Sunday, August 02, 2020

I water her every day

About this time last summer, my espresso machine clogged up. After several failed attempts to clean it, I gave up the double espresso filter basket for dead, and resorted to drinking singles. This week, out of the blue, as if I was waking from a stupor, it occurs to me that I might find a replacement basket online without having to replace the entire machine. Twenty-four hours and twelve dollars later, I resume double-espresso mornings. It's a productive and creative week, and also a happy week. I can't help but wonder if all my breakdowns and tirades, my crises of faith in myself and in others, my angers and resentments, and even the desperate explorations into myself — all my emotions — were simply the result of not enough coffee.

It turns out that my tomato plant is cherry tomatoes after all — pluck one, pop it in your mouth, and it's gone. I'd wanted something more substantial. After some initial disappointment, I find I am able to harvest a couple dozen at once after all. This balcony garden yields meagre offerings, though I am grateful for the herbs. I will plant more and better next year.

After 141 days of working from home, I return to the office to retrieve some personal effects. I had a scheduled entry time, with specific instructions about arriving with my own PPE, not arriving by public transportation. I walk the eight kilometres; I arrive early and wait. No one is there to verify my protective gear. No one is there to make me sign a waiver or to attest to being symptom free. No one is there except one of the porters, who looks mildly shell-shocked, like working in isolation has driven him slightly mad — the graveyard shift in broad daylight, with only the ghosts of employees to clean up after.

I recover two pairs of shoes from the cloakroom. I pick my Fluevogs out from amid several dozen sneakers, all neatly lined up expecting their owners to step into them at the start of every workday. The last time I went to the office I was still wearing winter boots.

There are no laptops on the desks, but there are monitors and wires, pens and notepads. Sweaters on the backs of chairs swiveled as if abandoned mid conversation. I am reminded of the pictures of Chernobyl schoolrooms, only this feels more invisible, less organic.

There is an uprooted plant on the floor of the cafeteria. The weeping tree in our studio looks as if it might crumble if I stroke its leaves — it's cried itself dry. Remarkably, my happy bean plant still looks happy — its arms are straining toward the window and it's thirsty, but I swear it twitched for joy as I approached, my every step sending tremors through the bones of the building.

I sit the bean in my bag atop the reference books I came for, padded out with my hoodie. I grab the office-issue headphones. I empty my drawer of instant soup packets and handcream — I may need those.

The rest of the day feels weirdly decadent: hanging out with my sister on her terrace, window shopping, lunching out at an open-air market. Is life normal again? How come I didn't get the memo? Ich will in die Zukunft reisen.

At home, one of the indoor plants continues to have the company of mushrooms. One sprouts and dies, another takes its place. 

Since lockdown, there are now four novels I have read that I have not (yet?) written about here. I continue to read essays by Didion and stories by Carrington ("A Man in Love"):
We went through a door at the back and reached a room where there was a bed in which lay a woman, motionless and probably dead. It seemed to me that she must have been there a long time, for the bed was overgrown with grass.

"I water her every day," the greengrocer said thoughtfully. "For forty years I've been quite unable to tell whether she is alive or dead. She hasn't moved or spoken or eaten during that time. But, and this is the strange thing, she remains warm."
We are overgrown — by masks and gloves and viral effluvia, by our metaphorical mushrooms — but somehow we remain warm.  

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