100 Days of Solitude: chpt 4

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Upsplash

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.

********

Day 74: Black Lives Matter:

Bona Fides: my mother’s people came over on the Hopewell, 3 ships or so after the Mayflower and landed in Plymouth. A cousin would brag we came over on the Mayflower and then add sardonically that we were well-bred and dirt poor.

I live in a building where the brown and black and other non-white complexions outnumber us whities. When I get off the elevator the only thing I remember about their appearance is whether they wore a mask. N.B. the children are incredibly beautiful. I once tried to describe a handyman to my sister – I had forgotten his name. She couldn’t figure out who I meant. “He put up my curtain hold-backs,” I said. “Oh, you mean G. Why didn’t you say he was black?” I stared at her. “He’s black?” I said.

We watch George Floyd dying as a policeman kneels on his neck for over 8 minutes. The next day we see the other angle – two other cops kneeling on his body. The cop on his neck had worked with  Floyd as a bouncer at a club. Police were called because Floyd had tried to pass a phony $20 bill, a capital punishment crime apparently. And how do you actually know you have a phony bill?

Demonstrations in support of  Black Lives Matter start across the United States and spread to Canada and around the world and they don’t stop, day after day, night after night. By day 78, Minneapolis is in flames.Then Atlanta and all across the country, cities are burning..

In December 2017, I had been talking to my ex-husband, Blake. We both loathed Donald Trump who gave us new reasons every day. Absentmindedly, I said, “I can see the cities burning.” It was a truly nasty vision and I put it well away. Blake didn’t. He kept repeating it as if it was his idea. He had had stage 4 cancer for 10 years and was only then beginning to weaken. In January 2019, it was clear he needed me and our son to take a hand in his care. He kept talking about cities burning and only Bernie Sanders could stop it. He thought it was a class revolution. He died before Bernie lost and well before the vision that I couldn’t remember came true.

Day 79: Watching the L.A. demonstration on TV at midnight, I was moved to call my grandson there. He had just got back from marching. He had been hit by rubber bullets three times, one glanced off his gas mask (!!), one hit his backpack, which he was wearing on his front (no score) and one made his foot bleed. At least eight people in the U.S. lost an eye to rubber bullets.

The Floyd family appeals to demonstrators to stop the carnage and they do. My grandson decides before that it is too dangerous and stops going.

Demonstrations continue. Trump retreats to his bunker. For inspection purposes. Then he calls some sort of military force out to clear Lafayette Square in front of the White House, so he can walk to the church across the square without permission from said church and hold up a Bible. One of the clergy of that church has just been tear gassed and another driven back from her first-aid post.

(Day 75: My Super Power

By the power of my negotiating skills, I save a marriage. It has to be saved again a few weeks later, but the couple can, by then, do it themselves.)

I have marched in many demonstrations, sometimes with my husband and small children, always for social justice causes. I was union rep when I taught. I hear Canadians sanctimoniously declare there is no systemic racism in Canada. While it is true since we didn’t have slavery, our racism may be harder to see, white people don’t get to decide that. Native people do and black and brown and yellow people, immigrants, do. Only they can see it.

Seers only
witness
to avoid
forfeiture
Sinche, Sinche 
celiadermontblog.com

Day 92: As a child, I was shut in boxes. Not for punishment. Far from it. I was a ‘special’ child. For one thing I had webbed toes. I was shut in boxes for increasingly longer periods of time so that I would develop my psychic skills. I was not keen on being special or shut in boxes or being psychic. But my cult was. The cult is shut down now, but I still know what’s in the mail before I open the box or when a loved one is in trouble and I see cinema-scope productions in my head – just flashes – momentary glimpses. Of the future.

Trump decided to hold a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I fight off these flashes for days, but then a week before it happens, in an unguarded moment, I have a horrific vision. It is at night. It has no color. But then colors can’t be seen at night. I try to focus on my TV program, but finally, I have to phone my sister. I find I can’t actually talk. But she knows me. She waits until I begin blurting it out. By now I can’t get my breath, I am shaking uncontrollably, I feel as if my head is going to explode and I want to vomit. Little by little she drags it out of me – the noise of explosions and falling fire, airplanes, rushing fire, machine gun shots, screams and  running feet. “It’s destroyed,” I say. “The whole town is destroyed. There’s nothing left but black ruins. The people are gone. They’re going to destroy Tulsa.” Trump’s followers fighting the BLM people. “It already happened,” she says. “Don’t get metaphysical on me,” I all but yell. “No, no, stop,” she says. “It happened in 1921. You’re seeing the past. It’s called the Greenwood Massacre. Look it up on your phone.”

While she tells me what she remembers from a recent report, I scan through the Wikepedia entry and race on to the next article. The prosperous black community of Greenwood leveled to the ground, looted, 300 people dead, 6,000 -black people of course – taken into custody for 8 days. Residents, impoverished, homeless, wandering.

“Why would I be seeing that?” I demand. Georgie sighs, “All time is one. You know the drill. You’ve seen it before probably.” I hate that idea. Al time is one. Everything that happened, happens or will happen is happening now. The panic threatens to restart. Some days of my life have been so awful that I want them sealed safely in the past.

Day 100: The day of the Tulsa rally arrives. the rally is ill-attended, partly because teenagers who do not intend to attend reserve seats on Tik Tok, partly because Trumpers are not that stupid. They prefer not to die of Covid. There are very few anti-rally demonstrators. A Republican senator subsequently gets Covid, along with a good many others no doubt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hundred Days of Solitude: chpt 3

The View -day after day- from my tower. (Taken after the Snowbirds, flew over to cheer us up, peutetre)

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.

********

 HANK WILLIAM’S ADVICE

I asked Hank Williams, how lonely can it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered me yet,
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me in the Tower of Song. (Leonard Cohen)

My tower is actually named after a British city and it doesn’t have that many stories. I don’t write songs, but I could perhaps answer the question.

In the beginning, I actually feel lonely, abandoned, bereft. Sometimes I cry. Once or twice I howl. By Easter that has pretty well stopped. I am like the baby who figures out crying is useless.

Day 31: Easter arrives while it is still hard lock-down. Although I’m not a church-going Christian, I am still a cultural one. Easter is the most important church festival. It has always been a family time. My sister’s family is large with children of all ages. We usually drive north to Barrie where the long table is loaded with every vegetable available and roast ham. There is wine and laughter.

