Euphony

[Leer cuento en español]
[Lire l’histoire en français]

This house. The one next door. Doh-ba-doo-ba-doo. The curly hair in the wind. The communal garden. A timeless ballad by John Coltrane. The beauty of chaos. Doo-ba. The beauty in chaos. Dream companions who come and go depending on the season and love. Love. Doo-ba-doo. A voice. That voice. Doo-doo. Méli had never before fit so well into a place and, melding into it, she now no longer knows where her skin ends and where the orchard, the stone, the air of her home begin.

And now the arrival of a baby, ba-ba-boo, to that family that is not a family but is a family. Be-bi-boo. Lily and Martin are going to be parents, remember when they told us, we’re going to be mothers, remember? Be-ba-ba. And the bad news about her health, remember when she told, remember, how supportive they were, remember? Love. Ba-ba-boo. That house. Love.

In that house in Toulouse lives music. And politics and love and the tenor saxophone and reflection and love and we’re going to have a baby and creativity and let’s change the world and sickness, ssh, ssh, nothing negative, nada, da-da-da, don’t think about it, sing, play. Let’s change the world. Doo-doo-doo. The piano. Doo-doo. And love. Méli smokes and feels and utters beautiful gibberish with the magic of her throat, da-da-da, and forgets everything that has no place in the house.

When she goes into the home recording studio they jury-rigged at the beginning of the pandemic, her whole body fills with one, two, three, and, and do, re, fa, la; that studio, t-t-tcha, from which several musical projects have already sprouted, tcha. Now there is not so much coming and going and only four live in the house, two couples, all musicians, t-t-tcha, all music, and they create, rehearse, record, rehearse, create, create, t-t-tcha, record. It took her a while to get into a rhythm, to be honest. The musicians she met during the years she lived in Spain and those in France became hyperactive during the lockdown, and at the beginning she would get new videos from them every day. But she was overcome with timidity and doubt. Tcha. Daily. What a talent. What talent? Tcha. And you, Méli, what about you?

She judged herself. She judges herself. Always. There is no judge who is stricter with her. She has started a thousand texts, melodies, rhythms that crowd her throat and begin, but they get stuck, wrong, Méli, wrong, terrible, Méli, they get stuck, they stay, a throat clearing, wrong, wrong, Mélissandre, c’mon focus, girl. She demands so much of herself because the mirror and the videos do not show the glowing aura that appears to her when she sings. She doesn’t realize how her voice rides on the notes of a piano, of a trumpet, of whatever instrument is put in front of her. How it makes love to the notes, her voice. You shine, Méli, look at you. Good. Good, good. Wonderful. But it could be better, couldn’t it? Di-da-di-la-la-la. Two unequal forces confront each other in her being, her inner authoritarian, ta-ta-ri-a, and her interior voice, which struggles tirelessly, to assert itself and get out. To assert itself and get out. To get out. Di-la-la.

Now, Méli has learned to open the floodgate instantly. She lets her primitive voice, her instinct, her guts speak. It comes to her and she sings it, ti-ti-ti, she records it and hides it away, well tucked away, tay-tay-tay, far from that authoritarian self, in a place where she could never find it, nor judge it, because she doesn’t have the key. She has nothing but fear. And when the fear passes, pa-poh-pa, Méli will go to the hiding place and rescue the song. Not today. Tomorrow? No. No-na-no. Well, maybe. Maybe. Maybe tomorrow. Today you learn from others. Tomorrow? Well, maybe tomorrow.

She and Emilio, her boyfriend, are a musical duo. Before the lockdown, they used to trot out the ii–V–I progression on every corner of Toulouse, ba-bop-ba-ba-dop-bop, but the winds of the present no longer permit that. Now they are experimenting with Brazilian music. Lily and Martin receive a government grant for having played more than seven hundred hours and are expecting their baby unburdened by too many financial worries. But Méli and Emilio haven’t reached the required number of minutes, so they are forced to draw from their savings, dop-bop, because they can’t play in bars, concert halls, or parks. For months they’ve been getting concerts canceled on them, months in advance. Ba-dop. Toulouse is silent. Everything canceled, postponed. No, no, no. May? No. August? No. October? No. No. Maybe in 2021 the silence will be broken. January? No. Maybe. The silence misses being torn open by Méli’s voice. Silence is filled with meaning thanks to music, but for the moment the notes are locked in the invisible cage of the communal garden.

The communal garden adores the merriment of all the musicians who inhabit it. Just musicians? Well, musician-ethno-psycho-carpenters. How many are there now? Eight? Ten? I don’t know. Twelve? I don’t know. How many people live in the other house? People come and go. I don’t know. From the garden. From life. Ny-ny-ny. Like when, at the age of two and a half, Méli arrived from Tahiti with her mother, who started out singing in bars and concert halls and parks. That’s how Méli grew up, going from stage to stage, immersed in melodies, and that’s why she now feels, at the age of thirty, that the musical-chaotic-creative house in Toulouse is a home par excellence. People come and go. Méli hasn’t been to Tahiti for ten years. She will go back. Ta-ta-hi-ti-ti. She will go back. She doesn’t know when, but people come and go. They come and go. She will go back. Or not. Ta-hi-hi-ti. She will go back.

They have done everything in the common garden. Everything. Clarinet. Sewing masks for hospitals. Double bass. Cooking competitions. Piano. Yoga, pilates. Saxophone. Packing food for the homeless. Trumpet. The garden is the most ironclad and harmonious present. Remember the concert of Balkan music for the neighbor who couldn’t return to Romania as planned? Everything. Everything. Ting-ting-ing. Everything. The shared garden, the shared house, the shared life. They share everything. The food, the clothes, the joints. They debate, argue, question the government measures. It doesn’t matter. They love each other. Everything belongs to everyone, nothing belongs to anyone. The common baby. Ting-ding-ting-ing. The vegetable garden shines because every morning — if she feels like it, to tell the truth — Méli waters it singing, ding-ting-ting, and merges with the earth and, while the plants occupy themselves with trills, she photosynthesizes.

Shortly before the lockdown, the health problems began, and Méli broke isolation to go to the hospital, and then they discovered the spots on the MRI. The news of the baby was mixed with news of her multiple sclerosis and all the feelings crowded together in that house in Toulouse. Grief. Rage. Happiness. Grief. Happiness. Love. Surprise. Fear. Love. Love. Joy. Fear. Love. Love. Love. 

