Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Tales of the pandemic based on real stories from around the world with a touch of fiction. Ongoing literary work.
Learn more about the project.


Chiyo needs some time to herself now. She’ll get a drink at one of Kyoto’s tiny family-run cafes, forget about the whole thing, and write in her journal while in the city’s timeless embrace. Then she’ll be able to rejoin her father. 

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Lana solicitously offers Vladimir some of her edamame guacamole to soothe his throat. He claimed to be a vegetarian who loves spicy food, but she has learned never to take white people’s word for it on spice tolerance. A scant few minutes after his bold claims, the old man is practically heaving over a tiny slice of red chili.

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Kawa yowls mantras from outside the screen door, and Akiko weaves in these meows bestowed upon her by the Eternal Now, kan-ze-on, na-mu-butsu, and intones the chants that she has recited every morning before dawn for more than thirty years, yo-butsu-u-in, yo-butsu-u-en, with deep concentration rooted in practice, bup-po-so-en, jo-raku-ga-jo, strict discipline, cho-nen-kan-ze-on, bon-nen-kan-ze-on, and an energy redolent more of a brash girl than a septuagenarian, nen-nen-ju-shin-ki, nen-nen-fu-ri-shin.

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By now, the odor of abandon and decaying food has almost dissipated from Mischi’s apartment in Queens. She has been paying rent for a vacant apartment since her death, and now Ruth and her son, Mark, have come all the way from California to dust it off, to expel the mustiness, to empty it of history and the tangible void of the last few months so that it can be returned to its owner. 

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After all, Keza has been exercising omnipresence for some time: why should one more city be a problem? Saturday kicks off with a job interview over Zoom that she’d told Ganza would finish by 12 at the absolute latest; three quarters of an hour past noon, she’s still there…

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A storm like this is unheard of at Kilstonia during the dry Oregon summer. Strange to see the pounding rain; only this morning, the baked cloudless sky had set off in stark shadows a beaver brazenly gorging himself on the willow tree on the island. Vera’s willow tree. She jumped out of bed, 81 years and recent foot surgery at once forgotten, grabbed her .22…

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It was all caused by that fateful office durian party and his resulting binge. And the worst thing is that Ong himself had come up with the idea, inspired by the arrival of June and hoping to cheer up his coworkers, their palates plunged in sorrow and longing for vanished flavors.

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Andrei dreams that once again his hands are a blur as he plays Rachmaninov’s preludes to an adoring crowd, the frenzy creates a gale that rips the socks off the pot-bellied, mustachioed man in the front row, and the performance ends with the piano bursting into flames from the hammers’ unrelenting assault on the strings.

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Strawberry and cream tarts, lemon bundt cake, artisan tiramisu, blueberry muffins, Dutch apple pie, chocolate eclairs, cherry cobbler, cinnamon rolls, and bread, bread, and more bread. All expired, but it’s better than nothing.

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The idea of actually calling the police occurred to the Daughter. By no means did she want him to be arrested and spend the night in lock-up — which no doubt nowadays served more as a breeding ground for the virus than anything else — but it couldn’t be denied that, in a way, he had brought it on himself; driving all the way to Zhuanghe was truly a preposterous idea.

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Beyoncé is trapped in her gel nails. Well, not Beyoncé Beyoncé, it’s just that Maria refuses to allow her real name to be used, because it’s simply too distinctive, and she prefers not to be recognized in the street. So we’ll have to turn to her idol for a pseudonym (surely, there must be more Beyoncé fans than Marias in the world).

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The neo-ancient emergence of the phrase «streaming mass» had launched her into delight tinged with relief. She has stoically resigned herself to renouncing her walks to the Dish, her jazzercise classes, her meandering bike rides, no matter how much she longs for them. All for the common good. And, well, she has a big backyard, where she can run, dance, or do flips on the trampoline if she wants. She never actually has, but why shouldn’t she?

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About the project

Love in the Time of Coronavirus was forged in the confluence of the desire to create, too much free time, and a sometimes unhealthy obsession with COVID-19. Although pandemics have stalked humanity across the pages of history, we are now witnessing an unprecedented phenomenon because the digital era allows instant communication across any distance, bringing us face-to-face with the differences and similarities in our experience of this global scourge.

The first stories in this series took shape on their own, as friends across the world recounted their experiences to me, and those verbal narratives became literature. Adapting naturally to the wide range of situations that they capture, each story took on a different tone and rhythm, swimming in the endless sea of human experience, from first-world problems, to learning and growth spurred to the pandemic, to broken dreams and heartrending plights. Each story has some touch of fiction: some are almost completely true, others give more room to the imagination and some are washed in magical realism.

Now, the project has matured and become more structured. To write each story, I interview the protagonist and craft a tale based on my notes. Then, out of respect for the personal experience of someone who has been generous enough to share their vision of reality with me and with the world, I share the draft with them and allow them to propose changes to better reflect what they want to convey. Sometimes, the person interviewed does not speak Spanish, so the story goes through a longer process of translation and editing. Since this is such an international project, stories have already been translated into multiple languages.

The word «pandemic» comes from the Greek — παν («everything») and δημία («people») — as do the titles of all the stories in this series, some more cryptic, others more literal, but all of them full of meaning richened by their etymology.

I am personally acquainted with the protagonists of most of these stories, which showcase the infinite varieties of love — self-love, romantic love, neighborly love… — and take place in cities as wide-ranging as New York, Dalian, St. Petersburg, Madrid and Santiago.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus is still alive and kicking, so new stories will continue to be published regularly on this page with dreams of one day becoming ink on paper.

~ El amor en los tiempos del coronavirus ~
Painting: Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, by Mary Cassatt