A literary mag

Another Something

Cora Lewis

I go for a jog. When I get out of the shower, I see an old friend has texted — Saul, a medical student. I'd passed him, unseeing, while sweating along the river. He invites me over.

“I’m going to wave hello at the door, but don’t take it personally,” I text, and get dressed.

At his apartment, I ask Saul if there are any misconceptions about the epidemic – still early days. 

“People aren’t taking it seriously enough,” he says, juicing a lemon.

“You think people aren’t taking it seriously enough… but you invited me over for a drink?”

“Well, I’m included in their number.”

He wipes the pulp from his hands with a dish towel, which glows radioactive in my mind.

A week prior, when the outbreak came to Italy, they shuttered all the churches.

“There’s no mass in all of Italy,” I told my father on the phone. “An unprecedented act.”

“No mass in all of Italy,” he said. “Gravity must not work there.”

Now the US remains open, despite a second lockdown in Spain. The TV president can’t tell what approach will boost his ratings. He’s waiting for the special episode to end. 

Very quickly, in Europe, there is a relentless loss of life. There are not enough masks, or gloves, or intensive-care beds. Governments retrofit gyms and convention centers, bracing for the sick. The news is always behind. Each night, even so, I watch the experts in their Brady Bunch boxes, a doomsday Hollywood Squares. 

Next, for twenty-four hours, the whole world believes swans have returned to the Venice canals. Then this is rapidly debunked. Still, the water beneath the bridges, unchurned by boats, goes clear.

In Wales, a team of mountain goats takes over a locked-down town with a clatter, trotting over cobblestones, horns and coats authoritative. This one is real.

Now, overnight, someone has double-spaced the city. Everyone, on the sidewalks, six feet apart.

Society, already so mediated by screens, becomes more so.

A priest in Rome livestreams a service, but accidentally leaves on a montage of video filters. As he speaks in Latin, a futuristic space-helmet appears on his head, dissolves into a muscle-man’s headband. A flower crown with floating hearts, a fedora and dark glasses. The holy man speaks to the camera, oblivious, in his real-life gilded gown, itself from another age. 

“I am SCREAMING,” read the comments.

I call a childhood friend, a venture capitalist who lives in SF. The air quality in California, I say. LA sunsets “like nothing in memory.”

The friend tells me the government is going to print money until no one wants it anymore.

“How does that end?”

“I think it’ll end badly, but I always think that.”

Now a hospital ship docks off the shore of Manhattan. 

Now, in white tents, in Central Park, in the rain: field hospitals.

“We are still in the space between the thunder and the lightning,” the TV anchor insists, the shape of the curve still unknown.  

The prime minister of England has the virus. The TV news anchor has the virus, and will broadcast from his basement. The famous actors have the virus, but no symptoms. Inquiring minds would like to know how they got tested.

I call the VC friend. He tells me the government should confiscate the airlines.

“American, United. The Fed should take everything they have. Those CEOs took every dollar and screwed their workers to the wall. They borrowed money for stock buybacks... The state should claw back every bonus.”

"How bad is it?" one joke goes. “Anarchists are encouraging people to obey the state.”

"How bad is it?” The banker wants to nationalize the airlines.

In the space between Before and After, the supply chain is imperfectly militarized. General Electric workers walk off the job, striking to demand the company convert its jet engine factories to make ventilators. 

The beaches in Florida are closed, but not all, not fast enough. Low-level prisoners are released, but not all, not fast enough. 

Grocery store workers strike for hazard pay, delivery workers gloves and soap. Sanitation workers. Stores are emptied by decree, but warehouses remain open, and warehouse workers threaten to strike.

“I don’t want to die over essential oils and glitter,” says one employee filling orders for the homebound, who are taking up crafting. “I don’t want to die over fake flowers.”

Somewhere in the US, a white cat sits on a cushion observing the street. Across the way, a woman hangs a sign in her window: “What is that white cat’s name?” 

Up goes the reply: “David Bowie.”

In California neighborhoods, parents tape crayon and marker rainbows in windows visible from sidewalks — a scavenger hunt for families’ daily walks. The little spectrums proliferate. David Bowie looks on.

The VC friend tells me he “bought a little stock,” after the market’s worst day. 

“I bought a little nuclear, a little solar,” he says. “I didn’t buy the world.”

I wake to the same many-colored charts, which proceed with their deadly math: a logarithmic, time-lapsed mountain range.

States are suspending evictions, mortgage payments, student debt, medical debt. Electricity and water bills may be deferred, but only if the caller knows to mention the virus. The utility company rep, on the other end of the line, is not permitted to coach the caller to say the magic word. 

“Joe Jr. Restaurant Will Be Open Again Just As Soon As We’re Allowed,” reads the sign in the classic diner’s window.

I send Saul a video of a quarantined Italian man doing yoga in his apartment with his puppy, who imitates the moves. The man speaks calmly to the stretching chihuahua, both in downward-dog positions.

“Lentamente… Respira… Bravissima.”

“Slowly…. Breathe… Very well done.”

In Paris, a clandestine network emerges in response to the rise in domestic abuse, as more people are now trapped at home with partners. To be safely directed to a place to live away from abusive husbands or boyfriends, women may whisper a code phrase at participating pharmacies. 

Everywhere, all of the hotels are empty and all of the shelters are full. 

A headline that stays with me: All of the news is paywalled; all of the lies are free.

Before any media plays, now, and between posts, PSAs materialize.

“Space out, New Yorkers,” one reads, encouraging room between customers in checkout lines at supermarkets.

I take a screenshot and send it to Saul.

“More stylish than ‘Flatten the curve,’” he agrees. 

“In a way, we are confronting a world in which we care for each other as a society regardless of our productive labor (or not),” my oldest friend emails me. “And if so, beautiful.”


I call my father. I tell him I’m afraid. 

“This is not what is going to kill you,” he tells me. “This will be another something you lived through.”

Today has had the highest state-wide death-count of any day since the first confirmed case. I’m sitting at the bottom of the steps to Saul’s building. He’s sitting at the top. 

“I read today about the first man to inhabit a closed system,” I say. We’re talking about lives lived in isolation and drinking from silver cans in brown paper bags. My face mask is stretched atop my head, jauntily, like a neon yarmulke. 

“He gave some advice for people who’d come after him.”

“Floss,” says Saul.

“Guess again,” I say.

 “Semper ubi sub ubi.”

“Wrong. He said to remember that ‘man is always the most unstable element in any system.’” 

“Ah,” says Saul -- generous. “But had he heard about woman?”

Mask back over my mouth, I try to flirt with nothing but my eyebrows and give up. I lift my Personal Protective Equipment again to ask, “What’s ‘semper ubi sub ubi?’”

“It’s Latin.”

“I know that. What’s it Latin for?”

Saul pauses grimly, uncertain how this will play.

“Always wear under-wear,’” he says.

I shake my head. I smile, and cover the smile with the mask, and walk home.

A version of this piece originally appeared in "Love in Quarantine," a chapbook authored in the spring of 2020, which can be purchased here: https://www.loveinquarantinebook.com/

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