In this Time of the Plague

Crawford Hart 
Guest Contributor

Jean set the iron aside and held up her handiwork. She was actually an accomplished seamstress; now she was making face masks.

“There must have been 50 videos on different ways to make these,” she said. “I liked this one best.”

“Nice,” I said. And it was. Two layers of thick cloth sewn together with an opening at the top to insert a paper towel, I guess for that added sense of protection and safety. I pictured grains of sand pouring through a colander, which was the image I’d first used to explain how something small as virus would compare with the material of her masks. 

She’d nodded and ignored me. I got it. This wasn’t about science, or medicine, or health. Physical health, anyway. Mental health, definitely. She needed to feel like she was doing something proactive, taking a stand against the incomprehensible. 

She added the mask to her growing pile. 

“How many is that?” I asked.

“Ten, I think.” 

She planned to send them to friends and family. I didn’t bother pointing out that most of them would probably be making their own masks, needing to fill the same empty time that was making her so antsy.

All things considered, we didn’t have it bad. I was furloughed from my job, but it was government work; when the dust settled, they’d still be there and so would my job. Her teaching gig had almost instantly moved to a live, interactive digital classroom and so the paychecks were still flowing, at least for a while. Dallas has its share of cases but was by no means a hotspot. The freezer and cupboards were full and we even had a couple of 24 packs of toilet paper on the shelf. Life was good. Almost.

Nonetheless, she wasn’t taking it well. 

“You’re a dog,” she said. “A bowl of food, a warm bed, and you’re fine. I’m a cat. I need my routines.”

It’s not that she envied my outward calm. She actually resented me for not freaking out. “Doesn’t it bother you? Not knowing what’s going to happen?”

“Two things I know about the future: one, it isn’t here yet. Two, when it gets here it’ll be a lot different than you expected.” It sounded good. I guess I even believed it. But it was still bullshit. 

I’m not oblivious, and I read news from enough different sources that I have a fair picture of what’s going on. I know my age is in the risk demographic. I know that the hundred thousand infected patients in the land were each taken by surprise. No one expects to get sick and die. But no one’s special. Certainly not me.

But Jean can’t beat her fists against the virus, or the disruptions to our daily lives, or the lunatic politics that has infected us worse than the plague. So she has to beat against me and be angry at me for not acting scared. I think she even gets that showing fear is not part of my job. Letting her veer out of control, and then guiding her back just in time, and telling her we’ll be just fine — that’s my job.

Most of the time, I’m even able to pull it off.

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