2020 Gothic

You missed trash pickup last week. This week’s pickup has been called on account of poor air quality. You circle the Arby’s dumpster, finding it unguarded. The Arby’s is boarded up with a big sign saying DRIVE THRU OPEN. Nobody will see you do it. But you don’t dare.

The child who lives across the street swings in a tire hanging from a tree. Their nanny wears a mask. The child is screaming TOUCH MY FRIENDS TOUCH MY FRIENDS on an endless loop. When the nanny reaches for them, they fall silent and pull away, gnashing their teeth.

There’s a car parked in front of your house. It’s got at least two days ashfall on it, but you didn’t notice it until it was already coated. Who does it belong to? No one comes or goes from a neighbor’s house to move it, to retrieve sunglasses. You casually look inside the dark glass and see hundreds of air filters stacked within. Target’s shelves are bare.

Is it Wednesday? It must be Wednesday. You heard the bell on the hour echoing through the abandoned high school down the block. But the mail hasn’t come. The mail may never come. On the news, you see undelivered mail has been dumped in an alley somewhere. No, it’s Tuesday.

Another campaign text. You text back, resigned, that you will do what you must. The automated person texts back: big mood. You unsubscribe, but you get the same text the next day. And the next. 

Did you do your Census yet?

No, that bottle is hand sanitizer. This bottle is vodka. You think. Only one way to be sure. 

Your spouse dyes their hair a different color. It is exciting, but not in a sex way. Just because it feels like arguing with someone new about what to watch on Netflix. They pick something you don’t want to watch. The back of their head intoxicates you as they stare at their phone. Pretend it’s a Starbucks. No, an airplane. 

The line is wrapped around the block. People in masks stare forward. What is it for? To get into the hardware store? For bagels? You slow down and gawk. The person behind you honks. You move on to the green light. What did you leave the house for? Oh right, the car has been sitting still for a month. Maybe you should go get in that line. Might be something good. Make the u-turn and head back. Someone in the line is coughing softly. You go home and shower for forty-five minutes. 

Your cat is distant, but not in the usual way. Resentful. You get the feeling the cat wishes you were back at work. You wish the same, but you still resent the cat. You sit in the cat’s spot on the couch. The cat pukes in your bed. You sleep on the couch, recalcitrant. 

You can fill out the census online, you know. 

The group text is 400 messages deep when you wake up and you can’t look. Is it a vaccine? A declaration of war? Did he finally die while straining on the toilet? You make a cup of coffee and drink it while thinking about a different cup of coffee that lives somewhere else. You brace yourself. It is a discussion about a famous man who accidentally tweeted a dick pic. This does not spark joy. 

Your spouse quits social media. People send you DMs carefully, sheepishly, asking if they’ve been blocked. You make your own posts explaining your intention to quit, but slyly. Facebook sends you a welfare check message, because someone thought you were threatening self-harm. If we’re off Facebook, do we not exist? You see your spouse’s back through the orange fog and wonder if you’re married to a ghost. Your mother in law DMs you. You deactivate before you read the message. 

You smash your favorite mug. The big one. You howl over it as if someone flattened your dog. A new one arrives via Prime. Who ordered it? You don’t know. Possibly you did, while drunk. 

Is it Sunday? There’s no mail. That doesn’t mean it’s Sunday. You go online and buy more stamps. They’re supposed to be delivered through the mail. 

You take a walk, passing a few people with dogs on leashes. Do not pet the dogs. The masks you bought for the virus don’t filter the smoke and the masks you bought for smoke don’t filter the virus. You’re alone at the crossroads and you take it off, just for a second. The air hits your face and you spit defiantly in the street, like you’re breaking a curse. Your face is a crime. Your spit is a biohazard. You mask back up before anyone can see. You pass a corgi that looks at you as though it knows what you did. Do not pet the corgi. 

The packaging on these crackers seems thicker than before. Tougher. You strain, unwilling to enlist the scissors. They wouldn’t do that during a pandemic, would they? Are you getting weaker? Your kettle bells are outside. You resolve to go get them. Once it clears up out there. 

Little things around the house to make yourself more comfortable. An ice machine that makes good ice, like at a restaurant. Scented candles. Bath bombs. A nap dress. Super soft sweatpants. Good wine. Fluffy comforters. Softer. Deep rugs. Plush drapes. Softer still. Slippers. This ice tastes just like going out. Muffle the door as it shuts. Whisper-close toilet seat. Softer. Shhhhh. 

Fill out your census form. It means so much for your community. And that’s where you’ll be. For a long time. At home.


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