- Hey babe!
- How are you?
I feel my heart leaping into my throat, pounding in my chest. A whole array of butterflies – small as a western pygmy blue, big as the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing – take flight in my stomach. An odd scarlet macaw flutters around, his clownish stature strange and out of place. The noisy bird feels lost in the cloud of silent but even more colourful wings.
Swiftly, not as graceful as those flying insects or the acrobatic bird, I grab the sleek metal instrument off the couch.
- Hey stranger. Bored, and you?
My fingers flye over the screen, touching keys that aren’t even really there. Sending words through space at the speed of light. Again, a buzz. As warm as any hug she could have given me.
- Missing you :’(
Again the leap, a smile breaks through on my face. Big enough to light the room.
The world outside is black. I can see my own reflection in the dark window. Lights glitter in other houses, so close and yet so far away. She hasn’t texted me back all day, or the day before that, or before that. Hasn’t returned my calls either. It’s silent in the house. It’s silent on the streets. The whole world has been silenced, she included. I look at my phone, the only source of light in the room.
- Hey sweety, haven’t heard your voice in forever. Miss it. Want to call later?
My message. She read it, I know she did. She chose not to respond. It’s been three days. I want to go over there, see what’s going on.
But I can’t.
A military truck is parked two streets over. Police officers make rounds through the town around every hour. During the day, one or two faces will show themselves outside. Sometimes they’re familiar, stop for a little chat from their point on the street. Their voices carry up to my little balcony and I realise I miss them. Miss people. Because more often than not, the scarce faces on the street aren’t known to me. Strangers, on their way to pick up some groceries. Or to deliver some goods to others they won’t really see, that they only get to talk from through a door. Whoever the people are on the street, they’re never her.
It breaks my heart, every time.
I don’t remember falling asleep. I didn’t even realise I was asleep until the buzzing of the phone wakes me up.
“Hello?” My voice is groggy, as if my brain can’t understand what it needs to do. It has been days since I spoke, forming words has become a strange sensation as if my brain has to restart very basic motoric skills.
Her voice makes my brain do a jumpstart procedure. Restarts it as if someone put defibrillator paddles on it. It electrifies me to my very core, in every positive as well as negative way.
“Babe, I’m so sorry I ignored you.” Just hearing her voice makes me want to cry. Her apology makes it even worse. I just want to kiss her. Take those apologies away. Tell her she has nothing to apologize for. I just want to see her. But before I can say anything, turn thoughts into sounds, I hear her voice again.
“My grandmother is sick.”
Her voice has become small, I can hear the tears threatening to break her. She has become as thin as ice after the first night of frost, ready to shatter and turn back into dust. My throat closes up, cuts of my voice.
“Coughing?” She hums.
“Fever?” Again I hear the humming.
“Tired? Shortness of breath? Muscle pain?” After every word, I hear her hum. After every hum, I feel my heart sink further and further, until it’s residing at the bottom of my feet. I can feel her becoming smaller, as if by every second more life drains out of her instead of her grandmother. The symptoms are crystal clear. That 90 year old fragile lady she’s told me so lovingly about is going to be taken from her home, put in quarantine, until corona takes her. A leper to the rest of the elderly community. To be contacted as limited as possible.
“Is there anything I can do for you?” I want to come over. Hug her. Hold her. But she’s been in direct contact with her grandmother, she is contagious. Not only in the way she’s been to me, infecting my heart the moment I saw her.
“Thanks love, but no. there’s not much we can do now.”
The most frustrating words in any language, I am sure of this.
“Do you just want to talk for a bit?” I ask, wishing to hear her voice just a bit longer. “Or we could watch a movie together?” I know I need to get her mind of the matter, or she won’t sleep tonight.
It becomes silent, all I hear is her muffled breathing. It isn’t steady anymore, betraying the fact that even she has a breaking point.
“Hey, hey sweety.” But I don’t know what more to say. Don’t know what to do now. I’ve never seen, or heard her become emotional. “You wanna watch Moana?” It feels weird, never before have I known the favourite movie of someone I dated. With her, I don’t have to think twice.
“Half of it?”, she manages to wring out of herself. I feel the faintest of smiles form around my lips. Break open what I had tried to lock away during the last couple of days.
“With some Hooked On You?” I have half a tub left in the freezer, she left it last time we had a movie night. It feels ages ago.
“I’m hooked on you,” she replies, and I know she’s smiling. Happy with her own snappy comeback.
I wish you were, babe. I wish you were, I think but I don’t say anything as I flip through Netflix looking for the movie. It will be the firs time we make it through the entire film in one sitting, unable to touch each other while watching.
Unable to touch afterwards.
She’s only half a city away from me, but it is worlds apart. An hour and a disease away. Corona breaking us apart day by day.
I can’t help but fear the changes made by the virus, spreading through bodies and communities like unrelenting wildfire. Destroying lungs, hearts, families and possibly…
Destroying what could have been happy ever after?
“You’re thinking again, aren’t you?”
Her voice brings me back, forces me to return to the present.
Blinking twice, three times, over and over for just a while, I look at the screen. Look at her face. See her red eyes, her wet cheeks. She’s infected, her fever running high every day. Her cough cutting through my heart every time I hear it. But she’s home. I dropped off fresh groceries this morning. Spoke to her while standing on the street, looking up to her balcony. She couldn’t attend her grandmother’s funeral. I think that’s what lowered her resistance, what made corona get a hold on her. Grief is a powerful force.
I smile back, apologetically. She shakes her head, amused by my silent confession.
“It won’t be forever babe,” she says, before being interrupted by a cough that leaves her breathless for a second. Leaves her without wind, under her wings or in her lungs at the same time.
“Remember that book?”, she looks at me, still trying to catch some air. “Where the lovers needed 50 years to finally be together?” I remember, being the one that recommended the title to her. I nod, or try to. The screen freezers, all I can hear is her coughing again. A click, a buzz, black.
With a jolt, my head bolts up.
The wifi is gone. The lights are out. Music went silent. A power outage? Now? I hear a buzz. Another. A third sound, directing me to a source that I cannot see. By touch alone I reach the couch in the dark room.
- Read the book again
- And stop thinking!
- We got time.