This year my sister, my niece and I are in our separate dwellings a few blocks apart. My niece has a sore throat. She is isolating to protect her mother. Normally, they treat each other as a family cohabiting. I order dessert from Sweet Things. The Door Dash delivery guy even comes up to the 14th floor. I drive to my sister’s, call her, she comes down in her N95 mask and I hand two desserts to her.  I come home and eat my key lime pie.

At a certain point, I feel so unseen that I am disappearing.

Day 2 – Day infinity: What to do? What to do?

The eastern sages that live in caves advise us that even the contemplative life must have a routine. I can do that, I think. I go to sleep at midnight, after reading in bed for an hour or more. I get up at 8. I pull myself together. I exercise as much as my body and a 950 Sq. ft. apartment permits. I eat breakfast while I read the news on my phone.

The rest of the day? What was I doing before? I was actually writing two books, a second memoir following Never Tell and a second mystery following Hour of the Hawk. The original two need to be marketed on line. https://www.joycehowe.com/books Many people are reading e-books with libraries closed. So go for it! Are you kidding? The world is ending, at least the world as we knew it. Why does it need another memoir of my abusive birth family? And now that woman has been pushed off a cliff in Kern County in my second mystery, I have no idea who did it? It took two people to get rid of her car, but what two people?

I’ve furloughed my cleaner. She also works in an essential retail store. So I have to do my own cleaning. It takes her 2 hours. It takes me 2 hours times 4 days. But I celebrate that I can do it at all and thank Cymbalta. I also decide my sister is right – an ironed pillow case is divine. The next thing I know I am ironing sheets and shirts and masks. Stop now!

I watch television. At first CNN is on all day. At lunch and dinner I watch Netflix, a documentary called Pandemic, which shows in six parts how ” tireless doctors and scientists” have been working for many years to learn how to make a vaccine for novo viruses. Each episode is episodic featuring several teams and one home-schooling anti-vaxxer and her many children. I take a vow to have the flu shot this year. I stopped getting shots because they make me sick, possibly because they are egg based. But this year, I’ll put up with that AND I will get a Covid shot as soon as I can. The scientists in the show spend a lot of time in full gear in bat caves. In general, it builds confidence, especially in Bill Gates’ money. I also watch Tiger King. God help me! Then I turn from Netflix to Acorn, which streams British, Australian and New Zealand shows. I love a good mystery. Whereas Netflix has taught me German, Finnish, Swedish and Russian, I learn Welsh English, even Welsh, Cornish, Irish and heavy, heavy Scots. I already knew how to decipher Australian and Kiwi.

I read. On the serious side, I read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The power of introverts. Probably I’m an introvert at heart. I needed to rest up after a day in the classroom before I could get dinner and relate to my family; however, I was able to avail myself of the ‘free trait’ and act out of character on the stage or in front of a class or even at dinner. Being introverted is an excellent trait to have when you have to stay home for months.

I frog march myself through John Bolton’s The Room Where it Happened, bending my brain around references to American foreign policy. I am testing a theory – is Donald Trump as incompetent as he seems. Then I read Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough. Even without his suggestion that we ingest bleach to cure Covid, these two books confirm my opinion. I am terrified of coronavirus, and I am terrified of this man knowing the nuclear codes. As time goes on and the U.S. cases start to climb in Florida, Arizona, California again and Texas – oh my babies – the two anxieties come together.

I trade mystery titles with my California daughter and find them on my library’s website. I run through all of Mick Heron’s MI 5 books, which are satirical and funny and intriguing and sad. https://115journals.com/2020/04/19/slow-time-slow-horses-the-slough-house-spies/ I write a blog post about them. I read the SoHo mysteries, set in different countries: Thomas Perry, Dan Fesperson, Ken Bruen, Denise Mina, Mark Pryor, Colin Cotterill, Stuart Neville, and thus I travel to the British Isles, Germany, Russia, the U.S., Thailand, Laos. I read to rest during housework or cooking, but the last hour of the day is sacrosanct reading time and I end up lying my head down at midnight.

I don’t know Alice. What was the question?

As Alice lay dying, she seized Gertrude Stein’s hand and said, “Oh, Gertrude, what is the answer?” Gertrude replied, “I don’t know, Alice. What was the question?”

Then there is Leonard Cohen’s answer in The Tower of Song, “Dum de dum dum, de de dum dum.”

Alice wanted to know the meaning of life. Curiously, that becomes an urgent question as we contemplate death.  Part of what Aunt Mae taught my sister and me was that a person could have several possible exit dates. I have had a few close calls, which led me to read Robert Thurman and Sogyal Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama and Rumi. Now the shocking death tolls in our local long term care homes wake me up.

I had forgotten.

I know the way back – gratitude for the helpers, who are risking their lives and dying to help the sick, empathy for the dead and the dying and the ill – all isolated from their family’s support. I can leap on that train and ride it until I disappear into a universal cloud of love. In the morning, energy too low for that, I recite the Twenty Third Psalm by King David, for whom I named my son. Especially the last lines ground me:
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies
Thou annointest my head with oil. My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

A Hundred Days of Solitude still to come – those darned visions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hundred Days of Solitude: chpt 2

Pandemic Lock-down in Los Angeles

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.

GOD BLESS THE CHILD THAT HAS HIS OWN

Momma has some/ papa has some/ But god bless the child/ that has his own.
Billie Holiday, Arthur Herzog Jr.

Day 5 – 7: Businesses close. People work at home unless they can’t. Many, many people find they are unemployed. Others find themselves on the front line even though they aren’t doctors, nurses or hospital workers. They are essential workers, stocking grocery shelves, sanitizing, doing checkout, driving buses and subway trains for the many who have to use public transport. At 7 p.m., people go outside and bang on pots to thank these warriors.  (8 p.m. in NYC. and in Brussels.) From time to time, my brother requires me to join him on his Bois Fort doorstep via Facetime to cheer on Belgium workers.

You noticed, didn’t you? There was steak on that list in my last post. If you are actually hungry at the moment, I apologize. For my sins, I’m a member of a dying breed. I have a pension, a teacher’s pension. It’s not extravagant, but I’ll be able to pay my rent this month. Management has taped a notice to the door of every apartment: here’s what to do, if you can’t pay your rent. Our building is owned by British Columbia’s teachers’ pension plan.

