The morning was frosty and clear, 20° below average. The first thought in his mind was, “The plague is still here.” He wondered how long it would be before that was no longer his first thought in the morning. He checked the Twitter news and found that the never-ending freak show was still going on with a vengeance. He sipped coffee and made a piece of toast.
Toast was one of those universally good things that had exerted a consistently positive influence in his life. It’s the “T” in the “BRAT diet” (bananas, rice, apple, and toast) that he had fed his kids when they were babies and had stomach bugs. It always worked. Days without toast were misfires.
The quarantine staggered on with a painful slowness. He ordered a commercial case of toilet paper from China, $46 dollars for 24 rolls. Stupid. He lit the stove again to warm up the house, and it warmed as the sun crawled into the sky. He fed the cat and brushed his hair.
He passed the day at his laptop journaling out the absurdity of a person caught in a few rooms. The sun pivoted across the windows until the time for electric lights returned.
It was the feast of the hungry ghosts. They all returned to him. He found himself thinking about them in unguarded moments. He wasn’t really into it. He remembered Mom’s stories from the Depression, the hard times, the times that left us tough and wounded. There were tales of grandmothers and grandfathers. He remembered things he didn’t know he knew. He remembered from a time before he was born, so deeply had the tales burned into his soul. He picked up his pen,
They all took off and left me here. They flew off to Jesus or Nirvana, or maybe even Hell. Who knows? Why are they coming back now? Why are they in my dreams, my day dreams? Why are they drawing close to me now?
Were I in a Hollywood movie about a haunting, the ghosts would be coming back to warn me of my own impending doom, maybe even to take me away, and I, the ill-fated hero, would have to struggle against fate itself. But, I’m not in a Hollywood movie, and I don’t think things actually work that way. Perhaps warnings do sometimes come from the other side, like there is something intelligent on the back side of reality, but this doesn’t feel like that. It is more like an eruption of memory. That memory is of the time when the five of them still lived and they told the stories of what had happened to them.
The sun rose reluctantly, obscured by clouds. It was still cold and the stove wasn’t doing very well at keeping the house warm. His fingers were pale and aching cold. He had come to understand from experience that sometimes just not feeling bad was good enough. When there was no pain or itching, no heartbreaks and no rush, it was a thing to celebrate in itself. Perhaps this was gratitude in a temporary peace. Perhaps it was only scars on the soul.
He sipped coffee and remembered a dream: he was walking across a very fertile field out in the country, perhaps around sundown. He walked with several people. One of them was his mother. They walked without speaking, perhaps toward a house. He picked up his pen,
They have been coming back to me. I see them in my dreams, Mom the most but also my dad. In my waking reveries memories return of them and the stories they told. Sometimes I remember stories that I didn’t know that I knew; perhaps I heard them so long ago that I had forgotten. Perhaps their spirits still speak to me. I don’t know for sure. I try not to get too woo-woo about these things. The imagination is a powerful force. What I do know is that my psyche must be calling them.
They weren’t hard, cold people by nature. It was the time that hardened them. It’s as if they had all memorized the scene in Casablanca where Rick tells Ilsa, “…it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world…” That’s how they lived. It wasn’t cruelty, just a matter of perspective. I have photos of all of them when they were young, before it all happened, before the wars, the drought and the Depression. They were just normal kids looking forward to lives very different from those that fate would bring them. There were no shadows in their smiles like those which would appear later in the grown-up pictures.
He arose early enough to catch the moon rise shortly before dawn. Wisps of clouds scudded around the sliver of a crescent in the southern sky just above the rooftops. It was warmer. It would be a nice day. His head felt a little thick. His son had come over the night before and they had made pork chops and gravy and blunts, and watched James Bond movies until the wee hours. Perhaps the coffee would fix it.
Life flowed like an open wound.
He was an intelligent man. The teachers tested his I.Q. in the eighth grade. They made him take the test again because they didn’t believe the results on the first one. He tested even higher on the second test. He never lost sight of the fact that he was greatly blessed and yet cursed too. Things came easily to him. He enjoyed school, all of it. At the same time, he had to live with people not understanding him, and seeing things that most didn’t see.
Now, that mind, honed on years of experience and education, saw ominous signs on the horizon. He had a friend in Whitesburg, Mark Larkey, who liked to say, “You know, things can always get worse.” Mark was a philosopher of the first order. It felt like that – it could always get worse, and it felt like it was.
