I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza
I opened the window,
-1918 Child’s jump rope rhyme
A hundred years later,
The people didn’t know,
The window was open,
Sitting here, rocking in my chair, I can see my two little girls, innocent, with pigtails and fairy-tale dresses, jumping rope with the two Cramer girls from next door. They’re singing their jump-rope song, but I can’t hear it because the window is shut tight.
I kissed my husband’s soft, brown hair. He’s the boy I loved at twelve and the one I loved at forty-two. He was my hold on the past, on my youth, and he was the hope I held tight to for the future. He gave me two girls; their hair still blonde and pure and their eyes sparkling blue and green. So much life was in them. They thrilled my heart.
My husband coughed. He shivered. I could not leave him. He needed me and I needed him and I sacrificed everything to save him. If he was to die, he would not die alone. I owed him that much. Some victims died within hours of their first symptom. For others, their skin turned a blue-gray hue while they suffered, gasping for air for days before they succumbed; their lungs filled with fluid and they literally drowned inside. I wiped the sweat that beaded above his brow for three days before he took his last breath and fell silent.
My girls, I kept in another room. I did not let them out to see their dying father, not because I wanted to save them from a broken heart, but to separate them from the deadly virus that stole his life. Then, I stole myself away. I knew, it was just a matter of time and I too would cough and talk with fever and die. I did not want my girls to suffer the heartache of tending me and then to die. I would not breathe death unto them, even if it was my last. With all my heart, I needed to hold them, to comfort them, and for everything I am I needed to be comforted by them. A squeeze around my neck and their weight upon my lap would make earth’s pastures green again and the sky as blue as the world as ever seen. But I couldn’t. How could I sacrifice my children for a moment of comfort? Never.
I talked to them. I might have been walls apart from them, but I spoke words of love and encouragement to them. They knew, I was only a few steps away, but they were steps that had to separate us. They would learn to live without me and their father, but they would live.
I called the coroner and told him of my husband’s death. I did what I was told. I laid my husband, wrapped in plastic, bags and his bed sheets and blankets outside, next to my front door. Hours later, I saw the men from my window, come dressed in their space suits and they took him away. Over the phone, the coroner gave me the name and phone number for the physician who worked our area. He would pass by in a day or two and check on me and my daughters. But I begged—no, just my girls—tell him, save my girls.
So they could not come out, I put three nails in the door. They cried and begged me to let them out but I would not. They wanted me and I wanted them, but we had to be separated.
The doctor came and my girls opened their window. It was the only way in or out and he touched them and he breathed death upon them and he promised me that my little girls would be fine. But, I would not let him in or my little girls out. I could not be the angle of death. Not for anyone.
Hours passed and then I heard them. First, one coughed and the other sneezed. Then, I listened, and I could see them jumping rope with the Cramer girls next door. With their pigtails and fairy-tale dresses, they sang, “I had a little bird, Its name was Enza,
I opened the window, And in-flu-enza.
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