How I Got a Pension: As a graduate, I wanted to go into the theata, darling! On the other hand, I needed to have children. Somebody had to rectify my parents’ mistakes. And my Aunt Mae, who saw the future, told me I needed a steady income and a pension. It was the children waiting to be born that convinced me.

Every Day: Our young prime minister -whose wife has Covid and who is in quarantine with her and their children – briefs us on his doorstep about what funds are available to those suddenly unemployed, even gig workers. Small business owners have their own fund. By a miracle all of my ‘people’ will have an income. No scandals emerge about fat-cats getting this money.

WAITING FOR THE BULLET (c.f. David Downing’s Diary of a Dead Man on Leave)

News from Wuhan, China at first disgusts me. One child of my acquaintance says, “It happened because the Chinese eat too many bats.” Sorry bats. One of you flew too near my hair once. The unhygienic live market puts me off. I have studied t’ai chi and Taoism and worked in a Chinese herb pharmacy putting together formulas, I have tutored dozens of Hong Kong students, but I haven’t given China’s live-markets an A+ for hygiene. I do feel very bad for the people under lock-down, some apparently chained in by local authorities.

But then, instantly, it seems, Covid leaps to Italy. Thousands escaped Wuhan when the shut-down was announced. Two of them fly to Milan.

Day – 6: Italy closes down the north. We learn that the virus has tiny hooks (Corona/crown) that dig into tissue and layer over the lungs until they are like leather. One after another airline cancel flights to Italy.

Canada prohibits flights from China, then Italy and before long the flight path over my building is as silent and empty as the 4 lane Glen Erin Drive below my windows.

Gradually, the horror in Italy grows clearer. Old patients, especially from long-term care homes, are being rendered unconscious and placed on ventilators. If these patients recover they have no memory of the weeks that have passed. Mostly, they die. Alone except for a iPod or cell phone, unconscious or not, distraught loved ones saying farewell from an inconceivable distance. Hearses line up and haul the victims away to lie in storage in cathedrals or ice rinks to wait their turn for a solitary disposal. Italy begins to triage. Old patients are just sedated and left without life-saving treatment.

Certain that we are in for the same, I hand-write an addition to my will opting out of ventilator treatment. I want no time wasted on debate, no healthcare worker feeling bad about making the choice. I want someone younger to enjoy a long life. The front office  admits me – it is still 6 days before lock-down and I get my signature witnessed.

I am not certain this is an altruistic decision. I am sure that I am well and truly terrified.

I pay tax due for myself and my late, lamented ex-husband, even though we have a moratorium on payment. I write a list of final instructions for Blake’s estate and cue up his second choice executor to take over if necessary. I start secreting cash in a metal box to meet cremation costs and work diligently to pay down debt.

My Brother and I in front of his home in Brussels

Day 4: Catching a Bullet in Belgium

My younger brother lives in rue de l’hospice in Brussels, a reverse immigrant 50 years ago. Ambulances double hoot past all day, ferrying old folks from the long term care home for which the street is named. Most never return.

I can barely hear him on Facetime. He coughs so much. “Go to the doctor,” I shriek.

Not so easy. He gets a specific time. He waits on the pavement. The door is unlocked on the dot. He is handed a mask and swept into the exam room by his doctor, clad in full pandemic gear. Yes, his lungs are inflamed. Here are prescriptions for an inhaler, cough medicine and something else. Call if you get worse. And he is out on the street.

I monitor him closely. At first, he goes down hill. Then he begins to improve. Two weeks later, he calls his doctor for a checkup. “No, you can’t come in,” she cries. “Why not?” he asks. “Because you had it. And no, I can’t get you tested. Tests are not available.” “She’s usually so kind,” he tells me. He vows to continue living as if he could still catch it.

Okay, he survived.

But he’s only 73.

Day 14: What to Expect When You Catch the Bullet

You ride it out at home with the remedies you already have in your medicine cabinet. When you can’t breathe anymore, you call an ambulance. You get a bed in a hallway and wait for the DNR (do not resuscitate) order to kick in. Or you get better, like my brother, having eaten all your frozen soup.

On my first scuttling trip to the supermarket at 7 a.m., senior hour, I buy a whole chicken and make a huge batch of stock.

Days without number: Who is that Masked Man

I hasten to tell you that this started long before wearing a cloth covering over your mouth and nose was a political act or a moral act or a class divider or a sign you hate the poor Trump lad.

We are told not to use N95 masks because medical staff need them. My sister and my daughter are embarrassed to realize they have them already, but decide they might as well use them. You can’t buy any kind of mask anymore than you can buy toilet paper. I try to hand sew one out of a dish towel. It is beyond ugly and I trash it. I learn to make masks by folding a man’s handkerchief and cutting the tops off socks to act as ear loops.

I have over a dozen such handkerchiefs. Well, men don’t offer me immaculate hankies when I get the vapors and I am self-reliant.

Girls start sewing them up for friends. My sister gets a bunch. Slowly mask ads start popping up on Facebook. I order 3 from a veterinarian supply shop. It takes ages. The post office is down to 3 postal workers for our city. When the masks arrive, they are not as advertised – no way to shorten the ear loops. I knot them. The knots slip out. I sew  the knots. I see another ad in late June with devices to shorten the loops. I order 4. They come in a few days and they do actually shorten.

In case you are reading this in the future – and believe me I’m delighted there is a future even if I’m not in it – we didn’t take or send things back in these days. Going out once a week was enough. Being the only car on a usually busy road, one of three people in a very large store was freaky and once you got something, however unsatisfactory, you fell down on your knees in thanksgiving.

 

Day – Every Two Weeks for 17 Weeks So Far : Laundry

The laundry is on the first floor off the east corridor. It is open 24 hours a day. The first time I use it during lock-down, I find 3 other people and the cleaner going in and out. I very nearly jump on top of a front loader avoiding them. No distancing, no one but me masked and why would anybody stay to fold and smooth every item blocking passage to the machine that tops up your laundry card. Next time I wash at midnight. No problem, if you don’t call going to bed at 2 a.m. a problem. Finally, I settle for Tuesday at dinner time every two weeks. I find I no longer clench my entire body just as weekly trips to Whole Foods or Metro no longer traumatize me.

I know I’m a neurotic wuss, but you’re not 84. (If you are apologies and congratulations. You made it.)

