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2021 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

F.I.M.P.

Written by R.F. Gonzalez  

A week after moving into the apartment across from Lilly’s, she knocked on my door and pushed a plate of charred chocolate chip cookies into my hand. She was odd like that. Brilliant and rare. Exotic but toxic.

“Come on in,” I said, sarcastically but with a hint of invitation.  

Lilly’s hair was a pink asymmetrical bob which flared out at every turn of her head. It smelled as fragrant as her name, flicking me in the face as she pushed passed.

She had a pointed nose, her pallid skin yearned for the sun, and her lips were thin and undefined. Later, when I’d known her a while and the dye had washed out, she would bundle her copper hair into a hat as if it was too much of a burden to loosen. Her usual navy cap said NY on the front, the Y impaling the N down the middle.

“Why did you move here?” she said. “It’s a terrible area.”

“I’m too broke to afford anything else, and my friends’ couches are off-limits now.”

“How sad for you,” she said, insincerely.

It was spring and the lockdown had been in place for weeks due to the novel virus. The media had announced that this one would kill us all. Things looked bleak. Standing in the middle of my cramped apartment, Lilly scrutinized my possessions. She said “Sexy” when she saw a replica of the Venus of Willendorf.

“I’m Lee,” I said and extended my hand toward her.

“Lilly,” she said extending hers. She was the first person I’d touched in a week.

“Thanks for the cookies.”

“You look like a cookie guy.”

“Really?”

“No, doofus. I saw your shirt.”

I Heart Cookies, right under the words was a graphic of a halved clotted pig heart. It had bulging veiny eyes and was suffocating.

“Oh, right,” I said, stretching my shirt out and peering at the art. “I appreciate the gesture.”

“I’m being neighborly.”

“Nowadays, neighborly neighbors are outlaws.”

“You going to turn me in?” she said devilishly.

“No chance. Want a beer?”

“Always.”

I handed her a lager and we said “Cheers” simultaneously.

There was a moment of cold silence before I said, “You just barged into my apartment without knowing me – during a pandemic.”

“Men are easy to know.”

“And women aren’t?” I said defensively, before adding, “We could be exposing one another.”

“We aren’t flashers,” she laughed.

“Smart ass.”

“The virus will be gone soon enough,” she said, “and it’s mainly killing old people.” She was wrong, of course. COVID was decimating more than the infirm. Soon, we’d say goodbye to the economy and our way of life.

There was a knock on the door and a small white face peered in.

“Come here, baby,” said Lilly.

The four-year-old girl tiptoed barefoot across the water damaged laminate – a remnant of past calamity.

I said, “Hello,” as she ignored and passed me.

“This is Remi, my daughter.”

“She looks like you.”

Lilly rolled her eyes in contempt and said, “Remi, meet your new sitter.”

“What?” I said, wondering why she’d entrust her child to a stranger.

“I’ll pay you. It’s not every day but I’ll need you when I need you.”

“But we just met.”

“Schools and daycares are closed. Plus, you live across the hall. I can easily find you and hurt you if I have to.”

I laughed but she didn’t. I couldn’t say no. Everyone was isolated and desperate.

***

A week later, while sharing some lagers, I inquired about her work.

“I lease women out to men,” she said flatly.

“Shall we cheer to that?”

“Not everything needs a hurrah.”

“So, you’re a pimp.”

“Nope.”

“Then what are you?”

“Not that.”

“So, you’re a madam?”

“I’m not a damn madam.”

“You’re a fimp,” I said reflexively.  

“What?”

“A female pimp.” There was a short pause before I blurted out, “F-I-M-P – Females In Men’s Professions.” Lilly wasn’t impressed with my taste in jokes.

“Stop labeling,” she said. “I lease bodies.”

“It’s just your job,” I said, head bobbling, as if it was no biggie that she was a sex trafficker. “I’ll call you whatever you want.”

“Never mind. Fimp is fine.”

“So, how’s business?”

Lilly shrugged, “Not terrible so far.”

“Hopefully, it stays that way,” I said feeling like I was rooting for a James Bond villain.

“Is it me or is the end of the world taking ages to end?”

“It’s going slow,” I added, “but don’t sound too enthusiastic. Some of us like to live.”

“We barely exist now.”

“As a society?”

“I meant me.”

“You do more than exist, Lilly.”

“I have nobody and got no future.”

