By Mileva Anastasiadou
There was a little boat that had never traveled, goes the verse.
Mom, dad and I are on the same boat. Mom says we’re stuck here and mom’s right as usual. It’ll be fine, I tell them. Dad sings that tune from old times, the Greek version of a French navy song, an innocent song children sing, it sounds like a lullaby at first, an illusion of normalcy. It’s just a kids song, he says. I nod. We need singing and happy, harmless tunes. We’ll get through this, I tell them. Those white little lies, that save lives sometimes, are all I can think of. Doctors use them all the time. That’s how the game is played.
That little boat traveled a long journey in the Mediterranean, goes the verse.
We play that game all day. All three of us follow the rules. And we pretend that nothing’s wrong. Brother is on the phone, says he’s busy with the kids. Mom misses him a lot, but doesn’t complain. She’s happy she has me, I take good care of them. She grabs my hand and holds it tight. She holds it like she doesn’t care if she gets infected, like my hand is her anchor to reality. Mom’s losing it, I think. I gently withdraw my hand and suggest we see a movie. She doesn’t like action films. Not anymore. They were fun when life was boring. Now she prefers boring movies, she says, films in which nothing happens, turning our past tense, imperfect, to past perfect, past lived, forgotten, then rebuilt, refined, polished to seem like heaven. You lost mom, I think but don’t speak out. I pretend I didn’t notice what she said.
And in five to six weeks the food ran out, goes the verse.
Dad sings that tune again and again, like it didn’t hurt enough the first time. La, la, la, he adds, like he’s happy, like we’re not on that boat, or as if our supplies were unlimited and we don’t have a care in the world. But they are not. We ran out of food, money, ideas, hope. Dad’s the best at pretending, at ignoring reality. That film was a turkey, says mom. Our days indoors have been a turkey, only I try to turn them into a peacock, I color them with silly jokes and stupid grimaces. Dad laughs but mom seems nostalgic, looking at old photos, in which we could still hug and kiss and touch each other.
And we drew straws to see who will be eaten, goes the verse.
We can’t afford social distancing for long. So says my boss. Mom grabs my hand again and closes the door. You shouldn’t work, she tells me. Damn, she lost again. Mom can’t pretend for long. I smile and pull away and tell her my job is considered essential, which is a lie, but I don’t make the rules. I only play the game.
I step out, already missing the boat, the game, the jokes, the safety. If I am careful, nothing bad will happen, I tell myself, although deep down, I feel like Iphigenia, like the lamb, like a sacrifice to the gods. I’ve sacrificed a lot already, my hopes, my dreams, a woman is expected to. Now my life is at stake, but is my life important enough? I look up at the sky and there’s a cloud up there, a single cloud, shaped as a dragon, open-mouthed, ready to swallow me, like impending doom, but I ignore the cloud, I stay focused, don’t touch anything, don’t breathe, but breathing is essential, unlike my job. There’s that other tune that comes to mind, a happy tune, “Ring a Ring o’ Roses”, funny how those nursery rhymes speak the truth, but sound happy and we all hold hands, all people in the world, and go round that cloud in the middle, that imaginary friend, which proves an enemy, round and round a dragon we have named Manoli, which sounds like Panoli, the Greek word for Plague, for that’s how the verse goes in Greek and we dance like there’s no tomorrow, for there isn’t, and we dance and dance and dance, until we fall down, one by one, all of us. In the end, we’ll lose the war, but not today, not now. Now we hold hands and dance and sing and we’re happy and it’s those little battles that make the difference. And that cloud looks down on us and smiles and thinks we’re shaped as rings. No void, no distance in between us; we’re round, connected, and strong.
Mileva Anastasiadou (she/her) is a neurologist, from Athens, Greece. A Pushcart, Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions nominated writer, her work can be found in many journals, such as Litro, Jellyfish Review, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Moon Park Review, Okay Donkey, Kanstellation, Open Pen and others. Find her on Twitter @happymil_ and Instagram @happilander.
This piece is a part of DISTANCED 2.0.