It’s a few months into the pandemic, and in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I now live, we are not supposed to be on the streets unless we need food, or for some other emergency. I haven’t been out except to walk my dog Natasha, usually really early before anyone is about, but today I have to go to the fruit store around the corner. My legs are trembling with lack of exercise and anxiety. And, masked, I can hardly breathe. It is a tiny store, but food stores are considered essential, and it has remained open during the entire pandemic, in spite of the fact that if anyone else is in there it’s impossible to physically distance. It’s hot out as well, and my breath behind the heavy cotton mask, feels moist. After the fog on my eyeglasses clears a bit, I see that there are three women behind the counter where you pile your fruit, next to the fruits and vegetables of other customers, their bananas, their green beans, their papayas, their enormous bags of tomatoes, until it can all be weighed, and the cost calculated in pencil on any paper that’s around. Huge men carrying wood or cardboard crates on their shoulders, of potatoes, oranges, mangos, pass across you in the tight space, throwing the crates over your head to some shelf you will never be able to reach. Okay, there is someone else shopping–she is wearing a mask and putting a blue plastic bag full of potatoes and another of mangos, on the counter. There are no bananas left except two that are too damaged, so I put in my shopping bag a large bunch of the tiny ones that look like fingers, some green grapes and some minuscule plums, only the ripe ones. Those that are red rather than the color of blood, are sour—just looking at them, I feel saliva rush into my puckered mouth. I have my own bags and hope I can make it home. The fruit is always heavier than it looks.
I’m germinating a painting, which means that I’ve begun a painting that is sitting on my easel waiting for me to work on it. Or waiting for me to stare at it, or waiting for it to tell me something I want to hear. I have to be open to it.
Drawing is never reproducing—in order to see you have to know how to look, and you have to know what you are looking at. Olga Tokarczuk.
I’m germinating, in the same way, some writing.
I’ve just woken from a nap, and I’m still tired. The book I was reading, on my chest now, is Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments. The first time I read it, many years ago, I was unable to appreciate it’s skillful structure, beautiful writing that made you want to continue reading even though it was only about her relationship with her mother, and the small apartment house they lived in. We lived near each other, Vivian and I, and in the small world of Manhattan authors, we knew each other. “We should have coffee,” we said when we saw each other. But we never did. I skimmed her book at the time, way too fast for that kind of book, curious, the way I read other books by contemporaries, wondering if I wished I’d written it. It was a memoir, unusual then, in those days when fiction was the thing.
Gornick says, To fashion a persona out of one’s own undisguised self is no easy thing. The persona in a nonfiction narrative is an unsurrogated one. Here the writer must identify with those very same defenses and embarrassments that the novelist or the poet is once removed from. It’s like lying down on the couch in public. Yet the creation of such a persona in a memoir is vital.
Oddly it’s way too warm already, some days over ninety degrees, which adds to the feeling that the world is coming to an end. And in this current location, close to seven thousand feet high in Central Mexico, the ending will be hot.
So far I’m not doing anything constructive. Or at least I don’t think so. My work is growing by creeps and grounds, as John Berryman said. You never know though—something could be happening that is not what you think is constructive. You could be dreaming of the solution to an unfinished story and not yet know that’s what the dream was. Or your immune cells could be fighting off something disastrous. I tend to think most about the thing that I don’t know could be happening that is exactly what I’m afraid might happen. A covid clutch in my nose from a walk. A cell splitting, growing the wrong way, growing too fast, turning a weird color, in my liver, my breast.
It’s impossible to keep things as clean as recommended. This is scary too. I don’t tell anyone that I am not cleaning and disinfecting each piece of food, or each box that is delivered or bought. I do my best, and leave stuff, in their bags or boxes, right outside my door for a while. Hopefully it is long enough for any stray virus to die. Phone calls with friends or relatives lead to suggestions, the same ones again and again, or imprecations, cautions, and more rules: wear a mask, wear two masks, it has to be an N95 mask. Don’t go out at all, don’t go shopping. If you do, wear rubber gloves. Don’t touch your face, especially your mouth and eyes. And complaints: Half of those people outside weren’t wearing masks. Don’t these people know that a mask has to be worn over the nose as well as the mouth? My neighbors had a party last night. I heard singing till 4 a.m. Can you imagine? They will all come down with it.
