By Mickki Garrity
The clock said 8:14. She had to leave now if she wanted to get to the train station on time. Not that they took the trains anymore. The trains, like most ways of getting around, had been shut down months ago. But the train stations that connected the region through the underground arteries of the city were still the best landmarks that anyone could find. And so that’s where they agreed to make the exchange.
She worried that picking up at the train station would be too simple; not safe. What if there were cameras? She assumed there were cameras, but she doubted that anyone was reviewing them anymore. Still, she was nervous. Always nervous.
Pushing her arms into a rain jacket, she checked the mirror. The stocking cap covered her hair and ears, and much of her forehead. The cloth mask she wore over her mouth and nose and chin meant that the only part of her face still visible were her eyes. She covered these in swimming goggles that had belonged to her sister Raina, from when they still went swimming. It wasn’t very cold out yet, but the stocking cap helped keep her hair down and made her feel a little more protected. Not that it would protect her from the virus. But maybe it would keep people from looking at her for too long.
She pulled on the long yellow gloves that were the only gloves they had anymore. With her hair tied back, she used to wear them when cleaning the bathroom. They protected her fingernails from the harsh chemicals and meant that she could scrub the bottom of the tub without ruining her nail job. Now they were precious, carefully disinfected and hung to dry anytime they ventured out of the confines of the apartment.
Down four floors she went, pushing the heavy glass door out to the street and the evening sun. Without pausing, she turned right, and began walking quickly toward the train station. She focused downward, but not too downward, keeping a soft eye on the few people who were also on the sidewalk. They were each bundled in their own handmade gear; focused on a spot just ahead of their feet; walking quickly to their destinations.
The city had been filled with people who were used to walking quickly to where they needed to go. But before, it had also been filled with cars honking with impatience and the lilt of the Dominicans on the corner and the bell at the door of the bodega on the first floor and loud music from windows overhead. And laughter. She hadn’t realized before how much people around her would be laughing, even in what seemed to be the worst of times. It was worse now.
Three more blocks. Her feet felt numb as they hit the pavement. Thump, thump, thump, thump. She had lost track of the people in front of her; thinking for a moment about the before-times. I shouldn’t do that, she thought, and focused again to ensure she wouldn’t get too close to anyone. She passed a man in a brown trench coat. He wore a dirty mask over his otherwise naked face and his eyes, cloudy from cataracts, were also red from too much gin and she worried for a moment as he wobbled a bit on his feet, but she can’t get too close and so she looked away, putting more space between them as she held her breath without realizing it and didn’t start breathing again until there was at least half a block between her and the man.
Her feet paused at the top of the stairs going down into the train station. It’s dark down below except for a flickering light that’s buzzing loudly. She hesitates; she never liked going into train stations before, but it always felt a little better then, because at least she was surrounded by other people, most of them minding their own business except for the occasional morons who would comment on her ass as if they were reciting poetry. As obnoxious as they were, she wished then for one of them now to keep her company, if only from a distance.
Gritting her teeth, she hurried down the stairs, two at a time, her boots echoing sharply. Tap tap, tap tap, tap tap. Under the buzzing light, she quickly took a left turn, avoiding the turnstile and the pile of garbage being ransacked by a gang of rats. More reason to hate the subway; she shuddered and pressed on, looking for the maintenance closet where the package should be waiting.
She pushed open the door with an elbow, heart thumping; it’s too dark. She wished she had thought to bring a headlamp, but batteries are scarce these days, and she needed to find a way to get some more. Maybe she’ll ask this guy, but she doesn’t want to ask for too much so she pushed the thought aside and peered into the darkness of the closet.
Her blood pounds loudly in her ears, but she sees it there, left on top of the box like last time. She stepped around tipped over cans, careful to avoid a few needles. She dropped the bundle of cash pulled from her pocket and grabbed the package, wrapped in brown paper and the size of a pack of cigarettes. It was all the cash they had left. She remembers cigarettes, then, and how they made her lips tingle; what a thing to think of now, and turned quickly to leave this dark place. Running up the stairs, she feels slightly sheepish about how afraid of the rats she is, but she’s just glad to be going toward the sun and away from the musty closet.
At the top of the stairs is the man with the brown trench coat, staring down at her. She’d been holding the package in one hand, but at the sight of him she clutches it close to her chest with her yellow cleaning glove. “What do you got there, missy?” he says to her, slurring his sss.
“Nothing,” she says, moving away from the man.
“Liar!” he snarled, reaching out a bare hand and brushing against her shoulder. She nearly stumbled as she turned on one heel and sprinted away from the station, the man swearing behind her.
Heart thumping, her back drenched in sweat, she headed toward home without slowing down. Long shadows were snaking their way through the street and she knew the sun would be down soon. They used to send police cars around the neighborhoods at this time, telling people through the loud speaker that curfew was in effect, and compressing the city into daylight-only. But now, none of those people are left. The few who remained make their own curfews, first because of the burning, and now because they’re all just too tired.
Her feet find home. There are more stairs to be climbed, and she slams the door behind her. She catches her breath while leaning against the door, still seeing the man’s hungry eyes. She strips off the gloves and takes off all of the protective gear, piece by piece, as if they were entirely covered in virus. Stepping all the way out of her clothes, she heads for the bathroom and takes a brief shower. The water is still running, but it’s freezing cold all the time now. Shivering, she pulls on sweatpants and a sweatshirt from her alma mater. Does that even matter now? She unwraps the brown paper from the package and looks inside. There are two vials, along with a few new syringes. Only two. She squeezes her eyes together, trying to hold back a sob. This won’t even last a month.
Taking a big breath, she presses her eyes with the backs of her hands. The blood is pounding in her ears again. Shaking her head, she picks up the vials and carries them into the next room.
Alisha looks up as she steps through the door. “Did you get them?” she asks, cradling the baby in one arm while the toddler pushes a book at her face, grunting a little through his binkie.
“I did,” she says, bending over to pick up Galen and readjusting his binkie.
“How many did we get this time?” asks Alisha, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear with her free hand.
“We’ll be good for a while,” she replies, bouncing Galen on her hip, not looking at her wife.
“Really?” says Alisha, “Oh, I was so worried.” She exhales loudly and cradles the baby closer to her chest. Alisha’s diabetes had been manageable before all of this, but now the insulin supply had broken down, like everything else.
She blinked back tears. I will find more, somehow. “It looks like you’ve had your hands full while I was gone,” she says, nodding toward their children.
At this, Alisha throws her head back and laughs.
She closes her eyes a moment. God, I love that laugh.
Mickki Garrity (she/her) is enrolled in the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and lives on the North Coast of Oregon, spending her free time walking in the woods and puttering in the kitchen. She’s written local interest stories for Denver’s Washington Park Profile and is newly venturing into the world of fiction-writing.
This piece is a part of DISTANCED 3.0.