Two short stories collections coming out soon from a university press.
The first one, to come out in July of 2021, is titled An Accidental American Odyssey.
It takes a very long time to become young.
― Pablo Picasso
The Selfless Quarantine
It’s almost like in the old country you abandoned a zillion years ago, but more twenty-first-century-ish. Nothing works. The businesses are closed. Your car won’t start. The Internet is down. Your phone shows random clips from YouTube and you can’t restart or turn it off. The radio plays nothing but The Star Spangled Banner and Hail to the Chief.
You and your neighbor, who came from a country that used to border your old country, pay through the nose for a working van and a driver.
“Where to?” she asks. She’s leathered from top to bottom. Her cap, her jacket, her vest, her pants, her boots. You wonder if she wears a leather thong. Probably not. Only babes from dystopian B-movies wear those. She is not a babe. She’s armed to her predatory yellow teeth.
“To the Selfless Quarantine,” you say.
She grins. “Of course. You and the zillion others.”
She pauses and adds, “The world is brought to its knees.”
Her own knees are stained. You hope it’s not blood.
She doesn’t take cash. Only silver and gold. She bites the coins. You suppose she checks them to see if they are not fake. Silver and gold is supposed to be soft. You wonder if she’s soft. You think she’d break your teeth.
You run upstairs to get your wife. The elevator doesn’t work. The stairs are littered with discarded books, toys, clothing and bed linen.
You find your wife on the sofa in the living room. She’s covered with nothing but a sheet of a bubble wrap. There is an old man lying on the other sofa. He wears a robe and sandals and he holds a wooden staff. You think it’s the same guy both of you saw a week ago in the city square. He wore a sign “the end is near!!” You wondered why he had only two exclamation points. Maybe he ran out of paint?
“He wears sackcloth,” your wife said.
You couldn’t show your ignorance to her. You decided to look up the word, but you forgot. You had too many other words on your mind.
Now, the old man tells your wife about his youth in the third firmament of heaven. His voice is quivering. She looks at the ceiling and smiles.
Your wife and you were popping the bubbles the night before.
Now, you take a silk sheet from the closet, wrap your wife and carry her downstairs, leaving the old man bubbling. His last words are “shelter in place,” unless it’s “shelter in peace.”
You step over the dying.
A boy about ten sits leaning against a wall. He covers his face with his hands when he sees you.
“Come with me, boy,” you say. “We will save you.”
He doesn’t get up. Maybe it’s your accent. You are relieved.
The van’s engine starts effortlessly. Everyone cheers but your wife. Her eyes are open but she looks up at the van’s roof. You take her hand. It’s not feverish anymore. She squeezes your hand lightly.
You ride for hours through the darkness.
“Where are you from?” the driver asks.
“Our countries ceased to exist,” you say.
“All of us will cease to exist soon,” she says.
You guess that the condition of being a prophet is contagious.
The neighbor’s kids cried at first but now they are asleep. You see a bright glow on the horizon. It must be the Selfless Quarantine, the last safe place on earth. Unless it’s a contaminated village set on fire by the armies of Dr. Alice Shadow, the Tremendously Merciful Physician and the Plague Czarina.
You know it’s the former. The world is restarting. The optimist in you is feverishly hopeful. The pessimist in you is already dead but doesn’t know it.
You still wonder what sackcloth is. They might have an encyclopedia in The Selfless Quarantine.