Thursday, March 31, 2011

In the kitchen I pawed through my cupboard

I

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget. The buses were part of a general plan to return life to its normal state as soon as possible. Vast numbers of citizens and large swaths of the city had been reduced to cinders but public transportation was up and running. Schools, hospitals, churches and liquor stores were open and I made pilgrimages to all of them in their turn. We all did. What else were we going to do?

I saw the woman outside one of the hospitals, where she stood on the sidewalk opposite the main doors. People broken and breaking, mending and fading, living and dying all streamed past while she held herself immobile. Her hands and face were pale, almost the yellow of fresh butter, startling against a black wool coat. Beneath her coat a crimson scarf wound about her neck, a burst of color that brought to mind houses aflame in the middle of the night. I had seen this woman before, during the days of panic. I shuddered and walked on, into the hospital to do my duty. The woman and I were destined to collide; her duties intersected unhappily with mine and I didn't wish to associate with a thing like her. These were the sorts of thoughts I couldn't afford to be distracted by at the hospital. It was best to concentrate on the awful task that lay ahead of me.

The national guardsmen checked my identification and I was escorted back into the secure wards. A stack of files in sickening yellow binders with crimson and black tabs was waiting for me. The charge nurse put the files into my arms and then scuttled away as if it was me who was unclean. Her name badge said Angela. She was permitted to ask my name and I was permitted to tell her, but she never asked. I never offered. I carried the files to the dim office the hospital lent us, placed the ugly folders on the desk and closed the door behind me. I sat down and examined the files. The epidemic was officially over, the buses ran on time and there was fresh produce at the grocers but there is no end to death. Every day I think of that poem by Shelly: Death is here, death is there, death is busy everywhere. There is a high suicide rate in my department.

The files were all in order. The doctors had followed the directives and it was time for me to act as an officer of the state. One by one I signed the last forms, closed the files and set them aside. Through the closed door I heard someone cry out in pain, a woman I think. There was always noise in the secure wards.

I dug through my coat pockets until I found a pack of cigarettes. Smoking is of course forbidden in hospitals but the office stank of carbolic and the sickness and I needed the nicotine to steady my nerves before I went out into the wards. Some of my colleagues carried whiskey in pocket flasks. My colleagues were good men, or anyway they were men like me, but I did not believe in drunkenness on duty though I was never so forward as to chide anyone for it. We all must make our way through life somehow, from the safety of bed out into the world and back, from this morning to tomorrow's morning, facing all this alone. It's not my place to condemn.

I dropped my cigarette to the floor and with the heel of my right shoe I smeared the butt against the tiles. Someone would come sweep up later; I always smoked after signing off on the death files but there was never evidence of this when I returned to the office. Through the door I could still hear a woman crying and I hesitated to go out into the wards. It is little wonder that doctors prescribe tranquilizers so often. I was developing a headache.

I carried the stack of files to the nurse's station and the woman there took the folders but did not look at me. On a few occasions I'd spoken to the nurses about the weather or some other trivia, attempting to build an awareness of our shared humanity and mission, but the nurses never answered me. They didn't like me at all; in their eyes I was nothing more than a duty, a hateful task. I was not a man with a beating heart and blood in his veins. I was not a human being at all. My headache grew a little more intense and I thought about asking for aspirin and a glass of water. Surely a nurse wouldn't ignore a man in need of medical help.

"Nurse Angela," I said.

She stood and walked away from her station, stopping twenty or so feet down the corridor with her back to me. My right eye throbbed suddenly, as if it would burst. I straightened my tie and walked down the corridor toward the critical wing. I could feel the nurse's eyes on my back as I walked along.

An orderly recognized me and waved me into a room that was narrow and long and dark and lined with wheeled beds. A corpse lay on each bed, covered with a red sheet. There were yellow and black tags pinned to the sheets, one at the foot of every bed. I knew that a matching tag was tied to the large toe of each corpse’s right foot, beneath the red sheets. The air smelled of the sickness, of meat and blood and bowel. This was all wrong.

"They are dead?" My question came out more quietly than I intended and for a moment I didn’t think the orderly had heard me. Just as I was about to repeat myself, he answered.

"The other government officer was here earlier. There was a mix-up in the scheduling, apparently."

"And so these people are dead."

"You were not going to let them live, were you?" He did not sound apologetic. His question was a challenge.

"That is not the point." It was the woman. She had come before me. This is not the way it had been ordered. There would be trouble at the Department now.

"What will you do?”

"My duty. Leave me alone, won’t you?"

It was the same all over the city. At hospital after hospital I found that the woman had preceded me, in violation of the directives. My headache grew steadily worse and by nightfall it seemed as though my body would soon split apart, from the crown of my skull down through my ribcage. I cradled my head in the palm of my hand during the bus ride home and nearly missed my stop. That would have been unpleasant; I don't like being outside after dark. The plague is officially over but one never knows and so I hurried along the quiet block from the bus stop to my building. There was a note tacked above the row of doorbells, right over the placard listing my name.

When I was safely locked into my apartment I carried a tumbler of whiskey out onto the balcony, far above the street. The sunset was a frozen explosion over the bay, arms of red and orange thrusting angrily across the horizon. A light wind rattled clumps of dead flowers standing bone dry in pots wired to the balcony rail. I lit a cigarette and read the note. I did not know the handwriting but it was beautiful, angled slightly to the right and feminine; the letters laced into each other like the hooks and barbs of birds' feathers.

It has become imperative that you and I speak. I will visit you in the morning at the Department. Be alone in your office at nine o'clock. This is regrettable, but there are things you should know.

The note was unsigned. Most of the women at the Department worked in units other than mine, and as far as I knew none of my colleagues had my home address. I had no idea who had pinned this message to my door. Perhaps it was a test. They were always testing us.

I drank my whiskey and watched the sun set. To the north, several miles away, something on the ground flared up, bright red and orange, and then went dark. It could have been anything, but you never really know. The air still smelled of burning and perhaps that fed my imagination. I would be in my office at nine o'clock.

In the kitchen I pawed through my cupboard and refrigerator in search of dinner. I was almost out of food. Those dark hospital rooms with dozens of corpses under red sheets kept coming to mind and I decided that I had no appetite. At least my headache had gone away. I drank another glass of whiskey and smoked more cigarettes on the balcony. A few times I was sure I saw more flashes of red to the north out of the corner of my eye but whatever it was winked out as soon as I turned to look carefully. A dog barked somewhere, maybe east of the apartment building. I couldn't remember the last time I'd heard a dog barking. After a while I went back into my apartment, showered and went to bed. I don't remember if I dreamed anything.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Most of the women at the Department

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget. The buses were part of a general plan to return life to its normal state as soon as possible. Vast numbers of citizens and large swaths of the city had been reduced to cinders but public transportation was up and running. Schools, hospitals, churches and liquor stores were open and I made pilgrimages to all of them in their turn. We all did. What else were we going to do?

I saw the woman outside one of the hospitals, where she stood on the sidewalk opposite the main doors. People broken and breaking, mending and fading, living and dying all streamed past while she held herself immobile. Her hands and face were pale, almost the yellow of fresh butter, startling against a black wool coat. Beneath her coat a crimson scarf wound about her neck, a burst of color that brought to mind houses aflame in the middle of the night. I had seen this woman before, during the days of panic. I shuddered and walked on, into the hospital to do my duty. The woman and I were destined to collide; her duties intersected unhappily with mine and I didn't wish to associate with a thing like her. These were the sorts of thoughts I couldn't afford to be distracted by at the hospital. It was best to concentrate on the awful task that lay ahead of me.

The national guardsmen checked my identification and I was escorted back into the secure wards. A stack of files in sickening yellow binders with crimson and black tabs was waiting for me. The charge nurse put the files into my arms and then scuttled away as if it was me who was unclean. Her name badge said Angela. She was permitted to ask my name and I was permitted to tell her, but she never asked. I never offered. I carried the files to the dim office the hospital lent us, placed the ugly folders on the desk and closed the door behind me. I sat down and examined the files. The epidemic was officially over, the buses ran on time and there was fresh produce at the grocers but there is no end to death. Every day I think of that poem by Shelly: Death is here, death is there, death is busy everywhere. There is a high suicide rate in my department.

The files were all in order. The doctors had followed the directives and it was time for me to act as an officer of the state. One by one I signed the last forms, closed the files and set them aside. Through the closed door I heard someone cry out in pain, a woman I think. There was always noise in the secure wards.

I dug through my coat pockets until I found a pack of cigarettes. Smoking is of course forbidden in hospitals but the office stank of carbolic and the sickness and I needed the nicotine to steady my nerves before I went out into the wards. Some of my colleagues carried whiskey in pocket flasks. My colleagues were good men, or anyway they were men like me, but I did not believe in drunkenness on duty though I was never so forward as to chide anyone for it. We all must make our way through life somehow, from the safety of bed out into the world and back, from this morning to tomorrow's morning, facing all this alone. It's not my place to condemn.

I dropped my cigarette to the floor and with the heel of my right shoe I smeared the butt against the tiles. Someone would come sweep up later; I always smoked after signing off on the death files but there was never evidence of this when I returned to the office. Through the door I could still hear a woman crying and I hesitated to go out into the wards. It is little wonder that doctors prescribe tranquilizers so often. I was developing a headache.

I carried the stack of files to the nurse's station and the woman there took the folders but did not look at me. On a few occasions I'd spoken to the nurses about the weather or some other trivia, attempting to build an awareness of our shared humanity and mission, but the nurses never answered me. They didn't like me at all; in their eyes I was nothing more than a duty, a hateful task. I was not a man with a beating heart and blood in his veins. I was not a human being at all. My headache grew a little more intense and I thought about asking for aspirin and a glass of water. Surely a nurse wouldn't ignore a man in need of medical help.

"Nurse Angela," I said.

She stood and walked away from her station, stopping twenty or so feet down the corridor with her back to me. My right eye throbbed suddenly, as if it would burst. I straightened my tie and walked down the corridor toward the critical wing. I could feel the nurse's eyes on my back as I walked along.

An orderly recognized me and waved me into a room that was narrow and long and dark and lined with wheeled beds. A corpse lay on each bed, covered with a red sheet. There were yellow and black tags pinned to the sheets, one at the foot of every bed. I knew that a matching tag was tied to the large toe of each corpse’s right foot, beneath the red sheets. The air smelled of the sickness, of meat and blood and bowel. This was all wrong.

"They are dead?" My question came out more quietly than I intended and for a moment I didn’t think the orderly had heard me. Just as I was about to repeat myself, he answered.

"The other government officer was here earlier. There was a mix-up in the scheduling, apparently."

"And so these people are dead."

"You were not going to let them live, were you?" He did not sound apologetic. His question was a challenge.

"That is not the point." It was the woman. She had come before me. This is not the way it had been ordered. There would be trouble at the Department now.

"What will you do?”

"My duty. Leave me alone, won’t you?"

It was the same all over the city. At hospital after hospital I found that the woman had preceded me, in violation of the directives. My headache grew steadily worse and by nightfall it seemed as though my body would soon split apart, from the crown of my skull down through my ribcage. I cradled my head in the palm of my hand during the bus ride home and nearly missed my stop. That would have been unpleasant; I don't like being outside after dark. The plague is officially over but one never knows and so I hurried along the quiet block from the bus stop to my building. There was a note tacked above the row of doorbells, right over the placard listing my name.

When I was safely locked into my apartment I carried a tumbler of whiskey out onto the balcony, far above the street. The sunset was a frozen explosion over the bay, arms of red and orange thrusting angrily across the horizon. A light wind rattled clumps of dead flowers standing bone dry in pots wired to the balcony rail. I lit a cigarette and read the note. I did not know the handwriting but it was beautiful, angled slightly to the right and feminine; the letters laced into each other like the hooks and barbs of birds' feathers.

It has become imperative that you and I speak. I will visit you in the morning at the Department. Be alone in your office at nine o'clock. This is regrettable, but there are things you should know.

The note was unsigned. Most of the women at the Department worked in units other than mine, and as far as I knew none of my colleagues had my home address. I had no idea who had pinned this message to my door. Perhaps it was a test. They were always testing us.

I drank my whiskey and watched the sun set. To the north, several miles away, something on the ground flared up, bright red and orange, and then went dark. It could have been anything, but you never really know. The air still smelled of burning and perhaps that fed my imagination. I would be in my office at nine o'clock.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When I was safely locked into my apartment

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget. The buses were part of a general plan to return life to its normal state as soon as possible. Vast numbers of citizens and large swaths of the city had been reduced to cinders but public transportation was up and running. Schools, hospitals, churches and liquor stores were open and I made pilgrimages to all of them in their turn. We all did. What else were we going to do?

