch that came as a side syndrome, swollen blood vessels abound. I’d circle and circle and circle until the kohl that I’d applied bled as though I was made from coal. I checked the pocket mirror I kept in my bag and licked my thumb to wipe the collection of smudges away. The sweat from the underground train had made it sticky and the more I wiped, the more it dragged like a child’s finger painting.

From here I can tell who has been given the diagnosis. A young man is dabbing his eyes with a yellowing tissue, folded as though it’s a delicate pocket square. His nose is itching too – he’s scrunching and twisting it like a feline sniffing prey. Mine only ever itches above ground, but it runs all day. The allergen mixing with my mucus, trying to keep my sinuses clear.

I sneeze into the inner side of my elbow and pray to whatever God there is that this train hurries up. My whole body is cloying into a sickly mess, and I need to shower and swallow a tablet. Apparently steam stems the allergen. But I didn’t take my medication – forgotten in the morning rush – and it’s the tiny pill that’ll ease me. It’s a packet the doctor prescribed. You can buy it off the shelf too – different versions, different medical concoctions, but this is the stuff that works. Tried and tested. Someone else sneezes next to me, straight into their cupped palms, and I gag. The only saving grace is that this thing cannot be caught off another human – it does not spread between bodies.

The train reaches my stop and after a sweaty shuffle and a brisk walk I reach the street of my flat, passing by glass shop windows, glancing at my spectre self. I go by others who look pale and drained too. Their throats no doubt dry like mine – the lining heavy and raw thanks to inhaling the tempered air. A few who are unaffected look at me as though I’m a walking disease, rubbing at my sore tear ducts, slowly.

Now I’m back above ground my nose begins to itch again, and as I reach my flat and slip drowsily inside, I sneeze straight out into the room and walk through the bacteria as though it’s perfume. The tablets sit in the kitchen under the sink inside an old biscuit tin full of empty paracetamol packets and randomly assorted plasters. You have to keep the drugs out of the light – according to the doctors. A dry place, for reasons I don’t truly understand. I pop one out of the silver packet and roll it in my fingers before setting on my tongue and swallowing thickly. It sticks, so I put my head under the tap for a little water. It’s warm, and droplets of it slide off my cheek, down onto my jaw and neck.

The flat is humid and silent, and I flip the TV on for some background noise, catching fits and starts of whatever’s being said.

“…is threatening to quit once again…”

“…Brexit…we could solve…look like fools.”

I pad back over to change the channel and catch the end of the weather forecast.

“…and what a week it’s been for hay fever sufferers, and I’m sorry to say it’s only going to continue, with the pollen count as high as it’s ever been…”

I sneeze again and press the number four on the controller, The Simpsons will be playing on the other side.

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A young writer from Yorkshire, Emily has recently discovered that she actually likes creative writing, despite everything she may have previously said. She can be found on Twitter @emily__harrison, and has had work published with Idle Ink, Storgy, Retreat West and Riggwelter Press to name a few.