Page 53 of Ford County

"The nurse lady came out yesterday and explained thangs."

"Good. Laundry, dishes, food, medicine, rules of the bathroom. All that?"

"Yes."

He rolled up his left sleeve and pointed to a dark bruise.

"Sometimes these things open up, and when they do, I'll put on a bandage. I'll tell you when this happens."

"I thought we weren't gonna touch."

"Right, but just in case you can't control yourself."

She laughed again, but briefly.

"Seriously, Emporia, I'm pretty safe."

"I understand."

"I'm sure you do, but I don't want you living in fear of me. I just spent four days with what's left of my family, and they treated me like I'm radioactive. All these folks around here will do the same. I'm grateful that you agreed to care for me, and I don't want you to worry. It won't be pretty from now on. I look like I'm already dead, and things will get worse."

"You've seen it before, haven't you?"

"Oh yes. Many times. I've lost a dozen friends in the last five years. It's horrible."

She had so many questions, about the disease and the lifestyle, about his friends, and so on, but she put them aside for later. He seemed tired all of a sudden. "Let me show you around," she said.

The police car drove by again, slowly. Adrian watched and asked, "So how often do the cops patrol this street?"

Almost never, she wanted to say. There were other sections of Lowtown where the houses were not as nice, the neighbors not as reliable. There were honky-tonks, a pool hall, a liquor store, groups of young unemployed men hanging around the corners, and there you would see a police car several times a day. She said, "Oh, they come by occasionally."

They stepped inside, into the den. "It's a little house," she said, almost in defense. He, after all, had been raised in a fine home on a shady street. Now he was standing in a cottage built by his father and owned by his family.

"It's twice as large as my apartment in New York was," he said.

"You don't say."

"I'm serious, Emporia. It's lovely. I'll be happy here."

The wooden floors shined with polish. The furniture was perfectly centered along the walls. The windows were bright and clear. Nothing was out of order, and everything had the look of constant care. There were two small bedrooms behind the den and kitchen. Adrian's had a double bed with an iron frame that covered half the floor. There was a tiny closet, a dresser too small for a child, and a compact air conditioner in the window.

"It's perfect, Emporia. How long have you lived here?"

"Hmmm, maybe twenty-five years."

"I'm so happy it'll be yours, and soon."

"So am I, but let's not get in a hurry. Are you tired?"

"Yes."

"Would you like a nap? The nurse said you need a lot of sleep."

"A nap would be great."

She closed the door, and the room was silent.

While he was sleeping, a neighbor from across the street strolled over and sat with Emporia on the porch. His name was Herman Grant, and he tended to be on the curious side.

"What's that white boy doin' here?" he asked.

Emporia was ready with the answer, one she had been planning for a few days now. The questions and confrontations would come and go, she hoped. "His name is Adrian Keane, Mr. Isaac Keane's youngest, and he's very sick. I have agreed to take care of him."

"If he's sick, why ain't he at the hospital?"

"He's not that kind of sick. There's nothin' they can do at the hospital. He has to rest and take a sackful of pills every day."

"Is he a dead man?"

"Probably so, Herman. He will only get worse, then he'll die. It's very sad."

"Has he caught cancer?"

"No, it's not cancer."

"What is it?"

"It's a different disease, Herman. Something they have out in California."

"That don't make any sense."

"A lot of things don't."

"I don't understand why he's livin' with you, here in our side of town."

"As I said, Herman, I'm takin' care of him."

"They makin' you do it 'cause they own the house?"

"No."

"You gettin' paid?"

"Mind your own business, Herman."

Herman left and headed down the street. Before long, word had spread.

*

The chief stopped by the coffee shop for pancakes, and be-fore long Dell had him cornered. "I just don't understand why you can't quarantine the boy," she said loudly, for the benefit of all, and all were listening.

"That takes a court order, Dell," the chief said.

"So he's free to just walk around town, spreadin' germs everywhere?"

The chief was a patient man who'd handled many crises over the years. "We're all free to walk around, Dell. It's somewhere in the Constitution."

"What if he infects somebody else? Then what'll you say?"

"We checked with the state health department. AIDS killed seventy-three people last year in Mississippi, so those folks have seen it before. AIDS ain't like the flu. The only way to catch it is through body fluids."

Silence, as Dell and the rest of the customers thought hard about all the different fluids the human body can produce. During the pause the chief worked on a mouthful of pancakes, and after he swallowed, he said, "Look, no need to get excited. We're watchin' thangs closely. He's not botherin' anybody. Just sits on the porch mainly, him and Emporia."

"I hear folks're already upset down there." "That's what they say."

At the barbershop, a regular said, "I hear the coloreds ain't too happy down there. Word's out they got this funny boy hidin' in one of his dead daddy's old rental houses. Folks're angry."

"Can't blame them. What if he moved in next to you?"

"I'd get my shotgun and keep his ass on his side of the fence, for sure."

"He's not hurtin' anybody. What's all the fuss?"

"I read an article last night. They're predictin' AIDS will become the deadliest disease in the history of the world. It'll kill millions, mainly in Africa, where evidently ever'body just screws ever'body."

"Thought that was Hollywood."

"There too. California has more AIDS cases than any other state."

"Ain't that where the Keane boy picked it up?"

"That's -what they say."

"It's hard to believe we got AIDS here in Clanton in 1989."

In the clerk's office, a young lady named Beth had center stage over doughnuts because her husband was a city police officer and yesterday he'd been sent to check on things in Lowtown. He drove past the little pink house of Emporia Nester, and sure enough, as rumored, sitting there on the front porch was a pale, emaciated young white man. Neither the policeman nor his wife had ever met Adrian Keane, but since half the town had been scrambling to find old yearbooks from Clanton High, there were class photos circulating. Since the policeman had been trained to quickly identify suspects, he was fairly certain that he had seen Adrian Keane.

"Why are the police watchin' him?" Myra asked, somewhat irritated.

"Well, my husband was there because that's what he was told to do," Beth answered sharply.

"It's not a crime to have a disease, is it?" Myra shot back.

"No, but the police are supposed to protect the public, aren't they?"

"So, by watchin' Adrian Keane and makin' sure he stays on the porch, the rest of us will be safer, is that what you're sayin', Beth?"






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