I saw the woman outside one of the hospitals, where she stood on the sidewalk opposite the main doors. People broken and breaking, mending and fading, living and dying all streamed past while she held herself immobile. Her hands and face were pale, almost the yellow of fresh butter, startling against a black wool coat. Beneath her coat a crimson scarf wound about her neck, a burst of color that brought to mind houses aflame in the middle of the night. I had seen this woman before, during the days of panic. I shuddered and walked on, into the hospital to do my duty. The woman and I were destined to collide; her duties intersected unhappily with mine and I didn't wish to associate with a thing like her. These were the sorts of thoughts I couldn't afford to be distracted by at the hospital. It was best to concentrate on the awful task that lay ahead of me.

The national guardsmen checked my identification and I was escorted back into the secure wards. A stack of files in sickening yellow binders with crimson and black tabs was waiting for me. The charge nurse put the files into my arms and then scuttled away as if it was me who was unclean. Her name badge said Angela. She was permitted to ask my name and I was permitted to tell her, but she never asked. I never offered. I carried the files to the dim office the hospital lent us, placed the ugly folders on the desk and closed the door behind me. I sat down and examined the files. The epidemic was officially over, the buses ran on time and there was fresh produce at the grocers but there is no end to death. Every day I think of that poem by Shelly: Death is here, death is there, death is busy everywhere. There is a high suicide rate in my department.

The files were all in order. The doctors had followed the directives and it was time for me to act as an officer of the state. One by one I signed the last forms, closed the files and set them aside. Through the closed door I heard someone cry out in pain, a woman I think. There was always noise in the secure wards.

I dug through my coat pockets until I found a pack of cigarettes. Smoking is of course forbidden in hospitals but the office stank of carbolic and the sickness and I needed the nicotine to steady my nerves before I went out into the wards. Some of my colleagues carried whiskey in pocket flasks. My colleagues were good men, or anyway they were men like me, but I did not believe in drunkenness on duty though I was never so forward as to chide anyone for it. We all must make our way through life somehow, from the safety of bed out into the world and back, from this morning to tomorrow's morning, facing all this alone. It's not my place to condemn.

I dropped my cigarette to the floor and with the heel of my right shoe I smeared the butt against the tiles. Someone would come sweep up later; I always smoked after signing off on the death files but there was never evidence of this when I returned to the office. Through the door I could still hear a woman crying and I hesitated to go out into the wards. It is little wonder that doctors prescribe tranquilizers so often. I was developing a headache.

I carried the stack of files to the nurse's station and the woman there took the folders but did not look at me. On a few occasions I'd spoken to the nurses about the weather or some other trivia, attempting to build an awareness of our shared humanity and mission, but the nurses never answered me. They didn't like me at all; in their eyes I was nothing more than a duty, a hateful task. I was not a man with a beating heart and blood in his veins. I was not a human being at all. My headache grew a little more intense and I thought about asking for aspirin and a glass of water. Surely a nurse wouldn't ignore a man in need of medical help.

"Nurse Angela," I said.

She stood and walked away from her station, stopping twenty or so feet down the corridor with her back to me. My right eye throbbed suddenly, as if it would burst. I straightened my tie and walked down the corridor toward the critical wing. I could feel the nurse's eyes on my back as I walked along.

An orderly recognized me and waved me into a room that was narrow and long and dark and lined with wheeled beds. A corpse lay on each bed, covered with a red sheet. There were yellow and black tags pinned to the sheets, one at the foot of every bed. I knew that a matching tag was tied to the large toe of each corpse’s right foot, beneath the red sheets. The air smelled of the sickness, of meat and blood and bowel. This was all wrong.

"They are dead?" My question came out more quietly than I intended and for a moment I didn’t think the orderly had heard me. Just as I was about to repeat myself, he answered.

"The other government officer was here earlier. There was a mix-up in the scheduling, apparently."

"And so these people are dead."

"You were not going to let them live, were you?" He did not sound apologetic. His question was a challenge.

"That is not the point." It was the woman. She had come before me. This is not the way it had been ordered. There would be trouble at the Department now.

"What will you do?”

"My duty. Leave me alone, won’t you?"

It was the same all over the city. At hospital after hospital I found that the woman had preceded me, in violation of the directives. My headache grew steadily worse and by nightfall it seemed as though my body would soon split apart, from the crown of my skull down through my ribcage. I cradled my head in the palm of my hand during the bus ride home and nearly missed my stop. That would have been unpleasant; I don't like being outside after dark. The plague is officially over but one never knows and so I hurried along the quiet block from the bus stop to my building. There was a note tacked above the row of doorbells, right over the placard listing my name.

When I was safely locked into my apartment I carried a tumbler of whiskey out onto the balcony, far above the street. The sunset was a frozen explosion over the bay, arms of red and orange thrusting angrily across the horizon. A light wind rattled clumps of dead flowers standing bone dry in pots wired to the balcony rail. I lit a cigarette and read the note. I did not know the handwriting but it was beautiful, angled slightly to the right and feminine; the letters laced into each other like the hooks and barbs of birds' feathers.

It has become imperative that you and I speak. I will visit you in the morning at the Department. Be alone in your office at nine o'clock. This is regrettable, but there are things you should know.

The note was unsigned.

Monday, March 28, 2011

It was the same all over the city.

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget. The buses were part of a general plan to return life to its normal state as soon as possible. Vast numbers of citizens and large swaths of the city had been reduced to cinders but public transportation was up and running. Schools, hospitals, churches and liquor stores were open and I made pilgrimages to all of them in their turn. We all did. What else were we going to do?

I saw the woman outside one of the hospitals, where she stood on the sidewalk opposite the main doors. People broken and breaking, mending and fading, living and dying all streamed past while she held herself immobile. Her hands and face were pale, almost the yellow of fresh butter, startling against a black wool coat. Beneath her coat a crimson scarf wound about her neck, a burst of color that brought to mind houses aflame in the middle of the night. I had seen this woman before, during the days of panic. I shuddered and walked on, into the hospital to do my duty. The woman and I were destined to collide; her duties intersected unhappily with mine and I didn't wish to associate with a thing like her. These were the sorts of thoughts I couldn't afford to be distracted by at the hospital. It was best to concentrate on the awful task that lay ahead of me.

The national guardsmen checked my identification and I was escorted back into the secure wards. A stack of files in sickening yellow binders with crimson and black tabs was waiting for me. The charge nurse put the files into my arms and then scuttled away as if it was me who was unclean. Her name badge said Angela. She was permitted to ask my name and I was permitted to tell her, but she never asked. I never offered. I carried the files to the dim office the hospital lent us, placed the ugly folders on the desk and closed the door behind me. I sat down and examined the files. The epidemic was officially over, the buses ran on time and there was fresh produce at the grocers but there is no end to death. Every day I think of that poem by Shelly: Death is here, death is there, death is busy everywhere. There is a high suicide rate in my department.

