Effective Social Distancing

Tone-deaf

Ruby bumped into Andrew in the front hall on the way to her dining room office space.

 

“Are you going for another walk today?” she asked.

 

“Absolutely. It’s beautiful outside,” replied Andrew as he zipped his jacket.

 

“Aren’t the parks getting busier now that the weather’s getting warmer?”

 

“I think people are starting to get cabin fever,” noted Andrew.

 

“How do you keep six feet apart with so many people around?”

 

“That’s no problem. I just pop in the ear buds, crank up the tunes and start singing out loud,” explained Andrew.

 

“But you’re tone deaf,” exclaimed Ruby.

 

A smile flashed across Andrew’s face. “Exactly.”

 

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Pandemic Survival Skills

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The weather finally started to resemble Spring and Drew spotted Nick across the fence cleaning up his backyard.

 

“What’s happening?” Drew called out.

 

Nick stopped what he was doing. “I don’t know about you, but I had to get out of the house. I’m about to lose my mind.”

 

“I hear that. Being cooped up all this time has really started to take a toll,” said Drew.

 

“What d’ya mean?” asked Nick.

 

“I now know forty-seven different songs to sing as I wash my hands.”

 

“Ah, you mean pandemic survival skills. I developed sixteen new meals just using the leftover ingredients I found in the pantry. That way I don’t have to stand in line waiting to get in the grocery store,” said Nick.

 

“I trained myself to push the snooze button on my alarm completely by feel. I don’t even have to open my eyes,” admitted Drew.

 

Nick laughed. “It’s not like we’ve got anything to get up for, right?”

 

“Exactly.”

 

“I’m still working from home, so I made a bunch of new and interesting backgrounds for Zoom. One day I was on stage with Bon Jovi, the next day I swam with a school of orcas,” said Nick.

 

“It’s good to mix things up. It gives your coworkers something to look forward to,” said Drew.

 

“I thought so, too, but my boss was not so enthusiastic.”

 

“Killjoy,” grumbled Drew.

 

“I know. We’ve got to do something to break the monotony. That’s what makes them survival skills,” added Nick.

 

“Well,” confessed Drew. “One of my survival efforts wasn’t exactly appreciated, either.”

 

“What did you do?”

 

“Homemade masks are big right now.”

 

“Yeah,” said Nick in anticipation.

 

“I made one out of my wife’s bra. The cup fit my face perfectly,” explained Drew.

 

“That’s brilliant,” exclaimed Nick.

 

“I thought so, too, but Stephanie was mad.”

 

“Why? It could save your life.”

 

“What’s what I told her,” said Drew. “She said if I wanted to save my life, I better get out of the house for a while.”

 

“That explains why you’re out here,” concluded Nick.

 

“Yep.”

 

“At least it proves you’ve got good survival instincts.”

 

Drew nodded his head. “It’s the only reason I’m alive right now.”

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Weather Scapegoat

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Doris looked out the bay window in the living room and sighed. The bright morning sun warmed the whole room.

 

“Why are you pining?” asked Matt.

 

“It’s so deceiving. The sun is shining, so you think it’s a beautiful day, but it’s just above freezing,” complained Doris.

 

“At least the sun is shining. You have to see the cup as half full,” said Matt.

 

Doris glared at him. “No, I don’t. I still can’t go outside and work in the garden. It’s too cold.”

 

“It’s supposed to snow this afternoon, too.”

 

“Argh,” grumbled Doris. “Why won’t it make up its mind?”

 

“Because it’s April,” said Matt.

 

“I’m so ready for warmer weather.”

 

“You can’t rush Spring,” assured Matt.

 

“Don’t tell me what to do,” growled Doris.

 

Matt threw up his hands. “It’s not my fault. Blame the weather.”

 

“Of course I can blame you,” Doris said. She gave Matt a mischievous look. “You’re the easier scapegoat.”

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Physical Letters

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It took three rings before Phoebe realized someone was calling her on her cell phone.

 

“Hello?” she answered.

 

“Hi Phoebe, it’s Keiji. How are you surviving the quarantine?”

