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2020 Article Contributing Writers Pandemic

Restless

Written by Ange LaGoj

I cannot sleep. It is 2 AM, I am exhausted, but a hot, screeching, soul agonizing scream wants to burst forth from my chest. After months of washing my hands, wearing a mask, avoiding unnecessary social gatherings, I am being called back to the classroom. I’m confused. What changed? Has the virus dissipated? Did its mode of transmission change? Did the school buildings that the governor deemed as obsolete and/or unsafe for children change shape? How is it that some educators can teach remotely from home, but I am denied that privilege? Is their life more valuable than mine? 

The virus “that has changed the world” prevails. There are upticks in Europe – Italy, Spain, France. There is a new hot spot – India. Thousands of tests come back positive daily in the United States. Clusters of infections arise throughout New York. 

As I attend four days of professional development in preparation for one hundred and eighty days of uncertainty, anxiety, and risk, college campuses in New York have opened and shut down in a matter of a few days.

I sat in a classroom with nine of my colleagues – mask and shield on, 6 feet apart –  listening to half-formed directives about teaching live and at a distance simultaneously, keeping accurate attendance records of 3 groups (hybrid live, hybrid remote, all remote), maneuvering two devices in order to share my screen with the students in front of me and those permitted to stay home without revealing confidential records, providing high-quality instruction as well as social-emotional learning, identifying visible signs of COVID in our students, maintaining constant communication with parents, devising ways to assess students equitably, fulfilling IEP accommodations, allowing students mask breaks periodically throughout the day, directing one-way traffic in the hallways while reminding students to face front and pull their masks up, cleaning the desks in between periods, covering classes and monitoring students while our colleagues are out getting tested for COVID. 

My mind is in a fog. I read commentary online about how teachers like me don’t want to go back to work. We are lazy. We like sitting at home in our pajamas. We don’t understand that our role is to monitor kids as their parents work. It’s unjust that we have been doing this job for years and now we don’t want to do it anymore. 

We are misunderstood. The truth is that I love teaching so much that I cannot sleep over what is happening to it. I was upset that I could not plan my units and lessons this summer. (I was not sure about what I was teaching until two days ago.) The truth is that I miss interacting with my students. This year, I will not be able to approach them to help with their work, encourage or comfort them. I cannot give them prizes or share celebrations with them. I cannot provide paper or pens. I will be 6 feet away and on the other end of a Google Meet. I will not be able to see their puzzled frowns change to enlightenment. They will be smiling behind their mask or maybe at home. I will continue to miss them. 

I will also miss my niece. She is two months old; a premature baby. She doesn’t have all of her vaccinations yet. Her immunity is low. I will be babysitting high school students while she grows up. When I see her – 10 months from now, after a 2-week quarantine and a COVID test, she will not recognize me. 

I am hoping to have children of my own someday. I am turning thirty-four in October – one year before any potential pregnancy is deemed high-risk. I am on fertility medication that will have to be suspended if/ when I contract the virus. I wonder and worry about the possible long term effects that COVID has on bodily functions. While I am teaching/babysitting, I may be risking the lives of my possible future babies. 

I will miss my husband if and when I contract the virus. He is immunocompromised – a type 1 Diabetic. COVID might be inconvenient, a little flu, for ordinary people like us (K-12 teachers and students) but for him, it could be deadly. 

I need health insurance. I cannot quit a ten-year investment and find work “at McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts” as some people have suggested to teachers who are worried about returning to school buildings to watch over teenagers as their parents work “essential” jobs. 

Therefore, I will report to the school building in a couple of days. I will sit in a classroom (will it be disinfected?) with my colleagues, wearing a mask and foggy glasses under an echoing shield. I will know that our counterparts – ten teachers from a nearby school-  who were supposed to be sitting in a similar configuration are now at home, in quarantine, because they have already been exposed to the virus. I cannot make sense of this situation. This defies logic. The tormented scream lives lodged in my throat. It wakes me up at night.

I was once bright and enthusiastic about teaching. I loved World Languages (my subject) and adolescents (my target audience) so much that I invested thousands of dollars and years (fertile years) of my life to nurturing this career and serving the society and the community that demands my presence in the building while the pandemic rages on. I am deeply disturbed. I am fighting the shrieking scream of logic. I cannot rest.


Ange LaGoj is a high school Italian teacher who majored in English years ago, and wrote for her college newspaper. During a recent bout of spiritual restlessness, she found her way back to writing.

2020 Article Contributing Writers Pandemic

A Love Island-Based Quarantine

Written by Maeve Barry 

I’ve spent quarantine in my childhood bedroom, surrounded by dolls and dog hair and relics of my twelve-year-old self that now smell like mildew; only disrupted by the addition of a heavy-duty vibrator and a pack of cigarettes hidden in my desk drawer. Conversely: I have spent my quarantine in a self-proclaimed ‘luxury villa’ that is certainly large, yet filled with obscenely tacky signage, hot pink throw pillows, and highly unflattering, neon lighting. 

My luxury villa is in Spain. It is supposedly proximal to a glamorous beach, but we only ever swim in the pool. We spend the majority of our time in a makeup room, crowding around personalized vanities, gluing on our drooping lashes. Any conversation of consequence is held in an unmarked and dreary hallway that no one has bothered to decorate. It is only a staging area. 

During the Coronavirus Pandemic, I’ve been watching a truly abhorrent amount of Love Island UK. I left Brooklyn in March to quarantine with my mom in the house that I haven’t lived in since I was twelve. I’ve now been here nearly four and a half months. Four and a half months, during which I’ve spent roughly 271 hours in a luxury villa, or eleven(ish) entire days. I gained access to my villa through a friend’s Hulu Student account. I found my villa after taking an edible, feeling hopeless and terrified and like I (and the world around me) was spiraling out of control. I wanted something that would make me feel nothing. And so I found myself saying ‘litchrally’ and ‘baantor’ and ‘mugged off’ for four and a half months, surrounded by men whose veins contain not blood but Creatine and women with gravity-defying tits. I found myself on Love Island

Each episode of Love Island UK follows a distinct and predictable rhythm. An episode never leaves me anxious, but ends with enough suspense that I continue to click ‘Next Episode’ without hesitation, without ever waiting out the credits. Like chain-smoking. The narrator makes the same jokes every night. He is barely funny but makes me smile. He mocks the contestants just enough so I don’t feel crazy; I am not alone in the madness. 

The premise of the series is that it barely has one. ‘Hot’ ‘Singles’ live in a house together and hook up and accuse one another of “playing a game” which is literally (litchrally) what they’re all required to do. They are dumped and recoupled and all want to stay in the villa for as long as possible. Because the longer they stay in the villa, the greater their chance of being involved in an Instagram pyramid scheme after leaving, or of winning 50,000 euros. 

Here is the beauty of Love Island UK: I am not even remotely interested in participating in the world it presents. In fact, I am thrilled to be far away from a villa with migraine-inducing lighting, filled with enormous and terrifying men who seem mere seconds away from punching a hole through any available walls. The Islanders are constantly sunburned, consistently in conflict, almost always yelling. They are surrounded by people and exchanging fluid and I am not even remotely jealous. I am, for a change, thrilled to be shut away in my room and removed from these shockingly toned, relentlessly confrontational individuals. 

When I began my Love Island journey, I found the contestants to be refreshing. They are unconcerned with pretense or with appearing mysterious and restrained. They are loud and bold and unabashedly proud of their bodies. They appear to have healthy levels of serotonin and don’t feel that they must be missing something in order to feel happy. Thus, I am not tasked with ever having to watch or reflect upon myself. I hate my body and consistently worry about seeming stupid. I think about the bars at which I stood uncomfortably in Bushwick, prior to Covid, surrounded by very mean boys wearing very small hats. All they want is to seem like they don’t notice people and to smoke cigarettes very quietly. 

On Love Island, all anyone wants is to be noticed. In the first seasons, before it was clear the show would become an enormous commercial success, before anyone was concerned with Instagram deals or regulations or privacy, contestants chain smoked and drank and sobbed and fucked constantly. They were entirely unconcerned with ‘holding back.’ They bought each other tacky and earnest anklets before tearing them off and hurling them into the pool. 

This suited me well at the beginning of quarantine. I smoked and cried most of the time. I could hardly make it through the day without an edible. No matter how terribly I was behaving by my parent’s standards (which I was now required to live by), someone on Love Island was behaving even worse. I was a voyeur of their misery, but they also never seemed to feel that miserable. They bounce back quickly because that is simply the arc of an episode. I attempted to follow suit. 

During those first few seasons, everyone had sex on camera. I felt like the man in Rear Window as I watched synchronized, thrusting sheets filmed on a grainy, infrared camera. The beauty of these sex scenes is, to me at least, that they aren’t even a little bit erotic. The sex is almost always hurried and missionary; sans meaningful glances, mood music, a lingering hand. It is the kind of sex I’m glad to no longer have the option of participating in. 

This stood in stark contrast to shows like Normal People, which I also watched during quarantine, which made me absolutely miserable. In Normal People, the sex was well lit and romantic. It was motivated by feeling and intimacy and complexity. It reinforced every feeling I was attempting to turn off. I unblocked the phone number of an abusive ex for the first time in six months after watching a single episode of Normal People, months of progress spiraling down the drain. I saw my depression and trauma and past relationships and the kindness that I wanted and never received, and during a pandemic could not receive, blaring through my laptop into my lonely childhood bedroom. I clicked out and went back to my island. 

A personal trainer recited a five-line, rhyming poem about dating and pie. Everyone cheered and called him a genius. I was okay again. I have never once unblocked an ex’s phone number watching Love Island. 

As the show gained widespread public attention, its budget increased and the series became more polished. It lost the chain-smoking and the drinking and most of the fucking. But by this point of quarantine, so I had I. I had found a way to be palatable. I accomplished this by becoming numb. Love Island’s repressing and regulating coincided with my own quarantine transition, one marked by the collective realization that this would last, that our profit-hungry society required that we be ‘productive’ while people died and hurt and were gone without recognition or eulogization. I upped my dosage of Prozac and put on pants in the morning. I re-entered a routine of making phone calls and waiting. 

And Love Island was waiting and it stuck to its routine and rhythm and ritual. What I could count on Love Island for was ensuring that I never need feel ‘too much.’ 

I began quarantine attempting to watch movies with subtitles and the movies that won awards that I pretended to have seen when talking to a condescending former film major in Greenpoint. I’ve always been inclined to rewatch movies and TV shows, to the extent that I have most of my regular rotation memorized verbatim. I always say this is so I need not worry whether they are good. More truthfully, this practice allows me to ensure that a film or show won’t force me to sit and watch my own depression or loss or trauma. If I’ve already seen something, I never run the risk of mistakenly watching an episode that includes sexual abuse and me consequentially spiraling for the entire, following week. 

I read on Twitter that re-watching movies/television at this obsessive amount is a symptom of anxiety, which makes sense. It also mirrors my cyclical and obsessive thought patterns that are a result of my persistent OCD. My thoughts cycle to avoid triggers. Cycling through TV/films serves the same purpose. During Covid, however, even my usual cycles of sitcoms felt risky. I’d remember someone terrible who I watched them with or I’d think about an episode I watched while getting ready for what turned into to be a terrifying or glorious night out. My mind wasn’t safe, and neither was most television. The only thing that felt consistently safe was Love Island. 

Contestants weren’t furious with themselves for not writing or applying to graduate school or calling their friends back or being in love. They were satisfied doing exactly as they were. I watched parents come to the villa towards the end of each season and cry and tell their children how proud they were of them for chain-smoking and screaming and throwing lawn furniture into pools. I found this to be incredibly reassuring. 

During every episode of Love Island, contestant’s very best friends and the potential loves of their lives are kicked off of the Island. Everyone is initially very sad, and then they bounce a scene later. They aren’t allowed the time to repress or to bury or avoid. They are sent into their confessional for a tearful interview, to identify their feelings, to leave them there and behind. 

We are living in, and over the past months recognized that we have been living in, a system that not only accepts but necessitates that human lives are disposable and expendable. Contestants on Love Island (of course to a less violent or dangerous degree) reflected this practice of disposing of humans and abandoning empathy in order to function within a game, status quo, or system onto our television’s and computers for the past four months/ten years. 

There is a fine line between healthy escapism and numbing ourselves into complacency. The fact of the matter is, there is nothing ‘natural’ or ‘healthy’ about cycling through people like expired cartons of milk or a face cream that ‘just isn’t the right fit.’ 

Although Love Island is reality television and is obviously not intended to serve as a blueprint for healthy human existence, the reality is that its contestants are people. And I finish each season, I find their Instagrams and learn that Islanders are no longer ‘madly in love’ and that their relationship lasted two months following filming in the most successful of cases. I’ve watched these contestants eat and sleep and fuck and cry for roughly forty-five hours. I forget about them just as quickly as I found them, in the amount of time required to backspace an Instagram handle in a search bar. 

Love Island UK began in 2015, but somehow those early seasons feel like they belong to an entirely distant and distinct decade’s past. Season six caught up with me and I was in 2020 on my island and I realized that the host, Caroline Flack, who I love because she always sided with the women Islanders who men called crazy, had killed herself. I then did some Googling and learned that she was the third Love Island cast member to kill themselves this year. Even Love Island was not immune to the loss and the reckoning associated with a year that continues to remind us that there is nothing healthy or safe about our ‘normal’ modes of existence. 

After learning of the suicide rates among Love Island contestants, it became more difficult, required more of a conscious effort, to lose myself into Love Island, and to briefly feel okay. Watching the living, former contestants travel to Ibiza and frequent night clubs and dine in restaurants on their Instagrams was no longer silly or charming, but actively violent during a global pandemic that requires distance and staying put. 

Watching ‘haul’ videos in which pretty people unload their boxes of luxury dog treats became less comical when placed in proximity to infographics regarding the countless Black people murdered every day by police and people forced to choose between housing and food and healthcare, if afforded the choice at all. And of course this had already been our reality. The contrast was simply highlighted when the collective consciousness of our media made a miniscule, yet notable, step towards reflecting it. 

None of this is to say that I have stopped watching Love Island. 

I currently fall asleep each night to women complaining about ‘blokes’ or to the slurping noises of ‘pashing.’ We are still in a pandemic and I still have anxiety and therefore return to my predictable island that always opens with a recap of the last episode and then a shutter- speed-close up of a distraught Islander’s face and then a still image of a consistently full moon. Love Island continues to serve its purpose of structure and release and escape, and also remains really fucking good TV. I am reminded, simply, that it should not and cannot act as an end-all escape or solution. Nothing can; whatever it is we’re avoiding will eventually come creeping back up and into our screens, like weeds, until we uproot them. 


Maeve Barry (she/her) is a writer and artist who moved from Los Angeles to Brooklyn last year. She teaches creative writing and painting to kids during the day and hangs out with her dogs most afternoons. You can find her on Instagram @maeveharkinscowboyatgmail.com  or Twitter @maevethecowboy!

2020 Article Contributing Writers Pandemic

The Birth of Society’s Creativity in the Midst of the COVID-19 Crises

Written by Amanda Alysia Daniels

Creative ideas manifested into action may be deemed a survival mechanism.

In a crisis, creativity and innovation reign supreme. One becomes sparked in accessing a new path of ideas that were not previously considered. Meeting a newly developed demand whether externally or internally, requires being stirred to act. These moments are where creativity’s potential transitions into a solidified existence.

Today’s climate has initiated creativity from all walks of life by way of existing challenges in safety precautions and social isolation, due to an unrelenting virus. According to Erika Alvarez of Fremont, California, “It feels like a third world war. How do you fight against an enemy that you cannot see? It’s hard to combat something you can’t see.” COVID-19 appears to want to dominate the lives of the living while remaining undetected. However, this virus also stimulates minds into seeking a way to endure safely in a less than traditional manner.

When COVID-19 arrived, social isolation came along with it. From school and business closures to cancelled entertainment events and social connections, this virus impacted how we as humans interacted with one another. Society took to getting creative in how social distance was maintained with strangers as well as with those we love. In practicing social regulations, physical contact was strongly discouraged. What was welcomed? Facetiming. Some individuals went so far as to set “Netflix dates” by utilizing Facetime and streaming Netflix together from separate homes to continue social connections and dating life.

To keep physical distance in practice and the virus at bay, students from all grade levels and colleges attended instruction via online platforms. For example, elementary school teachers from New Haven Unified School District located in Union City, California reported to empty morning classes in order to video lectures for their students. Teachers were still teaching and students were still learning. While some classes were held online for older individuals, younger students at home required supervision and creative stimulation, like 4-year-old, Prakash Vindero of Fremont, California. Prakash was in preschool and according to his mother Indira, Prakash needed constant engagement as he grew bored easily. Because Prakash enjoyed plants, Indira created a mini garden in the family’s backyard to facilitate Prakash’s learning while also engaging him in something he loved.

Another challenge encouraging creativity due to COVID-19 was seen within entertainment venues, bars, dining, shopping, concerts, and festivities. According to, San Jose Mercury News, to further prevent the spread of the virus, California had become less restrictive on alcohol. The golden state also lifted a ban on alcohol sold through drive-thru windows. This method allowed for businesses to maintain some form of financial earnings in the wake of COVID-19, while also complying with emergency health order. With that nice alcoholic drink for pick up, arrived an alternative form of musical entertainment to go along with it, some recording artists offered in-home concerts for their fans. Hip Hop Hollywood said that Neo-Soul artist, Erykah Badu would perform a “Corona Concert” from her bedroom and would cost a $1. Another entertainer offered to Facetime interested individuals for $950. However, she was later criticized for attempting to exploit a health emergency situation for financial gain.

Further entertainment resources such as dining out for celebrations also had become impacted. Veronica Tolentino of Hayward, California, and mother of four stated that this specific Mother’s Day was celebrated with a home-cooked breakfast by her children at the family home. Esther Chavez and her family of Stockton, California appealed to creative actions when they celebrated their mother on Mother’s Day as well. Esther and family members fashioned handheld signs with flowers. They then drove by their mother’s home in vehicles and honked. Afterwards, Esther and her family left the memorabilia on their mother’s doorstep to complete the occasion. Josie Jugarap of Hayward, California could not honor the occasion of having been married to her husband of thirty-eight years at their favorite restaurant. Instead, take-out meals were ordered and their celebratory festivity with family members, cancelled.

Crises are inevitable. COVID-19 reminded society of that notion. Resourcefulness followed closely behind when a steadily increasing virus forced entertainment, work, school, store, and non-essential closures. By way of the challenges presented by COVID-19, all people were forced to think outside of their comfort zone, not only in the name of creativity but also for continued existence.


Amanda Alysia is passionate about law, justice, and truth. She is a current student of law and lover of positive vibrations and light, wherein all good things come about for the good of all those involved.

2020 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

Whisky

Written by Bruce Dodson

This is the worst of times—a plague. Our leaders are confused, afraid, and often incompetent. The competents are getting fired as those who’ve seen too much fall out of windows, sometimes hang themselves, and are prone to accidents. Citizens with loaded guns stroll public places. Chances are I won’t get gunned down by some madman, but it happens every week.

This virus is a stealthy killer that can be delivered on a cardboard pizza box. The odds for me—a 50/50 chance of getting Covid. This it’s not the best time to be elderly. I’m suddenly aware of, elderly, a label for people of a certain age. I’m 85 now and admit to being elderly. I’m told to stay at home. ‘The virus will kill you—almost certain death might well be waiting on a doorknob, or airborne surfing on a stranger’s sneeze.

I haven’t left the house in months. It’s not as though I have a fear of death. I’m old, I get it. Not so many years are left, but I would rather not die gasping for breath with my face in a ventilator, surrounded by strangers in masks, and gowns, and gloves—afraid to touch me. I’ve stayed home these last three months.

Those first few weeks I rearranged the closet, cleaned up rooms and cluttered drawers. Got rid of things I’ll never use or need. I had a burst of energy, but then—these last weeks, it began to fade away. There seemed less to do and got harder to do it. Drawers have re-cluttered, and rooms need cleaning again, but I’ve lost interest. I feel lazy, tired for no reason. Nothing to do but surf the internet, and watch movies on TV. I’ve read a couple books as days grew long and boring. I can handle this, I tell myself. I don’t go out much these last years: the gym three times a week, and trips to a store for something needed. Something needed is the problem.

I’ve run out of whisky. The neighbor leaves groceries at my door now, but he doesn’t drink—an AA member who’s been dry for twenty years. I do not want to ask him to deliver booze—to put him in harm’s way, but it was nice to have a shot or two at night, end of another day. It’s been three weeks since my last drink. I need to get some whisky in the house, enough to last . . . how long? I should have thought ahead and stocked up, but who knew? Some people did. I’m elderly and slow at times—still in good health though. How long will it last? Can I afford to take the risk of stepping out into a toxic atmosphere? Is whisky worth the risk of life, my own and others I might come in contact with? I decided it is.

A trip to the liquor store.

I’ve been wearing the same sweatsuit for days and sometimes sleep in it— no need to change, just me alone here. I pull on a pair of slacks and a clean sweatshirt, then tie on a pair of shoes and notice bending is not as easy as it used to be. I find my keys and some thin plastic gloves the neighbor left; they were giving them away where he worked. I throw on a denim, Levi jacket. It’s the middle of May and still cold here. There was light snow two days ago—a typical Swedish spring.

I unlock the car, put my gloves on the passenger seat and shove the key into the ignition slot. I give it a twist. Nothing—not even a whimper of effort. I click the radio on—nothing. Battery’s totally dead. I haven’t used the car in weeks. The guy across the street has a charger, but borrowing it will mean contact with another human, one who goes to work every day. Who has he touched? Has someone sneezed on him? Who knows?

There’s no alternative. I make a phone call and Fredrik comes over a half hour later with the charger. He helps hook it up and says, “It’s going to take a couple hours to get the charge back up.” He leaves and I go back into the house to wait and look at TV news to pass the time.

I’m watching riots in the States . . . so many places, buildings burning. I change channels and watch a riot in Hong Kong, protests in England— crowds of tightly packed protesters. What about the virus? They don’t care; their cause is more important than whisky, but we all have limits to our tolerance. I go back out a couple hours later. Battery’s now fully charged and the Volvo starts without protest. It feels good to be on the road again.

I see an old lady who is a decade younger than me waiting at a bus stop. She’s a neighbor who lives alone and does not drive. As I pull over to pick her up I notice there’s’ a kid, maybe twelve years of age, sitting on a bench a meter or so from where she stands. He’s coughing directly at her, a phony cough—harassing tease. She is ignoring him, but I can see she’s annoyed. I pull over and open the passenger side door for her.

“That little bastard was driving me crazy,” she says as she gets in. She’s sitting on my gloves. The kid leaves his seat and comes over to cough on the car. I give him the finger as we leave.

“It’s a new thing idiots have taken up,” I tell her. You are not the first one to be coughed at. I’ve seen mention of it on the internet, a few times—often older people.”

“Guess it’s better not to talk,” she says. “In this closed space.” She’s wearing a mask. “You’re not wearing a mask,” she says.

“This is my first time out in months. You’re going for groceries?”

“Haircut,” she tells me.

I’m surprised. A trip to the beauty shop seems dangerous—such close contact will be greater than the risk I’m taking. We say nothing for the rest of a short ride and I let her out in a parking lot at the shopping center. My gloves are smashed flat. They were always flat, but now the sides are stuck together. It’s hard to get the damn things open, but I manage and then fumble a two kroner coin out of the cup holder and step out to feed a parking meter. I drop the coin twice while trying to get it in the slot. It’s hard to hold onto things with these plastic cloves. It seems weird to be wearing them. Paper is easy to hold on to and I leave the parking chit on the car’s dashboard.

I see a few others on the sidewalk some with masks, some not—none of them wearing gloves. Do I look silly wearing mine? The store is just two blocks away. A sudden thought—will it be open? More than half the businesses I pass are closed, but would the city dare to close a liquor store in Sweden? We are in the middle of an alcohol belt that starts in Russia and goes south as far as Denmark. There would be riots if they closed them. God, why don’t they let us smoke a joint? We’ve outlawed coffee once . . . or was it twice? We’re good at passing laws in Sweden. It’s illegal to carry a pocket knife. One of our politicians got stabbed a few years ago, so we outlawed pocket knives. Each week I see new Swedish laws about the virus, often published as suggestions. We assume people are intelligent—always a risk.

As I approach the liquor store I see a number of yellow tapes stuck horizontally to my side of the sidewalk. What the hell is this? Some kind of graffiti? Someone else’s weird sense of humor? At the door I get it. The tapes are to keep people meter or so apart from each other while they are standing in line waiting to get in. There is no one waiting at the moment. Good. I open the door wondering how many others have opened it today—glad for the gloves. There are only a few other customers inside. I make a quick saunter to the shelf where they keep the 7 Oaks. How many should I buy? How many can I carry? These damn gloves . . . I didn’t think to bring a bag.

I stick a bottle under my arm and hold two others in my hands. I move to the checkout counter and take one of the plastic bags they sell. I’ve read the virus lives for days on plastic. I’ve got gloves on, but when I get home? Should remove the bottles with my gloves on, then peel off the gloves. Then wash the bottles? No — wash bottles with gloves on, then hold the empty bag with one gloved hand and peel the other glove off without touching the exposed surface. I’m still thinking about it when the cashier motions me to come forward. The bag and bottles slide to her on a conveyor belt. How many bottles rode this belt today, all touched by someone without gloves?

The gal behind the counter doesn’t wear a mask. She smiles a cashier’s smile and I feel sorry for her, for the risk she’s taking for a paycheck — here all day with hundreds passing and short conversations, but at least she’s got a job. A lot of us do not. First of the month tomorrow. Rent is due.
“That will be seven hundred Kroner,” she says as I try to get my billfold out — these damn gloves. I fumble with it as another customer comes up behind me with no gloves, or mask. He lays what might be virus laden bottles on the belt. I finally manage to get the wallet from my pocket, but have trouble removing my credit card. The guy behind me moves in closer as I stick it in a slot and punch the keys that hundreds have pushed before me. You cannot escape this shit, but I’ve got gloves on. I take the card back and put my bottles in the plastic bag. I have a paper bag full of paper bags at home, but didn’t think to bring one.

I pass through the virus-laden door again, onto the sidewalk moving past the yellow tapes. A woman’s coming toward me, with a mask. Is she’s smiling? She has paused beside me.

“You are old,” she says.

“I know that. I’ve been lucky.”

“You should wear a mask,” she says. “Both for your own good and for mine.”

“This is the first time I’ve left in months,” I tell her.

“Right. That’s what you all say.” She moves on, not smiling. I feel sure of it.


I make it home without further incident and throw the plastic bag and gloves in the garbage, then pour a double shot of whisky from an unwashed bottle and feel good about the soothing burn as it goes down my throat. God Damn! This will not be my last time out. God only knows what’s going to happen next. Will there be glove borne virus waiting for me on the Volvo’s steering wheel?


Bruce Louis Dodson is an American expat living in Borlänge, Sweden. His photographs, collages, fiction, and poetry have been published internationally. His novel, Lost in Seattle is now at Amazon, and a memoir, Dearie will be available in the near future.

2020 Pandemic Phillip Morris Prose

The Pit

Written by Phillip Morris

A mass of people wait in a concrete pit open to the wind and rain the dim sun promises to bring. 

Most of the people are black and brown, though there are a few that could pass if they didn’t speak with such a heavy accent. More languages are known between them than there are people in the pit, and yet those in the pit almost never speak to each other. They remain stuck in their spheres of solitude.

There is just enough room for everyone to sit down on the bare ground. Only the smallest among them can stretch out straight. The rest must curl-up on themselves in dirt that’s dark and muddy from still sticking human waste. 

A young mother, is given room to lay with her weakly crying child next to a teen, too skinny and dirty to betray their gender, who scratches another tick in the wall. 

It’s been 124 days by their count. 

Some people came earlier, others came later. A minority were counting the days even before arriving at the pit. Fewer still don’t bother counting at all because all that matters is that this is the end. 

Beyond the wall, the sound of a monstrous machine grows louder. It’s engine roars and echoes inside of the pit. It sounds like it has the power to break through the concrete wall, instead, it stops just beyond. 

From somewhere out of sight a guard and his dog appear on the wall. 

Covered head to toe in blood-red armor the guard patrols unarmed. It’s only ever a single guard per pit, and even that is just for show, there’s little that needs monitoring. It takes four people standing on each other’s shoulders to send a fifth over the top. It’s only ever tried once per pit. Then it becomes clear to everyone below that they’ll never be faster than the lid snapping closed. 

The guard doesn’t need a weapon because his dog is always at his side. As loyal as it is fierce, this dog is the greatest weapon ever made through selective breeding, cybernetics, and genetic engineering. So much so, that no one in the pit can recognize it as a dog. 

Their dogs played with their children and protected their homes. However, this thing on the wall must be kept far away from children and all things precious.

The guard and his dog patrol the perimeter of the concrete pit. Its walls are thick enough that he and the dog can walk comfortably side by side. 

While the man’s on the outer edge, looking beyond, the dog splits its attention between the guard and the people in the pit whose gaze it greets with a growl in the back of its throat, even as they do their best to keep to the side opposite the patrol. 

Someone slips in the filth as the crowd moves around the pit and the dog snaps to attack position, barking loudly with its teeth full bare. The guard stops to look on as the person scrambles back into the throng of pitiful people. The dog reverts back to its perpetual growl.

The guard stops near to where the engine beyond the pit has been idling loudly. A signal from the guard and the engine kicks into gear, this time accompanied by the sound of hydraulics raising something large. 

The dog is barking again. Its joined by another, and another, and another, until its a deafening, terrifying chorus that drowns out all else before a heavy slab of metal slams onto concrete, releasing cries and screams into the mix, and masking the sound of thunder from the clouds bursting above. 

Then there they are, the screaming crying people, standing in the rain on the edge of the pit. Throngs of people. Brown, black, and white people. Miserable people, getting wet like those in the pit. Stopped at the edge, too scared to go forward though there’s clearly nowhere else to go as the guards and dogs corral them in. 

Too well trained to ever break the rules, the dogs snap at the legs, fingers, and toes of those on the edge. Close enough that they can feel the heat of the dogs’ breath, but never enough to claim they’ve been bitten. 

Those at the very edge and close to falling turn around. They use their arms and their pleas to hold the rest back. But there’s too many and their numbers are growing. 

The weakest go over, tearing open the floodgates, so the rest fall, push, or are shoved into the pit. The first to land are crushed beneath those that follow. Their blood mixing with the mud.


Phillip Morris is a Californian living in Amsterdam. When he’s not writing dry instructions he’s writing colorful fiction.