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2021 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

Excerpt from Anarchist, Republican… Assassin

Written by Jeff Rasley 

I retired two years before the lockdown, when I hit sixty-eight. Sherry – that’s my wife – and I had a lot of plans for traveling and things we wanted to do in retirement, but then she died in 2019, less than a year into it. The cancer came fast and furious. Sherry was dead less than two months after the diagnosis.

I was finally getting back on my feet, trying to resume some semblance of a social life a year after Sherry’s death. Then, the pandemic struck. My life came to a screeching halt again, just after I was starting to get out and see old friends and make new ones at the coffee shop and bar where I used to hang out.

Sitting home alone during the lockdown, I started feeling irrationally irritable and had terrible mood swings. One day, I threw the toaster down on the kitchen floor and then stomped on it. I was furious, because two pieces of toast burned. I probably set the timer on for too long, but I didn’t care whether it was my fault or the toaster’s. I just wanted to smash the damn thing. A couple days later, I went outside through the front door and then went around back to survey the condition of the backyard lawn. I thought the backdoor into the screened-in porch was unlocked, but it wasn’t. Ordinarily, that would have been mildly irritating. I would have grunted and then walked back around the house to the front door. But I was so upset I started pulling on the handle of the screen door as hard as I could. When I couldn’t break the lock, I drove my fist through the screen and unlocked the door. I didn’t fix the screen.

I sat in front of the TV hour after hour watching the news about how Trump was fucking up the government’s response to the spreading coronavirus infection. Why didn’t he invoke the federal government’s power under the Defense Production Act as soon as the virus hit Washington State in January? All the experts knew how fast-spreading and dangerous this virus could be. But he ignored the CDC’s advice and downplayed the risk to the nation’s health. Not until mid-April, when it was way too late, did Trump finally use some of the government’s power under the DPA, and even then it’s a half-assed measure. There wasn’t enough testing. There weren’t enough ventilators, not enough PPE, not enough swabs. What the hell was he thinking?

The number of infections kept rising. By the end of March the US led the world in infections and deaths caused by the virus. What does Trump do? He refuses to wear a mask. He’s not going to look like a weakling. Testing? Overrated. It increases the number of infections. Why doesn’t the country have enough PPE and ventilators? Obama’s fault. The President is in charge, but if there’s any failure, it’s the fault of governors and mayors.

He kept repeating his mantra, “The situation is under control.” Pence’s team will whip the virus. If they don’t, well, Jared’s team will. This virus isn’t as bad as the flu. America always wins. Those people wearing masks are doing it to spite me, Donald J. Trump, the greatest President in history. “The situation is under control.”

But the deaths kept mounting. It surpassed annual deaths from auto accidents, 34,000. It surpassed US deaths in the Vietnam War, 58,000. It surpassed the total deaths of US soldiers in World War I, 116,500, and it kept going up. World War II deaths, here we come! Spanish Flu deaths, hah! We’ll beat you too. America will be Number One with Donald J. Trump, the greatest President in history, leading us!

What the fuck!? This is the United States of America! We’re supposed to have the best healthcare in the world, the best of everything. Yeah, Trump made America great again. We’re Number One in coronavirus infections and deaths.

I was getting angrier and angrier about how badly Trump was handling the pandemic. And lonelier and lonelier locked down at home with no one to talk to.

After spending all day switching back and forth among the cable news networks on TV, I’d turn off the television and get on my laptop and rant on Twitter about what an idiot the President is. That was my lockdown life. That’s all there was to it.

When Trump started puffing hydroxychloroquine as a cure, I was sure he, or Jared and Ivanka, owned stock in a company that makes the drug. Why not? He’s tried to sell every product under the sun with his Trump brand. And then, he mused on national TV about sticking a UV light down your gullet and drinking Clorox as a cure. Presidents aren’t supposed to muse about hair-brain schemes that will get some numbskull killed when he burns his throat with a tanning lamp or poisons himself with laundry bleach.

But there was Trump on the tube again claiming victory over the virus. The jobs report was better than expected, so that proves the Trump-Pence team is winning. Hooray! The economy is already recovering. The CARES Act is working. He says America is coming back greater than ever. And by the way, Donald J. Trump has done more for African-Americans than any US president. Lincoln? All he did was free the slaves. Donald J. Trump gave ‘em all jobs.

I turned off the TV and opened Twitter. What did I find? All these Trumpers are praising the President. “The situation is under control.” He’s saving us from the virus! He’s saving our jobs and the economy! Don’t believe those traitors in the media and that Dr. Fauci, who says things are getting worse. God chose Donald J. Trump for this moment. He has it under control.

Winter has passed and it’s spring, but I am cycling farther and farther down and I can’t stop it. Trump’s lies and crazy talk haven’t stopped. When the demonstrations started in Minneapolis after George Floyd was killed by that cop, something snapped in me and I really lost control.

I was losing track of what time it is. I mean, like, what year is it? Is Lyndon Johnson the President? I can hear my dad yelling to turn off the boob tube. But I can’t turn it off.

The talking heads on CNN are talking about the Kerner Commission Report. They keep saying the findings of the Kerner Report are still true today. It must be 1967? They say there are two Americas, one black and the other white. Black America is ripped off every which way, income, housing, job opportunity, education; the system is rigged against you, if you’re black. You can’t trust the police. They aren’t there to protect and serve, if you’re black. All these images of police beating or killing unarmed black people scroll across my TV set; there’s Rodney King, Malice Wayne Green, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor …

Sitting alone every day staring at my TV watching the street clashes between protesters and cops, and then shops going up in flames, stores and cop cars vandalized, looters busting out windows and jumping out of stores with stolen goods. I’m losing my grounding in the present. This must be 1968. I was an anarchist revolutionary then, but I’m an establishment Republican, if this is 2020. But what year is it? Who am I?

There he is on TV again! That big orange clown figure with that bloated face and ridiculous hair. He’s babbling about MAGA loves black people.

That’s it. I know what I have to do. I’m no longer a retired businessman and country-club Republican. I am nineteen years old, a militant, an anarchist.

I pack the car. I put my twelve-gauge bolt-action shotgun in the trunk. I don’t know how long it takes. I don’t know how many times I stop. I arrive in Washington D.C. What’s the date? June first, 2020? No, it’s 1968.

I smell tear gas in the air. It draws me toward the White House. I walk in that direction. I’m dressed in black with a black bandana covering my face. There are lots of demonstrators around the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. Some are yelling at cops in Lafayette Square across from the White House. People are shouting, chanting, screaming. Cops with shields and batons are lined up confronting the protesters.

Then it happens. It’s around six thirty. Secret Service agents, military police, Park Police, National Guardsmen, and Arlington County Police all in riot gear advance on the demonstrators in Lafayette Square. A Black Hawk helicopter swoops out of the sky and hovers fifteen feet above ground blasting gusts of wind that snap tree limbs and send volleys of dust and broken glass-like shrapnel tearing through the crowd of protesters. People are screaming and running for cover in panic and confusion.

There wasn’t any violent activity going on, just chanting and singing, people waving signs. But the forces of The Man are advancing. They shoot smoke canisters. They’re pushing the crowd of people with their shields. Protesters trip over each other trying to back away. People on the ground are beaten with batons. Heads, elbows, and knees are bleeding in the street. Cops shoot pepper balls. Horses charge defenseless demonstrators and trample them underfoot. Everyone is forced out of the park into H Street. A few protesters throw water bottles, but no one fights back. The pigs keep advancing and beating helpless protesters holding up their arms to shield their heads from baton blows.

I jog around past the melee on H Street, south past the White House grounds skirting the fence along the west and south lawns, and then toward the statue of Andrew Jackson on horseback. Lafayette Square is deserted now. I run through the little park. I sneak across H Street. I’m at the opposite end of the street from where the security forces are still attacking, pushing, and pummeling the protesters. I hide behind a large oak tree on the southeast corner of St. John’s Church’s grounds.

I have a clear view of The Man as he walks up to the parish house of St. John’s Church. There’s a group of men with the Evil One. I know I should recognize them from TV. Is that little Billy Barr? No matter. My mind is buzzing too much to get a clear signal. Two blond women are in the group. One is The Daughter. Then, He steps away from the group. He’s carrying a book. Yes! It’s The Bible. He’s standing there holding The Book upside down. The final signal!