But you have to go out. You have to pay your bills. You have to walk the dog. We can only do so much depending on our circumstances. It becomes clearer how our circumstances differ.Some people have lost their jobs. Others can work from home. I try to imagine what it would be like to have my three children, suddenly toddlers, or a few years older, home indoors all day long. Some people have rooftops to hang out on, and watch the sunset with a drink in hand. Others can roam country roads and see no one, while some live in apartments they are afraid to leave, while many must chance a small enclosed elevator if they want to go anywhere. Some have large apartments while others have many sharing tiny spaces. Some people are buying and moving to new homes in less populated areas, while others have decided to sit out the pandemic on some unpopulous Mexican beach, drinking margaritas and eating grilled fish. Some have lost their jobs, and will soon be evicted. Those with cars can drive freely, can access areas where there are few people. Those with no vehicles no longer have transportation at all without risking a cab ride. Who would risk taking a bus? A subway?
Living in the Colonial Centro near the Jardin was exciting and felt very safe. It is architecturally sensational, and close to the biblioteca, cafes, restaurants, the Bellas Artes, galleries, and the theater. After a play or an evening of chamber music, friends had to wait for taxis while I walked the few blocks home. There was the Jardin to people-watch, the artisan’s market, small groceries and fruterias, ice-cream stores. Many of the churches are in Centro, and almost every day there was an unforeseen parade celebrating some revolution, or a saint’s day, or just a parade of kindergartners celebrating spring, in costumes of flowers, ladybugs and bees. Many days I stepped outside to see my entire street decorated with colored flags, and various shrines and altars, and door decorations that had appeared overnight like magic.
But now that nothing is going on, no holidays celebrated in crowds, and we are all indoors, all day, every day, I wonder what I like about this place. Living in the Centro just seems like a problem.This morning I found my telephone bill on my tiny patio in front of my apartment door. It had been shoved through the mail slot but as there’s no mailbox anymore it’s landed on the concrete near my planters. But just a while ago, while walking Natasha, I saw a man, holding a bunch of those bills, hand delivering them. So should I risk picking it up? Or leave it to get stepped on or rained on? The benches in the Plaza Civica, and the churchyard, and those in the Jardin have been wrapped in yellow tape, disinviting anyone to sit for a few moments, watch the pigeons, have some tamales and atole for breakfast. The line in front of the electric company where people wait to pay their bills in the machines, stretches way out into the street. It’s pretty hard for those on line to stay six feet apart. Some have spread to wait across the street. Tourists are returning to the many hotels and smaller B & Bs on these streets, and not all of them wear masks, as if they are coming from a place with no pandemic. Or they think things will be different here. It’s hard to avoid them on these narrow cobblestone streets. The artisan’s market which had closed for the first time in all the years I’ve lived here, has opened, with a table at the end of each street, a huge bottle of hand sanitizer on each table, that no one seems to be using. Inside my apartment, although I have four skylights so most of my rooms are not dark, I have no window to the street. Nor do I see even one tree or growing organic thing except for my own houseplants. I have no idea what is going on in the street, or what the weather is. I am beginning to feel as if I am in a deep hole, with no connection to the outside. I have plenty of time to mull the decision to rent this apartment in the Centro. In fact, I have plenty of time to think about all my other decisions, current and in the past, which now mostly seem to have been mistaken, wrong or simply stupid. Like why am I a writer, why couldn’t I be friendlier to my agents, why did I get married at twenty? Why did I have kids? Why did I leave blank for blank? I think about all the ways I could have been a more successful author, with more money, a better mother. Now that it’s too late I think I finally know how to do things. Now the hole of my apartment spirals downward like a drain.
Our past is bleak; our future is dim, said Toni Morrison. I hope that after a few more days of torpor maybe I’ll begin to write something. Toni Morrison also said; We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we have language. That may be the measure of our lives.
I like this painting now, that’s on my easel. The fact of not being able to concentrate due to underlying fear and depression has compelled me to push ahead thoughtlessly, maybe just for movement, nervous energy, a release from torpor, to a riskier place. Of course it could have resulted as well into a muddy mess.
