Patient Zero

He never had a chance with her, but they were too young to realize it.  She was Jewish; her father owned a chain of jewelry stores strung from New York to Miami.  His family were working-class Irish Catholics who sometimes didn’t work.  His mother was a maid at the downtown Hilton hotel, having worked her way up from an Econolodge near the airport.  His father, when he wasn’t in jail for failing to support his far-flung children, delivered furniture and appliances for a rental concern.  The futility of their romance was not apparent.  Love often impairs one’s reason, and he was positively smitten with the dark-haired girl.  They were twelve years old.

Patrick and Miriam.  They lived miles apart in a rust belt city where the steel mills had migrated to China, the old folks had retired to Florida, and the drinking water had become suspect.  Their rendezvous was the natural history museum, which was free on Tuesdays all summer.  Week after week, they studied a mummy that seemed mainly comprised of dust, mourned a stuffed passenger pigeon, and wandered the gift shop under the annoyed and mistrustful eye of an elderly clerk.  On the final Tuesday before school began, he kissed her on the lips and they promised to meet the following June.  Perhaps at the amusement park next year?  Or at the mall.  Someplace where her parents would not be suspicious.

It never happened, of course.  When Patrick’s father drove him past Miriam’s house, he saw her future writ there in the manicured lawn and wrought iron fence.  He survived, graduated high school, joined the navy, later retired to Panama.  She would go on to abrade the hearts of many men (and a few women), but his was the first.

He was the first.


author bio:

The work of Robert L. Penick has appeared in well over 100 literary journals, including The Hudson Review and North American Review.  He edits Ristau: A Journal of Being.  More of his work can be found at