(In 1952, polio reached its peak in the United States with 21,000 cases of paralytic polio. The first polio vaccine was introduced in 1955. By 1965, the total paralytic cases had fallen to 61. In this fictionalized history series, we will be experiencing the aftermath of polio, before the dramatic triumph of a vaccine. If you're just joining us, go back to Part 1.)
Five Months After Hospital Admission
Julia knew the hours of night by their sounds. By the shape of their silence.
Midnight. The last of the day people wove their routes toward home. Yawning. Driving too fast. Tapping a horn when someone stumbled into their way.
One o'clock. The roads emptied, except on weekends. Then, beer bottles sometimes smashed. Tires squealed in the nightlight town.
Two o'clock. The invisible ones drifted. Julia imagined them that way. Without bodily form. Engines crept under the trees. No one caught them. No one cared.
Three o'clock. Lost thoughts wandered the streets. She could feel them. Thoughts reaching out from lonely beds. Thoughts lying next to slow, blissful breathing. Soundless pictures on televisions flicked off. Open books settled on night tables in the darkness. All of them walked the ghost streets unknown to each other.
Julia's thoughts at three were buttery and smeared with black sunshine. There was wind. Fireflies. The squish of sand heavy with water.
Sometimes, she jumped from drifting sleep because she felt herself falling.
Wide awake, she waited for her heart to fall back into rhythm with the iron lung.
But she couldn't fall.
Locked in her cocoon.
Cradled by the soothing sounds, she hid from cold, strangling hours until the salvation of dawn.
On to Part 8.
Back to Part 6.