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.
The block was deafened by the crash. No sign language though, “Are you fucking blind? Can you drive, for Christ’s sake?!”
Venomous lava, spewing, the burning oil of the broken car on the smashed windows.
The man doing this, the man throwing fists in the air, the man whose car had been hit. The woman – no driver’s license? – fainted at the wheel, seat belt fastened.
“Call an ambulance!” The echo of one was rushing thither from many a block away.
It was all like an imposing winding staircase, the spiral of which depressed my impotence and inaction. Today a shiny magnolia flower blossomed in an early March morning; tomorrow a silent scream and a prayer would go up so that what we didn’t want to happen wouldn’t. I had the fragile soul. I was the chapters of a book read at full speed, fingers cut while turning the pages. I cleansed myself by going out and soiling my life.
My feet, in the blood and/or burning oil, slightly, pretending to get closer and help, stamped their print on the gray asphalt to say I had been there.
They told him in awed hesitant poetry. “Antinous has been snatched away from life, Caesar.” The imperial majesty of Scarecrow Hadrian crushed to a void stupor before his bird-like people. He demanded facts (Antinous. Drowned. In the Nile) and wide-eyed he saw: the air bubbles in the muddy water; the senators’ long, wrinkled but sinewy hands keeping his boy’s curly black hair down; the plotters being sentenced to death and their leaders killed last, that they may see their friends drop like flies, one by one, and live in terror what was left of their days.
[… no other distance …]
The Emperor ordered that a city should be built named after Antinous; He decreed that – moonlight toward Egypt – that constellation up there should take the name of Antinous; He proclaimed that – at daybreak, the coast of Africa still not in sight – Antinous should be made a God.
Squinting through the fogged-up windows, in the serpentine of cars, from the entrance to the parking lot to a slowed-down pace at the supermarket doors – “What does it say? Closed?!” – then fast again, to a halt, at the junction, scrunched-up faces, waiting for the road to be clear on both sides, because, whatever those buyers needed, there was another supermarket nearby, sigh of relief, another smiley Santa listing its opening times, so they all hastily ignored the no-left-turn sign – “Yes! I’ll U-turn right here!” – but the second supermarket, the grim prospect coming true, is closed too – “what the…!” – the discouraged snake-like procession now at a halt again, only one way to go, on to the big shopping mall, that will be open, the hope getting fidgety, halfway down the hill, for a sinuous snake is driving up, faces not so holiday-like, look more like they went all the way down and found it closed – “that too?” – an unsettling wonder, at what they all forgot to buy and desperately need.
Aw… poor thing. The old lady is a beggar. A black hat in her left hand, she’s waiting for passers-by to give up a few of their coins. A couple of cents can still buy some candy.
Hold on. A sense of vertigo from this window. Whoever built that fan-shaped sidewalk certainly wanted people to look up and not down.
Hold on. It’s not a hat. It’s the visible part of a round manhole to her left. Her arms are folded behind her back. She’s not begging. She’s waiting. Looking. Thinking that whatever made those people over there go through the garbage can, well… it reminds her she used to wear torn clothes as a kid. Maybe. And that she’d roam the streets barefoot like some little vagabond.
Hold on. Thoughts must be very clear at that age. Eighty-five, ninety. She’s thinking: “I would never go through the garbage can.” And then: “These black shoes hurt.”
The twin brothers, separated at birth, met by chance in an online forum after their adoptive mothers’ funerals. The two women had died on the same day a couple of months prior to the cyber encounter. By the time the system had realised that two identical accounts had been created, the brothers had already connected, exchanged phone numbers and met.
Grief had turned both online. Melvin was shier and had rarely been abroad. Lucas had a stubborn streak but had travelled around the world for work. They were both collectors: Melvin old phones and radios; Lucas illustrated children’s books and maps. They had been on vacation in the same places but not in the same years and laughed and laughed about trying so hard to come up with different usernames and emails for all their online accounts.
“What’s all the fuss upstairs?” he asked, tying up the belt of his bathrobe.
By the door, she shushed him, overjoyed. “They’re taking her away!”
“How should I know? A little screaming and I find an ambulance at my doorstep.”
The paramedics were carrying a woman down the stairs.
“Poor thing… is she going to be all right?” she asked, worried about the reputation of the building.
“Yes, madam. Go back in, please.”
“Her husband’s not home.” She mumbled, closing the door. “I wonder who she was… you know, entertaining… I saw her 3 days ago. New hair cut and color. Red. I guess she knew her husband was leaving…”
“You women are your own worst enemy. I’ll go back to bed.”
She was offended by his lack of interest.
“Get away from the door…”
“Oh no, whoever she was up there with, he’s got to go past this door.”
You keep yourself to yourself. You have a selected number of friends you hang out with, but you keep your distance; you pay your monthly rent “in cash”; you get a job which doesn’t require you to state where you live – you keep your old address.
In your building you have neighbors – you don’t know them, they don’t know you. You feel something creepily peculiar in the phrase “unburied, un-… what was it?, unknown”, like dying at sea and the big city is the big sea and you drown into it although you might like to drown somewhere else.
You say, “I want to swallow this big city. Not this big city to swallow me.”
Until the water pipes in your apartment break. Major work needs doing inside the walls.
And the walls are only pipes now. Whatever flows in every direction, it has to go through you.