He stared out the window. “Quarantined.” Some deadly-assed bug prowled the streets. People were dropping like flies. The government was overwhelmed and unable to mount a defense. There was a run on the grocery stores and banks. He stretched his neck up and stared at the ceiling. He had a tight place there from a surgery a couple of years back. He returned to his writing table and opened his notebook:
I dunno. I never liked crowds of people all that much anyway. I went to rock concerts because I thought I was supposed to enjoy them, but I didn’t. I much preferred the vinyl on a good Hi-Fi. I’ve gone to church and gotten really nervous. The diseased, frightened mob doesn’t hold a great allure for me. “Oh, let’s all go rub against each other and give ourselves this deadly fucking disease.” I can see some problems with this approach.
He set the pen down. Pneumococcal pneumonia had quarantined him a couple of years back. It was miserable but he survived. At least he wasn’t sick yet, but everyone else was so he had to quarantine anyway. He picked up the iPad and put some music on to play, Alice in Chains, “Man in the Box.” The music lit him up. He picked up the pen:
“Won’t you come and save me? Feed my eyes, now that you’ve sewn them shut…”
He switched the tune to “Rooster.”
“Here they come to snuff the rooster, aww yeah, hey yeah… You know he ain’t gonna’ die…”
What’s the deal with the toilet paper? Some people must spend an enormous amount of time on the toilet. Their assholes must be utterly raw with getting wiped with tons of toilet paper.
He set the pen down. He did not permit himself to drink whiskey before 5 PM but it was well past that. He poured the golden liquor over ice cubes and mixed in a little water. He stepped out onto the porch. He thought about Mike. Mike died in early February. They called it pneumonia at the time but he died like the virus victims. He was kind of sick for a while and then his system suddenly collapsed. He went into a coma and never came out. Dear Janet, his wife, had to turn the machines off and let him go. It seemed so wrong. He was a nice guy. He picked up the pen again,
That toilet paper won’t save you.
The morning sun ripped through the windows like a flame thrower. He poured a cup of coffee and checked his phone. His hair was down in his face. The cat was perched on the window sill squalling to be let in. As the caffeine soaked into his nervous system, he did the thing that had become an unwelcome ritual: where was The Pain this morning? The dislocated shoulder, the back, the neuralgia, the piece of furniture he had hit last night? The Pain was always somewhere. Some days he spent all day just making The Pain go away. Today it wasn’t so bad. He sat down with his pen again,
This shit could kill me, and there’s next to nothing I can do about it, but sit here in the house, and wait for it to pass by like the Angel of Death in Exodus. I wonder if the Children of Israel stole all the toilet paper before they left Egypt. Maybe that’s why Pharaoh was so pissed. I’m not going to kill some little animal and splatter its blood on the doorways of my house. That’s nasty. There’s enough killing already. It hasn’t fixed anything.
The day with its horrors passed. It was night time. The cat ran in and out of the door, each time expecting some kind of treat for showing up and being beautiful. He got onto the internet and read the numbers of people dead and dying. Everybody has their time. That’s what the old guys had taught him, the old guys who had dodged bullets and Kamikazes in World War Two – when your number is up, it’s up… but not a minute sooner. That was in the Lord’s hands. That faith made them utterly fearless. They were his heroes and models. He wished for the faith those old dudes had – something quaint and wonderful of the past. He didn’t have it. He planned for every disaster. He planned to survive. He saved up food and cared for his weapons. He picked up his pen,
I worked hard tonight. I wanted to get it down. I’m not afraid of dying – never was, and certainly not now. I am afraid of catching the virus. I know how people die when they get it, and it’s truly awful. It’s like being choked to death for days because your lungs can’t take in oxygen, but they keep you alive with a tube… Is it right? Are the old guys right? The Almighty doesn’t take you until your number is up, the golden BB with your name on it? I wish I could believe that. I want to believe it.
