From The Quarantine Ceremony
Eric Beeny

Aaron still had his key to get in.
"Say goodbye to Dada," Kayla said.
Kayla got Ariel's ears pierced a month earlier and thought they looked completely healed, so she stopped cleaning them.
Now Ariel's earlobes were swollen, enveloping the earring studs, her birthstone: Amethyst.
Before getting x-rays for her tonsils a few days before, Aaron and Kayla had to take Ariel's earrings out.
Aaron took her clothes off, everything but her underwear, and put on the green hospital gown one of the x-ray technicians gave him.
Ariel was brave and her hospital gown was too big.

Aaron got up from bed and answered the telephone.
"We need to take her to the emergency room."
"Emergency room?"
"Her ears are infected."
"I'll meet you there."
This was the first time they'd agreed on anything in months.
Aaron got dressed and brushed his teeth.
He went to Ariel's room, thought he'd bring her a surprise.
By the time Aaron walked up the ramp to the emergency room Kayla and Ariel were walking out.
Ariel was still in her pajamas, pajamas Aaron had never seen.
She wore different pajamas over at his place.
Pajamas he got for her.
Aaron had no idea where these ones came from.
Lots of things were like those pajamas.
They met on a landing between two ramps, one down from the emergency room's automatic doors and the other up from the parking lot, where they turned sharply into each other.
Aaron brought Ariel her small bear, for a surprise, the white one with little red hearts all over, the one she left at his place the last time she slept over.
Kayla's Grandma knitted a pair of blue mittens for Ariel when she was a baby, and, now that her hands were too big for them, she would stuff her small white bear with little red hearts all over into the mittens to use as a sleeping bag.
Aaron held the bear behind his back on the way up the ramp and pulled it out when they met on the landing.
"I brought someone to see you," he said.
"Bear-y," Ariel said, happily.
"He was worried about you," Aaron said.
Aaron gave Ariel the bear and picked her up.
"Are you okay?" he said.
"Yeah," Ariel said.
"What the hell took you so long?" Kayla said. "I told you her goddamn ears were infected."

Kayla noticed Ariel's earlobes were red when she lifted her hair back like a blonde curtain to get the earrings out.
The technicians had Ariel stand on a stool and hold really still, and she was brave about her mom and dad leaving the room.
After the x-rays, Kayla tried putting one of the studs back in, but she couldn't stick it all the way through.
Ariel crunched her eyes, said, "Owww."
"Here, you do it," Kayla said.
She gave Aaron the studs.
He lifted Ariel's hair, said, "It's okay, I'm being gentle."
He hit a spot where he saw the back of Ariel's earlobe jut out, but not where the hole was.
"Owww," Ariel said.
She moved a bit.
"I need you to hold still, okay?"
Aaron adjusted his glasses.
"We gotta wash those," Kayla said.
"You're doing really great."
"They don't look good," Kayla said.

Days later, in the morning, Aaron answered his phone and went to the emergency room.
Kayla said they had to pull the studs out with pliers.
"Did it hurt?" Aaron said.
"It did," Ariel said in his arms on the ramp, "but it feels better now."
Ariel wanted Aaron to drive her home, and Kayla wanted to go get a coffee.
Aaron used his key to get in the front hall.
Aaron unlocked the door to the upstairs apartment, and he and Ariel went upstairs.
They looked at the fish Ariel's mom bought her to replace the fish Aaron bought her a while back that died.
They talked about how pretty and bright and colorful they were.
Aaron had to pee.
Ariel followed him and played with something in the hall outside the bathroom.
Aaron peed with the door open.
Ariel would sometimes come right up to him while he was peeing and stare at his penis, looking puzzled.
She would imitate him sometimes by standing at the toilet when he was done, holding her finger out because that's where she thought Aaron's pee came from.
Sometimes when he peed she would put her hand out like she was going to catch the pee in her palm.
"No," Aaron would tell her and laugh.
And Ariel would laugh.
Ariel was playing with something in the hall outside the bathroom.
Aaron looked around the bathroom at how different it was from two years before, when it used to be his bathroom, too.
He wondered if it even was different, since he really couldn't remember much because he was still drinking then.
There were hair scarves, which he remembered and still saw Kayla wearing sometimes.
There were toothbrushes, one of them Ariel's, and he didn't know anything about that toothbrush.
There was the dream dictionary on the sink -- he remembered that.
The shower curtain was half-open, and he saw all kinds of weird shampoos and bottles of things in there.
Kayla's room was just off the bathroom, which was Aaron's room, too, once.
Ariel was playing with something in the hall outside the bathroom.
Aaron was still peeing.
He looked over at Kayla's bedroom.
The door was cracked and a mirror was against the wall, and he could sort of see her bed inside.
The covers were messy.
He wondered if anything went on in there -- without him.
He didn't think it was any of his business -- he wondered if he cared what she was doing without him, and then he thought he did, since he thought about Kayla a lot.
Most his days were spent wishing he knew what happened, why Kayla wanted him to leave, and knowing exactly why but not knowing why it made any sense, wishing he'd known before their end had grown so young.
He tried to make it up, near the end, too close to the end, looking for somewhere else to live and begging her to not let him go.
Aaron cared.
Aaron missed her.

"Momma," Ariel said, and she got up off the hallway floor.
She ran to Kayla and Aaron sort of heard Kayla say "Hi."
Aaron maneuvered so he could close the bathroom door without peeing on anything.
He tucked himself in and zipped up, flushed.
He left the bathroom and went down the hall toward the kitchen where he heard Kayla and Ariel talking.
"What were you doing back there?" Kayla said as Aaron walked into the kitchen.
"Just using the bathroom," Aaron said, adjusting his glasses.
"Oh," Kayla said. "Say goodbye to Dada," she said to Ariel.
Aaron got the hint, and he hugged Ariel when she ran up to him.
"Lock the door on the way out, please," Kayla said.
Aaron picked Ariel up and hugged her real big.
He kissed her on the cheek.
He carefully whispered into one of her infected ears, "I love you."
"I love you, too," Ariel said in her small, soft voice.
Aaron put her down and said goodbye to Kayla.
He left the apartment and went downstairs to the front hall.
He got out his key and locked the door to the upstairs apartment.
Aaron went out the front door and put his key in the lock, locking the lock.
For a moment he wasn't sure what he was doing.
Aaron wondered if he was locking them in, or locking himself out.