For the collection: 'Life in the time of #COVID'
Consider Albright – a family man and professional, neither young nor old, rich nor poor, profligate nor paragon. In short, a man ordinary in all respects except for one thing – he’s come to get the results of his Corona Virus test from Dr. Radislavov (or is it Radislovski), an Iron Curtain émigré with a less than perfect understanding of English and doctor-patient etiquette.
She ordered the test – the last one available at the lab – because he’d been complaining of symptoms associated with the Virus. The same symptoms, he knew, attributable to the common cold, the flu, or seasonal allergies. Suffice it to say that he’d been feeling rundown of late and had the sniffles, flu-like aches and pains, and a dry cough. All mild. Besides, he’d taken the usual precautions and then some.
Even if he had the Virus it was not a death sentence. Not for someone like him. He was in good health; he was going to live forever.
Yet everyday the death toll – which seemed to hover at 1.5-2 % of those infected – grew exponentially. Death stalked the aged and patients with respiratory diseases, cancer, high blood pressure, lung and heart disease, and autoimmune system illnesses. None of which he had.
Grateful for the abundance in his life – his family, the work he loved, his home and until now his health – he was not one to think only of himself. Active in community service, he believed that to save a life was to save the world. Yet, he could do nothing about the hundreds dying. And even if he could, he had to take care of his family first.
He was going to be alright – he told himself – carried along on the crest of his habitual optimism – a character trait since his early twenties.
He took a deep breath and gave his attention to Dr. Radislavov (or was it Radislovski?), who’d been droning on in her garbled English.
“Get your business in order,” she announced, making “business” sound like something bees do, and rolling the “R” in “order” to sound like a command from a snarky SMERSH agent. Afterward when it was too late, he recalled her faint smile as she admonished him – and remembered his wonder at her smile.
Too bad he failed to stop at the reception desk to pay his bill. Stunned by Radislavov’s (or was it Radislovski?) pronouncement, he wandered into the elevator in a daze (forgetting to press the button with his elbow). The door slid shut before the receptionist could hand him the bill she waved at him. It would have cleared up everything – as the “business” was just his bill. The doctor’s reassurance that he had nothing to worry about – the test was negative – he’d blocked in his anxiety.
A private man, he tells no one, letting the misapprehended idea of his imminent death incubate. A plan takes shape as he goes about his daily routines, forlornly interacting with family, colleagues, and friends as little as possible per protocol, cocooned in his secret like a butterfly in a chrysalis (is death, then, another stage of life opening to a universe of unimaginable beauty, he wonders).
The only thing left, he concludes, is a magnificent demise of his own design. He sets about researching the art of dying, entertaining a variety of solutions, from medical-assisted euthanasia to Buddhist self-immolation. Anything has to be preferable to a lonely isolated parting from this world, in a quarantined hospital bed, bereft of family and friends, choking on his congealed lungs.
In his dreams he experiences all the imagined varieties of suicide as if they were real. On the verge of madness, he realizes that the only way to stop repeating his death, his inescapable torment of being déjà dead, is to make it real.
At last, he understands.
He puts his suicide plan in motion, which entails a spectacular dive off a 450-meter-high cliff in the Hebrides. Only to learn, from a text message from his doctor glimpsed as he leaps to his death (only death will keep us from our cell phones) that his test result is negative.
In a protracted flash-forward during his final 18 seconds, he examines all the alternative paths his life might have taken, realizing with a pang that they all lead here – to his death. Virus or not.
Serendipity: he lets go.
The sea, mother of all things, parts to receive him.
The noise that was his consciousness subsides at last.
Leaving only the sound of the waves crashing relentlessly on the rocks, the howling wind, the high nebulous clouds scudding over the cliffs, and the bright silent orb of the moon smiling mysteriously – the measure of eternity.
“Pardon, me, doctor – you were saying?”
Albright blinked away his reverie. Once again present, he scanned his surrounds, a typical doctor’s consulting room devoid of the human touch except for a pair of poorly-executed paintings of flowers reminiscent of Georgia O’Keefe. His death had felt so real; he flushed with the realization that it had been a hallucination.
“You are okay, Mr. Albright?” Again, the Smersh accent and phrasing.
Dr. Radislavov – yes, Radislavov according to her name tag – was handing him a printout of his test results.
“Don’t forget to get your business in order,” she announced, making “business” sound like something bees do, and rolling the “R” “in order”.
The face mask she wore to repel the virus microbes might have contributed to her mangled English, which sounded vaguely familiar, thought Albright. How could she have smiled?
“Wash – coming and going,” she added.
The happiest man alive, Albright paid his bill and entered the elevator, a changed man. Needless to say, he remembered to press the floor button using his elbow. He made a mental note to put his shirt in the wash as soon as he got home.
There were tough times ahead – he knew. But he was up to the challenge. After all, how many times can you die and not get sick of it?
E.H. Davis is a credited screenwriter, novelist, and poet. His fiction has appeared in The Pacific Review, Mystery Weekly, Otherwise Engaged Literature and Arts Journal, New Pop Lit, Literary Heist, and Vinylwriter. His debut novel 'My Wife’s Husband: A Family Thriller' (Amazon) will be followed by the sequel 'Forsaken' in the fall of 2020.