She waited to tell her parents until after the lockdown. She wanted to tell them in person. To her grandmother, nothing. Not a peep-pi-pi. Her grandmother gets too much bad news. She loses friends every month. Nothing. Not a word-pi-pi-peep. She is a very cheerful woman, she does not want to spoil that. Everything remains the same with her grandmother, but her relationship with her parents has changed since they found out. She now calls them more. They give her space. They know that Méli will tell them any news. Pi-pi. They love each other, they trust each other, they stay hopeful.

The music, the orchard, the politics keep her alive. Fi-fi-fa-fa-fa. A few months ago, the police wanted to arrest a girl from the other house for hanging an anti-Macron banner in her window. Then they came up with the idea of filling the streets of Toulouse with questions, and now they go out from time to time to hang posters. Fi-fi-fa-fa. Méli has received scholarships and welfare and thanks those who fought to get them and honors them by fighting. During the lockdown, the government took the opportunity to pass new legislation worsening workers’ conditions. Fu-fu-fu. The struggle cannot stop. The posters don’t say anything outright, they just ask, open the debate, fi-fa-fa, and people look at them and curse them or discuss them or applaud or exchange opinions or reflect for a moment and move on, with the question inevitably trailing behind them. What are my core values? Fa-fa. Can hope be cultivated? Fi-fa-fa. Do you want to return to abnormality? Fi-fi. Do you develop your critical thinking? Fi-fi-fa-fa.

Music, the orchard, politics, love. Love. Da-ya-da-du. Méli owes her mental strength to all those who surround and care for her. Love. She is persuaded, more than ever, of the great power of salvation of love and solidarity at this time. Ya-da-du. Displays of fondness and affection do not cost money. They cost time, dedication, and sometimes commitment. Méli is a composition of harmony and love and encouragement, a whirlwind of musical notes swirling in her throat and exploding in the air, and she knows all too well that in this life we have no choice but to improvise.

{Translated by Adam Lischinsky}

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Peripeteia

[Leer cuento en español]

The first arrival will be early riser Manoli, the baker, an untroubled pond in an undiscovered forest, from whose tongue words must be ripped; next up is Juan, the one who just bought a little house in the new development, a parrot particularly proud of his ability to speak who leaves one’s head feeling like a drum; later he will have the two sisters, the older ladies who live a little bit up the street, beams of sunlight who always compliment him on the striking contrast of his eyes, one amber and one green; at four o’clock the owner of the bar in Church Square, Mari, will arrive, taking this rare respite from her loneliness as a chance to vent to an audience and inevitably releasing one of those little tears that leave a lump in the throat, but with her self-esteem boosted through the roof by the time of her departure; then the little guy will come in, the young man who works at the lottery, what’s his name, he can’t sit still and gets on your nerves and the only way to calm down is to tune out all sound and count to one hundred; showing up as the day wraps up will be Julito, the school janitor, who appreciates Dioni’s advice and mastery and leaves looking sharp; and squeaking in before the bell, Antonio, the potato chip maker, who brings tranquility and a breath of fresh air, and they catch up amidst the unrelenting banter of solid friendship.

For the first day back, it’s not half bad. It’s been difficult to piece everything together: the phone has been ringing nonstop since he announced the reopening less than a week ago, and he’s had to skillfully juggle clients, because the slightest chance of overlap must be avoided for safety purposes. He is dying to get to work. It’s been hard, so hard. And so weird. At first, he saw everything through his amber eye and took to endlessly brushing the cat from pure nervousness. He would come across him and, snap, grab him in a flash and kill time brushing and brushing, the cat enduring without a meow, with the patience of a saint not at all confident of his own hunting ability. Now, although Dioni could touch the finish line by stretching his fingers, he still has bouts of anxiety and tries to comb the animal, but the cat is no fool, and there is now only an unkempt blur as soon as he spots his comb-wielding master.

At last, the tables are about to turn, and no one will flee his combs — quite the opposite: the people with appointments for today will arrive, eager, as if drawn by a magnet to his brush. He swelled with anticipation just raising the metal shutter of the salon — the dry click of the padlock, the clattering ascent, the sweet chime of the bell — and his spirits have continued rising with each step towards opening. Now his shining green eye surveys the scene: he is passionate about his work, and the masses of untamed lockdown hair he takes as a challenge which will require creativity and drastic transformations, snip, snip, snip. He can imagine today’s parade perfectly: tangles and mangles and ends split to their base and traces of that dye from the supermarket, which saturates the hair and drowns it — look, I warned you not to use that swill, but you wouldn’t listen. 

Since he started as a barber at the age of sixteen in the posh Salamanca district and then opened his own business in 1991 in his native Leganes, he had never sheathed his scissors for such a long period. The last week before lockdown he felt certain misgivings and worries, but the virus seemed distant and alien, so when he actually announced the closure of the establishment, he did so in disbelief, and his entire vision of the world was focused through his amber eye.

The lockdown has given him a strange feeling of desolate calm, no longer the incessant bell of the door that opens and closes constantly, the sudden absence of people entering, ring, ring, and leaving, ring, ring, and entering, ring, not straining to keep one conversation going, and then another and another, discovering the silence of the abandoned hairdryers. Overnight, his universe took refuge within the four walls of his home, now also his prison, with all the time he had never had before with Reme and the children, getting to know each other.

Yes, getting to know each other, because before they only crossed paths at dinner time and on weekends, but in the last two months they have done everything together and created wonderful memories; although, of course, there are also moments when he feels a build-up of pressure in his amber eye and flees like a cat from a brush. Then he goes down to the garage for a while, no time at all, thirty, forty minutes, and he follows one step with another and is plunged into the claustrophobia of gas, electricity, water, the telephone bill, condo fees, rent, insurance, property taxes, VAT, invoices, product inventory, self-employment tax, accountants, social security payments for his employee… and then his anxious thoughts drift to his children, whose only concern is high school, hastily scribbling their homework just before handing it in. And he follows one step with another, pacing from wall to wall in that dark, musty garage, and he secretly smokes again, and his thoughts unravel with each step, and he takes deep breaths —inhale, exhale— and returns home with the green eye on fire and with determination to improve his new skills in the kitchen and to play Parcheesi with that well-coiffed family and enjoy the frenetic energy of his son, the curiosity of his daughter, and Reme’s humor.

It was she, Reme, who seized the reins to power through and get all their expenses in order and tighten their belts however necessary, end of discussion. She was also behind decorating the salon’s window for Mother’s Day, as she ingeniously does for all special occasions, and this was going to be no different — we will entertain ourselves, even if in the end we aren’t able to open and the shop stays locked up, because the government ultimately decides that we can’t progress to the next phase, and nobody else even sees the display. It turned out beautiful: those flowers, those colors entered Dioni through both eyes, amber and green, and he still carries them inside, whirling around his stomach. That explosion of bloom made him love his partner more, what great fortune to have her by his side, but don’t tell her, she doesn’t like that sappiness, and he planted a kiss on her lips that echoed in the empty salon, and she realized that he had started smoking again, but this time there was no scolding, because she understood.

This government, well, well, who knows what another would have done, the same or worse. The ambiguous limbo of the early days ate at him, financial ruin stalked him like a fateful storm, and anguish swirled in his amber eye until he tore at his hair and screamed and cried as he paced and paced in the garage. Fortunately, it never got so bad that he had to borrow money from his friends, because little by little he was granted this and that: deferrals on VAT payments, breathe, waiver of the self-employment and social security taxes for March and April, breathe, breathe, concession of discounted rate for water and electricity, breathe, breathe, breathe. And the banks, well, as bad as always, veritable vultures, massive profits only years after being bailed out: he’d been forced into a high-interest loan just to get a little liquidity and be able to make payments.

In recent days he has been going to the salon to set it up and start getting used to the strict protocols: wipes and sprays, disinfection after each customer, mandatory masks, limited capacity, sterilization of utensils… As he goes back and forth, he walks through the neighborhood in disbelief and thinks of all the other small business owners and each shuttered storefront breaks his heart. He wonders how the other businesses are doing, if they managed to apply for aid by the deadline, if they will meet all the requirements, if they were granted it. His amber eye starts to water. He expected rising optimism, but in those streets filled with infection and death, uncertainty and worry reign. Dioni gives a name, surname, and face to each of the victims, because there is no scalp in the neighborhood that has not passed through his hands: his parents were among the first to arrive there when this was nothing more than cottages and shacks and narrow, unpaved streets. Dioni is the neighborhood, everyone knows him. His customers are a second family, and his family helps with the customers. They help each other in their time of need… Lately, people in the neighborhood always want to help, there are initiatives, donations, food drives. He muses that human beings are wonderful, and the green eye begins to sparkle.

The clock is about to strike ten. He puts on a surgical mask and the N95 on top to be extra safe. Reme’s handyman has made him and his employee protective shields that cover their entire face so that they can fix those rivers of hair that will flow in starting today. He has missed it so much… He has spent thirty-six years dedicating himself to meandering through that branch of psychology that involves listening and advising while he washes hairs, snips away — and a little more, just a little bit, to neaten things up, you’re gonna have an a-do-ra-ble cut — straightens, curls, shapes, pins and sprays, from morning to evening, hour after hour.

Manoli arrives with a long mane and asks him to cut it, to cut a lot, because she is going to donate it. He wants to hug her, give her a kiss, but he has no choice but to transmit everything through his voice, a voice distorted by the endless regulations. As he brings scissors to hair, he feels a gust of breath on his arm that escapes the woman’s mask, and a shiver runs through him, but he continues, because a long day remains, and we have to transform fear into rational caution and come to terms with the new normality, and his irises turn to rainbows.

{Translated by Adam Lischinsky}

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Philosophy

[Leer cuento en español]

Immensity stretches before their eyes: the infinite orange melts into the blue, which then turns pink, purple, yellow, until the tea-scented darkness begins to make inroads, a darkness that is flooded with soup and yogurt and dates and honeyed sweets and milk; and they eat for the first time all day, with restraint more than greed, grateful for another day of learning.

The party begins around seven in the evening, and there’s no knowing when it will end. Moha can’t remember how long it’s been since they were all together or when was the last time he didn’t have to gobble down these delicacies, barely tasting them — there was always a tour leaving early the next morning, and he had to sleep at least a couple of hours. Those days, when it seemed like he couldn’t slow down for a single moment, not for a miserable second, now exist only in memory. Remember? Up, down, a kiss, another kiss, goodbye, tomorrow we have four excursions, yallah, yallah, yallah. The communal experience of Ramadan with the family (his grandmother, his three sisters, his brother) fills him with happiness.

It is clear to him, fortune is smiling upon him: undoubtedly there is no better place than Merzouga to spend these uncertain times. In the cities, people are packed together and can’t even take a walk without worrying. Just thinking about it sends a shiver down his spine. He cannot conceive of life without the caress of the dunes, without the freshness of the early morning, without the whispers of Dihia in the folds of the wind.

When their hunger is sated, they walk among the hillocks now dimmed and cooled by the night. Whether whispering or silent, they inevitably sink into the overwhelming peace of the landscape. Some evenings, that little slice of vastness surrenders to the wishes of the ghaita, the gembri, the qraqeb, the bendir, accompanied by clapping and singing and dancing, and there is nothing else, no other place, no past, no future, no virus. Inshallah. The silhouette of the tea with sugar decanted from a certain height lingers until the sun’s rays shatter the dawn, and only then do the Berbers embrace sleep to annihilate some of the sixteen hours of fasting that the new day brings with it.

Leaving the dream world, Moha dons his robe, wraps his turban, and slides on his babouches, ready for whatever the new day brings. Inshallah. The desert is emptier than ever. How beautiful to be able to see it constantly only through his own eyes: he takes all this as a lesson to value what he has and repeats to himself over and over again, like the chanting of salah: who knows where this world is going to take us? At least we have time for ourselves, time for ourselves, time.

For now there is no work, but there are chores — buying this and that, feeding the camels, going to the mosque — and he strolls through the town, which is suffused with an unsettling strangeness. Not only have the restaurants and hotels temporarily closed, but there are also residents who prefer to greet each other with words alone. It seems to Moha that the salam labas bikhir is left empty without touch: if something will happen to us, it will happen to us; there is only one death, there are not two. Perhaps if anybody here got infected, the story would change, and he as well would refuse handshakes and kisses and hugs and kisses and kisses.