I aim and pull the trigger. What? Nothing happened. Could it be? I shoot the bolt. There’s no shell in the chamber. Some demon must have stolen my ammunition. The gun isn’t loaded. I scrounge through my pockets. No cartridges there. Oh yeah, now I remember. We only fight with handheld weapons. So that’s what this is. It’s not a gun. It’s a club.

I let out a war cry and run toward The Man holding The Book. Before he can turn to see death approaching, something happens to me. I’m flying. No, I’m falling. Did something hit me? I didn’t see it.


Jeff Rasley is a retired lawyer and long-time social activist. He is a director of 6 nonprofit organizations and has taught classes on community development at Butler and Marian Universities. Anarchist, Republican… Assassin is his 11th book.

2021 Contributing Writers Pandemic Poetry

Heat, transferring

Written by Tamiko Dooley

She peeks in the window.

He’s busy; surrounded by colourful bricks.
Inside it’s warm, and the fire keeps out the
Cold January frost.

He spots her and beams –
And rushes to the pane.
He knows by now he can’t dash to the door.

Two hands meet on the glass –
Hers: shrivelled, wrinkly and well-worn
The hand that fed, clothed and bathed me;
His: chubby and pen-stained, still
Alternately clinging to my legs and pounding the floor in frustration.

For a moment the world stops,
And these two souls, two sides of me
Collide. Gently.
She tells him silently
How much she misses him,
And he does the same.

The icy glass begins to warm under their palms
Until it’s time for her to leave,
To stay safe,

To stay apart.

Long after she’s gone,
The handprint remains there,
As warm and comforting as the promise of Spring
And brighter times to come.


Tamiko is a half-Japanese mother of two, born and brought up in England. She speaks several languages. When there’s no pandemic, she’s hired as a wedding pianist from time to time.

2021 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

Dear Mr. Corona

Written by Neelam Epstein Mukherjee

It was the morning of April 15th when I first saw Mr. Corona. His body was a particularly ugly shade of green with sharp spikes sticking out of his head. But unlike regular monsters, he was small and had an almost kind face. I was playing with John in our front yard with a toy water gun. We were running around gleefully, spraying water on each other, and creating quite a ruckus. It was Wednesday morning but these days we no longer have school, and the rules at home were different. We had to do our regular school assignments at home, but the schedule was more lenient.

“John, did you see? I saw him. I saw him!” I yelled, jumping up and down.

“Who? What are you talking about? And come back here. Don’t go out on the streets. Mom will not like it.” John replied with the usual haughtiness of an elder brother, given the task of keeping an eye out for the younger sibling.

 “It was Mr. Corona. I saw him coming out from Mr. Radley’s house. I need to tell mom. She must take care of Mr. Radley.”

Mom always takes care of people. Even though we were all at home, mom still went to work every day to fight Mr. Corona. When Mr. Corona did not like someone, they ended up with a boo-boo in the hospital. Mom then helped them to treat their boo-boos so that they could get better. 

I would often ask mom “Why can’t their moms take care of them? Are their moms not special like you?”

Mom would laugh and pat my head and say “They are, baby girl. All moms are special, but God has chosen a few of us to take care of people when their moms can’t be there.”

“So, you just kiss their boo-boo and they get better?”

My mom would shake her head and reply, “No sweetie, Mr. Corona does not like people to hug or kiss.”

 “I don’t like Mr. Corona, he sounds mean.” I would pout. “And he also closed my school.”

Right now, though, I was jumping up and down excitedly.

“Don’t talk nonsense, Bella, I told you it’s a virus. You can’t see it.” John gave me an irritated look.

“You don’t know anything; I am going inside to tell mom.” I said adamantly and dashed to our living room.

Mom was making stir fry, my favorite dish, when I walked into the kitchen.

“Mom, I saw Mr. Corona at Mr. Radley’s house. He did not look too scary.”

 My mom laughed and flopped my hair.

 “Did you tell him anything?”

“No mom, he was too far away. I wanted to tell him something important.”

My mom thought about it for a moment,

“Umm, why don’t you write him a letter? Then, maybe we can ask Fairy T to deliver it to him.”

“Yes, that’s a good idea mom! I will write him a letter.”

Once in my room, I made sure that the doors were securely shut so that no one, especially John, could disrupt my critical mission. I brought out all my poster supplies — boards, sharpies, sparkly pens, and my most precious possession — my crayon box of 72 colors, which dad gave me on my last birthday. Finally, convinced that I had all the needed supplies and everything was secure and safe, I started writing:

Dear Mr. Corona,

I am Annabelle. But my family and friends call me Bella. I am in the third grade and my teacher, Miss Honey, says that I am her favorite student. I am a good girl, Mr. Corona, so, I hope you will listen to my request. I know you are in a bad mood and unhappy with the world. So, you are punishing everyone by giving them boo-boos. But I have been very good this year. Even without classes, I completed all my homework, which mom and dad gave me.

I have a request Mr. Corona. My birthday is in 2 weeks and I always have lots of fun with my friends at school, and grandma at her house. Can you please leave so that my school can open, and I can also go visit my grannie? I promise I will  behave well throughout the year and will not even argue with John. Please, Mr. Corona! Please don’t make me spend my birthday by myself.

Love,

Annabelle.

To complete the letter, I drew a smiley face and a rainbow at the end. I also wrote Mr. Corona in sparkly green to match the color of his body.

I woke up feeling excited the next morning. I could hear mom getting ready for work. I rushed to her room and showed her my letter. My mom smiled as she read it.

“That’s a very pretty letter, Bella. I am sure Mr. Corona will consider it. Why don’t we keep it underneath your bed tonight, so Fairy T can take it and deliver it to him? Does that sound good?”

I gave her a big nod and said,“Yes, mom that’s good. Then I can tell John too and he will be sorry that he ever made fun of my idea.”

My Mom patted my back and said, “Ok Bella, I must leave now. You be a good girl for dad today, ok.” She left, kissing me goodbye.

That night, right after I had my dinner, I put my letter in a big envelope that I took from dad’s office. I wrote “To Mr. Corona” and put it under my bed. Next morning, to my relief, it was gone. I was happy that it was in the safe hands of Fairy T, and Mr. Corona would get it soon.

Two weeks later my birthday came but I still did not hear anything back from Mr. Corona. My school was still closed. I was still not allowed to visit any of my friends or grannie.

We were all sitting to eat breakfast on Sunday. Mom had taken the day off to celebrate my birthday and made us a big breakfast. We had a whole lot of different dishes and my favorite blueberry pancakes.

“Wow Jenny. This is quite a spread.” My dad said sitting down at the table.

 “I think we all needed a good hearty family breakfast to start off Bella’s birthday.” Mom said, with a big smile.

 She was about to sit down where her phone rang.

“What, when, where are they taking her? Yes ok, I will be there, but I don’t think they are allowing any visitors.”

 I could see from her face that she was worried and turned to dad and said in a very serious voice,

 “That was James. They think mom may have caught it. She has all the symptoms and was having breathing difficulty in the morning. They hospitalized her just now. She is in the ICU.”

Mom left, hardly touching the huge breakfast she had prepared. I was fuming inside at Mr. Corona. How could he do this? He not only did not leave but now had made my most favorite person sick.

My birthday turned out to be more of a nightmare. Mom had rushed to meet the doctors at grannie’s hospital. John had shut himself off in his room with his Playstation in some online game party. I was left with dad who tried hard to cheer me up. But even my new Frozen doll set failed to interest me.

Finally, I heard mom’s car in the driveway and rushed to greet her. My mom smiled and said,

“I know you did not have a good birthday dear, but I got something special for you.” She said, shutting the car door.

“What? Mom?”

She brought out a letter.

“Grannie gave it to Uncle Jammy.” She said handing it to me.

 I took the letter and my eyes almost bulged out of its sockets.

“But mom, it says Mr. Corona.”

“I know.” She smiled.

“Maybe Mr. Corona gave it to grannie. I am just the messenger. You can read and tell me what he wrote.”