Today, taking Natasha out, I couldn’t remember if it’s Monday or Tuesday. But I vaguely recall a dream last night where I was in some rural place, with streams and trees and grass. Natasha was off-leash, and I kept needing to rescue her—I recall no details, but just the feeling that I was successful.Meanwhile, on the streets, walking in the direction of the Plaza Civica, there are buses, taxis, people walking and sitting (some of the tape on the benches pulled aside). The woman with her tamale cart is there again, but she has only one customer rather than the usual line.
Yesterday Susan and Lisa brought me a mask they insist is the best, a paper filter that fits over the ears and has a piece of metal over one’s nose that you can press so that it fits tighter. They were masked, but sitting together in the front of Lisa’s white Honda. They hand me the mask in a plastic bag through the window, and I hand them, also in a bag, some books I’d read. “You two are not six feet apart,” I say, as they drive by. I’m upset that they are so afraid to see or touch me, and won’t enter my windowless apartment, but are always giving me advice on staying safe. I am envious that they, with two vehicles between them, are spending many days together, somewhere. Anywhere.
On waking and looking in the mirror I see how much I’ve aged in this last year. I’ve finally become an old lady, with sallow skin, hooded eyes, thin lips with a downward turn I never had before, wrinkles, and shedding hair and skin like a dog.
Dream: I am on a trip with many others. We have gone, as a group into a tourist store that seems also to be buffet-style restaurant, where a person wearing an apron and a white cap is cooking something, and you go over with your dish and if you like it, she/he will put some on your plate. I suddenly see, amongst this group, my daughter, who I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m not looking closely at the food but I see a lot of things that look interesting, and smell delicious. I have to go to the bathroom before I eat anything, or let my daughter know I’m here. On the way, I see a cone on the black and white tile floor spewing French fries, which I try not to step on. I enter the ladies room, which actually has toilet seats, and toilet paper, and at least three stalls, and think I know what I want to eat: fried chicken, French fries and something else. Why three things, I wonder, and now I begin to hurry, afraid I’ll miss my group if they decide to leave, as I never know where I am or where I’m going, and I don’t want my daughter to leave without me. My group seems to be there, so I put in my order, and I wait. The food smells great, but I’m waiting and starving and have no idea what’s going on. Someone tells me, “they had to spray everything,” and someone else says, “I think there was a flood. All the food is contaminated.” I am very disappointed, and go to look for my daughter who has most likely left with another group, when I feel something strange at the back of my head towards the left side, which was hurt when I ran to get the phone when Toni was dying in the Clinica, and Maria was cleaning, and the tile floor was wet and soapy, and I slid, falling on my back and hitting my head hard against the floor. Maria helped me up and asked if I was okay. “Yes,” I said. But the pain was intense and I went to get a bag of peas from the freezer to apply to my head in case of a brain bleed. In the meantime, I’d missed the call about Toni, and only later did Itala call to let me know that Toni had indeed passed away. I’ve had some pain in that area of my head every once in a while, even after three or four months. Now I have the feeling there’s part of my skull that wants to fall off, and I try, with my hand, to keep it in place, under my hair, so no one can see. But when I put my hand back there a large wedge of bone comes off into my palm. It’s thin and dry, as if it hasn’t been attached well for quite a while, and there are some dried blood stains on its inner side. “I knew my skull was broken,” I whisper.
I read, The sudden emergence of new viruses could be linked to cosmic events related to the well-known eleven-year sunspot cycle. During periods of minimal sunspots a general weakening of the magnetic field occurs. This is accompanied by an increase in the flux of Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCRs) and charged interstellar and interplanetary dust particles. We have been at the lowest minimum for well over a century. The emotion surrounding the COVID-19 epidemic is unparalleled, and it is the origin of this emergent virus that has raised the most angst. Analyzing the reliable genetic, epidemiological, geophysical, astrophysical data leads to the hypothesis that COVID-19 arrived via meteorite, that struck northeast China on October 11, 2019. If a fragment of a fragile carbonaceous meteorite entered the mesosphere and the stratosphere at a high speed of 30 km/s, its outer envelope, carrying trillions of viruses, bacteria, and other primary source cells (for the cosmic replication of the COVID-19 virus), may have been dispersed in the mesosphere, stratosphere and troposphere. A reasonable assumption is that the fireball that struck 2,000 km north of Wuhan may have been part of a wide tube of debris, the bulk of which was deposited in the stratosphere. That it exploded over China is due only tothe vagaries of chance.
