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Quarantine Tales: True Stories, Fiction and Poetry From Our Readers


Non-Fiction

Fear, Guilt and Confusion

I’m afraid of getting “it.” Just saying the name of this virus that’s killed so many and sickened more is like jinxing it, inviting it to get me. I’m afraid of it. I’m afraid to even say it’s name.

I’m fortunate, which brings on guilt. I wasn’t always so lucky, but now I am. I don’t have “it.” I’m in a category which they say is what it is looking for, but right now I’m healthy, active and still have work. 

I work as an overnight grocery stocker. At present, while I’m working, my store is closed to customers, but… one has to look at their coworker and think, “Does he have it?” 

“Did I just hear someone cough?” 

“How close to that person have I been tonight?” 

I’m also getting paid extra to deal with these things, though. So I should be grateful, right? I’m still scared. I’m afraid of getting stopped by the police for being out when I go to work. I’m afraid they’re going to tell me I’m too old to work now. That they’re going to close the store further. 

I’m confused as to how I’m supposed to feel and how much I’m supposed to do. Am I supposed to risk my health to help others? How much risk is acceptable? Working at a grocery store gives me first access to some things others are finding difficult to obtain. My child’s almost 80 year old grandmother, as independent as she is, shouldn’t go shopping so I brought her some paper goods. Is that fair to those who don’t know me? I’m not hoarding toilet paper, but I’m not worried about not being able to find any. I do have a little extra money and am purchasing a few things online from local shops that have had to close their doors through no fault of their own. How much should I ‘support’ them? I want to save the extra money I’m making from overtime and other bonuses from the company just in case ‘it’ finds me. Is that selfish?

What I’m trying to do, how I’m dealing with this wealth of emotion, I guess, is by keeping in mind that ‘it’ wants to knock us down. I can’t let it.  We can’t let it. We have to do everything we can to stay strong, and help others be strong. We have to be smart, fearless, and strong. [Catherine]

What, Me Shelter?

So… We’re months into the serious phase of this, with no end in sight. We’re still under guidelines to isolate, quarantine, etc. Spring has arrived, despite our collective gloom, with birds returning and plants a’poppin’ all over the place.

A bit about me: I’m a townie. I came to attend UGA, decided I liked the area, and never left.  That was almost 20 years ago. Most of the current class of students wasn’t even born when I was a know-it-all freshman, back in 2000. Since then, I’ve watched Athens grow up (literally). Witnessing the shenanigans of current students, I fondly remember my own crazy days. Last year I adopted two feral kittens, who are now spoiled rotten indoor kitties. My apartment complex recently changed managers, and my rent went up. Life is a cycle of bills, meals, lack of sleep and, when I get the chance, art and leisure. Oh, hey, let’s throw in a global pandemic, just to shake things up a little.

I’m viewing all the cries of “Staying at home sucks!” with a certain chagrin. My job is considered essential, and I can’t perform my duties online. I’m one of the ones on the road, going to work, delivering your orders, taking things to your car. I don’t have a Sam’s Club or Costco membership and, while I have enough canned goods and toilet paper to last a while, it bothers me that I can’t go to a store and pick up essentials as I normally would. First world problems, yep. People, please quit panic buying. Our supply lines are currently stretched thin, but trucks are still running, and retailers are happy to sell you stuff, if they’re allowed. Things aren’t to a “Walking Dead” level of despair… yet.

On my rounds, I respect customers’ desires to stay distant or isolate totally. Traffic is certainly a lot better. This situation isn’t a shutdown; it’s a slow down. Pizzas are still being made, which is of vital national and personal interest. The only thing that bugs me are people who don’t respect the 6-foot rule. We’re constantly cleaning often-touched surfaces. Honoring the late, great Dr. Thompson, we get The Fear when we hear someone cough. These conditions suck, that’s the only way to put it, but would you rather be sick?

I see folks with tempers on the edge. I’ve been chewed out over the phone more times recently than I care to remember. Yet I also see patience and kindness. I see people stepping back from their own busy lives, considering the lives of others. It’s as if we’ve finally realized we’re one people, together on this big blue marble floating through an endless void, finally pausing to take stock of ourselves. Like Bill said, be excellent to each other. M’kay? [Jay Barnes]

Fiction

Quarantine Call

The bedroom walls shook from the thunder. I rolled over to check the time, but my phone had fallen off the bed. The TV was still on. I’d fallen asleep in the middle of a show again, like I always do. I lay in bed listening to the rain falling on the roof. The sound was mesmerizing. What day was it?