I could not contain my excitement and excused myself to go to my room to read the letter by myself. The letter was written on a hospital letterhead and seemed to be written in haste. But nevertheless, I started reading it.

Dear Bella,

This is Mr. Corona. Thank you for writing to me. I liked your pink paper and the pretty green color; I am happy you did not hate me because I look different. I apologize that your school is closed, and you have not seen your friends in a long time. I am sorry you are always stuck at home and now your grannie is sick on your birthday and you can’t visit her house like you do every year. I know the world is in chaos and, it’s especially hard for children like you. But I came here as a reminder to this world to slow down and set its priorities straight. Human greed one day will lead to its own destruction; and me and this pandemic are no different. Fortunately, kids like you will always have the power to change that. You are a good girl, Bella, and I know one day you will become a great woman. Just remember that you have all the tools within yourself to fight any evil. Selfishness landed us where we are now and if we keep on thinking just about ourselves, we will never win this battle. So, plant that tree and wear that mask but as an amazing lady once said, “do it in a way that makes others want to join you rather than fight you.” As you grow old, you will come across all types of people, some like you and some very different. Don’t be afraid. Remember that we are more similar than we realize, there is more that unites us than what divides us. If you disagree with someone, try to express your views with respect. Be humble, be respectful but don’t be afraid to use your voice if you see something wrong. Unfortunately, Bella I can’t tell you when I will be gone from this world, all I know is I will go when people stop being selfish and start working together. Till then, you must be patient and take care of your parents and brother.

Sadly yours,

Mr. Corona

P.S. I met your grandmother in the hospital. I think she will be ok but if not, she wanted me to tell you that you are the bravest girl she knows and nothing in her life has made her happier than to be your grannie. She loves you dearly Bella!

At that moment I heard a knock on the door and my mom peeped in.

“Oh, sweet girl, are you ok?”

I had not realized when my eyes teared up, but I felt that my face was wet now. My mom put me on her lap and kissed my forehead, and we stayed like that for a while. “How do you feel dear?”

Wiping my tears, I could only come up with one word “Hopeful.” Then I added, “Mom, I think we are going to be ok.”

At that, my mom hugged me even tighter and said, “I needed to hear that today baby girl; you have no idea how badly I needed to hear that today.”


Dr. Neelam Epstein Mukherjee works in cancer research but her parents and wife, Camela, inspire her to continue writing. “Dear Mr. Corona” focuses on the pandemic from a child’s perspective.

2021 Art Contributing Creators Contributing Writers Pandemic Poetry

Cataclysmic Age

Art and Text by Gordon Lewis

Pieces of your soul

Gasp at the medieval jumble
Weʼre swimming in the abysmal soup
A plague that has spread
We live in infested quarters

Culture fails in this new world
The Dark Ages are alive and well
Theyʼve found their dwelling place
In the bowels of the states

Can you grasp the reality?
We live our lives on the screen
Hoping to find some meaning
But it slips out of our grip

Modern day renaissance man
Looking to beautify the world
When everything looks bleak
Pick up the pieces of your soul

Lux Lucis Ferre

Die solis invikti nati
When the Sun rises again
Saturn spins around our head
We see the solstice occur
Knowing that light is on the horizon
Weʼve gotten over the darkest days
But new challenges lie ahead
We cannot back off
Especially now when nature needs us the most
Let the rays of Phosphoros shine
Lux-Lucis Ferre

Abu Rowash

Subhuman enemy
Apocalyptic axioms
Simplest stratagem
Biowarfare blankers
Cataclysmic specie
Hellbent messiah
Unholy matrimony
Scarred Disciple
Temple of Abu Rowash
High Priest exalted
Mysterious omen
Torn Scrolls
The end is the beginning
The prophecy foretold
In ancient scripture
The numbers align


Gordon Lewis is a writer, musician, photographer, and artist currently residing in Colorado where he enjoys being in nature and working on his creative endeavors.

2021 Margaret Price Pandemic Prose

When did I first see you?

Written by Margaret Price

There was a time when I walked around this city flayed. Synesthesia of breath and pain.  An overstatement? Maybe but it was bad enough to deserve a little overstating.