The files were all in order. The doctors had followed the directives and it was time for me to act as an officer of the state. One by one I signed the last forms, closed the files and set them aside. Through the closed door I heard someone cry out in pain, a woman I think. There was always noise in the secure wards.

I dug through my coat pockets until I found a pack of cigarettes. Smoking is of course forbidden in hospitals but the office stank of carbolic and the sickness and I needed the nicotine to steady my nerves before I went out into the wards. Some of my colleagues carried whiskey in pocket flasks. My colleagues were good men, or anyway they were men like me, but I did not believe in drunkenness on duty though I was never so forward as to chide anyone for it. We all must make our way through life somehow, from the safety of bed out into the world and back, from this morning to tomorrow's morning, facing all this alone. It's not my place to condemn.

I dropped my cigarette to the floor and with the heel of my right shoe I smeared the butt against the tiles. Someone would come sweep up later; I always smoked after signing off on the death files but there was never evidence of this when I returned to the office. Through the door I could still hear a woman crying and I hesitated to go out into the wards. It is little wonder that doctors prescribe tranquilizers so often. I was developing a headache.

I carried the stack of files to the nurse's station and the woman there took the folders but did not look at me. On a few occasions I'd spoken to the nurses about the weather or some other trivia, attempting to build an awareness of our shared humanity and mission, but the nurses never answered me. They didn't like me at all; in their eyes I was nothing more than a duty, a hateful task. I was not a man with a beating heart and blood in his veins. I was not a human being at all. My headache grew a little more intense and I thought about asking for aspirin and a glass of water. Surely a nurse wouldn't ignore a man in need of medical help.

"Nurse Angela," I said.

She stood and walked away from her station, stopping twenty or so feet down the corridor with her back to me. My right eye throbbed suddenly, as if it would burst. I straightened my tie and walked down the corridor toward the critical wing. I could feel the nurse's eyes on my back as I walked along.

An orderly recognized me and waved me into a room that was narrow and long and dark and lined with wheeled beds. A corpse lay on each bed, covered with a red sheet. There were yellow and black tags pinned to the sheets, one at the foot of every bed. I knew that a matching tag was tied to the large toe of each corpse’s right foot, beneath the red sheets. The air smelled of the sickness, of meat and blood and bowel. This was all wrong.

"They are dead?" My question came out more quietly than I intended and for a moment I didn’t think the orderly had heard me. Just as I was about to repeat myself, he answered.

"The other government officer was here earlier. There was a mix-up in the scheduling, apparently."

"And so these people are dead."

"You were not going to let them live, were you?" He did not sound apologetic. His question was a challenge.

"That is not the point." It was the woman. She had come before me. This is not the way it had been ordered. There would be trouble at the Department now.

"What will you do?”

"My duty. Leave me alone, won’t you?"

It was the same all over the city. At hospital after hospital I found that the woman had preceded me, in violation of the directives. My headache grew steadily worse and by nightfall it seemed as though my body would soon split apart, from the crown of my skull down through my ribcage. I cradled my head in the palm of my hand during the bus ride home and nearly missed my stop. That would have been unpleasant; I don't like being outside after dark. The plague is officially over but one never knows and so I hurried along the quiet block from the bus stop to my building. There was a note tacked above the row of doorbells, right over the placard listing my name.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

An orderly recognized me

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget. The buses were part of a general plan to return life to its normal state as soon as possible. Vast numbers of citizens and large swaths of the city had been reduced to cinders but public transportation was up and running. Schools, hospitals, churches and liquor stores were open and I made pilgrimages to all of them in their turn. We all did. What else were we going to do?

I saw the woman outside one of the hospitals, where she stood on the sidewalk opposite the main doors. People broken and breaking, mending and fading, living and dying all streamed past while she held herself immobile. Her hands and face were pale, almost the yellow of fresh butter, startling against a black wool coat. Beneath her coat a crimson scarf wound about her neck, a burst of color that brought to mind houses aflame in the middle of the night. I had seen this woman before, during the days of panic. I shuddered and walked on, into the hospital to do my duty. The woman and I were destined to collide; her duties intersected unhappily with mine and I didn't wish to associate with a thing like her. These were the sorts of thoughts I couldn't afford to be distracted by at the hospital. It was best to concentrate on the awful task that lay ahead of me.

The national guardsmen checked my identification and I was escorted back into the secure wards. A stack of files in sickening yellow binders with crimson and black tabs was waiting for me. The charge nurse put the files into my arms and then scuttled away as if it was me who was unclean. Her name badge said Angela. She was permitted to ask my name and I was permitted to tell her, but she never asked. I never offered. I carried the files to the dim office the hospital lent us, placed the ugly folders on the desk and closed the door behind me. I sat down and examined the files. The epidemic was officially over, the buses ran on time and there was fresh produce at the grocers but there is no end to death. Every day I think of that poem by Shelly: Death is here, death is there, death is busy everywhere. There is a high suicide rate in my department.

The files were all in order. The doctors had followed the directives and it was time for me to act as an officer of the state. One by one I signed the last forms, closed the files and set them aside. Through the closed door I heard someone cry out in pain, a woman I think. There was always noise in the secure wards.

I dug through my coat pockets until I found a pack of cigarettes. Smoking is of course forbidden in hospitals but the office stank of carbolic and the sickness and I needed the nicotine to steady my nerves before I went out into the wards. Some of my colleagues carried whiskey in pocket flasks. My colleagues were good men, or anyway they were men like me, but I did not believe in drunkenness on duty though I was never so forward as to chide anyone for it. We all must make our way through life somehow, from the safety of bed out into the world and back, from this morning to tomorrow's morning, facing all this alone. It's not my place to condemn.

I dropped my cigarette to the floor and with the heel of my right shoe I smeared the butt against the tiles. Someone would come sweep up later; I always smoked after signing off on the death files but there was never evidence of this when I returned to the office. Through the door I could still hear a woman crying and I hesitated to go out into the wards. It is little wonder that doctors prescribe tranquilizers so often. I was developing a headache.

