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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Wilkinson


I first heard about the disease while nursing my broken ribs over the evening news. Some prion thing, a misfolded protein, a bunch of science that I didn’t understand. They said it was like mad cow but instead of making us all drool and fall over, it ate the part of the brain that recognized faces. Family, friends, people you knew for years became instant strangers. It was sweeping across the country.

The TV buzzed, the news anchors with their polished faces told sob stories, daughters afraid of fathers, fathers not knowing wives. I switched it off and limped to the fridge to get another cold one. The can hissed open. I took a swig, let the medicine snake its way down. Funny thing is, none of it sounds that bad. I drank until the room spun then fell asleep on the couch.

Next day, I woke up with my head hanging over the edge of the cushion, a puddle of vomit stinking below me. The pain was back. I limped to the diner across the street, wincing at the daylight. Everything in there looked the same yet strangely unfamiliar.  The waitress looked at me like I was a five-letter word she couldn’t solve. “You okay, Andrew?” she asked, filling my mug. Her name tag read “Kate.” She had a gentle face and her eyes whispered that she cared. I hadn’t seen her there before. Maybe this is what fame feels like, I thought.

I nodded and chuckled, “Better than ever, Kate.” I took a sip of my coffee, leaned back, my eyes scanning the room. Families laughing, old men grumbling about sports, and three black leather jackets occupying a booth in the corner. I hadn’t seen those faces before, but I remember those shaved heads. Those guys jumped me yesterday. Left me bleeding and groaning outside the bar. I can still feel those gold rings. They were scanning the room too, probably looking for me, for Jefe’s money. The disease had made its claim. I laughed, and for the second time the world was doing me a favor.

The first being my daughter, she's got the spirit of a dancer. Ever since she could walk, it was all she ever wanted. She had her eyes on a fancy school miles away and light years out of our budget. So, she ended up at Fantasies off 24, twirling around poles to earn her keep. It hurt me, but dreams don't pay for themselves.

I found a loan shark, a guy who moved like a wisp in the dark corners of the city. Got enough to send her packing, off to a place where she could pirouette instead of grab bills with her teeth. She hugged me goodbye, a tight squeeze, just like when she was a little girl who had been waiting all day for daddy to come home.

For a while, I kept up with the payments. Then, not so much. Sold my old truck, a rusty red bucket of bolts, but the money wasn’t enough to cover my debts.

I paid for my tab and left the diner. Faces turned, voices murmured, but it didn't matter. I was free, unanchored. As I walked out, the sun hung high, painting everything in a warm glow. Life looked as sharp as a knife—one that I could use instead of one pressing into my throat.

And so I walked on, into a world where every face was a stranger, but every stranger felt like home.


Andrew doesn't have a long literary resume, but he has been jotting down thoughts in journals for years (a really long Word document would be more accurate) and only recently ventured into writing fiction. 


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