As a writer and bookseller, Fernando Flores has an eye and an ear for the humanity in absurdity. His contribution to the CHWP is a record of this associative time in which we are all rendered observers not only of the outside world but also of ourselves and our inner narratives. Who hasn’t had a bizarre interaction with someone equally starved for conversation? Who hasn’t had a moment of cognitive dissonance or an anxiety dream? As I was reading Fernando’s contribution, I experienced moments of deep recognition and comfort.—Erika Stevens, Senior Editor
coronaverse (April-May, 2020)
My landlord talks to me from across the shut gate. He wears a homemade mask with a constellation—Orion?—over his mouth and nose, and red nylon strings hooked on his ears. He had hip surgery in early March and is telling me about the final doctor’s appointment tied to his recovery.
“Even though all this is happening, I asked the doctor what he recommends I do now that I’m healed, and he said, ‘Young man. I want you to do everything you were doing ten years ago.’” Then he laughs.
Before I can compliment his recovery, and mask, he walks away to rake the leaves from the magnolia. I am forced to admit to myself I don’t even know what Orion looks like, that I’ve never made time in my life to learn about constellations.
A friend texts me the words moose and Indian in two separate texts. I stare at the texts blankly. Awaiting maybe a third. My friend is a father who recently got bad news regarding his employment. Most texts I usually get from him are links to obscure noise-rock tracks. After a moment, I think, well, yes, I come from indigenous northern Mexican people—but moose? We live in Texas.
I ask my friend what’s up, and he replies, “Those were Thoreau’s last words. Moose and Indian,” in two separate texts, again.
I have to be honest, when I first read up on it, I thought tiny crowns on a virus—something so small—were fucking cute.
My first experience with anything like quarantine was as a boy, when Hurricane Gilbert crept from the Gulf of Mexico to hit South Texas and the border. I helped my father board up the windows to our family’s trailer, and we stayed with my grandparents in Reynosa, across the border. Their home was concrete and considered less at risk. My grandparents’ neighbors, along with their children, were also sheltering there, and one of the kids had a large, laminated board game, meant to be educational rather than competitive. It was a map of the world, and the playing pieces were different animals. The purpose of the game was to correctly place the pieces over the parts of the world where the animals were native, but the other kids and I developed a game with points, and winners and losers, from our collective imagination. I remember the power going out, flashlights over the game, streets flooding, cables whipping in the wind, but nobody ever being scared. No men—not even my father—other than my grandfather, who lived in the house, are in this memory, only women and the other children, including my two younger sisters. My father must have sheltered with his own father in the less elevated neighborhood near downtown Reynosa. Schools were closed and few stores and gas stations were open on both sides of the border. I remember, also, people crowding the streets on the American side, angry during the hurricane, protesting with signs and guns the devastation and closures, but I know this last part can’t possibly be true.
I find a note I’d jotted down in late February about the blues—how there’s no cure for them either—and think about the jokes we made then that we can’t possibly make today.
I’ve never been the type of person who remembers his dreams, and I almost never have nightmares. Recently I’ve had a few bad ones, however—in the most recent, there was a fellow tall person I actually know, who I don’t see often and who is also from the valley. Let’s call him Defoe. Defoe, in the dream, stood barefoot in a heavily bleached hallway, with rusted metals and blades protruding from his feet. But his feet weren’t bleeding; they looked like they’d healed with the rusted parts in them, much like a tree. Defoe told me he’d jumped from the roof of a building to escape a vague threat. I asked if he’d been to the hospital, and he said no, and that he didn’t want to go, even laughed at my question. I drove him to the hospital anyway, and when I looked down on my own feet as we arrived, there were wrenches and rusted metals spiking through, much like Defoe’s. I pulled the wrench out of my right foot, to blood oozing, then woke up in a startle.
It’s probably good for mental health to harbor at most one petty grievance during tough times, and mine is this: the daily missed opportunities for people in media and online to use the word fortnight. The virus has a fourteen-day incubation period, they say; cases need to go down for fourteen straight days before we can think about reopening, we read almost daily. I know we’re not in a Trollope novel. Still. I’m disappointed.
Fernando A. Flores is a bookseller at Malvern Books and the author of Tears of the Trufflepig and Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas.