Saturday, September 25, 2021

The smell of irritation and boredom

There's a Jewish joke that says God often rereads the Torah to try to understand what's going on in this world he created.

On the 561st day of German lessons, the sickness finally comes. It announces its impending arrival by text from a friend already ill. And its presence is confirmed by phonecall from Public Health.

I keep looking at the photo he took of me at Jazz Festival that Saturday evening. I look so happy. And pretty. And it warms me, to know he saw me that way in that moment. He infected me with his glance.

She wishes she could abandon her body and dissolve into everything outside.

That afternoon I'd been running errands and stopped by the old park with a coffee. But it was fenced off, under construction. How many hours I'd spent there in the cold of last winter, nipping scotch from a flask, stealing time with my old lover, under curfew. All those conversations and kisses now to be excavated. Time to find a new park.

I feel light. I have music in me, jazz, these are the good old days.

Monday, in line at the walk-in clinic, I'm reading The Anomaly, by HervĂ© Le Tellier (due out in November), pretentious in its intentional stance of antipretentiousness. It is the French intellectual version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, clever but not very funny. I'm symptom-free, and nervous to be huddling among the potentially infected. But he'd messaged to say he'd tested positive, I should get checked too. Protocol 42 is invoked after a plane lands three months after it originally landed, carrying the same passengers, after experiencing turbulence, presumably a glitch — not in the matrix (the virtual manifestation fed by human energy), but in the coding of the program itself (Slartibartfast asleep at the wheel). Purportedly Oulipian in its design, this wasn't obvious to me, which may be either a strength or a weakness.

It's election day. It wouldn't be right to vote, to potentially expose others; the directive is to isolate while awaiting results. It's Helena's first election. I wait it out at a distance, she is in line for two hours, polls have officially closed and the election is already decided by the time she casts her ballot. It's late and chilly, and my throat feels a bit sore.

The passengers meet themselves three months older, with the exception of one passenger, an author who killed himself. They can see their futures, and try to change them. On Tuesday they tell me I'm already sick, but I'm not sick yet.

We must kill the past to ensure it is still possible.

My contacts are traced, and people worry illogically. How I could infect someone if I hadn't been exposed to the virus yet?

I attend my usual (virtual) meditation session Wednesday. My mind wanders; it is designed that way, our guide reminds me. I practice breathing. I'm good at breathing, I can beat the illness by breathing. For months already I have been feeling that I cannot breathe enough out. My capacity to breathe in is capped; I have first to expel what I have been holding in. There is always more to breathe out, I could breathe out forever. I visualize the viral particles expelled from my body.

She brandishes the empty bottle in her hand, leans forward in a deliciously unfocused way, and blows her warm, hopscented breath at his nose.

"Breathe it in, Adrian, that's the smell of irritation and boredom."

(What if it attacks my lungs? I need to practice breathing.)

I have permission, for the first time in about 600 days, to relax. Because I am physically sick. Never mind wellness culture; however much I try to care for my spirit, every mote of indulgence is tied to a strand of guilt. Work harder, call your mother, be productive, put food on your table, have purpose. 

I force myself to exercise my senses. I had no appetite last night, but I cook sausage so that the house reeks of it. This morning I have quince spread on baguette, just so I can describe it like grainy, tangy chocolate. I've never had quince before.

Over just a few weeks, a graphomanic Victor Miesel fill hundreds of pages in this style, fluctuating between lyricism and metaphysics: "The oyster that feels the pearl knows that the only conscience is pain, in fact it is only the pleasure of pain. [...] The coolness of my pillow always reminds me of the pointless temperature of my blood. If I shiver with cold, it means my pelt of solitude is failing to warm the world."

I spend afternoons on my balcony gazing through the trees at the sky. My temperature climbs another tenth of a degree. Will it stop now? What if it doesn't stop?

I'm fully vaccinated. The friend who exposed me to the virus is fully vaccinated. We were supposed to be allowed to live a little, again. I'm supposed to go to Ireland this week. I need a vacation. I think I have to cancel my flight. Maybe I'll read Ulysses. Maybe I'll sleep. 

There's a helicopter overhead. Maybe it's here to lift me out of myself.

I feel like I'm having weird dreams, only I don't remember them. I feel like I'm on drugs, certain sensations come into hyperfocus and time distorts. Moments of intense clarity. And then they're gone.

We're prepared to warp reality if the stake is not losing altogether. We want answers for even our tiniest anxieties and a way of conceiving the world without reexamining our values, our emotions, and our actions. 

The Anomaly: Excerpt.

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