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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.