“During the Corona outbreak I’m interested in thinking about stories of women who are affected by the Corona outbreak but whose stories do not appear in the news. My aim is to use the Framed Process grant to write a collection of flash fiction (short prose) telling the narratives of women under the outbreak: a nurse who is unable to see her children and partner, a woman in a violent relationship who cannot leave her home, an elderly woman whose husband has been taking to a hospital and she cannot reach him to find out what is going with him, a foreign student stranded in a university dorm, unable to take a flight home, and more.”
At the clinic (Naomi)
All the windows of the clinic were open. She sat facing a wide window that was looking into the light blue sky. Her body was opening itself to the sun as if she was a flower. She sensed, from deep down inside of her, how her legs and arms and face and fingers were drawn to this big circle of fire, letting its warm rays caress her skin. She felt, suddenly, only the sun inside of her, and nothing else. If she would stand up, she would see the little pond that lay below the window. But she sat.
The air was a mixture of blessing and fear. She was breathing it, as there was no other way, not really, but with every breath she took it struck her: she never thought so much about breathing before. Nurses in masks and white or pale green shirts were floating from one closed door to another. She was the only person in the waiting room. The space was hers. The air was hers. And it was almost normal, this clinic, she felt, as if within this clinic nothing had changed. It was the world around it that had shifted greatly. She had to walk by foot all the way here, tired and weak, she had to enter through a side door. She had to read the new makeshift signs, follow the modified paths. There were areas that were closed now. And even in here, she was sure, things have altered. Just a few weeks ago the waiting room would have been full, the windows would have been shut closed, she would have a job, she would have not thought about breathing.
The appointment had to be rescheduled several times. At the beginning they were not even sure if they can continue performing procedures and medical tests. Everything was postponed. There was a whole long period where they kept hospital beds empty, ready, in case things outside will deteriorate. Things outside were indeed looking very grim. The departments and doctors were shoveled around, staff got trained to do other things than their usual work. The nurses here were re-stationed. A different sign hung on the door. All this time she had to wait. Only urgent things still took place. Her situation was not urgent. There was an exact number of days or weeks one could prolong a situation like hers. It was not a matter of life and death. Well, at least that is one way to look at it.
She had to call and inquire a few times. She had to mentioned how long it has been. How long she has been waiting. She did not say it, but she hoped it was clear enough, there were also rules on how long one can wait. But there was mainly the feeling, the development of the cells, the slow growth. She could have said, thought she didn’t, how waiting was draining her of energy, her sense of self. With everything that was going on around her she didn’t feel as if they could really focus on her. So many other things were going on. So much perished. The main problem with waiting was that she could not stop thinking about it, it was constantly there, every time her thoughts were a little distracted, which was a relentless situation, because nothing else was going on. Nothing else except for the news. And she could not continue facing the news.
The trees that had bloomed when she was closed in her confined apartment were now full of green and pollens were flocking the air outside. She saw them through the open window, white, magnificent. Through a camera lens it could have looked like snow. She wanted to go out for a bit, wait in the sun. But she could be called any minute now and the parks were closed, anyhow, you were not supposed to just sit on the grass and relax.
At the beginning of all this that is inside and outside she still had her job and there was, at least as an idea, something else to focus on. But then her company had to close everything down. And now, now there was nothing else that could diverse her attention away. Most days, just like at this very moment, she stared out, to the sky and the sun and the pollens and hoped, she hoped this would be an easy escape, the sleep that was awaiting her, the promised anesthesia, the hospital robe she would wear, the situation sliding away from within her, like oil on a red silk bathrobe, like the fluid potential running out of her like water from an open tap, like the future evaporating as she is under the doze that she has been waiting for, the awaited culmination, what they call here termination, these nurses, which are not looking at her, not with a slight judgment, overwhelmed from the lack of oxygen under those masks that she is also feeling, how easy it can be to doze off even here, sitting down, looking out Ms. Nitzeskoff?