“What about Remi?” I said pointing out the obvious.

“She was an accident and she’ll leave me one day. Were you wanted by your parents?”

“As far as I know, but I’ve never asked. I just assumed.”

“I didn’t even know my parents.”

“At least Remi knows you,” I said, unsure of what else to say.

“It’s not a high bar when all you have to do is show up.”

“So, set it higher.”

“This is it for me.”

I had no answer. A part of me wanted to save her but she didn’t want saving, at least not from me. Her life was set in ruins. Mine was not.

***

Lilly explained that she’d fallen into fimping after befriending two sister hookers. One day she found herself scheduling for them and taking her cut, then short leasing her apartment for a few hours a day when the sisters became homeless. It beat minimum wage, she said, but from what I could see she barely made ends meet anyway. I wondered if by barely making it, if by avoiding the glut of money that often follows the exploitation of damaged girls, Lilly wasn’t somehow appeasing her guilt – the guilt of living for nothing. She survived as an ascetic sex trafficker throughout the pandemic.

“I only take what I need,” she said.

“But why not do something else?”

“If I don’t, someone worse will do it anyway,” she said, almost heroically, as if she was somehow saving the girls she fimped out.

We opened two lagers and cheered awkwardly to that. Ours was a friendship founded on warped attraction and necessity. Several times a week, she’d send Remi across the hall to my place when I was off work. My heart bled for the girl. I feared the type of sexuality that she’d unleash on the world after being witness to countless post-coital men in suits coming out of her mom’s apartment on the days I wasn’t around.

***

Summer arrived and Lilly phoned me to meet at the tiny communal pool. She was one hundred and twenty pounds with eyes a tapestry of yellows and greens. On the outside, there was no way to tell she’d birthed Remi. Inside, though, she was a cauldron of bones, hurt, and resentment.

“Pool is closed,” I said as I approached the gate. The water was green algae and neglect.

“I’d like to see our weak management come say something,” she said, again with her cattish smile. I was getting used to her doing this. It was her war face, and she showed it often.

Nobody said anything. The neighbors stared down at us from the balconies. It seemed that everyone had picked up smoking since the lockdown began. After a quick swim, I toweled off and reclined in a beach chair as Lilly and Remi waded in the murky water.

***

Lilly was fair with her workers but she could be as ruthless as any over-empowered misogynist.

“Scabby bitch!” she said to a girl in the hall just after our swim. I was already in my apartment, dry and sipping black coffee. I sprinted to my peephole. The view came into focus right as Lilly smacked a scantily dressed, spotty blonde across the cheek.

“Never again, Abby,” she said.

“Uh-huh,” quaked the girl. The skin around her eyes sagged from tears and abuse. A constellation of scabs was splattered around her shoulder and ribs, probably from severe acne. She shuffled off cradling her jaw.

Lilly shouted at my door, “Get out here, turd. I know you’re listening.”

I stepped out, face flushed, as the girl reached the exit. I said, “What happened?”

“Abby is pregnant. Again.”

“Damn.”

She then said “So am I” with such force that the echoes in the hall flatlined for a split second before resonating through the hallways, hallways which acted as the connective yet congealed arteries of our building.

“Is it mine?” I joked.

Lilly said nothing. The next time I saw her she’d already gotten rid of it.

***

I had watched Remi all week. She’d been sick with flu or COVID. There were no hospitals that would admit anyone who looked less than half dead. We all ate off-brand chicken soup and drank sports drinks. That’s all we could get our hands on. Store shelves were bare because of the mass hording all over the nation.

Lilly walked into my place looking brittle from the wintry rain. She glanced at Remi who knew better than to approach her mom at that moment, so she turned back to the Rainbow Brite rerun blaring on the television.

“Sorry, Lee,” Lilly said. “Can’t pay you today. It’s a wasteland out there.”

“This one’s on me.”

She went red. “I don’t need pity.”

“I want to help.”

“I don’t need that either,” she said, stone-faced.

Instead of throwing me out, she gripped my hand, led me into the next room and pointed toward my rumpled bed.

“We shouldn’t,” I said.

“Undress now,” she said sternly.

I couldn’t deny her. She needed me when she needed me.

She reached for some Cuervo by the nightstand and said, “Drink.”

Anxiety made me shudder, but the tequila began to warm everything else – except my heart.

“We don’t need to do this.”

“I need the money,” she said.  

