The summer of our discontent

Published July 19, 2020, 10:47 AM

by AA Patawaran

Flash fiction from our long days and longer nights of quarantine

Art by ARIANA MARALIT

BOUNCE

He’s always looking out through the gaps in the fence. He doesn’t understand why where he sees things he longs to see and hear up close, touch, smell, even taste, others only see danger. They call it the virus. He doesn’t know what virus means, but he knows he can be sick of it, maybe even die. 

“Is like zombie?” he asks. 

“It’s worse,” they say. “You can’t see it. And it sticks to your hands, when you touch your face, your ears, your eyes, your nose, your lips, that’s how it gets into your body.” 

His eyes grow big. “Then I come be a zombie?”

No, you get really, really sick or you die, they warn him, adding, “It’s very, very a-wie.”

One day, they find him in the doorway, trying to put on his shoes. They ask him where he is going, but he is too sad that his shoes are too small. He wore it only a couple of times to go to the mall and that place where he could jump all day, just jumping, crashing himself against the walls made of balloons. It was called Bounce, but he is beginning to forget its name. It wasn’t yesterday. It was many, many, many days ago.

He starts to cry and tells them his shoes don’t fit anymore. They laugh, like he is telling a joke, so he shouts in anger and demands to go to Bounce.

They laugh harder. “But that’s because you’ve grown so big. How old are you now?”

He sticks up two fingers, trying to muffle his cries.

“Well, in a month,” they say, “you will be three, Big Boy!”

When he was two, he could go to Bounce, he could go outside, even swim in the pool. When he was two, he could wear his shoes. 

So even sadder, he cries harder.

He doesn’t like to be three at all.

YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW

I know I speak from privilege to say that, on a day like this, I meet Sophia Loren in Hydra, a languid island paradise on the Aegean Sea, just off the Greek mainland between the Myrtoan Sea and the Argolic Gulf.

I must be in a bubble in our turbulent seas, to be immersed in the beauty of the Italian marchioness taking over the island, especially when she pronounces its name.

Eeedra,” she purrs, which makes me feel a little inelegant that, in my head, I always forget not to pronounce it, like any foreigner on the island would, especially an English speaker like me, as hai-druhh, similar to any word with the letters hyd like hydrogen or hydrant or hydraulics.

Hydra is the current denomination of Hydrea, by which the island was once called. The name is from the Greek word for water, and now as I see Sophia emerging onto the shore, dripping in a sea-drenched, form-revealing dress and singing “T’in’afto pou to lene agape,” what is this they call love, in her modern, just-learned Greek, I feel very fluid, very free.

Although the world in its entirety is drowning in fear, all hiding behind masks and shields, and staying away from each other, I am afloat in dreams. There is a bit of sand between my toes, above me only sky, blue and bright. The breeze is gentle, whispering a lullaby. As the zephyr gathers speed, blowing away the morning clouds, it rests heavily on my eyelids, almost sending me back to sleep, although I struggle to keep my eyes open while Sophia is within view.

I take a privilege walk and it prompts me to reflect that the only reason I am out of harm’s way is the power of my dreams. I stay in a hamlet called Vlikhós, not too far away, just a 40-minute scenic walk, from the crescent-shaped harbor that is also the main town of Hydra. There is nothing in Vlikhós but a few stonehouses, a couple of tavernas, sweeping views of the Aegean blues and the Peloponnese, and now Sophia…

Go hate me that I am quarantined this way, aching for the hydrofoils and the catamarans that have been grounded since the tourists fled on sweeper flights. The horses, mules, and donkeys, which once worked from sunrise to sunset like four-legged taxis to bring holiday revelers and their luggage from the harbor to their hotels and back, are on vacation, mostly just nibbling on the bougainvillea that add vibrant pink, purple, orange, and white to the stone streets, the rocky hillsides, and the many churches and monasteries.

This is me in quarantine, just like you, isolated somewhere in the world. 

Just like you, I feel alone and restless, even in the surrounds of cheery cyclamen and poppies swaying to birdsong. 

So I go where the coast is clear, in memory, in fantasy, away from reality, with Sophia for company.

PATXI EATS CROW

His name is Patxi. Like many born under the Tiger sign of the Chinese zodiac, he is confident and charming, but also impulsive, impetuous, self-indulgent. 

The pandemic had kept him in a cage. While he enjoyed the silence and the solitude, busying himself with cleaning up the flat and tinkering with every appliance and the furniture, it had been over 100 days. 

When Patxi received an invitation to a secret gettogether, it was a carrot dangled in front of his face, especially when his friend said there would only be four of them. He was about to explode with cabin fever and, so virus or not, even if it were the Titanic, he’d climb aboard without thinking twice.  

At the party, at a bar he used to frequent that had been closed because of the crisis, there were three times more people than Patxi was told, but the place was a happy memory, so were some of the people, although most were strangers, including two club DJs. 

Lost in the party chatter and the music, he could pretend that the pandemic was only a bad dream, although, in the beginning, he tried to maintain a reasonable distance to trick himself into thinking he was being fairly responsible. No sooner than he gulped the last drop of his third Old Fashioned had he found himself gravitating toward the crowd that had by then gathered in the center of the barroom in circles, like rings of fire. Before long, deeper into the night, he was recklessly in contact with anybody who came close enough, shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm, nose to nose, cheek to cheek, lips to lips, skin against skin.

He woke up the morning after on the barroom floor along with the others, in a tangle of flesh, enwrapped in each other’s arms, engulfed in each other’s thighs, noses buried in somebody’s neck. He should have felt filthy, guilty, but he didn’t.

Three days later, still feeling hung over, plagued with fatigue, Patxi coughed. It was dry, raspy, wheezy—and strange.

 
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