THE CONSCIENTIOUS WAITER AND THE NASTY CUSTOMERS

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“Are you two together?” the waiter asked, determined to screen Him from Her with his portable transparent plastic wall.

“We’ll see after tonight.” She winked.

Impassive, the waiter inserted the freshly sanitized wall to split the table in two, then joked, “Everybody has the right to date. Still, I’m thinking this plastic wall won’t be the only thing separating the two of you tonight.”

He reacted, but then sat down. She pulled down her mask to get a sip of wine. They had nothing in common, true; except for the unpleasant remarks they left on the portable plastic wall.

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2020/04/23/april-23-flash-fiction-challenge-2/

THE LAUGHING SEAGULL

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You could have gone out and breathed pure(r) air for the first (and probably last) time in your life, yet they told you that the air was contaminated by the virus and locked you up inside your house. You let them. You could have looked at the numbers and think using your own brain, yet they bombarded you with lists and percentages on TV and the internet to blow it all out of proportion. You let them. Once by the sea, I saw a gull flying over the whole stretch of beach available while I had to pay if I wanted to go to certain areas. Free beach, paying beach. The gull wasn’t surveying the land for food – he was laughing at us.

IN WHICH A CHARACTER TAKES CHARGE

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Ministry of Health. Under25 Secretary slips into an office, “People are gargling with bleach.” What? “They’re afraid of the virus.” What? (Jokes have been going round because of the pandemic.) Some laugh, flabbergasted. “We need an official communiqué.” Now they all laugh. No one’s sure what’s going on. Typing, calling, “put me through, I said!” Under112 Secretary Never-take-charge-but-follow-orders takes it seriously, though; at her computer she designs a fake news bulletin warning people about gargling with bleach. It goes viral. The crazy are saved. The price of bleach goes back down. Stocks normalize. The world is a better place.

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2020/03/27/march-26-flash-fiction-challenge-2/

EVROS, GREECE, 26TH MARCH 2020

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At the border of the world. A river; barbed wire; trees and birds that look identical but carry different names. A boy – he would be in elementary school somewhere else – looks out onto the other side. He doesn’t know what he’s left was war, they called it that, they said it was that, and one day he’ll feel he actually felt it. He doesn’t know, either, that the world he’s looking out onto feels at war, too. He doesn’t know about this other invisible war now, but one day he’ll feel that those on the other side didn’t live through a war, or his kind of war – it will feel different, and the names won’t feel appropriate. He’ll develop a magic fascination for the names of things. Now he sees a soldier approaching from afar with a smile and a machine gun, which one shines more is hard to tell, it’s that sunny of a winter day in a month that felt like spring but it’s now back to cold. If they have to wade the river, he’ll get for sure icy water up to his waist.

STUFF YOU WOULDN’T FIND ON NETFLIX

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They saw a movie last night. First they discussed which movie; he’s been downloading movies all week – stuff you wouldn’t find on Netflix. Then they talked about the movie for a while before switching everything off for the night. The building across the street: the same; so in the apartments below, above. They appreciate the dialogues of the movies they see, they find the plots credible, they spot holes and admire the cinematography. “Would they like mine?” His eyes go red, he twitches his little-white-rabbit nose, and on the roof he says, “Yes, I’m happy I started this pandemic!”

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2020/03/19/march-19-flash-fiction-challenge-3/#comment-67117

BRECHT, TOKYO AND MT. VESUVIUS

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In 1956 Bertolt Brecht sent his written contribution to a debate about the theatre taking place in the city of Darmstadt, Germany. In his clear-cut style and well-defined images, he warned the listening congregation (we are assuming somebody else read his words) that if they wanted to talk to today’s people they needed to present today’s problems in relation to their solutions, the world as a world that can be changed. “Years ago,” the voice (not his) continued, “in a newspaper I saw a photograph of the city of Tokyo destroyed by an earthquake. Most of the houses had collapsed, but a few modern buildings were standing, unscathed. ‘Steel stood’ was written over the image.” The voice then invited them to compare this description with Pliny’s description of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, concluding that it seemed obvious which one “our modern playwrights should avoid.” (Alas, we can only imagine the reaction of the passionately debating congregation. In 1956.) “We can no longer present man to man as a victim, as the passive object of an unknown and immutable environment.” The voice finally spoke in stone, “If we put ourselves in the position of the ball, the laws of motion become inconceivable.” (In 1956, of course.)

