Madge put down her half empty bottle of beer on the end table, missing the cardboard coaster by several inches, and kneeled on the sofa to pinch the drapes together over the window.

“It doesn’t matter,” Rob said from the recliner set up a few feet in front of the television. “They’ll still be there.”

“At least I won’t have to see them,” Madge said. “I can’t stand to look at them anymore.”

“We’ll still be able to smell them. There’s no shutting that out,” Rob said, crushing out his cigarette before looping the elastic band of a surgical mask over his ears. The cloying odor of his wife’s cherry blossom body spray, a new experiment, made his nose run, but he kept the mask on, smoothing down the edges against his face with trembling fingers. Satisfied the mask was secure, he dabbed the tears from his eyes with a handkerchief while his wife stuffed toilet paper into her nostrils.

“Better mask up too,” Rob shouted louder than necessary, his breath making the cloth over his mouth balloon in and out, mimicking the motion of his lips. Madge shook her head at the mask on the couch next to her like it was a turd left by a disobedient pet.

“I hate these things.”

“I do too,” Rob said, “but wearing them beats throwing up. You know how bad it’s going to get.”

“Yeah,” Madge said, shuddering as she reached for the mask. They spent the next several minutes in silence, Rob staring at the television and Madge staring at the clock. “Do you think he’ll be with them tonight?”

“Louis? No. I don’t think it’s our turn.”

“Are you sure,” Madge asked, noticing the lamp light glistening on the droplets of perspiration on Rob’s forehead.

‘I’m not sure of anything anymore!” Rob said, pulling down his mask and shoving a cigarette in his mouth only to crush it into his lap a few second after his quivering hands failed to get a flame out of the lighter. “All I know is we’re prisoners. God only knows if we’ll ever be able to leave the house after dark again. It’s been three goddamned months!”

“Everything has opened back up again everywhere else. They’re having fireworks at the Harbor Center this weekend. What if we snuck past them? If we left early enough, before the sun set…”

“And what if they followed us?” Rob said. “What if they denounced us in front of the world like a fucking Greek chorus? You think they’d make it that easy?”

“We didn’t do anything wrong!” Madge shouted, pounding her fist against her thigh. “We just wanted the kids to have the same experiences we did. Life is for living!”

“We could have waited. It wouldn’t have killed them to sit out one dance. They had the rest of their lives to drink beer and neck in the parking lot. There was a reason they’d canceled all the dances.”

“Why should they have had to wait? The virus didn’t affect kids. It was stupid to insist they put their lives on hold for…”

“For what? For the lives the people they might bring the virus home to? It was okay to risk those people’s lives so our kids could have a party?”

“Louis killed himself!” Madge shouted. “We weren’t responsible for that!”

Rob started to answer, but stopped as his cherry blossoms began to wilt. He covered his mask with his hand, pressing it tight against his nose.

“They’re here,” he said. Madge was already off the couch; backing away from the window as the drapes billowed out and parted, exposing a white face pressed against the glass.

“You said it wasn’t our turn!” she shouted, pointing at the man with the hole in his head glaring at her through the glass. He stood before a wall of pale faces, blotting out their view of the street, each face mimicking Louis’s expression of accusation and distain.

“Get back away from the window!” Rob shouted, leaping out of his chair to grab his wife by the shoulders, dragging her to him.

The glass of the window rippled as Louis passed through it, bringing with him the unbearable stench of decay. He walked through the couch before dropping down on it, motioning for them to sit as well. Rob fell back into the recliner, pulling Madge onto his lap.

“Teddy keeping up with his studies?” Louis asked. “He was one of my favorite students. I saw a lot of potential in that boy.”

Madge buried her face in Rob’s chest while he sat transfixed by the hole, oozing black blood, in Louis’ forehead.

“I had a book of poetry coming out in May,” Louis continued. “And I loved teaching literature. I had a lot to live for. You had other plans, though.”

“You killed yourself!” Madge shouted into Rob’s chest, refusing to look at the specter before her. “We didn’t do anything to you!”

