“Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity," wrote T.S. Eliot. To help make productive use of our self-isolation and social distancing, Lit Cleveland is offering free writing challenges each week via our newsletter. The following piece is a response to the Parallax prompt.
Eat and Wait
by Julie Harper
"God, I'd hate to be the one accused of buying the infected pangolin or whatever it was." I say this to my brother, on a call across town-- a 10 minute drive away. I hear the sucking of air through paper and he coughs a little, "Yeah, no. I heard it wasn't that."
Still. I can almost see the triangle we make from my phone, to a tower, to his. Maybe it's blue, or red, like shining a laser pointer through fog. A string of particles from me to him.
"I heard it was bats," he says.
"I heard it was Cheet-ohs." Not really, and maybe not the first case, but I've seen the pictures. People pushing carts full of soda and mounds of snack bags out of stores. That was early on. Next, they showed up with giant Ziploc bags over their heads.
Another drag. "You buy groceries lately?"
"A few days ago. I'm afraid to go back. I don't want to bring it home with me." I'm picturing the red, prickly-looking cartoon-virus orbs that accompany the the updates that keep popping up on my screen.
"Ah. You better, before it's all gone."
I do go. I pile my cart high with all the food I love because really, what else is there to do now but eat and wait? My broccoli is from California, and the potatoes are (oddly) from Michigan, the clementines from Chile. The tiny chocolate bars I like are German. There are little metal cars hanging from tabs at the end of the row. I throw a bunch in the top, the seat part, to take home for my kids. We can race them across the living room floor and build ramps and pretend we're car salesmen. Those are from China. The guy at the register is dismayed when I pay cash.
I call my brother again from the car.
"I did it. I went grocery shopping."
"Get any Cheet-ohs?" he laughs. I think about the red orbs again.
"I wish you and the girls could come over. I got a bunch of cars. We're going to play "dealership" with Monopoly money and everything."
I take a second in my driveway to read news updates. I might be stalling, remembering the red orbs, like sticky burrs on my hands, on the bags, on the food and the toy cars, my kitchen counter, my kids' clothes. Graphs pop up, with curves and numbers, and even red and blue triangles. Hundreds of thousands infected, tens of thousands dead. There's a map with shades of blue that have crept across the entire globe, China and Germany, Chile, Michigan and California. People that suddenly became little blue specks clustered together in warning to the rest of us.
Later, I send my brother the pictures of the cars in rows on my living room floor. He replies with pictures of their mac-and-cheese dinner. He added bacon, so he's proud of himself. We're just going to eat and wait.