With the people who came for the epidemic of memory loss came an epidemic from the outside world. We caught the flu. We didn’t know what to do with it. We weren’t ready for an epidemic that never ended, that lasted through the epidemic of heartfelt words and the epidemic of inertia and the epidemic of paranoia and the epidemic of circularity. We had no cure for its fatally pedestrian symptoms—having forgotten medicine. Outside illness had been missing for generations like a lost murderous child we couldn’t believe was ours. Now we caught one twisted strand of flu after another, wondering why we had to suffer, as if it was up to our island. Yet some of us realized that we had to take care of ourselves and hadn’t been for so long now our time was almost up, and once our bodies recovered we decided to leave our homes.
We split into two camps, we the citizens of our Island of Epidemics—my camp split from the ill who were letting themselves continue to be ill. I met the old King of Unrequited Love and he said we should go to the east side of our island, or at least the hills; we remembered the man we’d run up into the forest there after he became immune to the epidemics. Of course we knew we had to find him. Yet last time we looked he’d seemed to have disappeared. The old King of Unrequited Love thought Sam could help, as she knew the forest and had never stopped loving the east side.
She’d run away after the debacle with the animal god and her obsessions, and now we found her up in tree. She was stroking the bark and looked content to stay there and conduct her sadness through her fingers. She didn’t seem to have the flu. She seemed to know much more than she let on. Almost everything.
“Come down,” we called to her.
She mumbled, her mouth against the bark.
“Samantha,” we said as if her name would call her to us.
“I love you,” I said, trying on the words.
She craned her neck down and we all saw she saw through me, but for some reason she descended. She patted the trunk, then pointed over the hills.
“Yes,” we said. The east side. We were filled up with sincerity that she seemed to disbelieve.
She swept through the forest as if she knew where the man in the hills was. I felt I could question anything and she would know the answer. I wanted to redo the tree, dredge up sincerity from the dredges of sincerity. The others rushed on breathlessly; soon we were through the forest completely, confused.
On the other side of the hills he was waiting. “I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, and led us down onto the east side of our island, into sober magnificent gardens where he’d collected medicine and books and animals and music and the last of the dragonfruit. The dragonfruit stuttered over our hands and licked our fingernails charred, and we lit up with the old new world. We gathered a celebration and thanked him. We made ourselves at home and soon relaxed about the epidemics, or most of us did.
Then most of us seemed to forget, and maybe did forget—and in time I sat at the man’s desk piled with books, and read about our island in the words of the outside world, and wrote this.