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2021 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

Dear Mr. Corona

Written by Neelam Epstein Mukherjee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 My mom laughed and flopped my hair.

 “Did you tell him anything?”

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

My mom thought about it for a moment,

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

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

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

Dear Mr. Corona,

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

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

Love,

Annabelle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 She was about to sit down where her phone rang.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What? Mom?”

She brought out a letter.

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

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

“But mom, it says Mr. Corona.”

“I know.” She smiled.

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

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

Dear Bella,

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

Sadly yours,

Mr. Corona

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

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

“Oh, sweet girl, are you ok?”

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

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

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


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

2021 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 Article Contributing Writers Pandemic

The Country of FKK

Written by Bojana Stojcic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.