Pink Eye ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Alvin Fritchie lived on a farm a few miles outside of town. He had so many brothers and sisters that nobody knew exactly how many. He missed a lot of school because he had to depend on his mother or some other family member to drive him in and sometimes their car was broken down or the creek was up and they couldn’t get across the little bridge that separated their property from the highway. I thought Alvin was lucky that he got so much time off.
One day in our fourth grade class we noticed that Alvin kept rubbing his eye, first one eye and then the other. When you looked right at him and he looked back, he looked “sick out of his eyes,” as my grandmother would have said. Finally our teacher, Miss Meeks, called him out into the hallway to have a word with him. When Miss Meeks came back in and Alvin wasn’t with her, we knew she had sent him to the nurse’s office.
In a little while the nurse, Miss Bullard, knocked on the door. Miss Meeks stopped what she was doing and went to the door and the two of them talked for a couple of minutes in voices too low for us to hear. We were sure it had something to do with Alvin, but, of course, Miss Meeks didn’t tell us what it was. She was too good at keeping secrets.
The next day two other people had eye trouble and were sent home. The day after that, there were three others. After conferring with the nurse, Miss Meeks informed us that it was an epidemic (or starting to become an epidemic) of something called the pink eye (the very mention of which reminded me of white rabbits). Not exactly the plague but something you didn’t want to catch, no matter how bad you wanted to miss school.
Miss Bullard wanted us to believe she was on top of the situation. She had the janitor bring in scrub brushes, rags and disinfectants and watched him as he went over every inch of Alvin’s desk and the desks on either side. She showed us a film on the proper way to wash one’s hands by using plenty of soap and hot water, frequently throughout the day, but especially after using the toilet. She sent a letter home with each of us, informing our parents of the existence of pink eye in our school but assuring them it wouldn’t be a problem as long as proper sanitation was observed.
“Above all,” Miss Bullard said, her enormous breasts jutting out in front of her like guided missiles, “if your eyes itch and start to get red, don’t scratch them! Don’t even touch them!”
“Roo-roo-roo!” a boy named Leonard Scallion said from the back of the room, but everybody ignored him.
That evening at the dinner table, my mother examined my eyes with a magnifying glass until I was squirming in the chair to get away from her.
“Leave me alone!” I said.
“I don’t see any sign that he has the disease,” she said to my father. “As far as I can tell.”
“Do your eyes itch?” he asked me.
“But you think they will?”
“Just about everybody in my class has it,” I said. This was an exaggeration, of course, but, like everybody else in my family, I was prone to exaggeration.
“What do you want to do?” my father asked my mother. “Keep him at home until this passes?”
“That sounds like a good idea to me!” I said.
“No,” she said. “We’ll just let him go to school and check his eyes every day.”
“Thanks a lot!” I said.
I didn’t get the pink eye, but the next Monday morning when I woke up and started to get dressed for school, I had spots on my chest that extended up to my neck and shoulders. When I showed my mother, she took my temperature and, finding I had a fever of a little over a hundred, called the doctor. He said it sounded like the three-day measles. I was to stay in bed and rest and keep away from other people because it was contagious.
“How on earth did you get the measles?” she asked.
“How should I know?” I said.
Having the measles wasn’t as bad as having a cold or the flu. I could have anything I wanted to eat and everybody left me alone to do as I pleased. The only thing I didn’t like about the measles was that I had to stay away from the TV.
My spots (or my fever) didn’t go away after three days, so I ended up getting the whole week off from school. When I went back on the following Monday, a few people were still out with the pink eye (taking full advantage, I knew). I learned that two others besides me (so far) had the three-day measles. One had returned and the other was still out.
I noticed that Alvin Fritchie, the one who started the whole pink eye thing, hadn’t returned to school yet. I asked several people what happened to him, but nobody knew. I figured he got the three-day measles on top of the pink eye. He might have died and nobody would even know or care. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had given his desk to somebody else.
Finally Alvin returned without fanfare after more than two weeks. I looked for him at recess and found him standing by himself, as usual, over by the fence.
“How do you feel, Alvin?” I asked.
“I feel all right.”
“Get over the pink eye?”
“Why were you gone for so long?”
“My mother died.”
“Oh? Did she have the pink eye, too?”
“I came back just for today to tell everybody I’m leaving and I won’t be back.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to live with my aunt in Kansas. I guess I’ll be going to school there.”
Those were the last words I ever heard him say. He left at the end of the day without saying a word to anybody. No goodbyes or anything else. Nobody ever mentioned him again. He just faded away like something you thought was there that really wasn’t.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp