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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.

2020 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

Fogland

Written by Keith ‘Doc’ Raymond

The day after the fog settled on the world, it seemed it had never been any other way. The sun became a memory, diffused in haze. The fog hugged the earth, or floated high above, out of reach, but always there. Jets could not fly above it, and we did not have the will to leave the atmosphere.

Satellites returned images of the blanket over the globe. ‘Gray soup’ one talking head declared it. Colorless, odorless, and tasteless, the fog cast a pall over everything bright and cheerful. Folks didn’t have the energy to be depressed about it after a while. It defied explanation and wouldn’t lift. Neither science nor religion could shift it. That was years ago.

Explanations abounded, but answers remained absent. ‘A post-pandemic deliverance from light,’ whispered in hushed tones we heard everywhere people gathered seeking an explanation. 

***

Deidre headed south from Ireland and Gerald headed north from South Africa both seeking the sun. They converged in Marseilles, elbowing each other, attempting to see a witless speaker at the port. It ended abruptly, when a woman used her broom to shove the man into the bay. Those gathered didn’t laugh, nor even react.

As people dispersed, Deirdre offered the hungry looking black man she elbowed a coffee and croissant. 

“I’d love a bouillabaisse,” he answered.

“So would I, but it’s a bit early in the day for that, mate,” she responded.

“How can you tell?”

Deirdre watched the woman that had brushed the guy off his soap box . She returned to sweeping the floor at her cafe. She was muttering curses to herself, Deirdre suspected, as she popped her ‘P’s. “I go by looking at the restaurants around here. C’mon, there’s a boulangerie up the street.”

He followed her like a lost puppy, and in a way he was. He was just off the boat from Africa. “Your English is good,” Gerald noted, sparking up the conversation as they walked in silence.

Deirdre smiled, “I’m not French. I came from Ireland.”

“Looking for the sun?” he asked. It was a common question.

“Thought I might find it nearer  the equator, maybe in the Sahara where it’s hot.”

“Sorry to disappoint. I just came from there. More gray soup. Save your time and money.”

Her look of despair was plain. The grass was no longer greener, only a uniform brown everywhere, or gray rather. Even colors were bleaching as people entered monochrome. Fishing around for something to say, she offered, “I’m Deirdre, you?”

“Gerald, just Gerald, no Gerry.”

“Right then, Gerald. Here we are. How do you take it?”

“How do I take what? The weather? This fog?”

“Nay, your coffee, ya dosser.”

“Black like me.”

“You’re a cheeky bugger!”

Gerald smiled; his first time in Europe. He rethought her command of the language with all her slang. They were two folks cast adrift. Both seeking the sun, both disappointed. Meeting at the edge between two continents. As they sat with their coffee and croissants, they both wondered which way to go next.

“It’s a zombie apocalypse,” Gerald said, glancing around at all the blank faces slurping and munching. Even those in conversation seemed to murmur conspiratorially and shift their gaze when the foreigners looked back at them.

“Effects of the after party.”

He looked at her funny.

“The pandemic, the dumbing down. You know, this fog has seeped inside us. It swamped us. A brain fog inside and out.”

He nodded. “Sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”

“Deirdre,” she answered, flipping her hair like she used to when she was a teen. She didn’t mean to flirt, maybe it was an act of despair. “So where to?”

“Find a hotel, check-in…”

“No, I mean, long term,” she said blushing, thinking he had ulterior motives.

“What do you say? We go East? Maybe out to the islands?”

“Together?”

“We are looking for the same thing. Sunshine. Why not?”

Her mind was going several places at once. He watched the play of thoughts roving over her face. “I dunno. I’m a loner.”

“Me too. Loners together alone.” His white teeth gleamed as he smiled. “Maybe save some cash. Two alone is cheaper than one.”

Deirdre looked out the window, thinking. A ray of sunlight burst through the fog. She pointed, and soon everyone else pointed at it. They pushed and shoved, getting out the door to track it across the sky. People raced after it, their faces staring upward, hoping to catch some on their faces.

Gerald and Deirdre ran down to the port. People were shouting and pointing. It wasn’t much. A strip of sunlight drifting west to east. Cars crashed into each other, trying to catch up to it as it moved across the field of fog. A cacophony of horns and raised voices. Old folks grabbed their chests, gasping, falling to their knees. Kids danced joyously. Then it was gone.

The pall of fog fell back across the city. Cars stopped, people froze. They willed the rays of sunlight back. Prayed for it. It was a tease, a broken promise. All the while, a news bulletin blared out into the street from TVs talking about the freak incident. The sunlight started in France, crossed the border into Italy, then vanished. 

“The sun moved the wrong way,” a mother uttered in French.

“No, no, always west to east.” 

This led to arguments and yelling while Deirdre and Gerald watched, amused. Their hearts sank, feeling the loss of the sun once more. Not willing to fight over it like the others.

Gerald turned to Deirdre, “It’s a sign. We go East.”

“East might be okay. The sun rises there, right? It may rise for us.”

“I like the ‘us’ part.”

“I do too,” Deirdre answered, and flipped her hair, feeling girlish.

END 


Dr. Raymond is an Emergency Physician. He practiced in eight countries in four languages. When not writing, he is scuba diving. In 2008, he discovered the wreck of a Bulgarian freighter in the Black Sea.

2020 Contributing Writers Pandemic Poetry

Still

Written by Amy Steingart

In this moment I am bone-weary
I can go on, but I can’t.
In this moment my foolish hopes spiral up –
and spiral down.
In this moment I try to
hold my daughter up,
keep her head above water;
to keep her afloat to
keep us both from living on the ground,
bone-weary.
In this moment I avoid headlines, reality.
In this moment I want to be smart, speak knowledgeably
when my friends say how does it feel?
I need to say something.
How does it feel to be in the epicenter?
they say – how terrifying!
and
how are you able to function? and
can you get toilet paper? and
do you wear a mask?


Do you ever hear sirens?
Yes. Yes I do. I hear sirens
all day and all night.
they have to be
hushed background noise,
a murmur
so I can stay above water
and not live on the ground,
bone-weary.


Can do you sleep? Do you have nightmares? How does it feel?


How does it feel?
It feels
weary
weary in my bones, in my skin,
my eyes my hair in the tips of my fingernails.
I am so weary.
In this moment the sun is fighting with clouds
outside my window,
it draws my eye.

In this moment, light penetrates my arm,
whispers to my skin
illuminates my bones
vibrates.
For this moment I can breathe.
I am here
I am still here
I am still.


Amy Steingart lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York. She attended Oberlin College studying English, creative writing, and theater. Her first poetry collection, I Am Where You Have Put Your Eggs, was published in June 2019 from Small White Cat Press. She is a co-founder and editor of Writers’ Bloc.

www.amysteingartpoetry.com

2020 Article Contributing Writers Pandemic

The Country of FKK

Written by Bojana Stojcic

At first glance, it’s a regular day at Englischer Garten in central Munich, one of the biggest urban parks in the world—some are playing card games, others are reading, the elderly respecting social distance, Weißwurst and  Helles being passed around friends and family—until you come closer and see butts and torsos sticking out of the high grass like little rock islands.

Don’t let the cool temperature fool you because you’ll be seeing them here all year round, regardless.

Three letters are all you need to know upon landing in Germany to not be surprised like me when I came to live here some nine years ago, three letters allowing all free-spirited people to get naked in designated areas—FKK, which, you may rest assured, has nothing to do with KKK. It stands for “Freikörperkultur” or literally “free body culture,” which is Germany’s nudist culture. 

Where some find this attitude to nudity refreshing, others consider it shocking. Either way, one thing is sure—you will not and cannot be indifferent to it because it’s everywhere you turn.

In another part of the city, on the banks of the Isar, unusually large groups of people peel off their bodysuits to reveal naked skin before dipping their toes into the freezing cold river, with or without a mask on. 

Apparently, nudism is on the rise these days not only in Germany but in lots of countries worldwide, which many link to coronavirus confinement. Now that plenty of people work from home, they seem less burdened by what to wear, or don’t bother with clothes at all. Perhaps a strong desire arises to experience a new sense of freedom after months of lockdown. 

If you’re new around here and happen to have the same attitude toward stripping off, there are several “where to get naked in Germany” websites, with useful information on nude sports clubs, nude beaches, and mixed-gender saunas, including all pandemic updates you need to know to feel safe. 

Before long you’ll realize Germans are born ready and there’s nothing to stop them from feeling good in their skin. Seriously, though, not even deadly viruses, let alone wild boars that occasionally steal naturists’ clothes and laptops in parks.

Communal public stripping came into practice in Germany in the late 19th century when clothing styles became less restrictive, with women tossing aside their corsets and men getting rid of their multi-piece suits. While FKK was banned in the German Reich, it came to life again after World War II, being associated with physical fitness, oneness with nature, and freedom of movement, and flourishing mostly in the East.

And while nudism is a popular pastime for people of all shapes, sizes, and ages in Germany nowadays, it is mainly the middle-aged and elderly who have the guts to strip down to their birthday suit.

Down south, hundreds of miles away in Serbia, where I come from, while it’s not uncommon to see bare breasts on the beach, it is primarily younger women with nice curves who are confident enough to sunbathe topless, which is the furthest they are willing to go. 

The reluctance to go nude there can’t be blamed on bad weather, though, as they do in Scotland, but has everything to do with unwritten norms, dictating appropriate behavior.

Most people back home don’t have a laid-back attitude to nudity in times of a pandemic, or whenever, as Germans do. Not only because they would probably be accused of being pervs but also because most aren’t sworn enemies of convention.

Me, I was textile-free on a deserted beach in Greece once, hiding behind my toddler as stiff as a statue at first. Although I’m not German-born (read: I seem to have a problem stripping down in public), for a couple of hours I felt like a God, or at least an ancient Greek, and it felt damn good.


Bojana Stojcic comes from Serbia and has been living in Germany for quite some time. She agrees with Simone de Beauvoir that nudity begins with the face.