 

“I can’t tell you the last time I actually used this thing as an actual telephone,” mused Phoebe.

 

“I like it mix it up with my methods of communication. It keeps folks on their toes,” said Keiji.

 

Phoebe forced out a chuckle. “I’m sorry, I got distracted. I’m doing okay, as long as I can find things to do. How ‘bout you? Are you keeping busy?”

 

“I started writing letters,” said Keiji.

 

“What, like actual stamp and envelope letters?”

 

“Yep.”

 

“Isn’t it easier to write texts or emails? Or you can do what we’re doing, an actual real time conversation.”

 

Keiji harrumphed. “I love what they represent. Spoken words disappear in the air, only to be remembered by faulty memories. Texts and emails are simply flickers of light on a digital screen.”

 

“So?” asked Phoebe.

 

“Written words live in the real world. They’re three dimensional. They exist and endure for generations. Not to mention the thoughtfulness needed to carefully craft each word,” explained Keiji.

 

“Now I want to receive one,” said Phoebe. “Wait, why are you telling me and not writing me a letter?”

 

“I would, but I don’t have your address. That’s why I called,” explained Keiji.

 

“Oh, no problem,” said Phoebe. “But It better be awesome now that you romanticized it.”

 

Keiji laughed. “It’s not like I don’t have the time to do it right.”

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Coping with Confinement

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“Last night I watched a documentary where some people sailed the last twenty-seven kilometres of the Rideau Canal in one of those old wooden motor boats,” said Irv.

 

“Sounds interesting,” replied Stan.

 

The two sat at opposite ends of a bench in the park.

 

“It was done in real time. It took fours hours. I watched the whole thing,” added Irv.

 

Stan shrugged. “It’s not like you had anything better to do.”

 

“It kind of felt like I was taking a trip. It was nice.”

 

“Those are the only kind we can take these days,” noted Stan.

 

Irv nodded. “How’ve you kept busy?”

 

Stan curled his lip. “What’s busy?” he asked. “In the age of quarantine, you know you’ve accomplished something in a day when you’ve made your bed.”

 

A by-law officer approached with a measuring tape. “I’m sorry sir,” he said. “You’re only five feet apart.”

 

Irv waved at him and the two men rose to their feet. They walked away in opposite directions under the watchful eye of the officer.

 

Irv called back to Stan.  “I’ll set up a video chat with you later.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” grumbled Stan.

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The Best of a Bad Situation

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It was a shock when Bruce saw there was food at the visitation of his late supervisor Istvan. Eating in public made him nervous enough. How much more anxious did he feel eating at a funeral home? His initial resolution to abstain was overruled when the widow handed him a plate and ushered him to the food table.

 

Bruce reluctantly accepted and selected a single mini sandwich. On his first bite his teeth sunk firmly in the flesh of his lower lip. He mumbled a curse under his breath as tears welled up in his eyes.

 

“I didn’t know Bruce was that close to him. He’s taking this pretty hard.” Bruce overhead someone whisper behind his back.

 

“Some people struggle with death. You know how it is,” whispered another.

 

Just before Bruce could respond, the taste of blood filled his mouth. He dabbed his lip with a napkin. He looked for the quickest route of escape when he bit his swollen lip again. In frustration he looked to the ceiling, a single tear escaping the corner of his eye. His stuffy nose caused an involuntary sniffle.

 

“I don’t know,” whispered the first person. “I think he’s that kind of guy. He really cares.”

 

“That’s good to remember. We need to replace Istvan soon,” replied the other.

 

Bruce excused his way through the crowd toward the nearest exit. Just before leaving the room, he looked back to see who was talking about him. There stood the head of his department next to a vice-president. Both smiled in his direction.

 

Once Bruce was alone, he tossed the rest of his sandwich in the garbage. As far as funerals go, he thought, that wasn’t half bad.

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The Virus part 6: Good Enough (The End)

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June immediately regretted telling Nate he’d have to kill her. The last thing she wanted to do was plant an idea in his head. Only after she spoke did she remember that she never did see the remains of Nate’s parents.

 

As night fell, Nate stood up and declared, “I’m going to bed.”