Day 13: If You Can Make It There, You’ll Make It Anywhere

I used to love New York. Then the Twin Towers fell as I was having major cancer surgery. I went to Los Angeles to recover and saw a mural of the New York skyline in a bookstore. I was so stricken with grief I had to leave the store.

I pretend the city that came down with Covid is a different place. And It is. The streets are empty. The hospitals, crammed. The exhausted doctors and nurses are wearing large black plastic garbage bags as protection. This is the city where my grandson’s wife  interned at Mt. Sinai. Shamefully, I thank God they are living in Dallas now with their babies.

Refrigerated trucks parked outside hospitals hold the over-flow bodies, or just plain trucks until the neighbors identify the smell. I listen to Governor Cuomo at noon. Like Trudeau, he is rational and on the job, but folksier. And his brother Chris is broadcasting CNN’s Lets Get at It from his sick room in his home’s basement. Chris has Covid. The Cuomo boys feel like family. I need that. Day by day, I learn about the disease and how a city is handling it.

I follow Sandi Bachom on Twitter, a 75-yr-old photo journalist who lives in Manhattan. Like me, she initially expected to die, but found that if she does as Andrew Coumo advises she is relatively safe. She is devastated by the loss of friends to Covid. When the demonstrations start, she goes out in her mask with her camera. Eventually, she gets mistreated. Plus ce change, plus la meme chose.

 

 

 

A Hundred Days of Solitude: Chpt 1

Snow-covered Mountain before it all began

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.

*********

Day 100: The premier of Ontario announces that greater Metro Toronto can move to stage 2 of the Covid-19. We are weeks behind the rest of our province. We can now eat on patios, get a massage or have our hair cut.

My grey hair has not been cut for 4 months. It has gone its own way, flipping up or falling limp, whatever it feels like. Forty six percent of deaths world-wide have been of people over 80. Persons over 70 are 60 times more likely to die of Covid than younger people. I am 84. I will be able to sit on my hair before I get the courage to go back to First Choice for another $20 cut.

Day 2: Please submit all maintenance requests on the website or by phoning the main office. Staff is still available to help you, but the on-site office will be kept locked until further notice. (At least 1 slat a week thunders down from my vertical blinds, usually in the dead of night. I pile them flat on the window ledge and rely on curtains.)

Elevator Etiquette – Day 10: If there are 2 people on the elevator, please wait for the next one. Exception: families traveling together. (Day 110: I am on the elevator going down. It stops at 6. A woman with laundry gets on. Another woman with laundry asks if she can. I say no, but I offer to get off, so she can. She declines.)

Day 47: Follow arrows on floor. (I.e. Exit through the garbage corridor or the laundry corridor. (Guess which is more fragrant.) Enter through front door. (So out into the wind tunnel and around the building to pick up mail.)

Day 130: Kindly wear a face covering when you are in common areas.( Our municipality mandated masks in public places two weeks ago, but cannot order rental buildings to comply.)

Day 7 -Health and Wellness: Since my return from Christmas on a snowbound mountain in Southern California, I have not been well. My doctor has prescribed Cymbalta for fibromyalgia. I have been nauseated and dizzy for the month of February. On this day, I reread the label on the meds and stop drinking wine. I am immediately 70% better.

The Premier announces that people over 70 should not leave their homes.(I take this to heart. Pandemics have to be managed. I’ve read Ibsen’s Enemy of the People after all. The Premier is trying to avoid hospital over-load. I will do as he says.)

My equivalent of the flour barrel once I bravely started going to the store.

 

THE BOTTOM OF THE FLOUR BARREL

I am too short to look over the rim of the big barrel that holds the flour. My mother has removed the bread board on its top and she is weeping inconsolably. I hitch myself up on the barrel’s side and peer in. There is a thin drift of flour on one side. We don’t buy ready made bread here on the hill. We don’t buy anything much. We are country folks and the stores are a long buggy ride away, but there is no money to buy anything anyway.

Some solution must have been found. I get older.

“Go to the butcher’s and get 6 slices of bologna,”  my mother tells me at lunch time. We live in the city now. There are 4 of us children and her, but 1 slice will be for Daddy’s lunch tomorrow, so we kids will each get half a slice for our sandwich, but 2 slices of Wonder Bread and a little butter. My little sisters come with me and each steals a jaw breaker  from the candy display. The butcher looks at me to tell me that he saw that. He doesn’t yell. I want to cry as we walk home. Not for poverty. For kindness.

I get my first job in a bakery when I am 15. All my adult life, I have had to have a well-stocked pantry and a full freezer, but stocks have run low in March 2020. So I enter the grocery delivery sweepstakes.

I have a long list of groceries I need. I go through the website list for Longo’s. Some things are not available – toilet paper, paper towels, tissues and all Lysol products. Having completed my order, I move on to the page where I can choose a delivery date. The next possible date is 10 days away, but even as I ponder, one by one the time slots get snapped up until the dates run out in 14 days. I move on to the Metro website and hurriedly place the same order. Paper products are NA. I speed to the delivery page. By now, it is getting very late. All the time slots are gone. Then as midnight strikes, a new day of delivery times magically appears and I grab a 10 a.m. two weeks away.

Day 34: For the next two weeks, I work my way to the bottom of the barrel as I await delivery. The fridge shelves are all but empty. The freezer gets down to questionable beef patties and a partial bag of frozen kale. I scour the cupboard for tins of soup past their best buy date. My impromptu recipes get more and more inventive and I grow heartily sick of kale and rice. Finally, the big day arrives along with eight sturdy red bags. Excitedly, I begin unpacking. I have ordered 3 chicken breasts on the bone. I get 3 packages of 3 chicken breasts from the biggest chickens in captivity. Instead of 2 steaks, I get 2 packages of 2 steaks each. On it goes with minced beef, pork chops and stewing beef. I have enough food for a regiment at least. I am also the proud owner of 2018, unscented wet wipes. I set about cooking chicken for my sister, my niece, myself and the couple down the hall. After this cook-off, I can fit the meat into my fridge-top freezer.

I manage to get 1 more delivery by using the 12 a.m. strategy, but after that, although I try 4 nights in a row, I cannot snag a spot. Obviously, I have to go out to shop.

Coming soon 100 Days of Solitude: chpt 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watching the Breath: listening to the light

Day 93: Yes, I know there are other people still locked down. Steven Colbert was last week. Possibly, my region can be opened up this week, but the last I heard cases of Covid-19 were still going up, especially in my suburb. Although, honestly, it won’t make much difference to me, given my advanced age and the nearly 20% chance that it will be fatal if I catch it.

