“I don’t like needles!”
“I know, I don’t know like them either.”
That was no exaggeration. At age 32, Jacob had gone through his life only interacting with needles when he absolutely had to. That meant vaccinations and blood tests. His aversion helped to keep him in line, for despite a predisposition towards getting in trouble, his fear of needles kept him away from piercings and drugs. He even found a woman who, at age 26 when they met, had never pierced her ears. She didn’t stick around long after their son’s birth, but she had provided him with enough of her DNA to ensure that his fear would be twice as strong as their own.
“So why are you making me go?”
“Because, son, you have to. It will keep you healthy.”
“But I feel fine.”
“Yes, and I want you to always feel that way. These shots will make sure that you don’t get really, really sick down the road.”
The five-year-old looked out the window at the trees going by. He and his father lived far out enough in the country where every drive was a long one. They had already been on the road for over forty minutes.
“What if we turn around? If the sick is down the road, we should stop driving that way.”
Jacob laughed. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Besides, I’m not afraid of getting sick. It means I get to miss a few days of school. What’s not to like about that?”
“Yes, but whenever you get so sick, there’s always the chance that you will get other people sick as well. And even if you’re big and strong enough to handle any germs, other kids may not be.”
“They’re mean to me, anyway.”
“Allan, that doesn’t mean they deserve something like this.”
“Diseases are dangerous. They spread from person to person very fast. Even if the biggest bully in your class-”
“Even if Michael were to get sick, there’s still a chance he could spread it to all of your friends. You wouldn’t want Freddy and Leonard getting sick too would you?”
“That depends. Can they come over?”
“No, they have to stay home and get well.”
“And this isn’t just about kids. Think about old people. Think about that lovely lady who delivers our mail.”
“How would she get sick? She’s only ever around for a few seconds.”
“That’s all it takes. Germs moved really quickly, and they stick to things. If you were sick and checked the mail, she could get ill from that.”
Allan thought about this for a while. Since he lived with his dad alone, he had spent much of his life under his grandmother’s care. Before he was old enough for school, the two of them were together whenever Jacob left for work each day. Even now, the bus picked him up and dropped him off at her place, because the length of his father’s commute meant he wasn’t home at either time.
“What if I wrap myself up in bubble wrap?” It was the only logical decision, Allan figured. This way he could avoid getting a shot, and he wouldn’t have to worry about getting anyone sick.
This, too, caught Jacob off guard. Laughing, he asked, “How would that help?”
“The germs can’t get to me if I block them off. Or we can wait until I get the germs, and then the bubble wrap with stop them from escaping to anyone else. They can stay with me until I get all better.”
“As noble as that is, I don’t think it would work.”
“It works for cartoons.”
“Yes, but they’re not made of flesh and blood like you and I are. They’re made of paper, ink, and pixels.”
“How do they get sick then?”
“Sometimes their pixels just jumbled up,” Jacob said, having an increasingly difficult time thinking up answers.
“Then why does the bubble wrap work?”
“Allan, you can’t cover yourself with bubble wrap. You’re just going to have to be a big boy and take the shot. And once it’s done, you will feel good about yourself.”
“Why would I?”
“Because it won’t be as bad as you think, and once it’s done, you will be healthier, and you will have done your part to protect the people you like and even some of the ones that you don’t.”
“Yup, like Michael. In a way, it’s like being a superhero. You get to help everyone around you.”
“Shot Taking Boy isn’t really a good name for a hero.”
“How about Allan?”
“What, I think it has a nice ring to it.”
Jacob pulled the car up to the doctor’s office, a small little place tucked away in a strip mall alongside a shop that sold toys and a Christian bookstore. He glanced at his watch and saw that they were right on time.
“Good, good. Let’s go, Allan.”
Jacob slipped out of the car, but the door behind him didn’t budge. He gave Allan a moment before pulling it open himself.
“Come on, we have to go.”
Allan swung his feet out of the car as slowly as possible, a look of resignation deeply planted on his face. But he didn’t hop out.
“Come on, Allan. Be a big boy for me.”
“No,” he said. “Not for you. For Grandma.”
And with that, Allan walked begrudgingly to the office door.