I worry about how I will pay my rent during this pandemic, which requires more than one visit to an ATM to collect all the pesos, and then another taxi ride to the store my landlord also owns, where Lupita counts my money with me, and provides me with a receipt. At first I gave Lupita the entire envelope, my rent money inside, and somehow, despite my careful counting and recounting she found a thousand pesos missing, and the next time, two thousand. It took me a while to believe that she was stealing some of my rent money. Eventually I told my landlord, and said I would hand my money only to him. Now I lay it all out on one of the tables in their store and count it myself, while Lupita watches. We are always very friendly and polite. Lupita has never said anything about the money, nor have I, and I have never gotten it back.
There was a huge party with over a hundred people, all Mexicans, in the Bull Ring. Someone called the Civil Protective Agency to report it as there are not supposed to be large gatherings during the pandemic. It took the Agency people over an hour to get there. “If I get it, I get it (Covid),” one of the musicians said. Que sera, sera.
The dream begins at some summer camp, though something I’ve forgotten has come before, I can tell, but cannot bring it to mind. A woman and I, and some others, are on a hike in the countryside, and it is hot as hell. We are sweating profusely, and are very red, either from sunburn, or just heat. The other woman is wearing old lady shorts, loose, and almost to her knees, and a sleeveless t-shirt. Pink bra straps are visible near her shoulders, where they have created deep channels. “I don’t drink soda, but I’m really craving a coke right now, with lots of crushed ice,” I say. “Me too,” she says, standing still for a moment. “I’m going to buy one.” I don’t recall seeing any store, nor have we passed anything but trees, boulders and grass, and portions of blacktop road smelling of melting tar, mixed with pebbles. I recall that I have no money with me—it never occurred to me that on this hike I’d want to buy anything. “I’m going back to camp to get some money,” I say. I turn with misgivings, as everything, everywhere I walk looks the same, and I can’t recall how many times the road has curved into a turn. When I look behind me it looks exactly the same as going forward, and I can imagine that that’s the way I really should be going. Just as I begin to panic, I wake up in someone’s house on their green couch near a bay window. I don’t know how I got there, but at least I can ask how to get to my camp. I can’t recall if I got the money. I have no idea how I got there, what time of day it is, or where I am. I am at least wearing all my clothes. Seeing the top of a banister, I walk downstairs and am relieved to see a woman seated on a blue couch. She’s reading a magazine but doesn’t seem surprised to see me. She asks me some questions I don’t know the answers to. “Thanks for putting me up.” I say, embarrassed. I’ve read about people drinking so much alcohol they don’t remember anything, but I have never done that. An old man in bedroom slippers slinks into the room and sits in a large easy chair. “I am supposed to be at a nearby camp,” I say, “but I can’t recall the name. “Or where it is.”“Camp Emanuelle,” he says. “I know it.” .I feel greatly relieved. “Yeah, it’s a camp for the semi-disabled,” he says. I’m not a hundred percent sure he’s right, but he seems positive, and that’s reassuring. He stands up and looks out the window, and points. “That’s Rockaway,” he says. I don’t know what to think. I know Rockaway is a beach city near the Atlantic Ocean and Camp Emanuelle is in the Catskills.
His travels were circular, wending their way back to their point of departure, until it becomes clear that their aim was not far off, but rather here, on the inside of the body. Olga Tokarczuk.
She also writes, Tales have a kind of inertia that is never possible to fully control.
I finally go to pay my cable/WiFi bill at a nearby OXXO, which is a store much like a US 7-Eleven. They sell emergency groceries, many snacks, like chips, cookies, a huge variety of beers, and even dog treats. You can pay bills there, or put money into your cell phones for another month or week of service. The woman at the cash register has no mask or gloves, and neither does the person in front of me, who I try to stay six feet behind, as the man behind me keeps getting closer. I watch the woman in front of me, who, while waiting her turn at the cashier touches everything: bags of chips, the metal at the front of the shelves, some jars of baby food, running her hand along the top of the ice-cream freezer off to our side.
On the way home I saw my neighbor Esteban sewing home-made masks, so I went carefully up the two steps (in Mexico the risers in a staircase can be of different heights) into his front room where, on the counter, he has his sewing machine, and where he also displays candies and bottled water. I bought two cubrebocas, made from bright cartoon fabric that might at other times be used to make children’s pajamas, one red with a truck design, and one white with tiny dogs.