For the first three weeks, I didn’t leave my apartment, but then grocery delivery stopped working. You could order a large number of things and sit up until 12 a.m. to get a delivery slot, four nights in a row and never get one. Conclusion – I had had too few children, the two I had were wanderers and I would have to scuttle out before daylight and buy my own.

So for three months, I have been staring out my high windows at the sky, my feet touching earth once a week to hunt and gather. The good news is it’s now daylight at 6:50 a.m.

I know everyone has had different stresses and pressures. I’m grateful I wasn’t shut up with the man I married nor our children who needed the challenge of strenuous exercise to keep from killing each other. We were both teachers, and good at it, except with our own offspring, who tended to run screaming from the room when their father tried to teach them algebra.

So there’s that to be grateful for.

I also know there are many, many single people who have got to the end of their rope, like me, around 9 p.m. when they haven’t heard another voice all day. Except of course on television. I am proud of the fact that so far I have had only one real panic attack caused by a sudden vision of burning cities and gunfire. We had already had some of that, but this was worse and involved Trump’s rally in Tulsa. I called Georgia my sister, who was puzzled because I couldn’t speak. Finally and with no sociological reference, I managed, “I can’t breathe.” It was a doozy combining all the symptoms of suffocation, heart attack, food poisoning and seizure-like spasms.

Georgia said in a kindly, scolding voice, “You know we all signed up for this. Every last one of us. We made an agreement to take on these roles – victim or killer or Covid patient. We came to do these things, to learn a certain lesson. Anyway, it’s all already happened.”

Now you may not agree with Georgia’s view of destiny, which we undertake pre-incarnation. I’m not altogether sure that I do. At the time,  it seemed a wise idea, although I nearly drew the line at it had “already happened”.

Half an hour later I had calmed down.

Next day I checked in with my daughter in California and she seconded everything Georgia had said, despite the fact that the two of them have barely spoken for forty years. I still want to nail them down about the simultaneity of time. Certain times I absolutely do not want to ever encounter again.

Such as this one.

Thank goodness for household chores that ground me, thank you for Face Time and video calling and even telephones, thank you for television – for  news channels and Netflix and Acorn, thank you for e-books and library loans by internet, thank you for socially distanced chats in Georgia’s backyard and drive-by birthday parties and thank you for the strange experience of being a monk in a mountain cave.

I had read a lot about these chaps in my study of Buddhism and Taoism. I knew that they depended on routine. That seemed an odd way to organize nothing, but I leapt to the task. One of my first daily tasks is to put my hair in order. It was last cut in late January. I wear it short, very short, usually. Now it is half way down my long neck and curling up in an awkward reverse pageboy. This morning I found myself saying, “Fuzzy-wuzzy was a bear..”

Both Georgia and my daughter are fond of reminding me to breathe. I, of course, always respond in my robot voice, “What is breathe?” “Watch your breath,” my daughter says. “And listen”.

I can see about 50 miles of horizon out my floor-to-ceiling windows. The view’s horizon is the shore of Lake Ontario. The photo above does show a line of darker blue that is the water. In the east, I can see the C.N. Tower in downtown Toronto and in the west, I can see the height of the Niagara Escarpment, the only height in this flat land. I particularly love Rattlesnake Point there and longed to go there for the long weeks of shut-in.

I used to live in a ground floor apartment in a triplex. There were bushes and flowers, trees and birds at my level. Now my view is of doll house roofs and tree tops. And sky. I have taken to noticing the change in light throughout the day. At the moment the ground is all green kodachrome while the sky is light blue fading to white over the lake. I have watched a line-squall suddenly tear through with floods of rain and tree-bending winds. I have watched its darkness leave just as suddenly to lash the city. I have remembered the names of clouds from my sailing days and the weather they presaged.

I have sat in absolute stillness listening to the quiet.

At dawn this morning, I dreamed of a man who loved me when I was young, a tweedy grad student who smoked a pipe and wrote me love poetry. I liked him well enough, and spent time with my roommate in the house he lived in with other grad students. It was good to get way from residence food and rules. We laughed and pretended to be intellectuals. After I left university, he called me to invite me to a cousin’s wedding Friday night two days hence. He had tracked me down at Blake’s home. I said I was sorry I couldn’t go. He said, “I suppose you have something important on.” He could be snarky. “Well, yes,” I said reluctantly. “I’m getting married.” I may have named my son after him, although I spelled it differently and reasoned it was my grandmother’s maiden name. He died young, in his forties, of a brain tumour. I didn’t learn that until years later, by which time I was divorced.

“I thought you knew,” my ex-roommate said when she told me. “We thought you were the woman in the veil who came late to the funeral and sat in the back row.”

Last night, he turned up in my dream. We were both still young. He was working in a hospital in Toulon, he said. That was odd, considering he had studied physics.Then he enfolded me in an enormous hug. His body was more substantial than it had ever been and he held me tightly for a long time. So thank you, Brian, after all these months I needed that human touch.

 

 

 

Something Arrived: covid gives way to chaos

Look The Writer by Mendelsohn Joe 1982

My last blog post was called Nothing Arrived after the Villagers’ song https://115journals.com/2020/05/14/nothing-arrived-day-64-of-lockdown/

It turns out I only had to wait. Eventually 3 cloth masks arrived from the veterinary supply store, not quite as advertised but that’s understandable – not that veterinarians had much call for them on day 70, but the rest of us did. I also received a book from Amazon –Dead Lions by Mick Herron, a birthday gift for my niece, long overdue because it had been circling the eastern half of the continent. And Land’s End sped a summer dress to me, so I could survive my south-facing apartment. Best of all, a new news cycle arrived. Suddenly, instead of watching the death count in the U.S. rolling past 100,000, I got to see burning buildings and looted stores on Melrose. Melrose!! Stay the F away from my eye glass! store.

I caught no glimpse of my grandson in the LA march. He knew better than to be there, I told myself. I called him after midnight. He had just got back. He had been shot by ‘rubber’ bullets three times, one in the chest, but he was carrying his backpack there. One in his foot, which was bleeding, and one missed his face, on which he was wearing a gas mask. He absolutely had to be there, he said. It was his responsibility as a citizen. I didn’t argue. I just whined like an old granny – wait a minute – about live bullets coming next.

