Her Own Flesh and Blood
She survived her generation's deadliest plague. Most of her family did not.
I. Prelude, Marianne and Darrell, Gwinett County, 1999
The ferris wheel and a funnel cake, just after dusk at the fairgrounds. The big lights blink and the metal creaks to life as he scoots closer to her. After the ride she blows powdered sugar on him and he chases her over the mulch, holding a greasy paper plate, trying to blow some back. He helps her up the steps of the other rides; on the Scrambler he sits to her left, knowing the force will squish her into his arms. He wins her a stuffed horse, which she gives to a kid standing in line. The only thing he wants is to be with her—to be as close to her as he can. He is aware of her story, has heard about all the terrible things that happened to her. She’s sure that no one will want to be with her again.
She doesn’t think it’s a date but will later change her mind.
Photograph by Audra Melton
She’s given him rides to their church. She’s cooked him spaghetti and made the sauce from scratch. One night they dress up like the Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood and go to a party. He babysits her beagle and sits in the bleachers to see her only living son march with his tuba on the football field. He’s divorced, with five kids, and he considers meeting her some kind of miracle. Her friends call him a Bubba, and his sister warns that she’ll literally be the death of him. At first she isn’t that into him. But tonight she sees him differently, not as the quiet little guy at church, but as a simple man without artifice, powdered sugar on his forehead. He makes her laugh the whole night. She doesn’t want to break his heart, and he doesn’t want her to be alone the rest of her life. He keeps telling her that he doesn’t care about her disease. No kissing, she tells him—not out of fear for his safety, but out of chastity. They’re both in their mid-forties.
There are two stories of her life. One really begins that night, with the Ferris wheel and the funnel cake, just after dusk at the fairgrounds. The other—well, that’s her story alone; she’s lived it. It’s been hers every day: when she gets up to take her pills in the morning; when she passes the pictures on the refrigerator; when her head spins after she takes more pills at night; when she wakes up from the vivid dreams; and when she goes to work and looks at the bulletin board, when the knob turns and her office door opens and . . .