We are hardwired into narrative, the purpose and not only the effect of memory. Even our interpretation of dreams, writes Karen Brennan, reveals a wish to make sense of the fragmentary, to weave into story, into history, an event, which unconnected to the life, may be troubling. Because it’s unbelievable, isn’t it, when life suddenly assumes the grotesque and overblown proportion of dreams? But which is the construction, the dream or the life? It occurs to me that we approach our dreams like “fiction,” like impossibilities, that we’ve divided dream from life in order to preserve the smooth, untroubled narrative of our daily-ness.
Dream: My husband Hal and I are at an artist retreat, The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. It seems much larger than usual and there is a huge crowd on the grounds, as if for some special event. This is unusual as mostly the few artists in residence spend our days in our studios, and it is rare to see anyone, no less more than a few people, anywhere. There’s a huge courtyard, and through a glass wall we are watching the cooks training new cooks, teaching them how to slice things, meats and vegetables. They prepare some yogurt with tiny fruits cut in, in plastic champagne glasses, and give them out to each of us in the courtyard. Hal and I are seated against a cool stone wall. He has his arm around me, yet a blonde woman I don’t recognize comes over to us. “I’m leaving,” she says to Hal, bends down and kisses him on his mouth for what seems like more than a minute. “That was wonderful,” Hal says, his blue eyes deepening. Her lipstick, bright red, is smeared. HaI notices, and automatically wipes his own mouth. I want to ask who she is, but they kiss again, and Hal moans, without removing his arm from over my shoulders. I am only inches from both of them. “Who is she?” I ask. “Where did you meet her?” He doesn’t answer. “Are you having a relationship with her?” I ask. “Isn’t it impolite to do this in front of me?” Then I’m sorry I’d said that. Do I prefer that they do that in some private place? I must have walked away because the next thing I recall is eating my yogurt while standing in a group of people. A very young blonde comes over to me. “There’s an issue about the yogurt,” she says. “What?” I say. “Have mine.” She takes it, and says, “I’m glad you responded that way, otherwise I was going to report you. Now she looks a bit scary, her yellow hair standing straight up, some metal studs in her chin and her tongue. Suddenly I realize how dangerous people can be, and I no longer feel like eating anything. A very thin guy with poor posture and huge dandruff flakes adorning his shoulders, wants to know how well he’ll do at this art colony. “I’m sure you’ll do fine,” I say. “It’s a great place.” He says he’s lost his sleeping bag and I tell him where to find a new one. I’m impatient to get away and to find Hal but I seem to have gotten into a group of people who have left the VCCA. We are on an overnight to a tourist site, it is getting dark, and I am paired with a woman and her child. I worry about Hal not knowing where I am—that I’ve gone away, overnight, without telling him. But where is he? Some construction workers across the street shout at the young woman I’m with who is wearing striped overalls, and a pearl necklace. I have no idea what they’ve said as it’s in another language. She tells them off loudly. Will I have to start worrying about making myself look thin, young, and attractive again?
Everything has to be put into words, explained, defined, rationalized. It didn’t feel like the truth to me—more like the world wrought small, said Susan Sontag. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world—in order to set up a shadow world of ‘meanings.’ Yet didn’t she devote her life to the huge effort of interpreting as a way of seeking “truth?” She may not have found it but her efforts are fascinating.
I spend some time every day listening to Governor Cuomo’s briefings. Though very boring, as he drones in his New York accent, it feels good to hear a voice in my daily background—the normal voice of a human being and not having to be on guard that I am being lied to. I listen to some of Trump’s speeches because, I guess, I must enjoy being horrified. Everything about him is creepy, what he says, but also how he looks, including the movement of his hands when he speaks, in and out, both at the same time, as if he’s playing an accordion. I try it sometimes, this alien motion of the hands, just to see how it feels.