Ramadan has also changed, because people do not gather in large groups. All right, it’s okay: this family time is more golden than the reflections on the sand at three in the afternoon, when the sun is shining, and it’s 92 degrees, and you can’t drink. But they bear it well, because the scorching heat and desperate thirst themselves are clad in togetherness. It could be worse.

When hunger tears into him, Moha dreams that he is traveling again: he has never left Morocco, but he travels the world through the people whose paths lead to his land. On the rare occasions when he lets go of the present, he misses spending time with tourists, talking to them about the constellations, teaching them the Arabic alphabet, leaving them speechless in the Dades Gorges, showing them how to move their tongues to make the zaghrouta maghrebiya, telling them the traditions of the Berbers — or of the barbers, as he liked to call them, ever the class clown. For every nationality and every language, he has a joke prepared. Perhaps because of a life balancing on a tightrope spanning three worlds, the Berber, the Arab and the Muslim, he has a predilection for cross-cultural humor. Without those international experiences, his self-confidence would not exist, nor his magnificent command of Spanish, which he practices daily with his friends from the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar, whom who knows when he will see again, Inshallah. But the insistent messages he sends to keep himself and his business at the front of their minds are answered ever less frequently.  

Now the only tourists who come arrive with their own vans, and they rigorously keep their distance. All the better. All things that happen always bring some good. Although he would never confess it, unconsciously he knows that there is a certain beauty in not watching for the thousandth time how argan oil is made, in not having six Spanish women in the van singing David Bisbal at the top of their lungs, in not searching endlessly for cheap restaurants and hammams for moneyed tourists whose first words in Arabic are walo floos, “No money.” He has not chosen this rest, but he welcomes it with open arms while, at the same time, he is ready to return at any time to enjoying the new friends from abroad that life may bring him.

The streets of Merzouga — the orange buildings, the sacks of spices, the daily hubbub, the aromas — follow their natural rhythms. The virus accentuates the sweet leisureliness of Berber life. “You have a watch and you don’t have time, and we don’t have a watch and we have plenty of time,” he always used to say, while peering at his phone out of the corner of his eye to see when the next tour would arrive. Moha always enjoyed trying to make his guests understand the Berber lifestyle, but he realizes that he himself had stopped really living it. Now he is filled with the prodigious harmony of not having to give a single explanation about his culture, of just immersing himself fully into it. He no longer has to submit to Western dictates, which he does not fully understand anyway. And what is the point of tirelessly following demands to the rhythm of tick-tock, tick-tock? It makes much more sense to let oneself be borne along by the suns, the moons, and al-Qurʼān.

In the afternoons, Moha and his friends take videos and photos of themselves jumping from the high dunes, and their wake in the sand is forever crystallized in images. Tourists love these types of snapshots, so he shares them, so that those places will not fall into oblivion. The Sahara of the 21st century is made up of sand, sun, stars, and direct messages, and like, like, like. But capturing every moment is more something for foreigners: his family doesn’t live trapped in the gallery of his phone, but rather in the present of each shared moment. What is the point of photographing his grandmother cooking if the smell is left out of the portrait? Why immortalize his sisters playing if their laughter will vanish without clinging to the image?

There are weeks of fasting left. It seems that this year Moha will celebrate Eid al-Fitr with the whole family. It seems, it seems: nothing is ever certain. Like a good nomad must, Moha lives in this day and will savor every moment until the great feast arrives, which will also be fantastic, as will the days, months, years to come. Inshallah. But those thoughts do not overwhelm him, they simply live in him as peaceful certainties. Now he just sinks his feet into the heat of the sand, feels the gentle breeze on his face, contemplates immensity and becomes engrossed in the purely spiritual.

{Translated by Adam Lischinsky}

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Trichophagia

[Leer cuento en español]

There is nothing like the luxurious sensation of cat fur on her taste buds. With Isis, it can get quite complicated to harvest those hairy delicacies, but Nut acquiesces to more shenanigans, and so Abril yanks her fur out and turns it into haute cuisine and enjoys its touch and spits it out and swallows it, and it dances and dances through her mouth.

Abril pursues the cats on all fours down the hall. Nut and Isis finally give in. They never learn. Or they do learn, but they forget, or it’s worth it, or they actually enjoy it, or they don’t care, and they are ensnared once more by that modern fur trapper. Nut, more maternal, usually sleeps with Abril, despite the peril of baldness, although there are times when she gets fed up and gives a gentle warning bite or even leaves her side. Isis avoids her more, but Abril still plucks the occasional trophy from her, because the tickles of that fur, its toothsomeness magnified by the thrill of the hunt, are an explosion of flavor.

But cats are not always so easily hooked. When the chase proves fruitless, she settles for other furs: hippopotamus hair tastes like green somersaults, bear locks have a bright pink aftertaste, monkey mane has tones of violet sweetness. But, in the end, the ones she rips from the book clump up in her mouth, and she struggles to swallow them, so she sets out once more after the cats.

For some reason, Isis is more amenable to petting on the balcony, where she likes to relax in the bright Madrid sun. Abril follows her, sneaky, and then lingers there for a long time, regardless of the success of her culinary mission. Since the rides in her carriage stopped, she has adored this space: it is here that the breeze blows, the wind chimes rustle, the colors shine, that clapping and dancing live. And at eight in the evening, it is usually she who initiates the nightly applause for hospital workers.

The people who live in the neighboring apartments play the same songs over and over, over and over again, every afternoon, and Abril enjoys their familiarity and dances to them and claps enthusiastically when they finish. The lady who always called her «little cutie» when they met in the halls is the one who launches the daily festivities with We Will be Together Again, by Lucía Gil, which is a bit sappy, but well, the melodrama goes over Abril’s head, and she never turns her nose up at a chance to applaud, clap, clap. Then comes, by tradition, the turn of that neighbor in his sixties — the one who scratched her with his mustache every time he saw her in the lobby— he plays I Will Survive, and by then Abril is already high and moves like one possessed and sings loudly and to her own tune and claps throughout the song and the sum of the clap, clap, clap reaches the end with tiny enormous enthusiasm. The hubbub concludes every night with the melody of the couple across the street —the one with the rectangular red, yellow, red cloth proudly fluttering from their small window— who insist on playing a song that reminds her a bit of a lullaby but is much more difficult to follow for Abril, who always gets confused and applauds after that part where her parents sing “and King Juan Carlos washes it with soap,” clap, clap, because it seems like the melody ends, but then it starts up again. It always continues. Clap. So much the better, that just means there is more applause. Clap. Clap. Clap.