I carried the stack of files to the nurse's station and the woman there took the folders but did not look at me. On a few occasions I'd spoken to the nurses about the weather or some other trivia, attempting to build an awareness of our shared humanity and mission, but the nurses never answered me. They didn't like me at all; in their eyes I was nothing more than a duty, a hateful task. I was not a man with a beating heart and blood in his veins. I was not a human being at all. My headache grew a little more intense and I thought about asking for aspirin and a glass of water. Surely a nurse wouldn't ignore a man in need of medical help.

"Nurse Angela," I said.

She stood and walked away from her station, stopping twenty or so feet down the corridor with her back to me. My right eye throbbed suddenly, as if it would burst. I straightened my tie and walked down the corridor toward the critical wing. I could feel the nurse's eyes on my back as I walked along.

An orderly recognized me and waved me into a room that was narrow and long and dark and lined with wheeled beds. A corpse lay on each bed, covered with a red sheet. There were yellow and black tags pinned to the sheets, one at the foot of every bed. I knew that a matching tag was tied to the large toe of each corpse’s right foot, beneath the red sheets. The air smelled of the sickness, of meat and blood and bowel. This was all wrong.

"They are dead?" My question came out more quietly than I intended and for a moment I didn’t think the orderly had heard me. Just as I was about to repeat myself, he answered.

"The other government officer was here earlier. There was a mix-up in the scheduling, apparently."

"And so these people are dead."

"You were not going to let them live, were you?" He did not sound apologetic. His question was a challenge.

"That is not the point." It was the woman. She had come before me. This is not the way it had been ordered. There would be trouble at the office now.

"What will you do?”

"My duty. Leave me alone, won’t you?"

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I carried the stack of files to the nurse's station

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget. The buses were part of a general plan to return life to its normal state as soon as possible. Vast numbers of citizens and large swaths of the city had been reduced to cinders but public transportation was up and running. Schools, hospitals, churches and liquor stores were open and I made pilgrimages to all of them in their turn. We all did. What else were we going to do?

I saw the woman outside one of the hospitals, where she stood on the sidewalk opposite the main doors. People broken and breaking, mending and fading, living and dying all streamed past while she held herself immobile. Her hands and face were pale, almost the yellow of fresh butter, startling against a black wool coat. Beneath her coat a crimson scarf wound about her neck, a burst of color that brought to mind houses aflame in the middle of the night. I had seen this woman before, during the days of panic. I shuddered and walked on, into the hospital to do my duty. The woman and I were destined to collide; her duties intersected unhappily with mine and I didn't wish to associate with a thing like her. These were the sorts of thoughts I couldn't afford to be distracted by at the hospital. It was best to concentrate on the awful task that lay ahead of me.

The national guardsmen checked my identification and I was escorted back into the secure wards. A stack of files in sickening yellow binders with crimson and black tabs was waiting for me. The charge nurse put the files into my arms and then scuttled away as if it was me who was unclean. Her name badge said Angela. She was permitted to ask my name and I was permitted to tell her, but she never asked. I never offered. I carried the files to the dim office the hospital lent us, placed the ugly folders on the desk and closed the door behind me. I sat down and examined the files. The epidemic was officially over, the buses ran on time and there was fresh produce at the grocers but there is no end to death. Every day I think of that poem by Shelly: Death is here, death is there, death is busy everywhere. There is a high suicide rate in my department.

The files were all in order. The doctors had followed the directives and it was time for me to act as an officer of the state. One by one I signed the last forms, closed the files and set them aside. Through the closed door I heard someone cry out in pain, a woman I think. There was always noise in the secure wards.

I dug through my coat pockets until I found a pack of cigarettes. Smoking is of course forbidden in hospitals but the office stank of carbolic and the sickness and I needed the nicotine to steady my nerves before I went out into the wards. Some of my colleagues carried whiskey in pocket flasks. My colleagues were good men, or anyway they were men like me, but I did not believe in drunkenness on duty though I was never so forward as to chide anyone for it. We all must make our way through life somehow, from the safety of bed out into the world and back, from this morning to tomorrow's morning, facing all this alone. It's not my place to condemn.

I dropped my cigarette to the floor and with the heel of my right shoe I smeared the butt against the tiles. Someone would come sweep up later; I always smoked after signing off on the death files but there was never evidence of this when I returned to the office. Through the door I could still hear a woman crying and I hesitated to go out into the wards. It is little wonder that doctors prescribe tranquilizers so often. I was developing a headache.

I carried the stack of files to the nurse's station and the woman there took the folders but did not look at me. On a few occasions I'd spoken to the nurses about the weather or some other trivia, attempting to build an awareness of our shared humanity and mission, but the nurses never answered me. They didn't like me at all; in their eyes I was nothing more than a duty, a hateful task. I was not a man with a beating heart and blood in his veins. I was not a human being at all. My headache grew a little more intense and I thought about asking for aspirin and a glass of water. Surely a nurse wouldn't ignore a man in need of medical help.

"Nurse Angela," I said.

She stood and walked away from her station, stopping twenty or so feet down the corridor with her back to me. My right eye throbbed suddenly, as if it would burst. I straightened my tie and walked down the corridor toward the critical wing. I could feel the nurse's eyes on my back as I walked along.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I dropped my cigarette to the floor

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget. The buses were part of a general plan to return life to its normal state as soon as possible. Vast numbers of citizens and large swaths of the city had been reduced to cinders but public transportation was up and running. Schools, hospitals, churches and liquor stores were open and I made pilgrimages to all of them in their turn. We all did. What else were we going to do?

I saw the woman outside one of the hospitals, where she stood on the sidewalk opposite the main doors. People broken and breaking, mending and fading, living and dying all streamed past while she held herself immobile. Her hands and face were pale, almost the yellow of fresh butter, startling against a black wool coat. Beneath her coat a crimson scarf wound about her neck, a burst of color that brought to mind houses aflame in the middle of the night. I had seen this woman before, during the days of panic. I shuddered and walked on, into the hospital to do my duty. The woman and I were destined to collide; her duties intersected unhappily with mine and I didn't wish to associate with a thing like her. These were the sorts of thoughts I couldn't afford to be distracted by at the hospital. It was best to concentrate on the awful task that lay ahead of me.

The national guardsmen checked my identification and I was escorted back into the secure wards. A stack of files in sickening yellow binders with crimson and black tabs was waiting for me. The charge nurse put the files into my arms and then scuttled away as if it was me who was unclean. Her name badge said Angela. She was permitted to ask my name and I was permitted to tell her, but she never asked. I never offered. I carried the files to the dim office the hospital lent us, placed the ugly folders on the desk and closed the door behind me. I sat down and examined the files. The epidemic was officially over, the buses ran on time and there was fresh produce at the grocers but there is no end to death. Every day I think of that poem by Shelly: Death is here, death is there, death is busy everywhere. There is a high suicide rate in my department.