I had to think about it for a few minutes. I left my temporary office in the dining room two days ago, and hadn’t been back in there since. I stayed out of there on weekends, hoping it would keep a boundary between work and home while sheltering in place. Sunday—it had to be Sunday.

I rubbed my feet back and forth over the sheets. Much like the sound of the rain, it was comforting.

Out of nowhere, the phone rang.

“What?” I groaned. “Who the hell is calling me?” My stomach twisted in knots. My mom. 

I fell out of bed, trying to reach over the edge to grab the phone. She’s probably fine. She’s just scared about the pandemic. What if she isn’t?

There was nothing I could do, even if I wanted to. She was in California. 

I rolled over onto my side and turned the screen toward me.

“Oh my God!”

It wasn’t her. I should have let it go to voicemail to give me time to think. But I didn’t.

“Hello?” My voice shook. 

“Hey, how’s it going?”

“Fine,” I answered. “How are you?”

“Great. I’m doing great.” The pause in conversation lasted several seconds. I tried to think of what to say next, but he broke the silence for me.

“Are you sure you’re doing OK?”

“Yes.” It was a lie, but what else could I say to my ex-husband after not speaking to him for almost a year?

“OK. Well… if something happens, if you get sick, or need help… you can contact me… if you need to.”

“Thank you.” I heard myself say the words, but it didn’t sound like me. I wanted to say so much more to him, but I knew I couldn’t. 

“Okay, I’m gonna jet. Take care of yourself.”

“You too.”

He hung up first. I hugged myself tightly. It was hard to breathe. 

“Oh my God.”  I laughed out loud. Then the tears came.

It took a pandemic, but my wish had come true. Finally, I had my closure. At one time, at some point, he had loved me after all. [Jill Hartmann-Roberts]

Daydreaming of Adventure

I slam the door and flop angrily down on the couch, startling Edgar out of his nap.
“Well, I just lost my job,” I say, trying to stave off the tears. “Apparently rather than offer delivery or curbside pickup, it’s easier to just close the restaurant entirely and fire everyone with no notice.”

Edgar stretches and yawns. He isn’t concerned about work in times like this. It must be nice. He doesn’t even recognize his own privilege. Sometimes I wish there was someone around with a bit more empathy. In the six years we’ve been living together, he has never managed to offer a single word of encouragement when I am having a bad day. 

I suppose it could be worse—I could be suffering through these times completely alone. My mother rarely passes up an opportunity to remind me that my 30s are right around the corner, and it’s time to get started on the whole marriage and kids thing. But I like my cozy apartment and the easygoing relationship I have with Edgar. With the bad news piling up day after day, I’m more thankful than ever that I don’t also have to factor in the health and well-being of a child. It’s all I can do to worry about Edgar and myself. I like knowing that we could just pick up and run off if we wanted to.

I jolt out of my inner monologue. “What if we just picked up and ran off? I’ve got some money saved. We could drive west—see the Pacific Ocean, maybe catch the sun setting over the Grand Canyon on the way. If we slept in the car and loaded up on groceries, hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes, we could avoid hotels and go on one of those Great American Road Trips that someone is always writing novels about.”

Edgar stares at me like I’ve finally lost it; although, to be fair, he looks at me that way a lot.
“I know what you’re thinking,” I continue, “A global pandemic isn’t the best time for crossing multiple state lines. A lot of public places are closed anyway. But it’s not like we’d have to do the usual tourist things. We could just drive and see what’s along the road. Is Route 66 still a thing?”

I’m already building a playlist in my head, but Edgar just glares at me and wanders into the kitchen. “You’re only young and stupid once,” I call after him. Even with his back to me, I know he’s thinking that young is only once, but sometimes stupid is forever. He’s right, of course. This isn’t the time for epic road trips, and he’s not a good passenger anyway. I guess for now we will have to stay home and get through this together.

He cries to remind me that it’s time to eat. That’s the one thing I can always count on—that cat knows when it’s time to stop daydreaming and have dinner. [Anne Weaver]

Poetry

Untitled

Petrified dreams, villainous hopes, bioluminescence that says otherwise.
Gulfs of mind and spirit, agape, agape, agape, yes agape.
Sensual. Carnal, temporal, beautiful, yes, beautiful.
Mind, body, spirit, one, what I think, what I feel, what I know.


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