(Continued from The Virus: Week Three)
The next day was Thursday, March 26. There were 1001 reported dead from it in the United States. Unemployment claims hit 3.28 million. Now it was 1060 dead. An hour later it was 1090. Spent a few minutes online and then I looked up at the TV and the number is ticking up, a pace heretofore unknown. Approaching 500,000 cases worldwide. At exactly 11:03am the death toll was 1103. There are not enough tests, ICU beds, ventilators, hospitals, masks, googles, hazmat suits, or morgue spaces. By lunchtime we’ve passed the number of reported cases in Italy and China. We are number one. Went nowhere and talked to no one. No conversations to hear, nothing anywhere to see.
The next day, before waking, I dreamed of my senile father-in-law. He is standing up at the kitchen table, angry: “Will somebody explain this to me?” Then he collapses, smacking his head on the table before falling to the floor. In the dream the virus has killed him. The war in Korea didn’t kill him and the death of his son didn’t kill him; the death of his wife didn’t kill him and the death of another son didn’t kill him, but this got him, according to the dream. Woke up with a start from this dream at 4am, ready to face this new Monday, then realized it was Sunday. A moment later I realized it was neither Monday nor Sunday, but was actually Saturday. More than half a million reported cases worldwide. Over 1200 US dead, they say. Still no one to talk to or hear, only heads and voices on screen. Ate a sandwich and caught up on the feed. 1300 dead. A few hours later there were 1600 dead. Realized at some point that it was actually Friday.
One day after that, I dreamt of fire engines circling in great caravans. The companies have been busy; there is suddenly a flurry of post-COVID ads on TV: Jeep, Ram, AT&T, Hyundai, Kia, Chevy, DoorDash. Most of them are selling new vehicles, and want us to know that they feel our pain. In the afternoon I find out that my father has multiple sclerosis. My wife is still working at the bank, as she has to, being, as they say, “essential.” She’s tired, not feeling well, dealing with rude customers all day long. She is occasionally coughing. Our main water shut-off valve is being excavated for repair. We go to see her Alzheimer’s-afflicted father again. There is extensive roadwork being done everywhere. 1700 US dead. We decide to support our local Mexican food place for lunch (takeout only). 1900 dead, then, quickly, 2000; twice as many as just two days ago. We go for a walk, there is no one out on the streets, no one walking or biking or driving. Some kids have drawn chalk pictures and advice in a range of pastels on the driveway and sidewalk: TAKE THEIR ADVICE OR PAY THE PRICE, it reads. The kids have drawn masks and syringes and a person coughing into his elbow; they have drawn a beautiful rainbow in chalk, but the children who drew it are nowhere to be seen. Next to a portable basketball hoop the next street over a different kid has chalked: QUARANTINE POINTS Day One 114 Day Two 169.
Just a day later, 2200 people in this country have died from it, mostly in hospitals, mostly alone. We spontaneously leap into hours and hours of rigorous housecleaning. You can hear jackhammering outside but there is no one in sight. No faces, no voices other than our own. My mother’s friend G– has just died from the virus. There are discarded blue and purple rubber gloves all over the ground in a nearby grocery store’s parking lot; and there are now 2400 dead.
On Monday, butterflies were migrating. You could see them frolic in fresher air than either of us is used to, although it doesn’t seem like there are very many of them. A teen at the grocery store is wearing gloves but clapping effusively for no clear reason, smashing his hands together with an enormous clap. 3000 have died in this country so far, six hundred more than yesterday. An employee at the Queens branch of my wife’s company has died from it. Many family members of friends or friends of friends are already catching it and dying from it. Three more helicopters than usual were seen or heard, their objective indeterminate.
The next day is the last day of March. 3700 have died in this country so far, seven hundred more than yesterday. I go for a long solitary walk, the only activity outside the house I take part in other than fearful trips to the grocery store as needed. There is another low helicopter in the vicinity, its purpose unclear. A frenzy of small lizards scoot across the pavement and scurry through the undergrowth. For just a moment you can just begin to feel the heat that precedes the arrival of summer. An older person on a bicycle on the opposite side of the street hails me. “You’ve really got your social distancing down pat!” he shouts. We give each other the thumbs-up, and then he rides away. Outside of my home, this is the only sentence I hear another human being utter the entire day.
On Wednesday, April 1, I return to the routines I’ve developed now that I spend most days alone, not seeing anyone other than my wife before and after she ventures out into the wild for another day to contribute her essential services to the economy. Hygiene; work; cleaning; cooking and prepping; reading and scrolling and watching. There are many more dead people today than there were last week, many more than there were just yesterday. I no longer speak to anyone in person. Rarely is there any living person close enough to where I’m sitting for me to hear exactly what they’re saying before the voiceless silence takes over again.