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A Pandemic Walk
by Martin Green
Jack Evans thought he was lucky that when all life was upset by the pandemic he was already retired so all that he and his wife Blanche had to do was “shelter in place” and try not to go crazy. Fortunately, after retiring he’d become a free-lance writer and now wrote a column for their Northern California retirement community’s paper as well as short stories for online magazines. Blanche for her part had taken up watercolor painting and this kept her occupied.
It was a nice fall day so Jack told Blanche he was going out for a little walk to stretch his legs. He put on the required mask and took his walking stick (he preferred to call it that and not a cane) and set out. He’d gone a couple of blocks when he noticed a woman sitting on her porch. She looked to be in her 70’s with dyed red hair and held a cell phone in her lap. He thought she waved at him so he said a polite good morning. Instead of replying with a good morning the woman snorted and said, “Hah, what’s good about it? This covid or corona or whatever it is has ruined my life.”
“It’s not that bad, is it?”
“Bad? It’s terrible. I’m cut off from the world. I don’t have my mah-jong game any more. We used to play every week. I don’t have my lunches. I’m afraid to go to a restaurant. And my sons. You’d think they could give their mother a call sometime. I have my phone here, see, but does it ring? No. Only someone trying to put a scam over on me and take my money.”
“Yes, you have to be careful you …”
“Sometimes I even talk to the robot on the robot call. At least it’s something. You’d think my sons would like to know I’m still alive and the virus hasn’t gotten me yet. Hah!”
“Yes, well, I hope your sons call soon,” Jack said quickly. “Good-bye.” As Jack walked on he could hear the old lady still grumbling to herself.
A couple of blocks on he was about to pass a younger retiree edging his lawn when the man looked up and said, “Good morning. Nice day for a stroll.”
“Yes. I see you’re keeping your lawn in shape.”
“To tell you the truth, the lawn’s okay. I came out here to get away from my wife. Ever since this damned virus thing she’s been driving me crazy.”
“Too much togetherness.”
“Too much, all right. First, I’m underfoot all day and she can’t get anything done. Then I don’t talk to her. We’ve been married forty years. What’s left to talk about? She says I sit in my room all day and watch sports on television. Hell, she sits in the living room all day and watches soap operas. She says she’s tired of cooking. I say let’s try eating out at one of those places that’s opened. She says No, it’s too dangerous. She read somewhere that eating out is one of the riskiest things to do.” At this point, the young retiree spread out his hands. “So, what can I do?”
Jack shook his head. “I don’t know. Just hang in there. Maybe they’ll get that vaccine and things will get back to normal some day.”
“Yeah, some day.”
Jack was returning to his house, by a different route as he didn’t want to encounter the old lady with the ungrateful sons again, when an old fellow in a wheelchair approached in the opposite direction. “Taking a walk, sonny?” said the old fellow.
Sonny? It had been a long time since anybody had called him that.
“Yes, it’s a nice day for it.”
“Used to be able to walk for miles, then fell and broke my hip. Now I’m in this damned wheelchair. But the whole world is messed up anyway, isn’t it?
“Yes, I guess it is.”
“Who yer voting fer?”
“Uh, I don’t know.” This was dangerous territory, thought Jack. He didn’t want to get into a discussion with this old guy, who was probably a Trumpster, or maybe he hated Trump. “I try not to get into politics too much.”
“Smart move, sonny. We got this idiot in the White House and the other guy is a nincompoop.
What do you think?
“Well, I …”
“Whole country’s been going downhill for the last fifty years if you ask me. Drugs and free love and all that stuff. Now we have rioting in the streets at the drop of a hat. Any excuse to go out and loot and burn. That mayor in Portland must be an idiot. Same for that mayor in Seattle. What do you think?”
“Well, I …”
“And those rioters come right up to your house and try to intimidate you. Look at that couple in I-don’t-know-where, they’re trying to defend their house and they get arrested. What kind of a country are we living in? know what I’ll do if they come around to my house. I have my rifle ready.”
“Guess you think I’m just an ornery old coot. Am I right, sonny?”
“No, I …”
“That idiot in the White House keeps saying a vaccine is just around the corner. What do you think?”
“Well, I …”
“Yeah, I know, can’t believe a word he says. Don’t put much stock in what those so-called health experts say either. What do you think?”
“First they tell us not to wear masks, then we have to wear masks. Then young people don’t get real sick so they’re okay but a lot of them do get real sick and die. And kids should go back to school or maybe they shouldn’t. What do you think, sonny?”
Jack looked at his watch and said, “Uh, I have to be getting back or my wife will think I got lost. It’s been nice talking with you.” He quickly walked away while behind him he could hear the old guy still talking. Well, one thing he’d found out about people who’d been in lockdown for a long time, they liked to talk.
When he got back home Blanche was frowning at her latest painting. She looked up. “How was your walk? She asked.
“It was okay. Met some people and heard some interesting things. Maybe I’ll try to write a story about it.”
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