Please follow me
You have not slept in three nights you are absolutely a hundred percent sure you have it you cannot breath your lungs are under some kind of pressure you have never felt before and you have no idea where it is coming this pressure all you do know is that you have several existing health problems but anxiety was never one of them and now you can add that to the list because it is there it is controlling you and your body you feel it in your veins especially when you must leave your house you exit to the street and all that the outer space holds for you the terrifying and the good fresh air which in your apartment is so hard to have you must open all the windows and still everything is blocked from all the directions with other buildings and construction work but when you do finally manage to get out your hands are in your pockets and you are avoiding anything you can avoid and you are also shocked at how you never noticed how many things outside you used to touch and the potential yes that structs you now the most the potential that every little objects holds even a stupid door knob and all you want is to be back home but also you want that bread and some vegetables and you cannot continue surviving on what you had at home because 8 days you sat there and ate all you could cook from what you already had and you called work and asked for a sick leave and in the beginning it seemed rational but now you are already feeling like you are losing it like you are going mad and the flat mates you have are the most frightening thing you cannot trust a single one of them to respect your request and you want out of there out immediately but you have no where to go you are stuck in a country you have been barely in for 6 months and for some reason it seemed like a smart decision to stay at the beginning of this but now you are not so sure any more but who knows if there are flights even and if they will let you back in when all of this will be over and all you do is you call you mum and you talk to her and you try to sounds healthy and sane through the talk you try hard you really do not want to get her worrying about you and after the call you break down and cry but in the midst of the crying you feel it again this inability to breath and that’s when you start googling what to do and where can you be checked but that is a horrifying thoughts as well because just being there just getting to where they might perform these tests is how one would get sick from even just queuing to be checked and after you already called and they told you where in the city you might go you rethink that and you stay at home more and more but then the nights become almost unbearable so you do go you take that test but the results will only arrive in two days so you return to your apartment and you shut yourself in your room even more so than before and you don’t tell your mum about the test in fact you don’t tell anyone because you secretly hope you did not actually go there and the breathing this pressure you think your heart is beating too quick you really feel that and you approach one of your flat mates the nice one Marie and you explain what you feel and she tells you to go to the emergency room she thinks you are having a heart attack because you are all red and sweating but you cannot go to the emergency room you say because that is right now the most dangerous place on earth and she makes you a cup of tea and she tells you to breath deeply a few breaths but you start coughing on the second deep breath that you take and you almost throw up there in the shared kitchen and you are happy only Marie is there and when you stop flinching and scrambling for air Marie says wait here and that she will bring you something and she hands you a pill and you have no idea what that is but you are so weak and so unsure of anything any more that you take the pill and she sits with you and waits until you feel better until the whole idea of going to the hospital seem weird to you and you want to know what that pill was because you want it also later when you cannot sleep again and it does not take long until you feel the same you feel like everything is pressing hard on you on your chest and Marie takes you to clinic near the flat but she does not tell you it’s a clinic she manipulates you some how but eventually you realize where you are and it’s too late to backdown and you talk to the doctor and he explains very slowly how many pills to take and when and he hands you a prescription and you tell your self great I am really crazy now and then you say it jokily also to Marie who waited for you in the waiting room and now you think she is the smartest woman alive and she walks with you to the pharmacy and you pay only 5 Euros for this fat paper box and you take one pill at night and you sleep you finally sleep
“Any news?”, I asked, I was standing on the street while Jamaima was leaning towards me on her street level balcony.
“I am sure soon someone will contact you”, I said, I felt the lie exploding on my face. I had no idea. Nobody did. Jamaima nodded.
“Do you need anything from the supermarket”, I asked, when I really wanted to give her a hug. The distance between us was getting emotionally bigger and bigger with every day, though it stayed in the constant 6 feet allowed. But I was wearing clothes and I was out of the house and I was not afraid and I my partner has not been taken away.
“Eggs, if you can find any”, she said.