The morning was absolutely perfect, sunny and warm – run around butt naked in the woods kind of air. The Pain was A.W.O.L. this morning and he had slept well in the night. The dreams of the night had been the deep, rich scenes which leave their taste on your lips when you awaken in the morning. He stretched with his mind to remember them, but they stayed just out of reach. He needed coffee. The night seemed to still swirl around his feet as he stood on the porch in a long black robe, like some train wreck of a wizard who just woke up in a new world. What he did remember is that he was seeing his people in his dreams – parents, sister, even grandparents sometimes, and of course, they all looked different – young and healthy and dressed up in their favorite nice clothes. There were others, friends and family in the dream world, familiar and friendly but unknown to his waking mind. And they were usually on the way to somewhere or climbing on the roofs of the houses, or driving down highways to nowhere, and the car falls apart, but it doesn’t matter.
I know why they’re coming back now. It’s this stuff we’re into right now – it’s hitting the chord of their pain – the wars, the Depression, the trying to put their lives back together after it all, and trying to pretend that all of this was somehow normal. It’s a warning that this is one of those times where everything changes and nothing will be the same on the other side of it.
The cat appeared from under the porch. She squawked her “feed me” and then rubbed against his legs.
It rained all damned day. He took photographs of rain drops sliding down a piece of plastic. He watched the news as long as he could stand it, which wasn’t very long. He wrote a sudden little poem and played with his camera. A fine camera was one of life’s necessities. His mother had loved photography in so far as she took a lot of pictures with whatever rinky-dink camera that was popular at the time, like Kodak Brownies and Instamatics (they weren’t instant at all). In high school he encountered real single lens reflex cameras and people who knew how to process and print film. This became a lifelong passion. Even these many years after digital cameras obliterated the traditional darkroom, he still had his enlarger and developing tanks. Sometimes he developed rolls of black & white film in his kitchen sink just for shits and giggles.
Soft, warm rain falls like tears. The sky is gray and cold like my grandfather’s eyes.
This is maddening, and I am reasonably comfortable. The bills are paid and there’s food in the fridge. I have my cameras, guitars, gadgets and notebooks. I have a phone and people to call. Right now, millions of people have suddenly had that security ripped away when they were trying to do the right thing. The government gives out a gazillion dollars, but none of it manages to get down to them.
I’m the luckiest guy in the world.
It was another overcast day, but the rain had moved on.
The fucking president of the Untied States went on TV last night and advised his followers to inject themselves with Lysol and drink Clorox to cure the corona virus, and oh, by the way, stick a light bulb up your ass so that you can shine light on the virus. That kills it right away…
I thought this was a bad Batman movie, but it’s not. It’s a macabre Loony Toons where the sociopath tells his fawning followers to inject disinfectants. Mr. Darwin will be working overtime.
The days began to run together in his mind and he could no longer remember if this was today, yesterday or tomorrow. There was little to draw him out of the deep reverie which consumed the waking hours. He wrote. He drew. He shot pictures of windows and doors. He liked to go places he had never been and shoot pictures of them. That was closed off to him now. He speculated about what would be the first restaurant he would visit and what would be the first dish that he ordered after the plague was finally gone. Would it ever be gone? Would his favorite waiter be there? This assumed that he would survive, and there was no assurance of that. He intended to survive.
The rain returned in the night. The porch glistened in the pre-dawn electric light. The night had brought more weird dreams. He dreamed he was in a church and his son was about to give the sermon. Then he was awakened by a dream sensation of smothering and not being able to breathe. It was a rugged way to greet a new day, but these were rugged days.
On the news, the political types rattled on and on about getting back to normal, but there was not going to be a return to a normal of memory. We couldn’t go back the “normal” of World War II. We couldn’t go back to the “normal” of the 1960’s. We couldn’t go back to the before the virus normal. That was gone, simply gone. It was as gone as the ecstasy of 1971. It was as gone as anything, and when something is gone, it’s gone. That was just the way of things.
It is the way of things that people die. It is the way of things that it is never fair. It is the way of things that some of us inexplicably survive and we tell the stories.
“If I go crazy, then will you still call me Superman?”
The suicide cult people were all racing to the beaches and parks, and huddling together for demonstrations.
I knew you would figure out a way to fuck this up.
In one episode of the cartoon “Hagar the Horrible” the nephew asks Hagar, “Hagar, do you have to be smart to be a Viking?” Hagar thinks a minute and then says, “No, you only need to be smart to be an old Viking.” It is the way of things that some live and some die. Some flowers are plucked and some go to seed. It is the way of things. Was there never a moment without risk? Was there never a moment without fear?
He cradled his uncle’s Purple Heart in his fingers. This cheap plastic and stamped metal piece of crap is what the government gave our family for his life. He was a beautiful man. The Nazi’s killed him in France. It is the way of things.
I never lost my faith. I just doubted everything I had been told.