Anyway, everything was impossible and every day I had to walk by your gallery and see my abraded face reflected in the glass. A gut-punch of tears.  I don’t remember seeing you then though. You came later.

Next were the numb months. No more twisting up of sensations, just no sensations at all.  But then Prince died and D’Angelo sang Snow in April on TV and I cried for 3 hours in the grey chair. After that, I could listen to music again.

So was it then I first saw you? No I don’t think so. Not that spring. That was the spring I was falling in love with the old friend. Although perhaps it wasn’t love. More like the inflatable mattress acrobats use when they are learning to vault. The inflatable infatuation.  Regardless, I was preoccupied fantasising a bright new future with him.

I wonder why now but, as I said: infatuation. Also, I have the depth of imagination necessary to imbue a person with qualities he has completely failed to demonstrate in the last 2 decades for no other reason than a combination of proximity and gratitude. Luckily he has no imagination at all so we were saved, despite my best efforts. I do remember thinking I should buy that black and white photograph you had in the window at the time  that might have been a sand dune or might have been a human shoulder but in either event was definitely in keeping with our imagined minimalist couple-aesthetic.

After my emotions deflated I started running again. Early northern european mornings before the solstice. Light so clean you see the pollen rising as the dew dries on the grass. I ran the streets past the 4am girls who were all eyeliner and unlined skin. Sometimes they would wave. Often they were crying. Always, they were with each other.  I ran the parks, one to another, like a string of green beads through the city. In the end, I ran the river all the way to Ouderkerk and got lost in the polder.  Sunrise with the cows and a confusion of boats that looked like strange sproutings amongst the tulips.  A time of germination. 

20km instead of the planned 10 meant running back home in the morning rush hour, in the wrong direction. Bike dodging, pedestrian swerving, creative swearing , 60  minutes late.  Someone was opening the gallery door. I remember because I nearly ran into it. I also remember this was the first time I realized people worked in the gallery.  Before that, it had really only been the window.

Anyway, I kept running. I ran every day. I ran every direction. I gathered my runs like a child gathers stones, hiding them in pockets of time between one thing and another.  In time,  I was sure I could outrun anything.  Anything, that is, except the anger. 

You know how in all the movies the protagonist in emotional crises heads out for a run, usually in particularly hideous weather? He or she runs faster and faster,  the tears blend with the rain, the hill gets steeper, the music crescendos and eventually he or she trips over a log or slips or simply collapses in a sobbing, yet attractive heap and screams his or her rage to the unforgiving sky before finally surrendering and walking home drained yet somehow more at peace and ready to [fill in next step in character arc here]. Yeah, not so much for me.

Running brought the rage. The rage at unfairness. The rage at stupidity.  The rage at the limits of my abilities and the brain I could not trust.  I wasn’t running with the devil on my heels; the devil was in my legs.  It was my moving spirit. Every foot strike, every push off, every contraction and flexion, the impetus was anger.

To be fair it was an angry year for the whole world; but those early mornings when the sun burned up from the water and blinded me as I ran past, reflecting from your window, I felt like the rage was mine alone.

What was the outcome of all this running and all this rage? Well I ran a marathon but that was just something I did on a Sunday morning in October. More important were the books.

The rage needed to be fed if it wasn’t going to consume me between runs; and so I began to read again. And the books, well the books eventually brought back poetry and poetry found me reading Carver’s “Late Fragment” in a bar in the afternoon and that led to drinking with the American.

I can’t remember how we started talking but he used the word “ineffable” and talked about building stories, bone to skin. He was small, and all his lines were clean. He said that poetry was a physical act. That the sound you make when you read it aloud – and you always do read it aloud – resonates in your body’s echo chambers and takes shape in your breath. Every word you’ve ever said is still speaking inside you. The effanineffable. He was leaving the next day.

Walking home that evening, the light was on in the gallery. There was a golden portrait in the window and you were looking through a ring binder. That was when I first saw you and I thought you were beautiful.

Yeah, I could write all this. Or maybe it’s better to start simple.

“Hi. Thanks for the match. How’s your day going?”


Margaret Price is a mother, lawyer, and occasional scribbler.