“Do over. Do over,” I cried to the gods. I’ll go back to nothing arriving. Please. Yes, I believe in equal justice. I hate fascism. I fought it as a child, dragging a wagon of tin and rancid fat and paper to school. Don’t you just have to do that once?

So I lit a candle to Kwan Yin and Buddha. I have to give some credit to George Floyd’s relatives who appealed for the violence to stop, but I don’t discount my Taoist saints. It did stop – except for the cops who battered girls riding bikes and tasered students out looking for a snack and  crushed news photographers with their shields and pushed old men over to crack their skulls. But, by and large, no more stealing small appliances or burning auto supply stores.

It wasn’t until grandson phoned me on his birthday that I found out he had stopped marching. Too dangerous.

So shut up here in my tower like the Lady of Shallot, I indulge in magical thinking. If I ‘pray’/think hard enough things can change. Some people march in large crowds and refuse to obey police commends, cf grandson, while some people light candles and think hard. If only… justice would be universal and Trump would lose his voice. Pretty sure he can’t write except his signature.

So today, the march in D.C. is going to be bigger than ever, despite the baby gate around Lafayette Park, along more than the two blocks that read ‘Black lives matter’ from the Space station probably. And there will be marches across the States, here in Canada and around the world.

I’m not black. I was -and am- white trash, a hillbilly from the Eastern Townships. In those days, the French held power in Quebec. The French held the mortgage on our farm. Grandpa Willy had defaulted. My father took it on. At first he took me with him to hand over what cash he could pay. Dad’s talent with fire must have been a concern for Monsieur Mortgage Holder. Dad was always first to show to put out the flames in a barn.

It’s not the same. I didn’t have to worry about my black son being shot. They just put my white uppity hippy white son in the cruiser and did a suspect parade of one. “Not him,” said the lady.

And I had a long career, passing as a normal, respectable, more or less middle class teacher. But I lived by a code. Never call the police. Stay out of hospitals. Don’t mess with city hall or the government. Keep your head down. Lucky me! My skin doesn’t advertise my difference.

Nothing Arrived: day 64 of lockdown

 

Nothing Arrived: the Villagers (heard in season 2 of Big Little Lies

This blog post uses black humor and talks explicitly about death from covid-19. It may trigger some people, so give it a miss if you think you are one.

What day are you on?

Saying I’m on day 65 is actually inaccurate. I was stuck in all of February with persistent vertigo. I solved it at the beginning of March by taking the advice on my medication bottle. I stopped drinking. They weren’t fooling around about that. I stopped being dizzy and nauseated almost immediately. So this is actually day 93 of being house-bound and day 73 of my sobriety.

For a period of two weeks, I actually did as the leader of my province told us 70-year-old pluses and did not leave the house. That fell through when grocery delivery became impossible. And please! I failed to have enough children to get my groceries. The two I had either got out of town or might as well have. My sister had lured me to her neighborhood with the promise that she would look after me as I grew demented. In the meanwhile, she has aged. But thanks to the magic pill that must never be mixed with alcohol, I have got stronger. Once a week, I gird my loins, cover my nose and mouth and sally forth, bare-handed at the early senior hour to buy the necessaries of life.

I remember that the brave are not fearless. They just move through their terror.

I learned to be afraid of covid-19 by listening to reports from Italy where the octogenarian old dears were dropping like flies. If flies can experience drowning. The lucky ones got shot full of morphine, intubated, and hooked up to a ventilator. Every day the percentage of them dying grew until I stopped paying attention around 25%. What a way to go, you were rendered unconscious and in that state, you passed over, puzzled no doubt and in urgent need of the familiar soul on the other side.

No point, revisiting your mortal coil. You’d have to sort which of the many coffins in the church was you, or where exactly you were in the repurposed ice arena, or which refrigerated truck your body had been stacked in. If you were lucky. If not, you might have found your shell in an unrefrigerated back room or moving van.

This is not my idea of a good death. And yes, I understand it’s not like a good landing – any landing you can walk away from.

A good death involves a degree of consciousness at least initially. The protagonist has to have a clear idea of direction. Window dressing helps, a person or two bedside, holding a hand, smoothing a brow, reminiscing and laughing, reading a poem or even praying. Saying at just the right moment, “You can go now.”

And you’d have to make do with those on the other side who had come to greet you. Those you left behind had been ordered to leave you behind. And they wouldn’t even be gathered in a healing group to urge you lovingly on. Except virtually.

So I didn’t want that death. I wanted even less the DIY, at-home version drowning with fluid in my newly leathered lungs. And such a waste. My death probably wouldn’t even get counted.

Eventually, it came to me that most people my age who died were in long-term care. I am outraged and grief-stricken that society has not chosen to value these lives enough to save them.

I suppose I realized that about day 50 when I wondered just how that sneaky virus was going to get me. All I had to do was carry on like this, totally alone except for scuttling at a social distance into a grocery store, washing my hands 6 or 7 times a day, cleaning the door knobs and my cell phone.

It began to seem that I was likelier to die of anxiety or pop a stroke watching the leader of the free world or just fade away, not with a bang but a whimper out of sheer, utter boredom.

And so I started hearing “Nothing Arrived” in my head.

This is a catastrophe such as I never thought I’d see. Thought I’d seen mine in fact – the Nazi camps, the big bomb, terrorism, genocide. Moreover, this is a slow moving disaster. The morons who gather shoulder to shoulder in their state legislature or in Wisconsin bars or on beaches won’t get the disease for 3 days or even 2 weeks. Every day that number of deaths on the CNN screen goes up.

It’s not even my country. My country has had only 5000 deaths at this writing. But it is my daughter’s and my grandsons’ and my great grand daughters. We are an anxious family, so we are careful people. We may have to be driven out of our homes in late 2021. Talk about ‘Stand your ground’.

So I’m waiting for something, and something died. So I waited for nothing and nothing arrived. “My dear sweet nothing, let’s start anew. From here on in, it’s just me and you.”

“I guess it’s over. I guess it’s begun. It’s a loser’s table, but we’ve already won. It’s a funny battle. It’s a constant game. I guess I was busy when nothing came.”

 

Slow Time, Slow Horses: the Slough House spies

Fortunately, I trained early in the art of solitude. Until I was 5, I was an only child on a farm in the mountains of Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Our land produced a reliable crop of stones every year, just enough hay to keep the cows going and a few hardy vegetables. Without electricity, telephone or indoor plumbing, I had only my imagination to entertain me. It has come in handy in the past two months.