Dream: I am traveling with a group to Mexico City. We are in the house of a famous sculptor and art teacher, who looks a bit like Maestro Sanchez, the printmaker in San Miguel. The house is on a wide street and, looking out a window I see there are two horses walking along the street, as there used to be on my Brooklyn street when I was a child, and which is not uncommon in San Miguel. A group of us are leaving, going to see something that perhaps the Maestro has recommended. He says goodbye to us; he is staying. I can’t keep up with the group—the Mexico City streets are crowded–and they just disappear. Ordinarily I’d panic, but this time I note that I don’t mind going at my own pace, enjoying myself, getting immersed in the beauty of the architecture. Some ancient buildings have been beautifully restored, while others, right next door, have not been repaired since the earthquake of 1986, and look as if they’ve been bombed. However, when I want to return to the Maestro’s house where we are all to meet, I can’t recall which way I’ve turned to get where I am. I walk one way that seems correct, though I’m not sure. I walk through a passage with some stores, and turn when I hear a strange noise to see part of the passageway’s ceiling has fallen. There is a lot of black stuff, old bricks and metal and dirt. When I look back again, I see that where the ceiling fell there is a side passage, a long dark, twisty tunnel with a light at the end. Could I have come through here? I wonder. Though not sure, I walk toward the light, moving to the sides of the tunnel as more debris falls. Then I see the Maestro. He’s in the middle of a huge crowd. “What is your address?” I shout. “What is your address?” I yell, knowing I am so lucky to see him, and if I can only get his attention, I can find his house.
Yesterday while walking Natasha I squeezed past a couple ambling towards me on the narrow Calle Relox. We were all wearing masks and they were almost past me on the narrow street before we recognized each other. I saw her familiar nimbus of very curly white hair. As people pass with their masks, I wonder, do I know you? How much of someone do we have to see in order to recognize them? A few weeks ago I was at the front of Juan’s Café, jittery, but ordering a mango smoothie to go. A woman came to the door dressed, as I usually am, in black. Her arms and legs were completely covered. She also wore a mask, big sunglasses, and a hat. When she spoke I realized it was my good friend of forty years, Lucille.
I found a huge package of rubber gloves I’d gotten from Julie when she moved back to Boston. She used them for painting. I’ll use them for shopping. I don’t try to keep clean while painting. Right now I’m trying to resolve one area on this painting that I don’t like, which is not able to be fixed without doing something to some other spot or spots, changing something I liked. I think I’ll go lie down on my bed next to Natasha.
“Who among us dares to assert that our memories aren’t tainted by time, sweetest poison and bitterest antidote, untrustworthy ally, and reliable annihilator?” Liyan Li, who also said, “What kind of life permits a person the right to become his own subject?”
In my new apartment, almost every day I hear a dog crying, barking, and whining for hours as if it’s being tortured. I think about my neighbors. Who are they? The beautiful blue house on one side of me is a tourist rental. The other side is sketchy. I hear sounds from there; sometimes I can even hear people talking. I mistake their telephone ring for mine. It takes a day or two before I realize that I am hearing the dogs getting bathed and groomed across the street, at the groomer. The one I take Natasha to. No one is being tortured.
Dream: Hal and I are being driven somewhere. We have left Natasha behind—with whom isn’t clear, but someone with other dogs for her to play with and who we are confident will take good care of her. We are riding backwards—seated facing the opposite direction we are being driven in—and we see that Natasha, upset at being left, is in the road running after us. “What should we do?” I yell. “Stop the car.” Hal says, “I’ll get her.” The car doesn’t stop. He opens his door, intending to catch her as she gets alongside us. But then he closes his door before we have even slowed down. “I missed her,” he says. Then I spot her again, almost alongside, but running close to the curb where there is a fast-funning stream leading to a sewage drain. I lose sight of her, and picture her getting sucked down the huge drain with a lot of leaves and garbage. It’s clear she’d never survive. I begin to cry, the tear at first causing a sharp pain at the top of my nose. Strangely, Hal seems unaffected and that causes me to be upset all afternoon. We have gone on some picnic among other people, having bag lunches at wooden tables and benches, but I can’t eat. All I can see is Natasha, her big dark eyes open wide, her white hair half wet, swirling down the drain.
Every day there’s death in the abstract. There are already 500,000 deaths in the United States. So while I sense the horror of that, it’s impossible to picture. I cried when I saw the Viet Nam monument in Washington DC. It was only a large abstract shape that encompassed you. It was black, appropriately dark, yet it reflected your image. One could see all the names at once—how very many were murdered. And that they had names. It was more moving than a figurative statue of anything or anybody.
