Spain turns an ice rink into a morgue. That’s the headline today. One of many. I wonder if the ice rink is kept cold – I wonder if the caskets, dark wood and slim, have names on them. Have you adapted to this yet? Strange how quickly us humans adapt to things – the wonderful things and the frightening things.
It’s my mothers Birthday today. I am the black sheep in the family. I am the first born and the quickest to leave the nest. I make a bit of a mess of my life early on, and then I return, my feathers ruffled, my walls high, but wiser all the same.
Since the age of 18 I have usually been in frustrating, sometimes joyful relationships, that found me celebrating elsewhere, found me wanting. Needing. But things are different now. They need to be.
My daughter, her eyes not yet decided on final color, requires her family. She is pure and she is clean and she is loved by us all. She adores her two cousins – they have beautiful blonde hair like my sister and her husband and they hug her tightly, the older one whispers in her ear, “I woveeee you.“
We cannot gather together in their large windowed living room this year – we must maintain our social distance. You know this. I know this. All of us, six feet apart, know this. But we are still together, my family and I, on my Mothers Birthday. We drop off gifts and we connect online. My Father builds her a greenhouse and time moves on.
That may be the most reliable way to mark time these days – allowing it to just move on.
I like walking down this road – even with my 100 lb beast of a dog. He’s a chocolate lab but a rather rotten one. He does not swim and he does not play catch. He acts like Cujo when walked on a leash. When he sees a dog, no matter the size, he lunges and he barks and looks suddenly hungry. But I pardon this behavior because he kisses my daughters fingers when she tugs on his ears.
Even so, when he pulls me down the steep road I promise myself that my next dog will be under 25 lbs. A nice, small, manageable number. A compact number. A pillow warming number. But I know this is untrue. Small dogs remind me of the wriggling worms I used to pierce on barbed fishhooks. Bait. Barking, moving, bait.
Ten feet away I see four people; they seem to be spread apart in such an absolutely precise way that I imagine a measuring tape was used. They create four perfect points – about 10 feet between each of them. Four point restraint. The perfection of their spacing takes up the entirety of the quiet road and I am unsure how to pass them. Will they move? Are they static like chess pieces? This is our world now. People are separated and unsure where and how to move.
I clear my throat and one of the corners looks at me. She is young, probably in her mid-twenties, and has a baby strapped on her chest in a carrier. Then a man, curiously wearing sandals despite impending rain, looks at me as well. The two of them then look at each other, acknowledging my intent to walk past them, and move a few feet forward, giving me just enough space to walk with my cumbersome dog.
The other two corners, an older man and woman, move a few feet back at the same time. It is a strange human ballet they play. I walk past, sticking to my declared side of the road and smile in a way that suggests goodwill, an apology even. Having passed them I stop and tell my dog to sit, you’re a very good boy I tell him, and give him a liver treat stashed in my pocket.
I notice the flowers that grow on the side of the road; they are like the pansies my mother plants annually – bright red. Weeping red. Blood red. Red like the picture of the Coronavirus I keep seeing all over the news and the internet. I cannot avoid it.
We walk quickly, away from the tainted flowers, we walk until I hear someone cough loudly. A deep cough that lives in the chest and wants to escape. A cough that cuts off your ability to breathe deeply. A dangerous cough. A cough that can kill you these days. I turn my head around and see the woman with the baby still strapped on her chest. Behind her is the man with the sandals; he is the one with the cough. He is bent over, one hand on his stomach, making that awful sound.
The woman stops walking, she calls out to him, her voice is entangled with tears. It is guttural. I understand now – this is her husband. Her husband is sick and she is not. Her child, safe on her chest, is not. Probably not. I want to walk toward her, I want to help her, but instead I walk quickly, faster then before.
My mother – suddenly adept at finding YouTube videos online – asks me to sit beside her on her expensive, terribly uncomfortable, couch. She points the remote to the 60 inch television, whispering to me while biting her lip, “just watch. Don’t say anything.” She clutches my hand and I pull back. This is a perfect metaphor for our entangled relationship.
The large screen wakes up with a click and I see a man, presumably in a wet market, slicing a bat into thin pieces. Blood, darker red then my own, hits the makeshift walls, dampens the woman beside him. She continues, the fresh blood on her dark hands, using a mallet to flatten something skin colored.
He is thin, a red bandana tied tightly around his head. I make a joke, I tell her he must be part of the bloods, the infamous gang. She does not laugh. I am, at the best of times, not very funny.
She states, “This is how it happened. These people eating these weird things.” It is not a racist remark so much as an observation, her truth, though not mine. I mention that perhaps our societies gluttonous eating of cows and of pigs may seem strange to their culture. She is quiet, her eyes focused on the man with his knife, the desecrated bat and the blood.
The next video shows children, maybe 12 or 13 years old, all boys in thin white clothing, ripped, lined with dirt. An older boy walks up to the younger boys, he is thin and he is barefoot, he has a large white snake wrapped around a stick. They speak words I do not understand. A fire is quickly lit and the snake, passive as the older child’s hands are clipped tightly around its head, is placed in the fire. It does not die right away – it fights, trying to move away, to unwind itself from the stick. The younger boys surround it, much like in Lord of the Flies, stomping on it where the fire is lower to the ground. Its scales fall off in places but its eyes appear awake. They move. Its long tail slowly turns darker before blackening like ash. It is terrifying but I cannot look away. I am like my mother. Sick with fascination. The boys stand and clap and point to the camera I have forgotten must be filming. They hoot and holler like the kids in my neighborhood who play basketball on our quiet road.
The video ends and she looks at me, waiting, perhaps wondering if I have changed my mind. If I agree that it is difference in culture that has caused this pandemic. But no. This is not why we are living under the expanding wings of Coronavirus, I tell her. Not because of that particular bat or those kids – just kids – with the snake and its eyes. This is not why. How do you know she asks me, how can you possibly know?
I leave the expensive couch, I leave her to her bloody bats and snakes and wild ideas, and I wonder. It could be bats, it could be snakes, all the conspiracy theories, but it doesn’t matter. Does it? Not in this moment. Not anymore. It’s here. Now.
I stare at my daughter, she is 15 months old. She is small and she is not moving; her tiny hands clutch her favorite teddy bear, her increasingly curly hair falls over her eyes. She will be awake soon and she will need me to be her mother. But for now, she sleeps and I watch the baby monitor as I type. I notice the red scaly patches on my hands from washing them so much. I notice the birds outside my window. Things are still growing, moving on while we stand still, while we wait.