The files were all in order. The doctors had followed the directives and it was time for me to act as an officer of the state. One by one I signed the last forms, closed the files and set them aside. Through the closed door I heard someone cry out in pain, a woman I think. There was always noise in the secure wards.

I dug through my coat pockets until I found a pack of cigarettes. Smoking is of course forbidden in hospitals but the office stank of carbolic and the sickness and I needed the nicotine to steady my nerves before I went out into the wards. Some of my colleagues carried whiskey in pocket flasks. My colleagues were good men, or anyway they were men like me, but I did not believe in drunkenness on duty though I was never so forward as to chide anyone for it. We all must make our way through life somehow, from the safety of bed out into the world and back, from this morning to tomorrow's morning, facing all this alone. It's not my place to condemn.

I dropped my cigarette to the floor and with the heel of my right shoe I smeared the butt against the tiles. Someone would come sweep up later; I always smoked after signing off on the death files but there was never evidence of this when I returned to the office. Through the door I could still hear a woman crying and I hesitated to go out into the wards. It is little wonder that doctors prescribe tranquilizers so often. I was developing a headache.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My colleagues were good men

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget. The buses were part of a general plan to return life to its normal state as soon as possible. Vast numbers of citizens and large swaths of the city had been reduced to cinders but public transportation was up and running. Schools, hospitals, churches and liquor stores were open and I made pilgrimages to all of them in their turn. We all did. What else were we going to do?

I saw the woman outside one of the hospitals, where she stood on the sidewalk opposite the main doors. People broken and breaking, mending and fading, living and dying all streamed past while she held herself immobile. Her hands and face were pale, almost the yellow of fresh butter, startling against a black wool coat. Beneath her coat a crimson scarf wound about her neck, a burst of color that brought to mind houses aflame in the middle of the night. I had seen this woman before, during the days of panic. I shuddered and walked on, into the hospital to do my duty. The woman and I were destined to collide; her duties intersected unhappily with mine and I didn't wish to associate with a thing like her. These were the sorts of thoughts I couldn't afford to be distracted by at the hospital. It was best to concentrate on the awful task that lay ahead of me.

The national guardsmen checked my identification and I was escorted back into the secure wards. A stack of files in sickening yellow binders with crimson and black tabs was waiting for me. The charge nurse put the files into my arms and then scuttled away as if it was me who was unclean. Her name badge said Angela. She was permitted to ask my name and I was permitted to tell her, but she never asked. I never offered. I carried the files to the dim office the hospital lent us, placed the ugly folders on the desk and closed the door behind me. I sat down and examined the files. The epidemic was officially over, the buses ran on time and there was fresh produce at the grocers but there is no end to death. Every day I think of that poem by Shelly: Death is here, death is there, death is busy everywhere. There is a high suicide rate in my department.

The files were all in order. The doctors had followed the directives and it was time for me to act as an officer of the state. One by one I signed the last forms, closed the files and set them aside. Through the closed door I heard someone cry out in pain, a woman I think. There was always noise in the secure wards.

I dug through my coat pockets until I found a pack of cigarettes. Smoking is of course forbidden in hospitals but the office stank of carbolic and the sickness and I needed the nicotine to steady my nerves before I went out into the wards. Some of my colleagues carried whiskey in pocket flasks. My colleagues were good men, or anyway they were men like me, but I did not believe in drunkenness on duty though I was never so forward as to chide anyone for it. We all must make our way through life somehow, from the safety of bed out into the world and back, from this morning to tomorrow's morning, facing all this alone. It's not my place to condemn.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I dug through my coat pockets until I found a pack

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget. The buses were part of a general plan to return life to its normal state as soon as possible. Vast numbers of citizens and large swaths of the city had been reduced to cinders but public transportation was up and running. Schools, hospitals, churches and liquor stores were open and I made pilgrimages to all of them in their turn. We all did. What else were we going to do?

I saw the woman outside one of the hospitals, where she stood on the sidewalk opposite the main doors. People broken and breaking, mending and fading, living and dying all streamed past while she held herself immobile. Her hands and face were pale, almost the yellow of fresh butter, startling against a black wool coat. Beneath her coat a crimson scarf wound about her neck, a burst of color that brought to mind houses aflame in the middle of the night. I had seen this woman before, during the days of panic. I shuddered and walked on, into the hospital to do my duty. The woman and I were destined to collide; her duties intersected unhappily with mine and I didn't wish to associate with a thing like her. These were the sorts of thoughts I couldn't afford to be distracted by at the hospital. It was best to concentrate on the awful task that lay ahead of me.

The national guardsmen checked my identification and I was escorted back into the secure wards. A stack of files in sickening yellow binders with crimson and black tabs was waiting for me. The charge nurse put the files into my arms and then scuttled away as if it was me who was unclean. Her name badge said Angela. She was permitted to ask my name and I was permitted to tell her, but she never asked. I never offered. I carried the files to the dim office the hospital lent us, placed the ugly folders on the desk and closed the door behind me. I sat down and examined the files. The epidemic was officially over, the buses ran on time and there was fresh produce at the grocers but there is no end to death. Every day I think of that poem by Shelly: Death is here, death is there, death is busy everywhere. There is a high suicide rate in my department.

The files were all in order. The doctors had followed the directives and it was time for me to act as an officer of the state. One by one I signed the last forms, closed the files and set them aside. Through the closed door I heard someone cry out in pain, a woman I think. There was always noise in the secure wards.

I dug through my coat pockets until I found a pack of cigarettes. Smoking is of course forbidden in hospitals but the office stank of carbolic and the sickness and I needed the nicotine to steady my nerves before I went out into the wards. Some of my colleagues carried whiskey in pocket flasks.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The files were all in order.

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget. The buses were part of a general plan to return life to its normal state as soon as possible. Vast numbers of citizens and large swaths of the city had been reduced to cinders but public transportation was up and running. Schools, hospitals, churches and liquor stores were open and I made pilgrimages to all of them in their turn. We all did. What else were we going to do?

I saw the woman outside one of the hospitals, where she stood on the sidewalk opposite the main doors. People broken and breaking, mending and fading, living and dying all streamed past while she held herself immobile. Her hands and face were pale, almost the yellow of fresh butter, startling against a black wool coat. Beneath her coat a crimson scarf wound about her neck, a burst of color that brought to mind houses aflame in the middle of the night. I had seen this woman before, during the days of panic. I shuddered and walked on, into the hospital to do my duty. The woman and I were destined to collide; her duties intersected unhappily with mine and I didn't wish to associate with a thing like her. These were the sorts of thoughts I couldn't afford to be distracted by at the hospital. It was best to concentrate on the awful task that lay ahead of me.

The national guardsmen checked my identification and I was escorted back into the secure wards. A stack of files in sickening yellow binders with crimson and black tabs was waiting for me. The charge nurse put the files into my arms and then scuttled away as if it was me who was unclean. Her name badge said Angela. She was permitted to ask my name and I was permitted to tell her, but she never asked. I never offered. I carried the files to the dim office the hospital lent us, placed the ugly folders on the desk and closed the door behind me. I sat down and examined the files. The epidemic was officially over, the buses ran on time and there was fresh produce at the grocers but there is no end to death. Every day I think of that poem by Shelly: Death is here, death is there, death is busy everywhere. There is a high suicide rate in my department.

The files were all in order. The doctors had followed the directives and it was time for me to act as an officer of the state. One by one I signed the last forms, closed the files and set them aside. Through the closed door I heard someone cry out in pain, a woman I think. There was always noise in the secure wards.

Monday, March 21, 2011

She was permitted to ask my name

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget. The buses were part of a general plan to return life to its normal state as soon as possible. Vast numbers of citizens and large swaths of the city had been reduced to cinders but public transportation was up and running. Schools, hospitals, churches and liquor stores were open and I made pilgrimages to all of them in their turn. We all did. What else were we going to do?

I saw the woman outside one of the hospitals, where she stood on the sidewalk opposite the main doors. People broken and breaking, mending and fading, living and dying all streamed past while she held herself immobile. Her hands and face were pale, almost the yellow of fresh butter, startling against a black wool coat. Beneath her coat a crimson scarf wound about her neck, a burst of color that brought to mind houses aflame in the middle of the night. I had seen this woman before, during the days of panic. I shuddered and walked on, into the hospital to do my duty. The woman and I were destined to collide; her duties intersected unhappily with mine and I didn't wish to associate with a thing like her. These were the sorts of thoughts I couldn't afford to be distracted by at the hospital. It was best to concentrate on the awful task that lay ahead of me.

The national guardsmen checked my identification and I was escorted back into the secure wards. A stack of files in sickening yellow binders with crimson and black tabs was waiting for me. The charge nurse put the files into my arms and then scuttled away as if it was me who was unclean. Her name badge said Angela. She was permitted to ask my name and I was permitted to tell her, but she never asked. I never offered. I carried the files to the dim office the hospital lent us, placed the ugly folders on the desk and closed the door behind me. I sat down and examined the files. The epidemic was officially over, the buses ran on time and there was fresh produce at the grocers but there is no end to death. Every day I think of that poem by Shelly: Death is here, death is there, death is busy everywhere. There is a high suicide rate in my department.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The national guardsmen checked my identification

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget. The buses were part of a general plan to return life to its normal state as soon as possible. Vast numbers of citizens and large swaths of the city had been reduced to cinders but public transportation was up and running. Schools, hospitals, churches and liquor stores were open and I made pilgrimages to all of them in their turn. We all did. What else were we going to do?

I saw the woman outside one of the hospitals, where she stood on the sidewalk opposite the main doors. People broken and breaking, mending and fading, living and dying all streamed past while she held herself immobile. Her hands and face were pale, almost the yellow of fresh butter, startling against a black wool coat. Beneath her coat a crimson scarf wound about her neck, a burst of color that brought to mind houses aflame in the middle of the night. I had seen this woman before, during the days of panic. I shuddered and walked on, into the hospital to do my duty. The woman and I were destined to collide; her duties intersected unhappily with mine and I didn't wish to associate with a thing like her. These were the sorts of thoughts I couldn't afford to be distracted by at the hospital. It was best to concentrate on the awful task that lay ahead of me.

The national guardsmen checked my identification and I was escorted back into the secure wards. A stack of files in sickening yellow binders with crimson and black tabs was waiting for me. The charge nurse put the files into my arms and then scuttled away as if it was me who was unclean. Her name badge said Angela.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The woman and I were destined to collide

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget. The buses were part of a general plan to return life to its normal state as soon as possible. Vast numbers of citizens and large swaths of the city had been reduced to cinders but public transportation was up and running. Schools, hospitals, churches and liquor stores were open and I made pilgrimages to all of them in their turn. We all did. What else were we going to do?

I saw the woman outside one of the hospitals, where she stood on the sidewalk opposite the main doors. People broken and breaking, mending and fading, living and dying all streamed past while she held herself immobile. Her hands and face were pale, almost the yellow of fresh butter, startling against a black wool coat. Beneath her coat a crimson scarf wound about her neck, a burst of color that brought to mind houses aflame in the middle of the night. I had seen this woman before, during the days of panic. I shuddered and walked on, into the hospital to do my duty. The woman and I were destined to collide; her duties intersected unhappily with mine and I didn't wish to associate with a thing like her. These were the sorts of thoughts I couldn't afford to be distracted by at the hospital. It was best to concentrate on the awful task that lay ahead of me.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Beneath her coat a crimson scarf

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget. The buses were part of a general plan to return life to its normal state as soon as possible. Vast numbers of citizens and large swaths of the city had been reduced to cinders but public transportation was up and running. Schools, hospitals, churches and liquor stores were open and I made pilgrimages to all of them in their turn. We all did. What else were we going to do?

I saw the woman outside one of the hospitals, where she stood on the sidewalk opposite the main doors. People broken and breaking, mending and fading, living and dying all streamed past while she held herself immobile. Her hands and face were pale, almost the yellow of fresh butter, startling against a black wool coat. Beneath her coat a crimson scarf wound about her neck, a burst of color that brought to mind houses aflame in the middle of the night. I had seen this woman before, during the days of panic. I shuddered and walked on, into the hospital to do my duty.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I saw the woman outside one of the hospitals

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget. The buses were part of a general plan to return life to its normal state as soon as possible. Vast numbers of citizens and large swaths of the city had been reduced to cinders but public transportation was up and running. Schools, hospitals, churches and liquor stores were open and I made pilgrimages to all of them in their turn. We all did. What else were we going to do?