When daylight savings begins, the neighbors across the street can see the little girl much better at that hour, and they blow her kisses and call out greetings. Abril is very good with grannies, so she returns their greetings with self-confidence, but she still doesn’t know how to blow kisses, so she unwittingly leaves them unsatisfied. Who knows: maybe she’ll learn soon and hurl little bits of happiness back at the women in the form of floating kisses.

Abril is happy bathed by the spring breeze. It doesn’t matter if she is in her bedroom playing with her reflection, or if she is hanging on to her mother while she does her housework: at the mere sound of the word «balcony,» Abril abandons everything and her hands start with the clap, clap, clap, as if pulled by irresistible force. She knows that she must clap her hands, and she complies. Just as she does when she goes out on the balcony, even if it’s not the right time for applauding first responders. By force of Pavlovian habit, the balcony has become infused with that gesture of joy: she spends time in the morning blowing soap bubbles with her mother and clap, clap; she stands in the sun with her father as he reads her a story and clap, clap, clap; she is dazzled by the windchimes and claps her hands and laughs every time the little bells ring, clap, while she bites the clothespins; she follows Isis to the terrace, and the cat lowers her guard, and Abril first claps her hands and then goes rip and yum in the blink of an eye. And at eight o’clock the clapping extravaganza begins, something she would miss dearly if the routine ever changed.

Abril already knows how to say “mama” (quite well-enunciated) and “Ithith” (with a lot of drooling accompanying the lisp), calling those whom she must stubbornly chase to feed herself. She often goes out with them to eat on the terrace —and not only dairy and fur— now that spring is in a good mood, clap, clap; and she gets mash all over her face trying to use the spoon and feels great happiness every time the sun hits her and she never tires of applauding.

Afternoons in the park and at the pool fade into the mist of oblivion, and she no longer remembers how quickly she used to get tired, or that she went to bed much earlier; and she has gotten used to seeing her grandparents via video call and pointing at them and smiling at them to indicate that she recognizes them, and then continuing trying to eat Nut and Isis’s fur. Normality for Abril does not mean going out into the street (street? what street?), but taking naps, eating fur and yet more fur, clinging to furniture, laughing out loud at peak-a-boo, breastfeeding, frolicking in her playpen, and listening to the neighbors’ music.

Abril’s first April is born and dies with the reality of the balcony —the awning with painted oak and eucalyptus leaves, the pink chairs, the dried-up cacti, the windchimes— as her only contact with the outside world. New truths and habits and teachings dance incessantly in her memory. One month is ten percent of the little girl’s existence, so the balcony is no little oasis of open air, but a whole universe.

{Translated by Adam Lischinsky}

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Chromatics

[Leer cuento en español]

Hilda looks at her daughter through the window and fills her with light. She’s been regular as clockwork over the last couple of weeks, splendid, a mirror of the universe, without missing a single day. Yazmín experiences it differently every day —with skin flooded, with vermilion fury, with harsh calm, with her spirit in bloom— but she always, always, always comes to the window at around six o’clock to receive the maternal twilight. Because that way, and only that way, does #StayAtHome make sense: without Hilda’s colors, the house still seems like a home stripped of its soul.

Águas de março plays on a loop, which somehow seems inevitable, and Hilda smiles in orange and violet and sings é a vida, é o sol in a pink-tinged voice. Yazmín, however, finds the song gets stuck in her throat, and she can’t unsheath a single note — musical though she is— because la noite and la morte are still beating in her temples.

The sunsets of Lima have never been more beautiful. People credit it to this rare respite in the frenetic life of the gray and polluted city, but those are just idle rumors: Yazmín knows all too well that it is actually her mother at the fim do caminho —because she was buried at exactly 11:11 in the morning, with the portals to another dimension open, whence she shines — and that the sunsets will continue to carry her light and her face until she receives a proper funeral. It doesn’t matter what everyone else thinks: she is certain that Hilda Luz honors her second name every day at around 6 PM.

After sunset, Yazmín wipes away her tears and does yoga and then runs for a while on the rooftop, to open her chakras, stretch her body, and try to banish that mistério profundo, but she can’t make it stop being either mysterious or profound. 

Hilda always said that the spirit is eternal, and the body is just a garment, and she is now following her belief to the letter and appearing at every dinner in the mouths of Yazmín, her father, her brother, and Celestina —more than a housekeeper, part of the family—because her memory is always evoked at some point by a flavor or a squeak or a word or her favorite fork. And from memory, she passes into melancholy eyes. And from the eyes, she descends to the tongue. And the tongue makes her the star of every dinner. And Hilda is there, there, a promessa de vida no teu coração, chewing, savoring, existing, existing such as she can.

She also insists on appearing in every movie, on every show, in every book: the Aristocat Marie’s eyes invoke Hilda, Khaleesi’s courage is also that of Hilda, Jo’s intelligence is identical to Hilda’s. Everything. Absolutely everything screams «Hilda, Hilda, Hilda.»

Yazmín tries to go to bed early, because she rises at seven for work and because routine is healing. Her mother cuddles her with a faint autumn breeze, and with o corpo na cama, she drifts off to sleep.

Alone in the hospital, due to the pandemic restrictions, Hilda switched off her body at the time of her choosing: she departed on the same day as the equinox and Saint Joseph and was lowered hurriedly into the ground, one of thousands on that day, isolated from friends and family by the plague sweeping the land. Just as it was she herself, and not the cancer, who chose the day of her departure, Yazmín fears that Hilda’s spirit will make the decision to leave when the confinement is over, and she has a recurring nightmare in which the real funeral is completed, and Hilda’s light goes out. 

But the next day, Yazmín gets up, and the state of emergency continues unabated, and she works from home and, at around six, her mother bathes her once more in orange and purple through the window.

{Translated by Adam Lischinsky}

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Idyll

[Leer cuento en español]

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. 