SEPARATING

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I don’t have a mask. Should I have a mask? There are no masks left at the local pharmacy. A friend has posted a video explaining how to make your own mask, at home: parchment paper, two rubber bands, and scissors. She saw it on national TV. Then a journalist signed in live from a hospital in the north, stood right in front of the two sliding doors separating the virus ward from the rest of the hospital and said, “This is the line separating Life from Death.” Then folks from the more affected north tried to escape to the less affected center and south of the country, returning home, while a horde of outraged folks on social media poured their higher-than-god anathemas “Your mother is going to die because of you!” against them. And while the train is darting through the country, they hear the chants of bored home-forced revelers as if the hills are alive with the sound of sirens and orgiastic mourners, the loudspeakers blasting the death toll for the day gone by, with no explanation – only the sheer numbers.

OVER THE HEDGE

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One thing I Know: I know what happens in the world, I don’t know what happens at the end of my street. Street level, on a hilly road that curves where my building is, a little garden right outside my door, a hedge that lines it on two sides out of three. I can stare at the top of the road, but I can’t see the bottom, and that’s where the buzz is (or might be), the big road intersecting the major thoroughfare further north, the big square, the restaurants (shut), the stores (shut), the bars (shut), the tobacconists (shut? – there was a debate as to whether cigarettes are essential needs in times of confinement, can you walk in the park?, can you walk to relax?, to walk off the tension of living 24/7 with… who had ever been with these folks all this time?) Those who are home alone are spinning monologues to their kitchen curtains, and I wonder if I should see to really know, or whether I really want to know.

MORNING DAY 1

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The birds outside the window must be wondering where we are. They can still fly, observe from above, and the city is empty, those big boxes of metal and plastic, we call them cars, are parked idle on the side of what we use to travel or walk, we call them streets. Bird Two says to Bird One they can finally breathe and the message is relayed. Another bird comes, Bird Three, slightly different chirp, he was at the park earlier, to catch the proverbial worm naturally, and the gates there are closed. Bird One is astounded, but Bird Three, worldly and well-flown, explains the parks are shut because we didn’t understand what it means to stay home. He tells the story of how Big Man in government told all of us to stay home, then urged us, then pleaded, but we all went out anyway. Drastic Measures, National Shutdown, and Bird One has a shiver when he hears the words. Chilly morning, huh? Spring is coming. Spring is here – March 12, can you believe it? Bird Two can maybe count the days, and be astonished. Do they care? Should they? The world is theirs! (this morning) – they fly away.

I – WHERE TO LOOK

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It is the day Ethiopia will plant 250 million trees to tackle climate change and yet another boat of refugees will sink in the Mediterranean; posts are viral with the reactions of Italian Navy officers rescuing dead bodies, of mothers, of infants, of newborns wrapped firm in their mother’s denim leggings; (globalization for all of us, baby; or the impression of safety you think denim leggings will give against the very blue waters of the Med? I was staring, spellbound, at the same sea only yesterday afternoon, from the soothing shores of Cape Posillipo, the ‘respite from worry’ of ancient Greek seafarers – this would have struck a discordant note with the death bulletins from south of Sicily.) This morning Vesuvius shows the bay and the city its sinuous flanks and round top, the middle ground being wrapped in clouds, white and light blue, like the clouds can steal the hues of the morning sky – anyone can wax poetic when it comes to the bay of Naples – guide books informing the impression-thirsty traveller where to look at dawn and where to look at sunset, where to be as the sun rises and where as the sun sets (then do whatever you like in between, explore what’s in between sunrise and sunset, like the vows some exchange at a wedding, for better, for worse, for rich and for poor, in sickness and in health, till death do us part – who’s us? – the Baroque absurdity of existence coming out in the crumbling palazzi, some wonderfully restored, which you will just stumble on, not visit, as they come to you unexpectedly. You can’t feel it unless you’re here.)