Samuel stood in the living room looking at his son and shaking his head. He stooped down and felt the boy's forehead. No fever. That was a relief.
"He certainly seems better," he had to admit. "No temperature, no coughing, no runny nose."
"Exactly!" said his wife, Sarah, plopping her weary body on a corner chair. "It's like I was telling you: he died, but Elisha brought him back to life."
Deep inside his heart Samuel knew he should be happy to see his son alive. But something inside him screamed, "No!"
He squeezed into the chair next to Sarah and sighed. So did she.
"Maybe the headache he had this afternoon wasn't that bad. I get headaches once in a while. And everyone gets a touch of the sun from time to time."
"He was dead, Samuel. As in D E A D - dead. Believe me, I've lived long enough to know DEAD when I see it."
"Oh you don't understand," moaned Samuel, leaning his head on her shoulder. "It's not fair."
"What's not fair?" she spoke the words into his graying hairs.
"Oh - everything!"
"You mean you're not glad to see Josiah alive?"
"Gee, thanks, Dad," grumbled Josiah, turning to leave the room, seeing as there wasn't any place to sit. What was it with parents anyway? Three people and only one chair. Ridiculous!
"And where do you think you're going?" demanded Samuel, seeing his I-don't-have-to-take-this-standing-up attitude.
"Upstairs to do my homework."
"Oh, no you don't. You don't know where that papyrus has been, or who might have touched it with (shudder) unwashed hands! No, we can't take any chances. You're not to go anywhere near that homework. Understand?"
"Uh, Dad, aren't you going a little overboard?"
"It's just because I care about you, son."
Gee, thanks, Dad, thought Josiah. Can I be any more smothered? Out loud he said, "Well, may I please go outside then?"
"No. That's out of the question. The air is filled with microbes."
"For heaven's sake," interrupted Sarah, "if by some strange reason he happens to get sick, we'll just have Elisha pray for him again."
"There you go again, playing the faith card. Why doesn't anybody around here ever listen to me? You all avoid me like - like the plague."
"That's not true and you know it. And something tells me you need to go to the bathroom."
"Do not," lied Samuel, incensed at his wife's know-it-all attitude. He repositioned his head in front of hers. "And why didn't you tell me where you were going this afternoon? You know I like to be informed."
"I'm sorry," said Sarah, unintentionally breathing down his neck, "but I know you too well. Admit it, Sam. You are a junkie. A news junkie. Junkie as in JUNK. With a capitol J. You soak in everything the paper has to say about every single epidemic out there. And the moment a body shows any signs of less than perfect health, you cry "Plague! And you do have to go."
"I do not have to go," protested Samuel, placing his leg on her lap. "And besides, I'm just being practical."
"No, you're not being practical. What you're being is a worrywart. With a capitol W." His hair was tickling her nose. She sneezed. "Ah choo!"
"Oh no!" cried Samuel, leaping from the chair in a single bound. "We must get you to a doctor! But how can we? The plague! Oh no!"
"Come on, Dad," moaned Josiah. "One little sneeze and you act all crazy." He saw the empty lap and jumped into it.
"Ow! You're getting heavy!" exclaimed Sarah.
"I heard that rasp. It's just like I keep saying. You're sick! Or you could be sick! Or you might have some new virus that no one's discovered yet and - Oh, I don't know what to do! What are we going to do?" He began to pace back and forth across the room, bite his nails, and cry, "I have to go to the bathroom!"
"You see, that's why I didn't tell you when Josiah died," said Sarah. "I knew that if I told you, you'd go ballistic."
"No, I wouldn't. How dare you compare me to a missile? And I really do need to go."
"So go already."
"But I have to get you to a doctor!"
"I'm not sick."
"But... but..." Samuel's thoughts were getting jumbled. His mind was twisted in a knot and his legs in an even bigger knot.
"Admit it," Sarah pressed her point. "Wouldn't you have immediately called for the 'Some Trust In Horses and Chariots' emergency medical transport?"
"Well, yeah. Why not?" Oh the agony!
"And wouldn't their office have sent for the 'No Interest' Insurance Company?"
"Of course. That's why we have insurance."
"And wouldn't they have called the mortuary and demanded an autopsy - especially in light of the recent epidemic of bird flu?"
"Yeah... So where are you going with this?" He crossed his legs and did the chicken dance.
"My point," said Sarah, "is that with all the people running in and out, looking to snatch every scrap of nonexistent cash they can get from our empty pocket-books, the air would get clogged with so much unbelief that I'd never get my miracle."
"How dare you accuse me of..." Samuel began to protest. But then the more he thought of it, the more he realized she was right. How could she have gotten her miracle with him, the chump, messing it up? And of course, chump rhymes with mump. Chumps. Mumps. What was the difference?
Of course, just because he was a chump didn't doom him to total loserhood. The truth was, she and Josiah were all he had, and he didn't know what he'd do if he ever lost them.
It was time for a group hug and a powwow. Samuel pulled his family close and hugged them. "I'm sorry," he apologized. Guess this old geezer needs to learn the difference between a wheeze and a sneeze."
"Oh, that's all right," said Sarah. "At least you're not a bag of fleas."
"I wouldn't be so sure of that," said Samuel. "But regardless, I vow from now on never to be afraid of another 'ah choo.'" Samuel pulled out of the hug, thankful that the outhouse was only a hop, skip, and a jump away.
It was the front door.
"No Interest," said the voice on the other side, followed by a loud "Ah choo!"
Samuel, Sarah and Josiah all looked at each other. And ran like the wind.