I know the Covid-19 shut down has theoretically lasted only 5 weeks or so, but I was shut in by debilitating dizziness and nausea for most of February, so thank you early childhood.

Once we moved to town and I learned to read, I read everything I could get my hands on, which wasn’t much. It wasn’t until we moved to the city at the end of the war that I laid hands on library books. Then my ingrained solitary self could live happily in worlds populated by imaginary people.

For 2 1/2 months, I have lived surrounded by the slow horses, exiles from the British Secret Service (MI5), banished across the Thames to rundown Slough House in the hope that mind-numbing clerical work will force them to quit.

I discovered Mick Herron’s Slough House series when I searched the e-book catalogue of my local library for the Soho Mysteries. I had already read many of these books including the Cara Black mysteries set in Paris, David Downing’s set across Europe and South Asia and Dan Fesperson’s also European in setting.

Herron is English, an Oxford alumnus. He worked as an editor and never, he is quick to say as a spy, unlike many well-known spy novelists like Le Carre. As a result, he feels free to invent. His ‘slow horses’ are rejects from the MI5 head-quartered in Regent Park, London. Each of them has failed in their training or their service, some spectacularly, but, for one reason or another, cannot be fired outright.

River Cartwright, for example is the grandson of David Cartwright, fondly known as OB (Old Bastard) and formerly #2 in the Service. River ‘crashed’ King’s Cross subway station during the evening rush causing the entire system to shut down for hours. Theoretically. By failing to capture the ‘suicide terrorist’. In fact commuters carried on blissfully unaware of their fate. It was a training test.

Other insubstantial inhabitants of my 14th floor apartment included Bad Sam Chapman, disgraced head Dog (security) of the Service; alcoholic Catherine Standish, former assistant to #1, whose body she discovered, fighting her addiction a day at a time; Louisa Guy, the most competent of the lot; Min Harper, who left a top-secret disc on a subway seat; Roddy Ho, computer genius and social moron; Marcus Longridge, an inveterate gambler; J.K. Coe, PTSD victim who finds stress relief in killing people; Moira Tregorian, who has no idea why she has been sent there: Lech (Alec) Wicinski, who absolutely did not access child pornography on his work computer; Sid Baker -is she a plant and what really happens to her; Shirley Dander, cocaine addict and one-woman army and Jackson Lamb. Lamb drinks, smokes, and farts at his desk, never washes, and, generally breaks each and every politically correct convention there is going, inflicts pain and suffering on his staff, for he is indeed the head of Slough House. For his sins or possibly for his achievements. On the other hand, he will not suffer anyone one else to harm his joes.

A joe is an agent in the field. Slow horses are no longer permitted to mount ops, to undertake operations. They are to stick to their book work, their computer drudgery on their outdated equipment, but every so often an op is forced upon them by circumstances, when someone is intent on murdering Roddy Ho, for example, or someone kidnaps Catherine, or Min’s teenage son goes missing. The list goes on.

They are all inept, not a James Bond in the bunch. Quite a few of them get eliminated by their much more cunning adversaries. What they lack in effectiveness, they make up for in spirit. Some deaths are heroic, some are chance and some are just plain stupid. Even though they can’t stand each other in the office, they throw themselves bodily into the fray when a fellow slow horse is in danger. And Jackson Lamb, who often seems to be missing in action, is usually meeting Regent Park’s #1 or #2 with enough blackmail to protect his people from ‘friendly fire’. You may hear him snoring, but don’t assume he is sleeping on the job.

The books are mysteries, yes, but they are also funny, partly because of their absurdity but also because of their wit. Jackson Lamb dismisses Brexit, “I’ve read more convincing lies on the side of a bus.” And “Except the cold war didn’t end. It just hid behind closed doors like Trump in a tantrum.”

The series begins with Slow Horses, in which a kidnapped Muslim boy is due to be beheaded on-line. Dead Lions harks back to the Old Bastard’s glory days, a possibly mythical Soviet spy and a very long term sleeper cell. Real Tigers involves a para-military group coercing the slow horses into handing over secret information. Spook Street centers on River and his grandfather and a curious commune in France with children but no female residents. London Rules focuses on British politics and elucidates the rules of spydom there as opposed to Moscow rules; London rules include ‘Cover your arse’ and ‘Stick together until you can’t.’ Joe Country is a Brexit era novel with a character who may well be a pre-covid Boris Johnson, its thrilling final action set in wintry Wales. There are also several novellas, including The List -after Dead Lions, Nobody Walks -after it, The Drop before Joe Country and The Last Dead Letter after it as well as The Catch. These shorter works may refer to Slough House but center on other characters.

Herron has also written several novels featuring Zoe Boehm, a private detective, another down at the heels protagonist.

For a glossary of terms, characters and places used in the Slough House books see https:spywrite.com/2018/07/04mick-herron-slough-house, which would be particularly helpful if you read the books out of order.

 

 

Who Wants to Live?:

Who wants to live to be 103?
A 102-year-old.

My point of view is not unique, but it is not shared by a large percentage of the population, so I thought I would share it.

I am 84.

It was a struggle getting here but, considering that, you may wonder why I want to stay.

I suffered an extremely abusive childhood. I barely survived my sixth year. It led to years of mental anguish and much therapy to recover. A pattern that was continued in my adult children. I was divorced, enduring not only the loss of my beloved family, but also loss of financial prosperity. I have survived two different malignancies. Recently, I have helped my ex-husband as he passed painfully on and then I managed his estate. Finally, my life seemed to sail out into an open, calm sea with a following wind.

Then covid-19 appeared.

For weeks we have heard stories from Italy and just today from Spain about how stressed hospitals are triaging acutely ill patients. Older people are going to the back of the ventilator line. I have just watched a video of a Spanish doctor crying as he introduced the audio of another doctor, describing how patients older than 65 are being sedated. There are not enough ventilators. Of course, their families are not allowed to be there. Health care workers hold their hands as they suffocate.

As my ex-husband fell into unconsciousness last March, four of us sat beside his bed, talking to him and to each other, laughing even and surrounding him with love as he made his passage. Across the continent, his daughter supported him long distance.

I am 19 years over the cutoff of 65 years used in Spain.