“There was a reason we canceled extracurricular activities,” Louis said. “Why did you have the dance anyway? You had it right here, didn’t you? Right here in your home?”

“In the back yard,” Rob muttered.

“And that’s where Teddy caught the virus, the virus he gave to me. I remember him leaning over my desk the next day, asking if he could do something for extra credit. Quite the good student, that Teddy of yours. I told him to write a report on The Expedition pf Humphry Clinker. Too bad I didn’t get the chance to grade it. I’m sure he put a lot of effort into it.”

“What do you want from us?” Rob shouted, squeezing Madge to his chest like a child having a nightmare crushing a teddy bear.

“I want to know why you made me kill my mother,” Louis said. “I couldn’t live with myself after that. Why can you? How can you sleep at night knowing a woman died so your kids could have a party?”

“We didn’t know,” Rob muttered, soiling Madge’s hair with his tears. “I’m sorry. We didn’t know.”

“It took her two weeks to die. Some days it looked like she was getting better, but the next day, her oxygen level would drop and the tubes would go back in. I’d dedicated my poetry collection to her. She never saw it.”

“Stop it!” Madge shouted, turning her head to face Louis. “This isn’t our fault!”

“Oh right. How could you have known? There was no way to tell if the experts at the CDC were lying. It could have all been fake news. Did you know my mother gave the virus to seven members of her congregation before she started showing symptoms? Two of them, including the pastor, died before she did. She blamed herself. My mother went to her grave feeling like a murderer.”

“She should have worn her fucking mask!” Madge shouted. “We weren’t the only ones who screwed up! Why wasn’t she more careful?”

Louis licked at the blood trickling onto his lips from the hole in his face and grinned.

“She wore her mask. I wore my mask when I was around her too. You’re right, though. I shouldn’t have gone around her, and she shouldn’t have gone to church. Still, we erred through ignorance. You just didn’t care. You went out of your way to defy safety guidelines. You infected us proudly, with your heads held high.”

“You can’t keep doing this to us,” Rob said. “You can’t hold us prisoner forever!”

“Forever?” Louis said, letting his jaw fall open to vomit up a stream of maggots. His eyes rolled back into his head and his body convulsed as they poured out of him, spreading out across the room. Madge screamed and dug her fingers into Rob’s shoulders as Rob stomped on them before pushing her onto the floor and pulling his legs up onto the chair.

“Rob! My God! Rob!” Madge shrieked, flailing about as the maggots swarmed over her. She put her hands over her face, but they seeped between her fingers and into her mouth, making her vomit.

“Fuck you! Fuck you!” Rob shouted over and over as he watched his wife turn purple and convulse, the maggots making a sickening splat as they perished beneath her flailing arms.

And then it was all gone. The maggots, Louis, the white faces pressed against the window, all had vanished. Rob slid out of the chair and tried to lift Madge from the floor, but she brushed him away.

“Get off of me!” she gasped. “Just leave me alone!”

Rob yanked off his mask, letting it drift to the floor to settle a few inches from Madge’s face.. She blinked at it and curled up tighter, her own mask pressing against her nose as she sucked in the air between sobs.

“Did you notice there were more of them?” Rob said, walking over to gaze out the window. “There were more faces out there. This is never going to end.”

“Not fair!” Madge muttered. “It’s not fair we have to give up our lives because of one stupid dance.”

“It’s fair,” Rob said, his lips curling down in disgust at the sight of the puddle spreading out from under his wife. God! She’d pissed herself again! He couldn’t talk to her. Stepping over her, he went into the kitchen and found the fifth of bourbon in the cabinet over the stove.

It was fair. After all, those faces at the window would never go out again, other than to enforce his penance. There would be no more dances for them. No more dances, no more vacations, no more Thanksgiving dinners. The country had decided they had to be sacrificed on the altar of convenience. People didn’t want to be put out, not even the slightest bit, so some people would have to die. It just had to be that way. He unscrewed the cap and lifted the bottle.

It would have worked out just fine if those chosen for the sacrifice had consented, he thought, choking down a mouthful of bourbon. It would have been just fine if they’d stayed dead.