C’est mercredi! And you know what that means: another #WritingWednesday for you to enjoy. After the disaster that was the first half of the month, I’m slowly getting back in the groove of writing and editing. I have three Betrayed edits typed, I finished “London Beckoned Songs…” and feel great about what I’ve accomplished. When your mindset is low and you’re incredibly apathetic, it’s hard to tap back into the creative flow. It’s been a struggle, but I’m glad it’s slowly creeping back.
The title of this post says it all: “Nails for Breakfast Tacks for Snacks.” It’s the fourth song and chapter in A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, and I had a difficult time figuring out how to start this one. I listened to the song repeatedly—somewhere between five and twenty times non-stop—to get the gist of the lyrics and find inspiration, and it wasn’t easy.
I ended up Googling “diseases of the 19th Century” for help because my historical epidemiology was fuzzy and I knew I had to incorporate a malady in this chapter somehow. This is what I came up with for the beginning yesterday.
Hope you guys enjoy this little excerpt, and I’ll see you Friday for my 10 (or 5) Happy Things!
A ghostly pale boy, aged ten, lies in a bed too big for his small, lanky, and weak body. Every inch of natural light hides behind curtains that haven’t been drawn in a week, and minuscule specks of dust loom from stuffiness. A candelabra—no lantern, for they’re too dangerous—shines like a beacon on the bedside table beside a small silver bucket that smells of fish. As the only light source in the room, the candelabra commands attention, drawing it away from the ill boy.
The boy’s usually vibrant bottle green eyes sullenly blink back at the vast darkness. It’s the only thing he can do besides sleep, which he feels he’s had enough of already, or writhe in pain from aching muscles. Although his eyes sink into their sockets and his skin’s too dry to bear, the boy stares at the ceiling with hope. He may be sick,but he doesn’t believe he’ll die…yet.
From a distance, church bells ring. Not just any church bells in Paris—the bells of Notre Dame. The boy tries to sit up to hear better, but can’t due to how much even the slightest movement can hurt. He fold his arms over his chest and waits a second before they ring again.
Ten rings. Ten o’clock.
The boy exhales deeply and wipes sweat off of his brow. His blond hair, usually slicked back or worn fashionably with a top hat, sticks to his head like glue, except wet and less adhesive. He closes his eyes and groans, pain searing through his abdominals. He tries to calm down so he can rest, but the pain is too excruciating. He fears he might have another seizure soon.
As the boy lets out another painful groan, the door creaks open. The best physician in all of France, Monsieur Joubert, cautiously enters the room wearing a mask and gloves. The oversized doctor’s bag in his right hand makes the boy roll his eyes, fed up with trying new remedies to rid his malady when it’s only been a week; he’s tried nearly everything on the poor boy! Monsieur Joubert pulls up a chair and sits before the boy, is beady brown eyes regarding the boy in terror.
The boy knows what’s wrong with him: cholera. It’s the fifth cholera pandemic the world has seen and it’s hit Germany hard—8,600 dead in Hamburg three years ago. All the doctors, M. Joubert included, believes cholera exists from exposure to filth and decay. But the boy has NEVER been around anything dead or considered “filth.” In fact, he’s hardly left the house except for church and lessons over the past few years.
“How are you, Frédéric?” M. Joubert asks as he holds the candelabra. “You don’t look worse, which is good news. But still no better from the last time I visited.”
“Fine,” Frédéric flatly says, his voice straining a little. “The usual, you know? Water stools, vomiting, parched throat, dry skin…fun.”
M. Joubert pulls out a notepad and scribbles something onto it. A bead of sweat drips down Frédéric’s face as warmth from the candle radiates towards his body.
“It’s unfortunate you had to catch this, Frédéric,” M. Joubert shamefully notes as he inspects the boy. “It’s still early, so there’s hope. I never thought a child of David Molyneux would run about filth in the city! And with Jacques Mercier’s daughter!”
“You should know better than to trust a gypsy spawn. They’re no good!”
“It was the water!” Frédéric croaks, his voice hoarse from dryness. “I-I don’t know how, but I drank contaminated water.”
“I always knew a girl like Élodie Mercier would lead you to your doom. You’re so young with your whole life ahead of you, Frédéric. Ten!”
“I have cholera because I drank infected water!” Frédéric angrily repeats. “I’m the sick one, yet I know what what Koch has done. I had Jean-Claude tell m all about it! Koch isolated Vibrio cholerae and discovered it’s contagious and transmitted through the exposure of feces of an infected person, even contaminated water supply. I’m sick because of water, not Élodie.”
M. Joubert stares at Frédéric, baffled that such a young boy should know so much about a topic such as bacterial transmissions. He then shuffles through his bag for the next remedy—the next whatever silly concoction he believes will alleviate the pain.
Suddenly, Frédéric grabs the bucket on the nightstand. Unfazed, M. Joubert watches as he pukes clear liquid. With the amount of water stools and vomit Frédéric’s released since contracting cholera the previous week, he’s become immensely weak and dehydrated.
“Fluids. You need fluids,” M. Joubert prescribes. “I’m also giving you zinc tablets. I’ll also try to see if we can get you a vaccine.”