 

When he left, June waited until she heard the door of his bed close. As quietly as she could, she grabbed a cleaver from the kitchen and sat on a living room chair.

 

The combination of the excitement from the day and malnutrition robbed her of the willpower to stay awake through the night. Her next conscious awareness was Nate shaking her by the shoulder.

 

June bolted upright, the cleaver falling to the floor with a thud. The two looked wide-eyed at the knife on the floor.

 

“What are you thinking?” demanded Nate.

 

June snatched the cleaver from the floor. “I didn’t know what you’d do,” she said.

 

“I’m no killer,” replied Nate.

 

June’s eyes grew cold. “Do you think I trust you?”

 

Nate sat on the couch and sighed. “I was hoping to make a deal with you.”

 

June sat stoically and stared at her neighbour.

 

“You’re right. I am all alone. I didn’t like that feeling when I parents died and I’m not looking forward to it in the future,” he admitted.

 

“Go on,” said June.

 

“I can help keep you alive if you promise to stay here with me,” proposed Nate.

 

“What if I change my mind?” asked June with a raised eyebrow.

 

Nate frowned. “Why would you do that?”

 

“Maybe I think death is better than living with you,” said June.

 

“You changed your mind over night?” Nate asked.

 

June sighed. “No.”

 

“Are you good with this, then?” asked Nate.

 

“What choice do I have?” asked June. She added, “I still don’t trust you. I’ll be keeping this close.” She tucked the cleaver under her leg.

 

The two sat in silence for several minutes, pondering the implications of this détente. Nate was the first to break the silence.

 

“It’s not exactly a happy ending, is it?” he said.

 

June’s face remained solemn. “Sometimes all you need is good enough.”

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The Virus part 5: The Malicious Dance

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The two moved around the house in a silent malicious dance. Neither one wanted to be near each other, but too suspicious of the other to leave them alone.

 

“You know what I hate about you?” asked June, out of the blue. “You could’ve done something with your life. Saved the world.”

 

“Why did you come into my house? Why couldn’t you just leave me alone?” replied Nate.

 

June sat on the couch in the living room. The evening sun through the bay window shined warmly on her face.

 

“Your parents were always nice to me. I hadn’t seen any of you for a while. After my parents died and I buried them, I thought I should do the same for you guys,” explained June.

 

Nate sank into a chair on the shady side of the room. A coffee table served as a barrier between them. He nodded. “That’s actually a nice thing to do,” he admitted.

 

“I had no idea you were alive. I didn’t know anything,” added June.

 

“I am doing something with my life, you know. I’m going to be the last human being alive. Everything I do will be profound,” said Nate.

 

“But no one will remember you,” objected June.

 

“Who cares about that? The dead don’t care about being remembered. Besides, I’ll still be one of a kind.”

 

June picked at her bony fingers. “That sounds lonely.”

 

“That’s how evolution works, isn’t it? You ever think about that? When a species dies, there has to be a last one. I want that to be me,” said Nate. The intensity of his gaze made June uncomfortable. She looked at the world outside the window.

 

“I like to think God is over everything, even evolution. I mean, he started over with Noah. Maybe this is another way of starting over with humanity,” mused June.

 

“You’re desperately naïve. How do you think we can start over when I’m the only healthy human left?” demanded Nate.

 

“I don’t wanna die,” mumbled June. She strengthened her resolve and glared back at Nate. “I’m gonna do whatever it takes to live.”

 

“When everyone else on the planet dies, out secret won’t be a secret anymore. I won’t need to keep you around,” snarled Nate.

 

June sat at the edge of the couch and steadied her hands on the coffee table. “If that’s the way you want to play this, fine. You already know how far I’ll go to stay alive. If you wanna get rid of me, you’ll have to kill me.”

 

The threat brought Nate to his feet. “You’re crazy!”

 

“No,” replied June. “I’m desperate, and you’re all alone.”

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The Virus part 4: Survival

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The next few days were tense. Nate secretly monitored all of June’s activities. As much as he was loathed to allow it, June needed to leave the house to pick up groceries. His suspicions spiked when it took her an hour longer than he expected. She wouldn’t admit it, but her strength was so weak she napped in the grocery store parking lot before coming home.

