Fiction: The Time You Thought You Were Allergic to Tylenol After Your Father Died

By Abigail Kemske

At first it feels like an itch in your ear, a nag, a worm that’s crawled it’s way inside to mumble dark secrets. The unwanted urge to steer the car into oncoming traffic. Slithering deeper. Whisper, whistle, wriggle. You want to reach in, to drag it out, to bleed those thoughts. However, you push the writhing worm down deep and force it through the fascia until you swallow. Churn it. Kill it.
Except it does not die.
It’s a part of you now, a ghost haunting your thoughts. You’re good at ignoring it. Occasionally it startles you, as all ghosts do. Occasionally the despair is too great to hide and you cry. Occasionally you hold it in for much too long and it begins to crawl across your skin, electrified, breath shallow and quick. It’s surfacing, and you can’t stop it. Count and breathe.
I’m in the car, you say. My hands on the steering wheel and it’s raining.
Listen to the tinkling on the roof and for a moment you believe it’s gone, but around the corner it startles you, it pounds in your ear, thumps in your chest, slams around as if breaking through like a giant sandworm birthing a god.
The worst part is it never does, it just races, hammering harder and harder. Salty sweat glistens on your skin.
You think, am I going to die?
You wish it would end, death would be so simple. Dial 911.
My heart, you say. I’m scared.
Blackness tunnels in but your life does not flash before your eyes. All you see is the yellow-leafed tree at the side of the road shining in red and white lights. You wonder if Father’s last moment was as bleak.
You’re not dying, the paramedics say. We see nothing wrong. Have you had a lot of stress lately?
Stress? This isn’t stress. What about the Tylenol? Could it be an allergy? You ask.
They pause, write something down. Have you had any big life changes lately?
You feel like you’ve ran a marathon but you’re just sitting there.
Is there someone we can call? They ask.
Only the worm slinking away. Only the ghost murmuring in your ear.
You shake your head. They take you in anyway.
As you leave, the tree waves to you through window on the back door of the ambulance, shuddering in the way Father did when he laughed with his whole body, worms dangling from the leaves.

Abigail Kemske lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota with her spouse, two children, and two cats. She has a BA in English and an MEd in English Education from the University of Minnesota. Previously, she worked as a middle school teacher. Her recent fiction can be found in Across the Margin and Vast Chasm Magazine.