It’s hard to remember now how it was at the start… the start of the pandemic. Those memories that I have, have a distant feel like everything else from these times. Like something that I lost in some far away place but which somehow found its way back to me.
I remember a feeling of dread in the early days. I suppose that was only natural. Worry about personal death, and also about some kind of dislocation or change of circumstances. Although really I retain very little understanding of how we all lived then.
There was perhaps a feeling of change too. Of new possibilities half welcomed, even if they were unwanted and terrifying. Like a springtime that was too long in the waiting.
We performed our duties in our homes and talked to eachother on screens and pretended to ourselves that we were busy. The dawns were clear and bright — I remember them — and the birds sang for a while.
People died, some from the disease, and people were born. The people that didn’t die sometimes said that it was guiltily pleasant not to have to fill the days with activities like we had before; these new days like expanses that stretched out emptily for us like unexplored plains. I remember spending such a day paging through a book, captivated by the way the dark letters seemed to slice through the page as if cut by laser or some sharp medical implement. No words, just paper and the absence of paper left by ink. I remember the weight of the book but not its name. Its title.
The economy dried up and blew away, but the days were bright and often warm. Somehow there was food. Water flowed from the taps. The water was cold and flowed slowly and filled vast spaces it you were patient.
Children played in the newly empty streets. They chanted and laughed, chasing rainbows around the trees until their shouts dopplered down to nothing and they passed beyond some horizon. I think they grew tried of waiting for us. If anyone noticed this then they said nothing to me.
The virus collected in the streets. sloughed on the roads, filling the negative spaces between buildings. Pooling. Drifts of powder of some non-colour that I could only see fleetingly from the edge of my vision. A grey-blue perhaps. A hint of movement. Sheets of it hung from the desiccating trees.
I have another memory from that time. Of a bird, suspended in the sky with its wings outstretched. White feathers against blue sky, as devoid of motion as the empty whitewashed streets of some mountain village, back when there might have been such places. I watched it for days from a window. The buildings had all become taller and I remember I could clearly see the hard, watchful look in the bird’s amber eyes.
I walked a lot back then — it was one of the things that had been encouraged. The warm breeze blew, from the west I think, and scribed rippling patterns in the fine particles — the virons — that covered the roads and fields and expanded spaces between the houses. Once, I bent down on an impulse and placed my palms flat on the dust-coated ground. It seemed to me then that I could feel a vibration in my fingertips as the corrugations passed under them, and that through my fingers I could hear the virus quietly singing to itself. I have reason to believe that others discovered this too but I never saw them again. It grew warm but the light was never bright and always seemed insufficient for the task of seeing things..
They were exploring the space of possibilities, the virons sang, and it was a universe of incalculable vastness. Our world was merely the minutest fractional surface, they told me, of the realm into which they projected themselves — a minute sliver of the potential of interactions between living things, the depths of which they plumbed. Of this enterprise they expressed something like quiet gratitude or satisfaction. I don’t know if I believed them then, but they were young. We all were. Back then.
I am still here but the world is quiet and there is so much more space now. And so much time. The time is the hardest thing to bear.