By: Tom Silver

MY HOUSE – There’s nothing quite like Christmas back home in the Mojave Desert in Nevada, I think as I leap out of bed, turn the AC on full blast, and run to the window, tripping over an enormous tarantula and praying for a white Christmas. True, there has been no snow or rain here in recorded history, but my parents have sprinkled puffy asbestos to look like snow on the palm trees that are still covered in fake cobwebs from Halloween, and on the real cobwebs in my room.

Just like every year, I put on a Santa hat and beard, and pregame with spiked hot chocolate, before stumbling downstairs to the Christmas cactus in the living room. I can’t wait to have a normal Christmas, unlike 2020, when we all Zoomed from our bedrooms and sent each other dank memes instead of presents.

But this doesn’t look like a normal year. My family members are sitting behind a protective plexiglass shield and their Santa beards seem extra-droopy. A card swiper stands in the middle of the living room, illuminated by the menorah on top of the Christmas cactus (my dad’s girlfriend’s boyfriend is culturally Jewish).

“Your Santa beard needs to be covering your mouth and nose,” my brother mumbles aggressively, as he wears his own on his chin. I adjust my beard and stare at the card swiper, seeing double. I must have added too much rubbing alcohol to that spiked hot chocolate.

“Go ahead, swipe in,” my mom barks. “You have your BU ID, right?” I panic like it’s finals szn all over again. Then I relax. I remember that I’m a freshman, so my BU ID is on a lanyard that’s surgically grafted to my neck. I whip it out and repeatedly plunge it deep into the card swiper, which lets out a few sensuous beeps before it submits to my rhythmic strokes and lets me in.

My sister catches my attention as she waves at me and shouts in lower-case: “You have to show your green badge!” It takes me four hours to connect to wifi, but when I finally open Patient Connect, a single tear rolls down my cheek. I push it back into my eye to save water. A green badge? Nothing can be green in the cruel and unforgiving Mojave Desert. My Healthway badge, like the sand, the sun, and the pool water, is a harsh yellow, even after I complete my symptom survey. That steaming pile of presents has never seemed so far away. In desperation, I grab a candy cane, shove it up my nostril, and dunk it in a shot glass of eggnog. But my family won’t accept the test result. They say it’s “inconclusive.”

“You gotta make an appointment at 808,” my mom explains. “If people from Danielsen can make it there, you can too.” I dejectedly head out the door and start to trudge northeast. I can hear the screams of my family ripping open presents echoing over the sun-baked salt flats behind me.

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