I spent Saturday morning having the following conversation over and over and over again.
(FAUSTUS dials phone. HE listens to the phone ring. The person on the other end of the line picks up.)
FAUSTUS: Hey, [Name of Friend], it’s Faustus . . . Well, I’m calling to thank you so much for coming to my book release party last Friday, but I’m also calling to ask how you are . . . There was kind of a little health thing at the party. You don’t happen to have a fever and a stiff neck or a rash, do you? . . . Oh, I’m very glad to hear that, because unfortunately somebody who was at the party fell ill on Thursday with bacterial meningitis and died yesterday . . . Now the way bacterial meningitis works, it’s virtually certain that she was infected after the day of the party. And even if she had been infected already, it’s virtually certain that you weren’t exposed; you would basically have had to make out with her . . . Right. If it hasn’t shown up by now you’re probably fine. But since there’s a theoretical chance, though it’s infinitesimal, that you were exposed, I wanted to call and tell you that, you know, if you do find yourself feeling feverish and notice a purple rash or a stiff neck, in the next few days, you know, it might not be a bad idea to go to the doctor . . . Yeah, in fact there is—they just give you penicillin or some other thing with a name I can’t remember . . . Oh, I appreciate that; it wasn’t actually anybody I knew–it was a friend another guest had brought with her . . . Yes, they were good friends, unfortunately . . . You know, I would love to stay on the phone, but I have a bunch more of these phone calls to make, so can I call you back later and we’ll talk about that? Great. I’ll talk to you soon. Sure, no problem. Okay. Bye.
(FAUSTUS presses “end” on the phone and dials the next number.)
I imagine that, distressing as this news must have been for my interlocutors to hear, they probably received it better when communicated this way than when communicated in the style of my first conversation about the issue, which went something like this:
FAUSTUS: Hi, [Name of Friend], it’s Faustus.
FRIEND: Hi, Faustus, how are you?
FAUSTUS: I’m fine, but I need to tell you that somebody who was at the party came down with bacterial meningitis and died yesterday.
FRIEND: I thought you were calling to ask whether we should see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull today.
FAUSTUS: Ooh, what time?