LIKE A MIRACLE—IT WILL DISAPPEAR
BY MIKE FIORITO
The pandemic is not going away. Schools, shops, and businesses are now closed. And fewer people are taking the trains in NYC.
The last time I take the train to my mom’s, the subway looks like it has been invaded. There is garbage everywhere. Now that there are less people taking the subway, the people who live below the subway tracks in the hidden chambers underground, have crawled to the surface.
As I wait for a train, I’m eyed by a man wearing a faded army outfit. One of his eye sockets is covered with bubbled skin, like an egg was broken over it and congealed. I pace back and forth waiting for the train, trying not to make visual contact with him. Then another man, old, tattered, dressed in a one-piece gas station jumper, scours the floor of the station. I’m not sure what he’s looking for, but he bends down, scratching the dirty floors, leaning on his knee. When I’m caught between the two men, their eyes meet. Perhaps they know each other. But this is above ground, perhaps there are different rules up here. I quickly turn around and move to another area of the train track.
There are no police to be found.
When the train rushes in, I move into the car. Even though I will have an hour-long journey to get home, I don’t take a seat. The car is packed. Now mostly everyone is wearing a mask, except for me. The air in the train car is thick and still; everywhere around me is dingy and yellowed. I’m worried that the air is contaminated, that the train’s motionlessness makes it a perfect resting place for the virus. I feel microscopic creatures crawling on my neck and face. I scratch my neck.
When I get home, I text my sisters and brother. We maintain a thread updating each other on who’s going to mom’s when, and to report on how she’s doing.
“I can’t take the train to visit mom anymore,” I write.
“How will you get there?” my brother, Bruno, asks.
“With Alicia not driving into work,” referring to my wife, “I’ll use the car. When I can.”
This will not be easy, but I plan to drive to visit my mother in-between calls and web meetings.
Then I’ll work from her apartment.
I take a few calls from home, then get dressed and pack up to head out to visit my mother.
On my way to the basement garage to get the car, I see Bryan, the porter, mopping the heavy cement floors of the basement. He’s not wearing a mask.
“Another cool day out,” he says. He has a strong Brooklyn accent.
“They say that we’re supposed to have global warming, but it seems like the winter just goes on and on, man.”
I try not to engage in discussion with him. We’ve had exchanges about his belief in conspiracy theories and I usually walk away disturbed.
“This is why we have to put our love in Jesus,” he adds. I think I see a brown rat dash into a corner behind him. He doesn’t see it.
“Why aren’t you wearing a mask?” I ask, distracted by the idea of the rat.
“I don’t need a mask,” he says. “This is all bullshit, man. This is all crap the TV made up to scare people. I have Jesus to protect me anyway.”
I don’t mean to be a jerk, but I point to the sign on the wall saying everyone in the building, residents, staff and visitors, must wear a mask.
“Only those who have the mark of the beast should be worried, my man,” replies Bryan. “When
god lays his wrath; all will perish who do not abide.”
I hear squeals from a deeper part of the garage. Maybe I did see a rat. I look around and past him. Bryan does not seem to hear anything. I scurry away as a sweat breaks out on my forehead.
When I leave my apartment building, it is cool and gray outside. All I can think of is Trump saying, “as the weather starts to warm, the virus hopefully becomes weaker, and then gone.” But what is ironic is that the weather refuses to get warmer. Every day the cool weather continues it feels like the pandemic is spreading out further over the city, as if its arms are enclosing the city’s streets in its deadly embrace. Of course, Trump’s statement is a lie, intended to distract and give false hope to people, but the irony is that the climate will not comply with his misinformation. Trump amplifies his nonsense in statements like “It’s going to disappear. One day, like a miracle—it will disappear.”
As I get into the car, taking off my mask, I start to recite poems aloud to myself. I’m now working on Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” I’ve been doing this a lot lately. With the surging authoritarianism and propaganda emanating from the White House, perhaps Trump and his thugs are trying to erase history, erase science, erase literature. I can imagine them burning books they don’t like. I think about Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. In his story, people are assigned books to commit to memory, as the physical books are burned to eradicate knowledge and thought. I’m trying to commit as many poems as I can to memory. And I’m trying to read as much as I can. It also keeps my mind off the craziness that’s going on. Perhaps I’ll be a walking book one day, or a collection of poems.
Driving down Hicks Street towards the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, from the window of my car, I see a covered corridor outside the hospital. As I drive by, I see what appears to be men carrying bodies in bags from the hospital to a makeshift gangway. I had read that the hospitals can’t manage the volume of dead bodies. Instead, they forklift the dead bodies into freezer trucks parked near the hospitals to store them. I shake from chills just thinking about it.
While driving I order food from the Bel Air Diner near her. By the time I get to her the food will be ready for pickup.
When I arrive at my mother’s apartment, I bring in the bags of take-out food from the Bel Air
My mother’s face is no longer pale and strained. She’s back to pre-pandemic health before she fell into the recent death spiral.
She points at me as I wash down the groceries in the kitchen sink.
“You’re dropping water on the floor.”
“I’ll clean it up when I finish.”
“Take the plates from the drainer.”
“I know,” I say. “One thing at a time. I don’t have ten hands.” “Maybe you could use that brain of yours,” she says.
I roll my eyes.
I put a plate of breaded chicken wings, her favorite, in front of her, pour her some seltzer and sit down to eat.
“How are you feeling?” I ask.
“You look good.”
She hasn’t even motioned to touch her food.
“You want the wings, right?”
“Yes, it’s the only thing I can get down sometimes.”
I start eating my fried filet of sole.
“I have a call in about thirty-minutes,” I say. “I’ll eat fast and get myself setup.” “You’re losing weight,” she says.
“I’m sure I am. I think it’s from the stress and from not eating.”
“You have to learn to relax.”
“It’s hard to relax with all of this shit going on.”
“The virus, Trump and the shit that he says. And the fact that his zombie followers believe him.”
“They believe him?”
“They believe his claims that the deep state, including scientists, are trying to ruin his presidency.”
“That’s ridiculous,” she says. “How could anyone believe that?”
“There are deluded people out there,” I say, hinting that some people in our family voted for Trump.
Even though my mother’s mind has returned somewhat, she still cannot follow what’s going on in the news. It is all happening somewhere else, it seems.
“No one can be that stupid.”
I nod and take forkfuls of food. I eat quickly so I can get ready for my call.
When I leave, the highways are nearly empty. I zoom along the road, one of a few cars. I have never seen the expressway so bare. Parking the car, I notice that, at this point, someone not wearing a mask stands out like a sore thumb.
As I walk into my apartment building, I’m greeted by the porter, Bryan.
“Coming back from your mom’s?” he asks. I nod affirmatively.
“I can’t believe how empty the roads are,” I add.
“It’s like when I drive here from home. No one on the road. And I can park anywhere.” Hearing
him say that annoys me, like having no traffic is worth all the deaths.
That night I get a call from my neighbor, Jon.
“Can you meet me in the garage,” says Jon.
“Where are you going?”
“We’re packing the kids up and driving to my parents in Minnesota. I want to leave the keys with you.”
My heart drops with the thought of Jon leaving. He stops by weekend nights to have a few beers. We listen to music, crack jokes.
I go down to the garage, wearing a mask. Jon is wearing a mask, too.
“I just left the keys by your door,” says Jon. I guess this was his way of saying goodbye.
“I’m going to miss you guys,” I say. I feel very lonely at this moment.
“We have to get out of dodge. I’m hearing that New York City is going to be completely out of control soon. We have friends who work at the hospital.”
“I understand,” I say. “Let me know what I can do.” I know one of Jon’s two sons has respiratory issues. The last place they want to be is in an overwhelmed New York City hospital.
But we’re going to remain here. Whatever catastrophe is heading our way, we’re staying put
As I wave goodbye, I think of the long journey across the country from New York to Minnesota.
All I can see is miles of highways, the sky big and blue. And Jon’s family creeping along the American Plains in his Honda with the specter of New York license plates casting shadows along the way.