hysterics, didn’t climb into bed. She went to her old boss and asked for
her job back and sold the ex’s Camaro to pay for day care. When she was
promoted from apprentice to journeyman, she bought a double-wide
and set it on a half acre of irrigated land so she could grow a huge garden, something she’d always wanted. After Lloyd died, when she was
crushed by grief, she spent her evenings and weekends doing yard work,
vehicle maintenance, laundry—all of the things he used to do—and putting in overtime when she could to squirrel money away for her kids’
futures. She thought of her grandmother, who had cared for a family
and farm through the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, through the
death of a child and the illnesses people now got vaccinated for. Was she
too lax? She didn’t know, but she did know that asking a person, sick or
not, to simply wash her dishes, take a shower, and get to school on time
was not asking too much.
She yanked Jemma out of bed and dragged her to the kitchen, standing over her as she doled out orders. Jemma’s spine curved weakly, and
she stopped frequently to catch her breath.
“Girl, sometimes you have to play through the pain,” Shar said
through her teeth, shoving a dish into her hands. “There are two types
of people in the world: those who push through, and those who don’t.
Do you want to be a quitter like your grandma? Do you want to be soft?”
Jemma flinched but said nothing to defend herself, stood there
hunched and smarting and completely ineffectual. It made Shar want to
smack her and hold her close at the same time.
Jemma washed and put away every dish. She swept and mopped. The
kitchen glistened. Afterward, she threw up, and she didn’t get out of bed,
even to eat, for two days.
Shar called in sick and stayed with her, regularly checking her temperature and rousing her to drink water and broth and use the restroom.
She even wheeled the TV into her room and woke her for her silly high
school dramas. She flung open the curtains and cracked the window,
sprayed lemon water on the sheets, and fed Jemma strong peppermints—
all tricks that were supposed to help people wake up, though Jemma
would promptly go back to sleep a few minutes after being roused. The
only time she stayed awake was when her body aches kept her up.
“A case of the flu, that’s all,” Shar said when Jemma was finally seated
at the dining table with a plate of leftover shepherd’s pie in front of her.
“Everyone hates the flu.”