It’s funny. When it all started, she was forced into loneliness, and she resisted with Zooming and Skyping and LINEing and anything that would distract her from herself. But now she actually sometimes can’t bear not being alone with Kyoto. Just the two of them. That’s all she needs, that’s her true love, she’s realized: her city, full of aromas of incense and the buzz of cicadas and whispers of the past, and that special way Kyoto smiles at her with temples, gardens, rivers and mountains.

Part of her connection to the city is rooted in survival. Japan has been through wars, famines, political uprisings, floods, earthquakes… And Chiyo feels she’s been through something similar. Yet Kyoto has remained an island of resilience – after all, it’s been through, it remains as peaceful and calm as a gentle Buddha statue. The strength of the city and its serenity is what Chiyo clings to when she feels she’s about to break into pieces.

She’s trying to reach that state of mind at this precise moment. After the ritual of the hatsumōde, she’s about to crumble. For her first visit of the year to the Shinto temple, she went with her father, as is their tradition. After praying for the best of luck and prosperity in the new year, it was time for the fortune-telling custom of omikuji.

She tried her luck with her usual cheerful expression —her perennial smile, her eyes sparkling— really hoping for daikichi. However, her little strip of paper turned out to be the worst of all, kyo, a curse that appears rarely, especially on new year’s day. “You must be careful about your health”, “Behave yourself”, “Be patient”, “Don’t expect too much”. The past two years of the pandemic have been terrible for her mental health, so this prediction hardly helped. It made her feel lonelier than ever and deeply sad — the last thing she was hoping for was another challenging year. 

Kyo”, she muttered, near tears.

Her dad looked at her and laughed, trying to play it down: “It is just a game!”

That was not what she was hoping to hear. She really needed comforting, but neither her father nor her fortune nor the new year had been willing to grant it. She certainly could find no comfort in the state of the world. Nor in her luck with love. Her only faithful companion during all this time has been Kyoto, and that’s why she asked her dad to separate for a few hours, promising she’d contact him to meet up again.

It’s a windy day in Kyoto, and the gingkos and the maples dance on a distant hill. Chiyo thinks that when a storm hits a mountain, it’s the exposed, vulnerable trees that fall first. Before, being on her own made her vulnerable, just like one of those trees, but now she needs to be alone to feel strong. It is just a game. It is just a game. Her father’s words sound like pure mockery, like emptiness. Why have they been doing this together since she was a little girl if it is just a game? She’s in her thirties now, it should have stopped years ago if it’s so meaningless.

She walks, surrounded by her beautiful city, who enfolds her. Always enfolds her. It is just a game… It is just… The words start to fade away, and she falls into a meditative state on her stroll, feeling the cobblestones alter her gait and fixating her gaze on the beautifully imperfect wood of the doors and the pure gray of the roof tiles. Breathe in, breathe out.

If being single wasn’t already hard enough for her, the pandemic has only worsened matters. She hasn’t been able to hang out with friends, have a drink with her colleagues, or chat casually with strangers. Most of her face-to-face interactions have been replaced by a laptop or a phone — her entire world reduced to a 15-inch monitor. She’s long sick of that.

Kyoto was sad too at the beginning. Used to eighty million visits a year, the city was left bewildered by its empty streets. When the first state of emergency was declared in the spring of 2020, Chiyo walked through an arcade in Kawaramachi to find everything closed except convenience stores and pharmacies. It was depressing. 

Chiyo felt like a character in a post-apocalyptic movie — how could the city be so empty on this sunny day of clear skies and warm breezes? Day after day after week after month, there was nobody in the street. She felt befuddled. Absolutely no one. She would have never imagined seeing Kyoto like this.

Then the signs started popping up all over the city — “closing down” became the new motto of souvenir shops, of coffee houses, of restaurants, and of the hotels newly-built for the 2020 Olympics. This was not merely a financial debacle, but also people’s drive and purpose and dreams going down the drain.

On her stroll to avoid her father and her fate, she stops by Bukkoji temple and watches the smoke rising from an incense urn. She can’t help but think of all the people over the centuries who have sought solace here after losing their loved ones, of the days when prayers and quarantine were the only weapons against disease. At least we now have vaccines, and we understand everything better. At the very beginning, Chiyo had felt hopeless seeing the empty temples. Lonely in her apartment, she went out only to feel the loneliness of Kyoto. And then the two of them, the woman and the city, found each other. Chiyo had visited over seventy cities around the world, so she felt great sympathy for the people who rely on tourism for a living. That’s when she realized she could be a traveler in her own city.

Ever since that realization, she hops on her bicycle every weekend and rides to one or two cafes she really wants to support. The cafes have a soul, Kyoto has a soul, and that is its people, so Chiyo always makes sure to let them know how thankful she is to have places like theirs that make people feel part of a community. She tells them “がんばって”, Ganbatte, to stay strong, and they reply, with a smile, that they will. And then Kyoto breathes in and breathes out, and feels so beautiful, untrampled by milling flocks of gawpers. It hasn’t felt this in a very long time.

And Chiyo feels less lonely when she’s alone with Kyoto. The city has no neon signs or loud advertising to create a simulacrum of life and activity. Silence has driven Chiyo to find a center within herself, and she has gotten to greatly enjoy her own company. Their relationship has been, in a way, a healing process. 

She feels like she’s talking to her city by pedaling her bike: “Hey, thanks for having me. I really like you. I would like to know more about you, and I want to spend more time with you.” And Kyoto murmurs back in the wind and tells her stories about the empress Go-Sakuramachi Tennō, and about the monk Shinran, and long-vanished figures who have faced tribulations like those she faces. “Back in 869, there was a pandemic, and the people held a festival to pray for purification…”. Listening to her city over and over again, walking back and forth in the same places, back and forth, she has become a traveler of time.

Today, those stories of Kyoto’s past seem more soothing than the ones about her future. But she’s not thinking about it, not thinking about it, she won’t fall back into that spiral of loneliness and self-sabotage. She just stirs the matcha tea she ordered to go and savors its herbal fragrance. The palm readers have returned to the streets. That’s a good sign, that gives her hope, but today she ignores them. She sits on the riverbank, watching the surface of the water, wondering how many typhoons have riled this placid ribbon, how many times it has risen in anger to flood the city. She can picture all the people placing sandbags across history to preserve the landscape that unfolds in front of her in the present. She feels grateful for what she has —a roof over her head, health, fulfillment at work, wonderful relatives and friends. She can still enjoy reading, writing, cooking and doing crosswords. Covid can’t take it all from her. The zen garden and the sounds of the cicadas and of a stream remind her that they will get through this pandemic, just like the people of this city always have. This city and its culture have survived. It will do so once again.