I saw the woman outside one of the hospitals, where she stood on the sidewalk opposite the main doors. People broken and breaking, mending and fading, living and dying all streamed past while she held herself immobile. Her hands and face were pale, almost the yellow of fresh butter, startling against a black wool coat.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

to return life to its normal state

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget. The buses were part of a general plan to return life to its normal state as soon as possible. Vast numbers of citizens and large swaths of the city had been reduced to cinders but public transportation was up and running. Schools, hospitals, churches and liquor stores were open and I made pilgrimages to all of them in their turn. We all did. What else were we going to do?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Everything smelled like fire

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air. Everything smelled like fire: our hair, our clothes, our shelters, even the food we ate. It would take a whole winter of rain to wash all that burning from the air, to clean the soot from the faces of the buildings and citizens left behind. We didn't mind the charred air; it masked other, worse smells we wanted to forget.

Monday, March 14, 2011

In the days immediately after the plague

In the days immediately after the plague the buses were running again, though there were few passengers. During long stretches of the day, a coach would be occupied by the driver alone, guiding rows of empty seats through the rainy avenues. The smell of burning was still in the air.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Entire World In Just Two Sentences

From Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls

Then there was the smell of heather crushed and the roughness of the bent stalks under her head and the sun bright on her closed eyes and all his life he would remember the curve of her throat with her head pushed back into the heather roots and her lips that moved smally and by themselves and the fluttering of the lashes on the eyes tight closed against the sun and against everything, and for her everything was red, orange, gold-red from the sun on the closed eyes, and it all was that color, all of it, the filling, the possessing, the having, all of that color, all in a blindness of that color. For him it was a dark passage which led to nowhere, then to nowhere, then again to nowhere, once again to nowhere, always and forever to nowhere, heavy on the elbows in the earth to nowhere, dark, never any end to nowhere, hung on all time always to unknowing nowhere, this time and again for always to nowhere, now not to be borne once again always and to nowhere, now beyond all bearing up, up, up and into nowhere, suddenly, scaldingly, holdingly all nowhere gone and time absolutely still and they were both there, time having stopped and he felt the earth move out and away from under them.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Haydn, Bartok, Brahms and Red Meat

Tonight Mighty Reader and I are going to go hear the Emerson String Quartet play Haydn, Bartok and Brahms. Three of my favorite composers by one of our favorite bands. The Emersons play standing up, you know. That always discomfits me a bit but I try to bear up, being so very brave as I am.

The program looks quite fine. I've heard the Brahms, I know the Bartok pretty well and I am unfamiliar with the Haydn, but hey! it's Haydn so I am bound to love it. I really need to make more time in my life to play violin. Really I do.

It's also Shrove Tuesday, when I traditionally wonder if I'm going to observe Lent this time around. I've already given up cigarettes and psychotic girlfriends. Perhaps I'll give up meat entirely this time. Last year I gave up red meat. Did it contribute to my thoughtful and penitential state? Likely not.

I'm still working on my grand outline for the new secret writing project. Possibly I'll have a working list of chapters by the end of the week, and then, oh then. I have a feeling this will be a quick draft, and I'm ever so excited to get a move on.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Once Again I Lie to Myself

I promised myself that when I was finished with revisions to the latest novel, I'd take a nice break and concentrate on reading rather than writing or rewriting. It will surprise nobody that I've broken that promise already, and have begun to make notes for the next book. I am all a-quiver with excitement. This is the uttermost of fun, the best of all possible parts of the writing process, when I brainstorm and make my first rough outline and figure out what the book is going to be. About all of which, I am going to remain uncharacteristically mum.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Rewrites Done, Cocke & Bull

This is mostly a note to myself so I won't lose the date. This evening I finished the final (pre-sending-to-agent) round of rewrites on Cocke & Bull. I note that I finished the first draft a year and a week ago. Time flies when you're having, etc.

Now comes the part I really hate: typing up the revisions made to the hard copy into the Word(tm) file. I absolutely despise this step of the process and I promised myself that I'd make sure to type up the changes as I finished each chapter. I kept that promise for nine whole chapters out of twenty four. I have a few hours of typing ahead of me, but that's for some other day. Maybe even tomorrow. We'll see. I've been down with a nasty cold for days now and I should be abed but I'm sitting here blogging, like a prize idiot. Quel surpris.

Anyway, rewrites rewritten and the MS is better and I noticed things I'd done in this book that I didn't know I was doing but those things are very cool so well done, me.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Brief Thoughts on Influence and/or Voice

The biggest influences on the narrative voice in Cocke & Bull are Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway and the King James Bible. There's some similarity--I'm told--to Cormac McCarthy but I've only read The Road so I can't really say. I also read a ton of Colonial American writing while doing the research for the book. That Ben Franklin could go on a bit. The thing is, the prose of Cocke & Bull has a certain thickness to it, a heavy texture that keeps rolling forward but isn't exactly all light and ease and grace. It's more like a thunderstorm than a spring breeze. Which is pretty much what I was going for, so well done me. It's far away from the first-person mock Elizabethan English voice of Killing Hamlet, which was a great relief because I'd grown sick of first-person after writing it year after year. Third person omniscient is the cat's meow.

But the voice of this current novel is, as I say, thick. Heavy, massive but not--I hope--ponderous. I worry it will flatten out the characters beneath its weight though it doesn't seem to. You know what? Here's the real thing: I'm writing this post to say that it's taking me longer to do this particular round of revisions than I thought it would, and I put that down to the baroque narrative voice I've found. It was not a mistake to use this voice--I love this voice and it makes my favorite groovy passages possible--but because I'm using long, complex sentences it's just taking forever to go over the MS the way I'd like. My next book will be both longer and lighter-of-foot. See if it isn't.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A.S. Seen Through D.H.

I'm reading Antonia Susan Byatt's novel Possession for the third time. I first read it, I don't know, maybe fifteen years ago? Maybe ten? Some while it's been, that's all I know. Anyway, between the last time I read Possession and this time, I read David Lawrence's Women In Love. Lawrence has a pretty identifiable prose style, I think, especially when he's talking about his characters' emotional states. These odd sequences of short declarations: "He was angry. His hand was in a fist, hid under his coat. She saw but ignored his anger. She was livid herself." Stuff like that, but with a bit more color. Anyway, I keep seeing this sort of thing in the Byatt. Which fascinates me so I mention it. It doesn't bother me and it fits in with all the surrounding prose and hell, it's been there this whole time after all and didn't need me to take note of it but for some reason I seem to be seeing lines of influence in the writing all around me. Real or imagined, I can't say. Influence is such an iffy prospect as it is.