I have changed my care directive. It already said ‘do not resuscitate’. Now it says that I opt not to be treated by ventilator if there is a shortage. Probably unnecessary, but it may help those who have to deny it to me.

But I am not ready as apparently Glen Beck, Lieutenant Governor of Texas, 69, is to die to raise the Dow Jones or the S&P average. Talk about volunteering to be cannon fodder. The economy, like the human spirit, has resources not dreamt of in his philosophy..

I’m lucky that my country, Canada, has a sane and thoughtful leader. He and his cabinet assure us that preparations for the surge of patients that is coming is being prepared for. I have now been in self-isolation for more than two weeks as have most people in my province. I had to go out for food last week. Stores let older people in an hour early. The first store was all but empty. There was a line to get into the second one, everyone six feet apart. I am being very strict with myself, even refusing to join my sister and niece for an at-home movie and pizza. I wash my hands like Lady Macbeth and clean my devices as I’m told.

Eighty-four-years that’s enough surely. Can’t ask for more.

Well, any extra are not going to be subtracted from your allotment. I’ve made that clear. And, surprisingly, where there’s life, there’s hope. Living things do not usually want to become non-living. Some people want badly to stop hurting and confuse that with not living, but the two are not the same.

So when you hear the news that’s supposed to cheer you up that covid-19 is fatal only for the immune-challenged and the elderly, don’t misunderstand. For one thing, young people, even infants and teenagers, have died of it. For the other, a great many of us have underlying health issues and some of us are old. Curiously, we still want to survive.

Yes, we are all afraid. And bored. And under-funded. And going stir-crazy. In that we are as one. Let us carry each other.

 

 

 

Waiting for the Bullet: Diary of a Dead Man on Leave

David Downing takes the title of his latest spy novel, Diary of a Dead Man on Leave from a Comintern expression roughly equivalent to the American saying “dead man walking”, which describes a prisoner condemned to death. Spies for the Soviet Union expected to be eliminated eventually, often by their own side.

Josef, the narrator of the diary is a German national, returned from South America to Hamm, Germany to foment revolution there. He has seen the inside of prison in his previous assignment, but in Hitler’s Germany in 1938, prison is the least of his worries. Any Germans with communist ideas have learned to keep their head down or even to espouse the ideals of the fascist German Social Democracy party, which Hitler heads.

It seemed appropriate that my library hold on this ebook should come through in the first week of March 2020, given the news.

In this winter of my 84th year I have been battling chronic pain in the first place and the side effects of the medication that alleviated it in the second. Briefly, the meds worked brilliantly, except they made me seasick. I staggered about, trying not to throw up, but reluctant to quit them because of their good effect.

At the same time, news of the novel corona virus came at me from every direction. I live in Toronto, where SARs made itself at home in 2002-3 and I knew people affected. The good news being touted was that Covid-19 was not as deadly as SARs. The other good news was that it could be mild, didn’t seem to affect children and most of the people who died were elderly.

Just a minute – that’s me.

The average age of those who have died at this date is 80. Those over 80 have over a 20.5% chance of dying from it, according to WHO’s February figures. I tried to put that in perspective. Twenty of one hundred 80-year-olds who caught it died. The other one presumably became a zombie. No, no, stupid, you have to think in terms of 200. Forty one of them died. Okay. Got it.

Well, should I even bother hoarding toilet paper. The average age of those hospitalized was 60. I’d be carted out of here snappish at that rate. No problem. My apartment door is opposite the elevators. No troublesome narrow staircase.

So that’s settled. Someone else can raid my pantry in their desperation to survive the quarantine.

Like Josef, all I can do is wait for the bullet, comforted by the fact that if it’s my bullet, someone else will be spared.

I had a brief flirtation with Communist ideology in my youth, mostly to annoy Joe McCarthy, the U.S. senator who was persecuting liberal Americans. Never mind that I was Canadian. I cheered when Castro ‘liberated’ Cuba, the day that I was married. Got over that pretty fast, certainly by the fall of 1962 when the Soviets seemed bent on blowing up my babies.

Spy-wise, Josef’s return to Germany, is not a success.The first sign is that he decides to keep a diary: spies should never commit anything to paper. He has found a room in a boarding house run by a widow, Anna, who has a 12-year-old son, Walter. Walter is trying to navigate his way through school assignments, which require him to support Nazi ideas and policies and he turns to Josef for help. It is this unexpected human need that prompts Josef to start his journal.

At that time -the summer and fall of 1938 – Hitler is laying the groundwork for the annexation of Sudetenland, the “Germanic” part of Czechoslovakia. It looks as if he will gobble up the whole country. Probably he delays because, despite the armament he has built, his railway infrastructure is not yet up to the job. Josef knows this because he works on scheduling trains. Czechoslovakia will be annexed entirely in March 1939, but it will take the invasion of Poland for the Allies to declare war. The main narrative of the diary ends before that.

There are four boarders in Anna’s house, avid followers of the news. One of them Rushay delightedly recites newspaper accounts of  the latest Nazi  ‘achievements’ at the breakfast table. He is not the only boarder who is in love with Anna, but he is the most persistent.

Reading these scenes is like watching CNN today, leadership indulging in half-truths, self aggrandizement, unapologetic disregard for facts and downright lies.

David Downing lives in England with his American wife. And yes, they do get CNN across the pond. My Belgian brother gets a head start on us because he gets up six hours earlier and sometimes wakes me up with outrages I don’t yet know about. I have explained to him that my medication is supposed to be calming my nerves, which are otherwise set on maximum alert, that I don’t watch the news anymore.

Addicts lie, but you knew that.

Diary of a Dead Man on Leave alludes to the ever worsening persecution of the Jews and concentration camps, but it dramatizes the persecution of Walter’s African-German school friend, Marco, who gets called a Rhineland bastard. He was conceived there at the end of WW I and his father, who loved his mother, was shipped home, not knowing about the conception.

Josef lives in expectation of recall to Moscow and the bullet that will probably await him. He is not sure he will answer the summons when it comes and meanwhile, Anna’s family needs him more and more.

He has always put his ideals before individual needs. The good of the whole and all that. How much of conscience should be sacrificed for pragmatic personal reasons?

Like many others, I would be better off today if I had been more pragmatic and morally flexible, but I chose to defy that logic. The same defiance that brought me here leads me to say the Covid-19 bullet is not for me.

If I am wrong, it doesn’t matter.

Ah Josef, this life is a school after all.