Her dad sits by her side. He’s been looking for her. “It is just a game, you’re worrying too much,” he insists.

She feels like getting up and walking away from him again. Their relationship has not always been easy. They’ve never quite gotten each other. But she tells herself she must try to stay.

“I do worry. The last two years were very tough for me. I’ve had enough of it.” 

After thinking for a moment, her dad pulls out his wallet and tucks a bill in her hand. “Go and try again.”

“What? No, it is a waste of money,” she objects.

“No, it’s not. Just go and get another one!”

She goes to a nearby temple and pays for another fortune. She isn’t quite sure if this one really counts. The miko hands her a bamboo cylinder filled with lots to draw. Chiyo prays for better luck and then pulls out a new omikuji. She gets a different number. Phew!

“Here is your fortune. Good luck with your new year,” the miko smiles, handing her a folded strip of paper. 

She opens the strip and reads the fortune.

“I got daikichi!” she excitedly tells her dad, who’s where she left him by the river.

“Ah, ‘great fortune!’ What luck!” her dad says. “It is always better to have a hopeful start to a new year.”

She gazes at the riverbank and thinks that her dad has placed sandbags around her today to stop her from being flooded. The hopeful landscape she is today will live into the future because she’ll just remember to try and try again, until she gets the daikichi she’s seeking.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas.

Pseudonym

[Leer cuento en español]

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.

She’s not surprised. She’s seen this a thousand times back in Malaysia. So she calmly chows down on little pieces of teriyaki chicken, turmeric cauliflower, and a radish while gazing at the kids falling and getting back up and rolling on in the skate park by the Waterloo Bridge. She’d love to light another cigarette to make this moment a perfect one, but smoking is not allowed in London restaurants. She’ll have to feel content about the blue sky, and the soup, and the kids falling and getting back up, falling and getting back up, a cheap metaphor for her own life. She’ll wait until Vladimir’s face fades to a less inflamed tone to rip the silence away, but for now she’s enjoying the noisy tranquility of the city.

They are in the middle of talking about Albert Camus, after Lana nonchalantly mentioned a quote of his she had stumbled upon in an art exhibition the other day, “Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?” They’ve been chatting over lunch about philosophy, Leninism, Beauvoir, communism, Butler, and Chomsky. Why not discuss another light topic like mental illness?

They haven’t limited themselves to such impersonal matters though. He’s told her about his efforts to avoid going stir-crazy by keeping himself occupied, which is why he’s been focusing on photography, about his deep loneliness during the pandemic, about how his whole family is back in Slovakia, and he barely talks to them.

She tells him she also has a complicated relationship with her family but opts not to go into detail. She leaves unmentioned the part where they wanted her not to be herself because of what the neighbors would think, the part where they disavowed and disowned her, the part where her mom recently called her “Lana” for the first time… while contacting her to ask for money, the part where she has given up caring what happens to her mom. Her mom… There’s a Malay saying — “Look at your mother’s face, and you’ll see heaven.” Deep inside, Lana longs to be able to feel that again. Instead, she just adds without any real context: “Sometimes you help someone who hurt you deeply because life is about being the bigger person, right? And that brings some closure.”

She does feel better since she sent the money back to her family in Malaysia. It is almost as if she paid them off for her escape, and she can now completely walk away from them and from the country that birthed her and then punished her for who she is, that vilifies people like her, that throws them into prison. Because of her status as a political refugee, she won’t be able to go back for at least three more years, but that’s fine with her, because England has been her home now for a couple of years — it has given her the chance to be herself, and what’s more home than freely inhabiting your own body? All this inspired her to volunteer for a housing shelter — she wants to help other asylum seekers and refugees to also feel like themselves here. She knows how important it is for one’s body to become one’s home.

Vladimir’s kind, but he probably wouldn’t understand all this. And he’s not keen on the arts of psychology. He seems to believe in the darkness of the mind about as much as he does in spicy food, and, not knowing how much the woman in front of him has been suffering, he replies to Camus’s quote with a somewhat scornful joke about suicide.

Lana doesn’t take it personally because she’s proud of the progress she’s made with her healing. If anything, she feels sorry for people who are so unaware of their own minds and their harmful patterns, oblivious of others and themselves. Also, she reads him and concludes he is devoid of any hostility or malice. However, just to see how he would react, because sometimes she kind of enjoys pushing limits, Lana considered replying to his jokes by telling him about the thirty-six Paracetamol pills she lined up, about her desperate call to the suicide line, about the cops who have entered her place twice to check on her, about the mental wards, about the diazepam to help her calm down, about her various suicide attempts spurred by pandemic isolation. But then he ate that stupid chili, and now Lana feels like she shouldn’t make him even redder than he already looks.

Immersed in the lack of conversation, Lana transports herself to the first morning she woke up in the mental ward, when the snow was coming down heavily, something she’d never seen before, tropical creature that she is. A sudden desperate need to feel the snow on her face overcame her. But by the time the doctors had finished their evaluations and given her permission to go out, the snow had stopped, and only a trace of dirty brown ice remained on the road and pavement. Just her fucking luck. Never mind — she ran and ran and ran like a child until she was exhausted. When she finally came to a rest, she decided this time would be different. Eight months later, that longing for snow lingers with visceral clarity.

Vladimir seems calmer now. His gray messy hair, his squinty brown eyes, his well-trimmed beard — all of it seems calmer now. Lana won’t tell him anything about her suicide attempts. Everybody else in her life knows she’s struggling, but not Vladimir. She wants him to see her at her lightest, at her wittiest, to see that part of her untouched by borderline personality disorder. As the kids fall and get up again, fall and get up again at the edge of her vision, she thinks of Camus’ quote — “Should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?” —, and then chuckles and remarks as Vladimir takes another gulp of his water: “Since we ran out of milk, I guess killing myself is the better option.”

