Miranda thought it might have been Tuesday. Or Wednesday. She’d stopped keeping track and couldn’t find a reason to start again. She had decided to take a walk alone today. It was beautiful out, and the sky was clear, blue, and unwavering. She hadn’t done much of her work for school, even though it was due the next day, but she simply did not have the motivation, which was uncharacteristic; Miranda was typically very motivated, almost hard-wired to perform with compulsive competence. However, ever since the current situation had grown dire, she’d switched to online schooling, which she loathed because it felt somehow less significant. Since she’d left home, Miranda found everything she did to be more difficult than it once was, even though she was in a notably idyllic place. In fact, it made her feel more than a little guilty that she was surrounded by such natural beauty while her family was trapped in the confines of their home. The epidemic was becoming more and more severe, and she knew that it was the right decision to have left home, but it didn’t make leaving any less challenging. Miranda’s father and brother suffered from a number of immunity issues; they were at risk, and she knew it. She’d watched enough news to recognize that they were among the most threatened by the disease, which made it all the more frightening. It’s not that she didn’t miss them, because she did, tremendously; but, in truth, the hardest part about being away from home during this time was being away from her mother. Miranda didn’t like being in a different state while her mom stayed home with her brother and dad. She’d done it before, like when she first moved into her dorm room across the country, but this was different.
There was something much more frightening about being away from home during worldwide cataclysm than being away from home for school. And Miranda had never experienced a worldwide cataclysm before or, at least, she hadn’t been old enough to recognize and internalize what was going on. What she did know for sure is that the whole situation made doing schoolwork seem like a profoundly futile endeavor. In fact, when she thought back on her previous preoccupations, they all felt laughable in the face of the apocalypse. In that moment, she looked up at the snow-covered mountain tops, and she could just make out the afternoon sun gleaming over the top.
Miranda felt like the hapless girl in the horror movie confronting invisible threats that lurked beyond every corner. She remembered her grandmother talking about her childhood memories of World War II and the evil Nazis. She remembered her mother talking about the fall of the twin towers during 9/11, and the villainous terrorists. But now, she was confronting an amorphous entity, a new kind of beast, that could take any form and waft into the window on a soft breeze and linger like a kiss on her fingertips. She imagined swatting away the invisible microbes in front of her.
Miranda watched the clouds move quickly through the sky to reveal the mountain tops once again. Amidst all that was going on, the peaks were still bold and unchanged. She knew they would be waiting for her, as soon as the danger passed.
Los Angeles, California
Julie walked the dog up the street for the fourth time that day. But this time, the dog planted his feet, refusing to continue up a route he had walked so many times in the past couple of hours. This particular street was usually populated by people walking and children playing; now, it was empty and quiet, almost silent. It was unnerving. Julie had already done two three-mile runs today. Perpetual motion was the only thing that could distract her from the anxiety that threatened to overwhelm her. Running let her concentrate on the immediate sensation of breathing and the rhythmic sound of her feet hitting the pavement, and not the chaos and looming tragedy around her. It was hard being alone in a house with just her husband and son, just as it had been hard when Miranda had first left for school the past summer, but it was especially trying in a time of such mass hysteria and vulnerability. She missed the feminine energy in their home.
While Julie longed for the easy companionship of her daughter, she recognized that Miranda was in a place that was both beautiful and safe. And Julie, herself, recognized the relative privilege of her own situation; she could take walks and look out over an expansive backyard, a safe haven from the threat that lay beyond in the congested region. As she turned to walk back, a car sped by and the dog cringed, frightened by the harsh churning noise of the engine. Julie winced too, realizing that she couldn’t even characterize what it was that she was afraid of anymore, and they continued to walk back towards home. She dreaded these returns more than anything.
Later that night, Julie called her mother, as she did most nights. She was a ninety-year-old woman living at the epicenter of the pandemic in an apartment that was large by New York standards but small by any other. They talked for an hour as Julie sat at her desk with the dog sleeping at her feet. The sun had set long ago, but a thick layer of clouds could still be seen in the sky. She assessed the span of the front yard, her guarded kingdom, and tried to remember what it had been like to break free of those barriers.
New York, New York
Ruth sat resignedly in her worn armchair, allowing the heat of her apartment to envelop her. She kept the temperature set at about 80 degrees; she liked it that way. Ruth watched the news and thought to herself about the many crises she’d experienced in her lifetime over the course of nearly a century; the Second World War, Vietnam, and 9/11, all of which had a distinct, tangible quality to them in a horrific and tragic way. When she’d recently made one of her many attempts to organize her apartment, Ruth came across the dusty composition notebook she’d kept as a young girl, in the early days of World War II, when war was still exciting. This was her “war book”; it was filled with clippings and pictures that she had painstakingly clipped from newspapers to chronicle the momentous and thrilling events of the time. It was only later that she understood how destructive war was and how many lives were lost. But, as a young girl, she viewed war as a battle between good people and bad people with clear-cut villains, easy to understand and define and sometimes justify. As a child, she had felt untouchable, invincible. Not this time.
Ruth idly watched the news on the television, which seemed to be speaking directly to her, cautioning her. Outside, the rain continued to fall steadily. It wouldn’t stop for this. The world that existed outside her clouded window didn’t care if she lived or died. Even if she was gone, the sun would continue to shine and the wind would continue to blow. Ruth tried to wipe the condensation off of her window, but it kept clouding up again in a monotonous cycle. Her view of the outside world was fully obscured, so she couldn’t even rely on the city to keep her company that night. She was frightened of forgetting what it looked like.
Emma Valentine is a writer living in California.