The History of Our Island of Epidemics
Matthew Salesses

We were not always here on this island. Our great grandfathers were the first—looking for a matriarchal tribe that was said to eat its men once they lost their virginity. Our great grandfathers were old by then and wanted satisfying deaths. When they caught their first epidemic, the epidemic of charisma, their lives swelled with the lives they’d let get away plus the ability to beg off their deaths. They wrote charismatic letters to the younger women they’d embarrassed themselves in front of before they left in search of easier and deadlier last rides. And the women who arrived became our great grandmothers and there was an epidemic of fertility.

Our grandparents were the first documenters: of the epidemic of altruism that brought the community together, the epidemic of webbed feet that let us swim out as far as we wanted, the epidemic of revenge that halved the population, the epidemic of architecture that built our houses, the epidemic of cultural elitism that formed our sense of ourselves. A few of our grandparents became scientists. A few left. But most saw that the epidemics had become a way of life and they raised kids of their own, our parents, who raised kids of their own.

Occasionally the outside world showed interest in our island, like with the epidemic of memory loss when everyone came to forget their problems, but mostly we were on our own. We came to know the epidemics like dogs. We felt like we couldn’t abandon them, like we wouldn’t know what they would do without us, what they would get themselves into.

There were epidemics in our history that got buried—like the epidemic of impotence and the epidemic of kidnapping—but at least we knew we suffered together. We knew we were ill.

Then one year a scientist came from the outside world and recorded the entire history of our island on little tapes he carried on his back with his food and his sleeping bag. He even got through an epidemic himself—the epidemic of shared dreams. And in the book he wrote we read his idea that the tribe our great grandfathers had sought had never existed; he thought that their sexual cannibalism was the first epidemic, caught by our great grandmothers. But we didn’t believe it, or him.

And we expected to never see him again after that. We expected him to never understand: that the epidemics were a way of life, the opposite of epidemics in the outside world. Yet a month after the book release he was back. And like most everyone else he stayed.

Click here to read the rest of issue 199

About the Author
Matthew Salesses holds an MFA from Emerson, where he edits Redivider. He is the author of We Will Take What We Can Get. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Witness, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere. Other short shorts in this series about an island of epidemics have or will appear in Hobart, Wigleaf, Word Riot, Kitty Snacks, PANK, Necessary Fiction, Corium, and Cavalier Literary Couture.

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