“I will check”, I said, and I wanted to add something more, something meaningful, that could keep this woman going a little longer, to insight hope, but all I could say was, “ok, dear, I will see you later”. I knew I will, I knew she will still be sitting in her balcony. Nobody was doing anything else. There was nothing to do. There were no eggs. And no flour either. I planned on baking a cake but like many other things, I had to give up on that wish as well. I tried contacting the hospital for her. But nobody picked up. It was astonishing to me that no one had spoken to her. And yet, we were all following the news. I twitted, does any one know any one in Mount Sinai hospital? nobody did.
I walked to the faraway supermarket. I thought maybe they will have eggs. They didn’t. Nothing was right. I wanted to get back to my flat without seeing her, without disappointing her, but I couldn’t, the front door was next to her balcony, and I assumed she was not really thinking I will find eggs. I got her flowers instead. I handed them to her, our fingers not touching.
It was shocking to me that she did not get sick. He was right there with her for so long. Who knows how long he had it before he started coughing. She is immune, she says, they should just let her be beside him, she says. But nobody will let her do that. I rather be in there with him, she says. The first two days she went and stood at the entrance of the hospital and they had the security call a social worker to come and move her away. The social worker said she will do all she can to get some information, this was last Sunday, he was still alive then. But now, ten days later, nobody knows. They open a makeshift hospital with tents out on the big square near the city hall, I saw those green and black fabrics covering the space with tents hoovering over the ground, I was in the car and I drove slow, somebody was saying there are trucks filled with bodies and in the news they already showed family members who lost people and were not told on time and could not burry them in an appropriate grave.
My apartment is dark. I don’t have a balcony like Jamaima. All my windows are facing the neighboring building, living no option for direct sunlight. Sometimes, in previous years, I would go there on the sunny winter days and we would sit like two reptiles facing the sun, not moving, while Jacob was watching sports on TV. Now I sit in my apartment and I do not hear their TV, and I know she is still there, on the balcony. I want to go there now but I can’t. I go outside more then I need just to see her. I go buy groceries three times a day, in three different stores. I go out at least once a day for a walk. To the walks she joins me sometimes. We walk side to side, but distant, in the wide streets, until we reach the canal. If its not too cold we walk all the away around the canal until the wooden bridge and turn around. I ask her about her daughter, who is abroad, with her family. She says she did not mentioned anything about Jacob, not to worry her, but they already spoke twice and in both time she had an excuse for why he was not home. The daughter also texted Jacob once, and did not hear back and she had to lie to her that his phone is broken. She does not know how long she can carry on with this story. But wouldn’t it be better if she came, I ask. No no, It’s really unnecessary. She would die here, stuck with me in this apartment. Plus, I am not sure she can even come. She would have a problem with her visa. I did not say anything but I wondered what will happen if he died, if he is already dead, how long it will take the daughter to come. But I said nothing. We walked back to the house, she entered the first flat on the right, I went up, using the stairs, to my flat at the far east end of the corridor.
We did the walks three or four times a week since they took him. I knew that as long as she has not heard anything she will stand at the balcony, during the day. This morning her balcony door was closed so I went and I knocked on her door but nobody answered. We were not close enough for me to have her daughter’s phone number. I realized, actually, that I did not event have HER phone number. So I called the police. They said that a closed balcony door is not enough of a reason to break into her place. So I called again and I lied. I said she called me and she was having a heart attack, I said, I told the police she told me she was on the floor of her bed room and she could not move, I said I was her daughter, calling from Paris, so they came. A fireman broke the door and paramedics went in and I stood at the hallway and looked but they came out, empty handed, as if nobody was there. She is not there? I asked. No, they said. Did you call the police, they asked, no I said, I’m just the neighbor, and climbed up. I got dressed and took the car and went to Mount Sinai and I stood outside and asked the security if I can get information about a patient. He told me to write down the name on a piece of paper, and he will do all he can to check. I sat there, looking at the doors opening and closing, he walked back in and out, until eventually he caught my eyes and told me to approach. He passed yesterday, he said. I am deeply sorry, he said. Was there a woman here today asking about him? In the morning? I asked. A short old lady, his wife? I really don’t know, he said. Ok. I said. I went back home with the car. The balcony door was opened. A young woman was moving inside the apartment. I did not knock.