Vaccine Dose #2 by Elizabeth Toner

Most of the eyes above the masks today have smile-crinkles at the corners. Some positively sparkle and dance. Some are threatening happy-tears spillovers. 

Not yours. As you approach the vaccination table, I try to read your expression from your eyes. Impossible. So I ask you, cheerfully, the usual questions. 

Any reaction to the first shot? 

Food or medication allergies I need to know about? 

As I co-sign your consent form and fill out your vaccination record, I continue to rattle off my script. 

Be sure to drink lots of water today. 

It’ll be about two weeks before you reach full immunity. 

You still need to wear a mask in large crowds. 

I’m prepping your arm, scrubbing gently in small circles with an alcohol pad, when I hear you mutter, “It only affects 1 percent.” 

I grab a pre-filled syringe, loaded with 0.3 mL Pfizer COVID vaccine and a one-inch needle. Holding the syringe like a pen–just like I was taught to do in nursing school–I hover over your upper arm, potential responses slipping through my synapses rapid-fire. One percent? I want to scream. 

More than half a million–520,000 empty places at tables, holes in hearts, irreversible leavings. 

One percent? Why the fuck are you here? Hedging your bets?

If I plunge this needle into your heart, will it expand 1 percent to make room for the loss of parents grandparents sons wives daughters husbands wives graduations and hugs and holidays? 

But I’m a nurse. I believe in science. I know there is no evidence for the efficacy of this intervention. 

Because you are studiously looking away from the needle, you can’t see me as I roll my eyes above my mask and I pierce your deltoid, delivering medication that will ensure you never know what it’s like 

to be the 1 percent.