Lynne Tillman on the Small Act of Leaving the House
"Everyone is an enemy in a virtual war."
I am myself, because I do the same things every day. I do them now, make the bed, a pot of tea. There are things I don’t do, never do, things other people do, cook fish, for example. I don’t need to know why I don’t do them, but often I do know, and this is what makes me.
In a room, I think about what I will do, myself, about others. I remember others, memory includes others, friends lovers sisters father mother ex-friends. Figures in mind, like Kafka, who abjures himself, and the dead, they live with me now.
In a room, I am reading, glancing out of the window, or I am looking at what I am writing. Then I stop. Discouraged, distracted, I am exhausted, lie down, sit up, touch my toes, swing my arms, make a phone call, ignore a call, hear a voice, see a message, answer it, don’t, there is plenty of time, too much time. Only time.
In a room, I am restive, restless, and bore myself.
I look at my books, shelves overwhelmed, actually I watch them, I am their guardian. I read this, that, Natalia Ginzburg, Lyndall Gordon on Charlotte Bronte and Virginia Woolf, a book on spies. Books live for me to read, books are alive when they are read, but mostly I fail them, and they rebuke me.
I look for distractions. I look at my cat, my cat is not worried, and I am I.
Now, as I did yesterday, and the day before, I shower, dress in my oversized jeans, a loose cotton shirt, then give myself a task, to go outside, and walk. Fresh air is good. I find out the temperature. I will go to the post office.
I pull on a pair of white sticky latex gloves. I carry a bag with a small spray bottle of fluid to vanquish invisible bacteria, because the virus awaits. I walk down three flights of stairs, not holding the handrail, though I fear, and have always feared, tripping and falling down a flight of stairs, breaking my neck. I know I will die this way, if the virus doesn’t kill me. Still, I don’t hold the handrail.
I reach the street, I walk, watch everyone, create the mandated social distance, and weave a path on the sidewalk. I will keep six feet away, I try to, some people don’t, many, children don’t. I reach the near-empty post office, and wish I had packages to mail, there are no long lines, when there are always long lines, but I don’t have a package, just a letter I slip into a slot in a wall, disappointingly.
I walk to the door, push the door open with my shoulder, it’s heavy, when a woman suddenly is close beside me, and breathes on me. I walk away fast, then look back at her. Who is she to endanger me?
She is very old, wearing a misshapen, black cloth coat.
Everyone is an enemy in a virtual war.
I look back at the very old woman. She has stopped walking, bent over, maybe catching her breath, and watching me. She is wondering why I am fleeing her. I think, You are not keeping enough distance between us. Do you want to make me sick. Will I make you sick. Are you sick. Now I feel sick, but I am not sick.
I walk home, wary, avoiding humanity, and reach the front door of my building, wipe the doorknob, and wonder if I should post a message to the other tenants, let us know if you are sick. If you are sick, stay away.
Upstairs, I brush off the soles of my shoes on a rug, unlock the door, carefully take off the gloves, and wonder if they should be washed, can be washed, can be reused, and if I can waste a pair of gloves, or how many will I need. I wash my hands, happy birthday happy birthday, lather up, consoled by the hot water, wonder if there will continue to be running water, wash my hands, happy birthday happy birthday, singing too fast I think, and wonder who will be saved.