“I can’t pay you,” I said, appalled at what she was suggesting.

“No, idiot. Scabby bet me a fifty to screw my dorky sitter.”

“Scabby?”

“My girl, Scabby Abby. Keep up, get it up, and put it in, Lee.”

***

“It’s not yours,” Lilly said, as I glared at a pregnancy test on her table.

“Sorry,” I said, unsure why I was apologizing.

“You’re home free,” she said with a sweep of her hand, just before lighting a cigarette. Every move she made in the bedroom and life was plastic and cosmic.

There were no laws scary enough to protect the baby in Lilly’s belly from the wrath of her life’s habits. She would smoke it into deformity one calloused puff at a time. How Remi had made it, I had no clue.

“Whose is it?”

“It’s the plumber’s.”

“Isn’t Remi’s dad a plumber?”

“This is a different plumber.”

“You have a thing for plumbers?”

“Don’t be smug, Lee,” Lilly snapped. “I’m knocked up but I ain’t dumb. I know what I did.”

I almost apologized again but the flash of hurt in her eyes shut me up.

***

She told me she’d terminated the second pregnancy as we stood on the roof of our five-story building, while leaning against a gray railing pocked with rust. The usual shredded street litter had been replaced by crushed masks and vinyl gloves. I hated the neighborhood. I hated New York. It was apocalyptic. You could wear a mask and hood and easily loot a store. Thanks to pandemic mandates, we were in the throes of a robbery renaissance. It was dawn and, for a second, I wanted to die right there, with the sun, with the earth, with humanity.

“Have you seen Planet of the Apes?” Lilly said. “It should have been called Planet of the Prick.”

I laughed before saying, “Why?”

“C’mon. It’s about a hairy-chested dude who invades an ape planet. He spends his time cheating the system and trying to kiss ape women who think he’s damn ugly.”

“That’s one interpretation.”

“My point, is that men are cheaters even when they imagine other worlds.

“We aren’t all like that.”

“Here,” she said while gesturing elegantly toward her bedroom window, “all men are created equal. Even you, Lee.”

“I’m not like them.”

“All men pay, one way or another.”

“That’s abysmal.”

“So is sex,” she said, “and love.” There was an early morning fog creeping through the city which made her words seem mystical.

“My heart is sprouting thorns as we speak,” I said to avoid further exposing Lilly’s frayed spirit.

***

  Lilly was pregnant again months later. Nonessential services that had been suspended were temporarily restored but the media was already telling us to brace for a second wave that would kill us even more than the last. The quarantine would soon be doubly enforced.

“I’m a regular here,” she said flatly, as she filled out the intake paperwork at the clinic. “This is my Cheers.”

“I watched that show as a kid,” I said, before asking her again, jokingly, “You sure this one isn’t mine?”

She stopped writing and looked dead into my eyes, “No chance, you self-righteous ape.”

They wheeled her out in a chair an hour later. She’d waited too many weeks and couldn’t take the pills. Remi asked what was wrong with her mom but I ignored her. She would need to get used to life’s indifferences anyway.

I helped Lilly into my junker, strapped Remi in, and then plopped myself down behind the wheel. I glanced at them before starting the engine. I was friends with a fiend, and I was raising a girl who would probably burn the world down. But I didn’t care. This was my place for now.

***

“Lee,” said Lilly. “Stay for a while.”

“Okay,” I said, and I did.

“I just want to be erased sometimes.”

“The pandemic is wrecking everything anyway. We’ll all be gone soon at this rate.”

“Not fast enough.”

“It could be worse. You could suddenly wake up on a planet where apes rule and pricks are heroes.”

“I wake up to that every day,” she said before looking daggers at me and adding, “Prick.”

We both laughed for a moment before I said, “Cheers,” and held up my mug.

“Cheers,” Lilly said with her usual cattish smile.

The charge of her pain was too much for my heart to wrap around. Friends is all we’d ever be. We continued like this for several more months until one day I crossed the hall and they were gone. Lilly had talked about moving to Florida where they’d recently announced that they would reopen despite the virus – no more lockdowns or quarantines. Herd immunity was their solution. The nation held its breath in anticipation of the geriatric body count. Mobile morgues were already en route.


R.F. Gonzalez was born in Nicaragua. After living in Europe and Central America, he moved to the United States where he works as a writing instructor, investor, and writer. He has written several short stories and two books, an anti-love story and an anthropology text. His work can be viewed at https://www.rfgonzalez.com/.