I avoid thinking of Hal’s sudden death two years ago. After thirty years of being together almost every day and night we must share some molecules, some cells, some antibodies. Some minute bacteria, even our digestive biome. So we lived in each other and he lives in me. But did part of me die with him? What is noticeable is the level of the notness of his not being here. His absence is a presence. I am fine with not believing in any afterlife. I don’t believe that our souls go somewhere after our bodies die. I do not believe there is a heaven or a hell. It’s the forgetting that is frightening. The quality of disappearance. A fine poet, he wrote often and a lot. Books of his that were published fill my bookshelves. But who is reading them now? When I gave one of my favorites of Hal’s books to a couple who are my friends, they returned it after a few weeks. “It’s okay,” I said, holding it out to the husband. “I’m giving it to you.” He did not take it back. “We’re not poetry people,” he said.
Some virologists have estimated that there may be trillions of species of viruses on the planet. Our planet.
Someone said, I can’t recall who, that other people’s dreams are boring. Freud, Firencze and Jung used to get together, especially when traveling for lectures, and share their dreams for something to do, for amusement. Perhaps they could tell each other things they wouldn’t dare say outright? On the other hand, Freud said, whoever undertakes to write about themselves binds themselves to lying, concealment or flummery. Truth is not accessible.
Dream: Margo and I are finishing dinner in some city in Mexico, maybe Zacatecas, with a family we know who have recently bought a house there. I’m happy for them, but annoyed, and bored too, because I’m tired of expat’s favorite discussions about houses they have bought, houses they are buying, houses they are building, and houses they are renovating. I am surprised they haven’t bought a house in San Miguel de Allende, where Margo and I, and many other ex-pats live. This is a beautiful city too, larger than San Miguel, though the Colonial Centro seems smaller. There are also a few fabulous museums here. This house we are in is in a neighborhood far from Centro, where I’ve never been before, and I have no idea where I am. It is dark already, we have had another glass of wine, and I see that Margo is putting on her long maroon sweater, and is ready to leave. “Wait for me,” I say, looking for my black jean jacket which I find lying on a much admired piece of furniture. I run after Margo, trying to catch up while getting my arms into my jacket. It has gotten chilly as it does after dark in these altitudes. Margo is fluent in Spanish, so I let her lead the way. She also walks faster than I, and has a great sense of direction. She appears to be simply walking fast, while I feel as if I’m running. There are crowds walking in the same direction we are, and it’s hard for me to keep her in view. Margo goes down some stairs to get to a street on a lower level, while I stay on the street above, thinking I have a better chance of catching up, and that we will meet eventually. But this never happens, and I lose sight of her completely. “Margo, Margo,” I call again and again, panicking, and embarrassed to be yelling in the street. But I have no idea how to get back home to San Miguel. We did take a taxi to this city. There’s no answer from Margo, so I stop at a bookstore that has millions of shrink-wrapped books in piles, great towers of them, listing in every direction, and all in Spanish. But the lower floor of the store is part of an entrance to a tunnel that leads into a metropolitan subway. I assume Margo has gone home by train. Too anxious to try an unknown city’s subway, I search nearby streets for a taxi, though I can’t recall what color the taxis are here. In San Miguel they are green and in Mexico City they are pink. Soon it becomes clear that there are no taxis in this city. I try to stop people, not easy as everyone’s walking fast–probably hurrying to get home after work–if they can recommend a driver. When I begin to speak I realize that my bottom lip has a small hole in it, and every once in a while when I’m talking it makes a popping sound. Someone I have stopped points at a house. “There’s a driver,” he says. In front of the house is a car with a heavyset woman at the wheel. I get into the back of the car, which looks like any other car—no indication that it is a cab. She says something while staring straight ahead, so I don’t hear her, nor am I even sure she’s talking to me, or if she will go all the way to San Miguel. By this time I’m in a panic and am dying to get home, yet I haven’t asked the price of the trip, nor has she asked where I am going. So is this my ride? My lip pops.
Lynda Schor’s literary noir thriller, DEARTH, was recently published by New Meridian Arts Press. She is the author of 5 collections of short fiction, including Sexual Harassment Rules, published by Spuyten Duyvil Press. She’s had stories and articles in Mademoiselle, Ms, Playboy, GQ, The Village Voice and many literary journals and anthologies. She was on the writing faculty of the Eugene Lang College of The New School for 26 years. She now lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.