Softer morning, cloudy and chilly. He drank five cups of coffee and brushed his hair. His furnace had stopped working a couple of days ago, and he was afraid to call a repairman. He was afraid of bringing a stranger into the house. For that matter he was afraid of bringing his own kids into the house. He made heat by bringing the stove up to 400° and it worked well enough. It was the first day of spring and warmth was on its way.
Out on the porch, he noticed the town was quieter. The air had a freshness about it that he hadn’t smelled in a while. It was nice – the freshness and the quiet. That much he liked. He had believed for a long time that the world needed to slow the fuck down, but not this way. He went into the house, sat down at his writing table and picked up the pen,
This will change everything. There will be no going back. People will die; restaurants will die; churches will die. Will we ever feel safe being around each other again? How will we do sex? Will this turn us all into a planet of monks who never have any fun, and can only sit around thinking cosmic thoughts?
Late at night,
a little more than a little drunk, Seventies music playing on the iPad, he looked into the darkness all around him, and considered the threat. It was stealthy, invisible, ubiquitous. His mind screamed, How can this world be at once so beautiful and so malignant? He paced the too familiar floor and noticed dust bunnies of cat hair. Good luck with getting the cat to sweep those up. He sat down and picked up his pen,
Are you angry, Holy One? As you heal me, as you give me hope does your soul rage with anger…
He was sixty seven years old and he had some kidney damage from a bad dehydration episode a few years earlier. He wrote,
I feel like I’m walking around with a goddamned target on my back. I feel like I’m being stalked. I can fight a man. I can fight a bear or a puma. I don’t know how to fight a virus. I could be in heaven or hell someday soon, or maybe drinking beer with the Vikings in Valhalla – I’d like to try their beer…
“…constantly in darkness – where’s that at?”
Wet, foggy morning – there was a damp chill in the air. He went to the back porch, this time to smoke. The sun was not even trying to rise. He stared into the darkness, as if by chance, he could catch a glimpse of the demon that stalked him in the half light of dawn. There was nothing he could see. He returned indoors. He poured a cup of coffee. He sat down at the writing table and picked up his pen,
At least spring is not far off. I can feel it in the air and the birds are back making all kinds of racket. They’re easier to hear because the machines are quiet except for the big rigs out on the expressway. I hear Easter has been cancelled. Jesus is in quarantine too, in the tomb, and he’ll have to stay dead this year. I’m glad I’m not stuck in a tomb – no Wi-Fi in there.
The day passed in self-imposed busy-ness and trivialities. Sometimes an hour would pass by while he looked at something.
Been working on a nice coma all day. I’m not big on running around a lot but being told that I can’t drives me crazy. I want to go to a bar but they’re all shut down. I don’t know how much of this we can stand.
Evangelist freak on TV saying, “At times of stress like the coronavirus epidemic, you need to turn to Jesus…” OK, how about you tell Jesus to make the plague go away?
“When the music’s over…”
This will never be over.
This will never be over.
Drippy rainy night wrapped around the house. He fetched a pipe and a small bag of the noble weed from a drawer, a nerve pill from the cabinet. The cat was restless. She didn’t like the rain, but she needed to roam at night. He never viewed the cat as a “pet” or a possession. She was an independent operator. She came and went as she pleased. He had never seen her take a shit. He watched a bit of cable news and it was unbelievably grim. All of the talking heads were in their homes, broadcasting from their phones. Millions were predicted to die. People weren’t taking it seriously.
Mike was in his mind again. Everything about the way Mike died fit the way coronavirus victims died. Janet was in his room a lot. She was a great mate. She was the one required to turn off Mike’s breathing machine when the time came. He had given Janet a hug at Mike’s funeral, so if Mike died of it, he had been directly exposed to the plague. He picked up his pen,
“When your time comes… the golden BB with your name on it…” simple, ferocious faith that I never had. Ferocious faith would come in handy today. What’s up with this, Jesus? What are we doing? I need some light on this one. I’m having trouble dealing with this invisible assassin.
“There are stars in the southern sky, southward as you go… I have loved you like a baby, like some lonesome child…”
To be continued…
Letters from Quarantine