 

Despite the elevated mistrust, life seemed to settle into a routine. Nate might even go so far to think things were improving. Even the meals June prepared were more elaborate.

 

After a particularly sumptuous Sunday dinner, Nate leaned back in his chair and belched long and loud. He knew immediately something was wrong. June watched expectantly from her seat across the table.

 

“You poisoned me, you vindictive-,” he spat.

 

“I did no such thing,” replied June calmly. Her eyes were cold.

 

The first wretch was across the table. The second brought a steam of vomit across the kitchen floor. June jumped into action, scooping it up onto a plate.

 

“No,” demanded Nate. His sentence was impeded by another wave that covered the kitchen counter. He ran to the ran to the bathroom trying to thwart June’s plan. All that landed in the toilet was bile. He heaved several more times before his stomach finished its spasms.

 

He shuffled back to the kitchen. June sat at the table wearing a satisfied grin.

 

“What did you do with it?” he demanded.

 

June was defiant in her silence.

 

“Don’t you ever do that again,” warned Nate.

 

“Or what?”

 

“I’ll kick you out. I don’t need you.”

 

“You need me to keep your secret,” replied June. “Then again, maybe its time the scientists dissected you. As it happens, I suddenly feel rejuvenated.”

 

June stood up to leave, but Nate blocked her way.

 

“I’ll kill you before you reach the front door,” he threatened.

 

June stood nose to nose with her neighbour, the odour of vomit on her lips. “I may die before you do, but you can bet I’ll make you suffer for it the rest of your life,” she said.

 

They glared at each other, neither willing to flinch first.

 

Nate took a step back and drew a breath. Her breath was making him nauseous. “Truce?” he asked.

 

A wicked smile spread across June’s face. “For now.”

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The Virus part 3: Secrets

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“You know, you might be the key humanity’s survival,” said June.

Nate licked his plate clean. “You should’ve been a chef. That was amazing.”

“Did you hear what I said?”

“Of course I’m the key. Don’t you think I know that?” spat Nate.

“Then go to authorities. Let them figure out why you’re immune,” urged June.

“And have them treat me like some kind of lab rat? No thanks.”

“You owe it to humanity…”

Nate threw his plate against the wall, narrowly missing June’s head. Shards ricocheted on her neck and back.

“I owe humanity? Humanity owes me! I’m the healthy one. I’m the one that’s gonna survive. As far as I’m concerned, I AM humanity,” shouted Nate.

June marveled at the hardness in Nate’s eyes. “What’s wrong with you?”

“What?” demanded Nate.

“How did you get so selfish?”

Nate leaned back in his chair and laughed. “And you aren’t? The only reason you stay with me is the hope I might save your life. You’re not here because you care anything about me.”

His proclamation made June recoil. She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. Her thoughts drifted back to the basement where she found him. Seeing someone so healthy gave her hope. Maybe he got sick and recovered. Maybe something within him could somehow rub off on her. She had to know if he could make her well. Did that make her selfish? June shook her head. She couldn’t believe they were anything alike.

“If I tell the police,” she said with a chill in her voice, “they’ll drag you away and you’ll never see the light of day again. Don’t think for a second they won’t sacrifice your life to save the world. They’ll cut you into little pieces until they find a cure.”

She smiled when a tear rolled down his flushed cheek.

“Or,” she continued, “I’ll cook for you and keep your secret.”

Nate sniffled. “What’s the catch? I let you stay with me and we rebuild the world together? I don’t think so.” He washed his hands at the sink before sitting back down at the table.

“If something doesn’t happen soon, you’ll be the only one left,” warned June.

“Because I won’t help you,” said Nate.

The words spoken out loud caused a sneer to form across June’s thin, cracked lips.

“You thought you could manipulate me, but you can’t. I can wait you out. Time is on my side,” declared a triumphant Nate.

A long sigh left June with a pain in her chest. “I thought we could help each other,” mumbled June.

“We are,” said Nate. He reached across the table and caressed her concave cheek. “I give you purpose by serving me. Isn’t that better than just waiting to die?”

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