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.

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 Pandemic Phillip Morris Prose

The Autopsy of Donald J. Trump

Written by Phillip Morris

After years of the media rarely mentioning his name, the 45th President of the United States was once again in global headlines, “Donald Trump Dead!” 

Trump was found dead in his cell while awaiting trial in New York. No official cause of death was given in the early articles, but reports of a bluish hue to his body suggested asphyxiation. Video surveillance of the hall outside his cell only showed guard patrols in the time between when his dinner tray was retrieved and when his body was found at breakfast. 

The Trump Re-election Campaign Committee called for an investigation into the prison kitchen staff. 

“Everyone knows kitchens are filled with Mexicans and radical-left Democrats,” Donald Trump Jr. said from the campaign’s headquarters in Costa Rica. He went on to spread suspicion among everyone with access to the former President, including the medical staff that attended to him during his bout of stomach flu and weeks earlier, and several Democratic members of Congress that never interacted with the President.

“Did they poison him?” Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani asked from his own cell in the prison’s psychiatric ward. “Did they hide needles in his diapers? I don’t know. You don’t know. There are a lot of questions about emails.”

Prison and DOJ officials were quick to rebuke claims of foul play and urged the nation to remain calm. They promised a quick and thorough investigation into the cause of death expressing confidence that if it wasn’t natural: “Then he did it to himself.”

Photos of Trump’s corpse spread like California wildfire online. His supporters scrutinized every pixel so even the most mundane details were woven into keystones of grand conspiracies. One theory that rose to prominence early was that he had been poisoned during a court appearance weeks earlier, but that his body was so strong that his only symptom was a lack of bladder control. Despite video footage from outside of the cell showing otherwise, the theory concluded with the assertion that a Soros backed assassin was hired to finish the job by strangling him..  

Trump’s opponents amused themselves by parodying the memes his supporters produced as evidence for their theories. A comparison of Trump’s trademark orange tan juxtaposed with his post-mortem blue was re-imagined as an action movie poster that was shared over one million times. 

The Trump autopsy was completed in less than a week. In a muted press conference it was announced that Trump’s official cause of death was a fungal infection that had gone unnoticed in earlier exams. The medical team that performed the autopsy quickly left the stage without taking any questions after stating the body would be cremated as a precaution. 

The mundane explanation did little to stifle the public’s curiosity. Just a few hours after the press conference an anonymous post appeared online claiming to be from someone who worked with the county coroner. 

“It was aliens that killed him,” the poster claimed. “I saw the body. They were crawling out of him. He was on his stomach so his butt was in the air and these yellow tendrils were coming out of his anus and moving in the air like vines looking for a hold. I didn’t see what they did to the body but they kept calling in more and more experts to examine it.”

What should have been dismissed as the ravings of an internet troll got picked up by the mainstream media and amplified. Leading another anonymous individual to publish an article in the New York Times that offered further details on Trump’s bodily invader. The Times verified the author was an investigator involved with the Mueller Report. 

As the author saw it, if Mueller’s focus was less narrow and his approach less conservative Trump’s infection could have been discovered years earlier. Misconduct by Trump from before the start of the campaign was all but ignored unless it was directly relevant to later criminal actions, which caused a lot of now pertinent details to be overlooked. 

An extensive investigation into Trump’s trips to Russia was whittled down to bare bones in the final report because failed business deals and evenings with sex workers were not considered relevant without explicit evidence that Russia was using them to blackmail him. 

“We couldn’t verify the existence of The Pee-Pee Tape, so we had to proceed as if it didn’t exist. However, we all believed its existence was likely, and we were certain the acts rumored to have happened, actually happened.”

According to the article’s author, that certainty came from the story of a housekeeper who worked at the hotel Trump stayed at in Moscow. She was not a witness to the events of Trump’s romp with the sex workers but she did clean up the aftermath. 

Initially the suite seemed to be in the standard state of disarray for travelling businessmen. The bedding needed to be laundered, there were roomservice hamburgers to be tossed, and left over drugs to be resold. What stood out as unique was that the chaise lounge was “absolutely drenched in piss.”

The housekeeper recommended the chair be sent for a professional cleaning, but her manager ordered that she clean it the best she could and mask the scent with perfume.

