Advent Calendar ’16 – December 2nd: SICK DAYS by Tom Cardamone

It’s back! The blog advent calendar. I enjoyed last year’s blog theme last year—re-reading twenty-four books of my youth—so much, so this year I’m applying the same approach to short stories, trawling through a myriad bunch of collections and anthologies I’ve read in the last few years.

December 2nd:
Sick Days – Tom Cardamone

pumpkipnTell me about your first time: Some while ago I devoured Tom Cardamone’s first collection, Pumpkin Teeth, and thought it was absolutely brilliant (which you might just be able to tell from my original review of it.) Reading a full collection at one go often gives you a different perspective on stories—you read them as part of a linked whole, rather than as something entirely standalone—and I had a number of highlights from the collection, but over time it was one particular story, ‘Sick Days’ that stuck in my mind.

Sum it up: An epidemic has devastated the population, an epidemic that affects only young children. First there is a fever, and then they get sicker until they ‘fall asleep’—or become comatose, unmoving vegetables. In ‘Sick Days’, Madge and Bob occupy an uncomfortable, sickly suburbia, in which they are one of the ‘lucky’ few whose children remain healthy.

Give me a quote: “The Kellys next door to the Marshals had sick children. So too did the Chutes, a boy and a girl. All of them stayed at home now. Not long after the Marshal children died, the Kellys brought their children home. Madge was horrified that they wouldn’t want to keep them in the hospital. But the hospitals were full. And as the epidemic played out, that was the coming trend. To store your sick at home. Madge had seen a commercial for a bed guard, to keep “those still sleeping” from rolling out of bed at night. The phrase sickened her.”

Second Reading: There are two potent moments in ‘Sick Days’ that I remembered months, years, after I read the story, and on a second reading they still packed a punch. The first is a small moment, the image of a neighbour passing the house every day, pushing a pram with his too-big child in it, comatose and drooling; it’s a moment of obscene body horror that is the first fracture in the fragile veneer of normality that the story maintains. The second is the ending; ‘Sick Days’ draws together threads that have been meticulously laid throughout and finishes on an ambiguous-but-chilling veiled threat that still makes me deeply uncomfortable to read —and to say more would ruin the story, so I shall leave it at that.

Where can I find it?: In Tom Cardamone’s collection Pumpkin Teeth from Lethe Press.

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