Vladimir looks at her slightly bemused, then laughs, but she can tell he doesn’t quite follow. Then they are both laughing. There’s mutual understanding between them. It’s almost like father-daughter complicity, but she doesn’t want to see it that way, because she recognizes her pattern of eternally trying to find a healthy paternal figure, and then she’d confront once again that this is something she never had from her own dad and never will.

“I like you, girl, your bluntness, your deep voice, your knowledge of philosophy,” he states. “What was your name again?”

She now feels over the moon. She’s glowing. He definitely hasn’t misgendered her! She’s been on hormone replacement therapy for over four years, and she sometimes still doesn’t pass. But Vlad — I can call you Vlad, right? — just assumed she was a she, and, girl, that feels like heaven. She wants to scream, “Hello, customer service, is this what gender euphoria looks like? ‘Cuz I want moarrr of it! Can I make a bulk order, plz?” But she would give herself away, so she just replies, “My name is Lana Isa”.

These small things are so huge. So huge. And she values them even more since she had an out-of-body experience not too long ago after smoking some pot. That trip changed how she feels about life forever. Her soul got sucked in into a vacuum at an atomic level, hurled into a different realm, and she kept getting sucked in, traveling at the speed of light. Terrified, she realized how small she was, an entity of particles like any other, and she felt the meaninglessness of her existence on the earth. Somehow, feeling so tiny made her feel enormous, and she became a totally different person, valuing all of these small things in life that mean nothing but mean so much.

“Listen, Lana. I’m also a painter. I’d love to paint a portrait of you reading Camus. Would you let me paint you?”

She looks at him, shining in his green sweater, with that kind little mouth of his, and decides not to answer that question. She asks for the check and wants to pay, because it was her idea to have lunch together in the first place, but Vlad insists and insists, and she eventually just gives in. After all, she’s used to men paying for things. Recently she’s been revealing to people that she’s been living a double life as a sex worker for years, because doing it hush-hush has done her mental-health no good whatsoever, and because she’s so fucking talented, but she won’t confess this to Vlad either. Lana keeps it to herself because she doesn’t think she and Vlad are at that point yet, even if this is part of who she is and of her present life. The pandemic didn’t stop her from making extra cash — all these platforms offering video services saved her ass. She’s now putting the sex money away to fund her gender affirmation surgery, because her salary as a programmer is just not enough. This city is damn expensive, girl.

She’s not ready to say goodbye, and she takes him to her favorite alternative gift shop, a place she normally never shares with anyone, because it is her own Hidden Gem in London for buying unconventional gifts. She thinks it is funny how she’s told all of her friends now about her more dramatic experiences but not about this gift shop, but in Vlad’s case, it is the other way around. Today she’s another version of herself. Why did she always keep this store such a secret, but now suddenly she takes this guy? Maybe because she feels sorry for Vlad’s loneliness — she knows that feeling very well. Or is it because they have bonded for real? Or because he laughed at her Camus comment?

After all, they met only six cigarettes ago. She had been taking a stroll in South Bank along the Thames, heading west towards the National Theater, enjoying this increasingly rare warm and sunny day, most certainly one of the last of the year. The sun was just bright enough that she could close her eyes facing straight into it and feel a warm breeze through her eyelids.

She was taking deep breaths to soak it all in and listening to music when a man in his sixties asked her if he could take her picture holding her cigarette with a backdrop of St Paul’s Cathedral across the Thames. She asked why. He replied that he liked taking pictures of strangers. She wondered if he liked to take pictures of sad strangers, if he could even see her sadness, or if she hid it well.

She had actually woken up feeling very sexy. Maybe that was it. Sexy is photogenic. She left her studio after renaming her plants with female and queer names because men are trash: Miss Lolita, Adura, Rapunzel, August, Lil-Cupcake, Farina, Lily, Durjana and Sembilu. She put on a gray over-the-knee skirt and matching jacket with a hot pink top underneath, wearing her hair down and wild. This walk would be her first time venturing out of her apartment after that wanker broke her heart four days ago.

She left the studio where she was supposed to live with the previous wanker (are they trash or whaAaAat?) with no destination in mind, determined only to leave the house so as not to fall into a spiral of depression again. Now that she has finished her master’s degree and is taking some time off from her day job to focus on therapy and recovery, she has more free time to wander around the city. That randomness gave her the room to meet Vlad and agree to pose for him, and to have lunch together.

And now they don’t want to say goodbye because they have both felt damned lonely during the multiple lockdowns, and this warmth is a big deal. She needed a day like this. She’s so glad she wasn’t afraid to talk to a stranger. She tells him, grabbing his arm, “You know, we are so focused on ourselves that we forget the humanity of strangers that we come across in our everyday lives.”

Lana is choosing to be sassy and cheerful and not to tell him all the horrors she’s been through. It suddenly hits her: what has he been through? We all go through shit, and he’s old-ish — he must have been through shitshitshit. Does he also have self destructive patterns? Has he lost someone he loves? What happened to his relationship with his family? What is it, Vlad? Let’s be honest. Or not. Maybe another day. Let’s enjoy each other’s company without digging up our traumas. If only for today, Vlad, let’s keep being strangers, let’s keep talking about Tolstoy and Wollstonecraft, let’s keep it simple, Vlad, let’s look at trinkets, let’s ignore all the shitshishit to create an illusion of perfection only for today.

She’s determined not to ask him about his shitshishit, nor tell him about hers, so she holds a figurine of the Queen and admires how well it is made. The small things, you know? After describing it thoughtfully, she tells him, just in case he’s never thought about it — and because she often needs to convince herself — “Don’t these little details make life worth living?”

Vlad smiles back at her. He seems so serene and good-natured. She wouldn’t like to spoil what they have right now. She thinks maybe it would be better to part forever, to keep it small, to remain eternal strangers, to crystallize this idealized encounter for good. Or would it? This damn pandemic has been so harsh for both of them, their solitudes will retreat at least once more if he paints her portrait. Plus, that would give her yet another reason to stick around here one more day. With Elizabeth II, also dressed in pink and gray, still in her hand, Lana looks directly into Vlad’s eyes and says, “I want to wear this exact same outfit when you paint me.”

{Painting credit: @morganico_com}

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

More tales of the pandemic based on real stories at
Love in the Time of Coronavirus,
by Patricia Martín Rivas.