Another Last Word

Journal of the Plague Year: Part II


When this whole thing started, the family indulged in these long, elaborate breakfasts since there was no place anyone had to be, except maybe a Zoom meeting. Baked eggs, Dutch babies, sourdough waffles; things we once reserved only for Christmas or New Year’s. 

Now I’m down to half a banana and a pot of green tea I nurse all day. My wife drinks protein shakes between her online meetings or the classes she teaches, then sits cursing to herself while rage knitting.

I hear children playing outside. I get up from the computer to stand on our porch and listen. It’s a lovely sound. I start for the neighbor’s backyard to investigate, then stop. It’s not children; it’s just his chickens foraging in the garden, a different kind of lovely sound I haven’t appreciated before.

My own child — though at 18 he’s hardly that — is on our roof scrubbing the skylights. He asks permission while I am typing away at something and I say sure without thinking about it. Then I hear the extension ladder rattling and him banging around up there. This is the same high school senior who can’t keep his room clean, but now he’s clinging to our high-pitched roof 30 feet off the ground scrubbing moss. Then I wonder why I said sure without thinking.

At the end of almost every day he runs five or six miles at different parks after his online classes. One Friday he returned later than normal. Coming home across the Purdy Spit, he saw some friends standing next to their cars on the shoulder and stopped. They watched the stadium lights at Peninsula High School come on at 8:20 p.m. — 2020 hours — for 20 minutes to honor them, the class of 2020. Then they stood there in the dark for a while before going their separate ways.

I get an email from a relative. “We can’t let the cure be worse than the disease,” he says, adding “There’s nothing political about common sense — spread the word.” I ask what he knows about C-19 that I don’t. He sends me a DIY pattern for a tinfoil hat.

I’m driving home on a sunny, breezy day after I’ve finished conducting interviews and running errands behind a mask. I think I’ve forgotten something and check my list: Mail, pharmacy, groceries, wine from this one place, then more wine from this other place — all done. But I know I’m forgetting something. I look around the car. Seems normal. Put stuff away at home. Uneventful. Drink a cup of cold tea outside for a minute and watch clouds scudding across the sun. I should be out sailing on a day like this. That’s it — that’s what I forgot.

The dog is acting different, but we don’t notice. I run him every day and he’s getting slower and slower. I think he’s just being stubborn because we put him on a diet. But now there’s a bad smell and we examine his 114 pounds of bear fur and find a terrible wound from some skin allergy.

We can’t get in to see the vet but we send photos and she prescribes antibiotics, steroids and some kind of spray. How had we missed this? We’re with him all the time. Are we that preoccupied?

We stay up with him the first night he’s on meds; he is restless and thirsty and unable to settle. I am usually pretty good at interpreting his looks but only because his meaning is usually pretty simple: feed me, walk me, play with me. Now he doesn’t want any of those things and looks at me with an expression I can’t interpret, and don’t want to.

I am startled awake on the couch by his muffled barks. He’s twitching and growling as he pursues, I hope, his favorite prey in a familiar dream. I think he must be feeling better, and I relax. I fall back to sleep and into my own recurring dream, sailing my dad’s boat, though Dad and his boat are long gone. But this time I am sailing deliberately into shallows and between reefs to escape a dangerous shore.

Ted Olinger lives in Vaughn.