Love in the Time of Corona

They were both sitting on the sofa. In the background, the clock ticked, a gentle reminder that time was actually moving, and a few cicadas called out as if to prove life still went on without them.

It was day twelve—perhaps already thirteen—of self-isolation, and the initial novelty of cooking and cleaning and pretending to be a veritable housewife had worn off.

Outside, the virus continued to grow into an all-consuming wolf that killed the old and ravaged those with preexisting conditions. Those who could work from home scrolled on, while Gojek drivers outside continued to trace the map like green blood in the veins.

Outside, a food cart went by, the tock-tocking of its owner hopelessly searching for a hungry mouth with a wallet.

Inside, out of sheer unquantifiable apathy, she stuck her finger in his belly button. Soft folds of skin gave way to a crusty outcrop, some forgotten thing like they were. She dug a little harder, relieved for a moment’s activity, and then he exploded. Out of that tiny hole came guts and intestines, Indomie noodles and neatly sliced red pepper. They poured out in a chain, covering the sofa, splattering the ceiling. The floor became a sea, his face a picture of surprise. She could not move for the sight.

As quickly as it began, it was over. A deflated balloon of a body lay next to her. She wanted to run from the house, kidneys precariously dangling from her right ear, but she could not. She had already completed her one trip to the shop and it was another week until she allowed herself out again.

The sky turned from dusky blue to orange, the call-to-prayer cried out to empty streets. Only one more month until the peak, she thought. The sky grew darker, only one more month.

And then, sifting through the gore that was her living room, she found the remote and began scrolling through the channels.

First Published on Flash Fiction Magazine’s blog:

A Former Bookshop, a Current Primark and the Climate Before the Book Revival.

I was recently going through old things I’d written when I was younger and never did anything with for fear of it being too dramatic or not good enough. This was a piece I wrote when the bookshop I worked in was closed to make way for the third largest Primark in the country. It was the time when the Kindle was at its most popular and the future of bookshops in general was looking bleak, even for a big chain like Waterstones. I never posted this anywhere but now would like to honour sixteen year old me and my distress at the cultural loss for Crawley – and also use it to reflect how nice it is that bookshops are doing well again. 

Stuck on the back of the door separating the staffroom and the main bookshop, someone haphazardly taped an old Waterstones’ bag. On the said bag there was a quote from a man who I’ll admit I don’t know and can’t remember but the quote has stayed with me. It read “A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking”.

It is the 28th of May now and this bookshop which held the bag with the quote closed yesterday. Pretty soon that door, with the bag attached to it, will be bulldozed down to make way for a Primark. Now, whilst I hold nothing against Primark shoppers, I can only laugh bitterly when I think about the contrast between the message on the bag which resonates around our branch of Waterstones, and the subsequent ethos of Primark. The shop where clothes are strewn across the floor, piled high and disposed of easily. If the quote is correct, it will mean the manager of the County Mall, who made the decision to put the Primark where the bookshop was, does not think. Nor expects the customers of Crawley to. Instead, this man rides on trends and where he imagines the money will start pouring; disregarding all those in Crawley who are utterly shocked by the decision to remove the only bookshop.

What makes this even more painful is that Primark was not the only contender the manager was juggling with. He had the cheek to tell one member of Waterstones staff that there were three parties interested in the unit – one being a Pound shop. Whilst being made redundant for a Primark is painful enough, a Pound shop is merely an insult; especially in a town which is littered with them every hundred metres. Books are one of the most important tools for humans. They spread messages and ideas, transport you to other places when the grey pebbledash of Crawley gets too much and they educate. You could never find that with anything on the shelves of a Primark or a pound shop. Possibly more importantly than that, however, is the staff. I may be biased, I admit. I did work there. But never have I met such interesting, intelligent people who actually care. The – my- Waterstones family knew what they were selling and tried to give the best customer service they could. They knew about books and acted more like an independent bookstore than the huge chain it should have been, organising community events like WORDfest and book signings. But it is going. A huge cavern will be left in the place of the soul that has stood for so many years. And for what? Yet another shop selling piles of clothes. Even if it is one which can boast to be the third largest in the country.

So what is there left to say? Many will talk of ‘the death of the bookshop’ by the likes of Amazon and the eBook but I hope this is not the case. There is no greater experience than looking through a bookshop and brushing the spines or being around other book readers, booksellers ready to give advice. Waterstones County Mall has gone, killed by those who should be proud of it. Crawley it seems, is losing its ability to think and it is a shame. If you have a bookshop that you love, hold on to it and make the most of it because in a puff of smoke it could be gone and there really isn’t anything more soul destroying.

‘Here’ by Richard McGuire

At work today (I work in Waterstones) I asked my boss, a specialist in graphic novels, to recommend me a few interesting titles. After approximately four seconds of thought he walked over to the shelf, eyes scanning the content, and swiftly walked back before handing me this with an air of silent satisfaction. I looked at the cover, gently swallowing a build-up of anticipatory saliva, and fell instantly in love.

‘Here’ is a graphic novel that centres solely on one space across thousands of years, the centre point being a family lounge. Written by Richard McGuire whose work is often featured in the likes of The New York Times and Le Monde, the work took fifteen years in the making, and you can really feel that across the roaming, multilayered 309 pages.

The novel has no defined plot, the eye scans the page looking for a structure but none is offered. Instead dates and times merge together, one family’s choice of orange decor collides with a native American couple making love in the corner. In one of the earlier pages we are transported to 1959, yet in the bottom right corner the eye catches a cat prowling across in 1999. We are well and truly situated ‘here’, allowed to see the different layers of personal and historical meaning applied to a particular space, the amorphous nature of meaning.

The beauty of its simplicity is it gets us to think about our own ‘here’ – to think about what has happened in the very spot in which we find ourselves, how familiar it seems. And if it is familiar – what is it that makes it familiar? How do we interact with those who came here before? It reminds us of the ecology of a space, of the habitat it once was and the habitat it has become, the Native Americans and the colonists and the families posing for a picture in the 50s and the dominant four walls throughout help remind us that on top of the everydayness of a place there is always a political and historical rubbing shoulders with the known. It is personal and beautiful and for the reader, who sits and purveys all that is ‘here’. it is an engrossing, sometimes humorous and always thoughtful read.

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