The whole family was allergic. Bill was allergic to Penicillin and had ballooned up and changed colors after he’d had a shot for a sinus infection. He looked like Violet on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory who’d swelled from chewing gum. Fortunately, the clinic’s nurse had given him a shot with an EpiPen. Bill’s wife Sara was allergic to ants and had stood in a bed of ants while fishing as a child and had to be given multiple Benadryls. She was adamant that they had a bag of ant killer every spring just in case. The first sign of a dirt mound and ants were sent scrambling to neighbors’ yards by the poison granules. Their daughter Ann was allergic to wasps, and when early signs of spring appeared such as buds on dogwood trees or new sprigs of grass, Bill was sure to get the can of jet stream wasp spray to kill any eggs in nests. Their son Kyle was “allergic” to onions, liver, and anything else he didn’t want to eat that his mom cooked, and he was great at embellishing symptoms, real or imagined. His mom suspected an incarnation of the boy who cried wolf, but she didn’t share it with Bill and simply pampered Kyle, in hopes he’d grow out of it.
“I believe I’m developing a new allergy,” Sara said while tossing the decorative throw pillows into the chair in the bedroom, fluffing their pillows, and pulling back the comforter.
“To what?” Bill asked.
“Mom,” she said.
“Don’t be silly,” he said. “You’re half her, so you can’t be allergic.”
“But when I talk to her, I begin to itch, clear my throat, and get hot flashes.”
“Maybe you’re going through the change.”
“Now, you, don’t be silly. I’ve had a hysterectomy.”
“Well, maybe you are allergic, then. Hell, I don’t know. I’ve got to get up early.” Bill pulled back the sheet, eased into the bed, made noises, and closed his eyes.
“Maybe it’s because her health is declining, and she tells me things that I don’t really want to hear. The other day, she called and told me she’d lived through gallbladder, hemorrhoid, and carotid artery surgeries and didn’t want to have cataract surgery. Said one of her friends told her they take out your eyeball and she’s worried they might drop it. I tried to tell her they don’t take out the eye, but she didn’t believe me.”
“She ought to be worried about her mind if she believes that nonsense.”
“Well, she’s worried about her mind, too, since we’ve talked about taking her car. Says she doesn’t know how she’ll get to the library to get her books. All she does is read Harlequin romance novels all day, sometimes two and three a day.”
“They’re all the same. Fantasies. No relationship works like a Harlequin one.”
“She told me the other day she enjoys her imaginary lovers more than she enjoyed dad when he was here.”
“Now, that’s just wrong. I don’t want to hear about that. She better not let that get back to the women’s group at the Methodist church or they’ll boot her out.”
“She told me she can’t remember which books she’s read, so now, she’s marking every page sixty-five with a pencil, so she can pull them and see if she’s read them before she checks them out.”
“That old librarian will have her put in jail for marking all those books!”
“She called me today and read me her obituary.”
“What? Does she think she’s getting ready to check out?”
“Said she didn’t want us to worry about having to write it, but when I suggested some different wording, she told me not to correct her, that she was still my mother, and I wasn’t too old for some punishment.”
“Sounds like she may be losing it if she thinks she can come over and whip you.”
“I know. Maybe I’m not allergic. Maybe it’s just anxiety.”
“Well, go get you some of those Melatonin gummies in the pantry and take a handful, so you can sleep.”
“Okay. Maybe tomorrow will be better. Maybe I’ll take her on a picnic.”
“Great idea,” said Bill and turned on his side.
The hair on his back and his misshapen abdomen spread made Sara think he was a gigantic grotesque fly like Jeff Goldblum had played in the movie. She suddenly felt allergic to Bill and went to the kitchen for Melatonin. She planned to take her mother to the library after the picnic and decided she’d get a Harlequin just for fun.