She did as she was told and thought nothing of it until the next week when she was again cleaning the suite. She noticed the chaise lounge had developed a yellowish tint and immediately panicked thinking the cleaners she used had damaged the expensive piece of furniture. 

She began scrubbing it again using only water and found that the cushions had also changed to be uncomfortably stiff instead of luxuriously soft. 

The housekeeper told the interviewer that she felt movement in the cushions, but she ignored it thinking it was only her imagination. Then a thin yellow tendril emerged from the fabric wiggling in the air like it was looking for her hand. 

She ran out of the room screaming that the chaise had to be burned. Her request was ignored until the entire cleaning staff one by one refused to clean the suite. When finally the hotel’s management inspected the suite with their own eyes the lounge was removed from the hotel less than an hour later. 

The anonymous author ended his article by speculating that the fungus was purely terrestrial in origin. Nothing the investigators uncovered could be related to alien visitors. To support his reasoning he cited numerous examples of strange fungi, including several fast moving varieties and even some that could control the behavior of small animals as part of their reproductive cycles. 

Unfortunately for the curious, Trump’s remains can no longer be studied directly because the day the New York Times article was published his body was hastily cremated. 


Phillip Morris is a Californian living in Amsterdam. When he’s not writing dry instructions booklets, he’s likely writing colorful short fiction. When he tweets it’s @lephillipmorris.

2020 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

Meeting Outside

Written by Kathryn Cardin

I know that girl sitting in the window, warmly backlit by low-watt bulbs. She is dark, she is a shadow. A slow drag of a cigarette, a raised bottle to the mouth. She knows I’m watching but I’m too far below for her to see me.

More bodies move in the back near the light source. They laugh a guttural laugh and break what sounds like a plate against the floor. They laugh harder and more. Her feet edge up the windowpane, the toe of one worn-out sneaker in front of the other. She flicks her cigarette the same way I do except mine is always loud and makes a snap and hers is silent. Does she mind that her friends, or whomever is up there, just broke one of her dishes? Maybe she has dishes for breaking. 

I grab my own throat. It’s a tic, like a nervous tic when I don’t know what else to do with my hands. I don’t choke myself, just place my hand so my windpipe becomes conscious. It’s funny, I hate when some people touch my neck, or even their own necks. Like doctors, feeling for a node. Or when people in movies slit throats (their own, their enemy’s). In real life, it would make me sick, too. I’ve just only seen it on screen. If you kill me someday please just don’t go for the neck. Anywhere else is fine. 

But while fucking I do like to be choked. I always seem to cough right before my brain winks out. I have a strained relationship with throats. It’s either harder, harder, or pure repulsion. Intubating? How even—

She’s gone from the window and it’s been lowered to a crack. Remnants of her sit on the fire escape: an empty can for ash, a dried-up plant I’m sure she’s never watered. Maybe over watered. I don’t think she’s ever watered it. 

I look at my own window. Past it, into the conjoined living room and kitchen. There is no difference between where I am now and inside. In there the air still has a tinge of something bad. Old smoke. Dog. Out here it’s rotten wood. Dog. I think about who lives there. Me, of course. But someone else, too. I think about how differently we live in the exact same space. How we use the same shower and shampoo but we smell nothing alike. 

I tap my grown-out and unpainted nails on the tabletop. I haven’t bartended in three months, so my nails are unusually long and have been throwing off my balance. Maybe that’s why I haven’t been returning anyone’s texts: the clicking on the glass screen all uneven and acute. Or maybe it’s because isolation breeds more isolation when it comes to me

I don’t think I’m alone in this isolation, though. Ha. There are tons of girls in tons of windows and tons of people sitting in shadows looking up at them. Maybe she will be my friend. We are neighbors, after all. 

I glance up and the window has opened again but her and her shadow are gone. The voices are gone, too. Now it’s just the hiss of summer air and my nails tapping against grime and tempered glass. As if the tapping is Morse Code she appears, summoned to look out at the window a final time. “Hey,” I speak. I am shocked at myself. Being social at a time like this? She responds, “hey,” and tosses a hard seltzer out the window and over the fire escape barrier bars like it’s something I asked to borrow. “Want to come up?” she asks. 

I do. 


Kathryn Cardin lives in Brooklyn, NY with her dog, cat, and boyfriend. She is a freelance writer/editor and co-publisher of Tart magazine. Follow her on Instagram @slimkatyyy.