How life might be looked at by people in the future if the pandemic doesn't go away
|I woke up, as I did every day, curled up next to our big St. Bernard, Toby. The sun streamed through the window, which was cracked open to let in the cool summer night’s breeze. The soft yellow curtains danced in the currents of the wind, and I smiled. Today was not every day. Today, I'd turn ten. I knew what that meant. I practically ran down the stairs when my alarm clock rang. There it was on the kitchen table. Soft like velvet, and red, my favorite color. Just like my older brothers before me, today I would get my very own mask.
I knew why of course. Once you turned ten, the Virus could get you. Eat through your lungs and leave you gasping for air. In the Old Times, people died. They showed us videos in school, people protesting, refusing to wear masks. Then, over 200000 people died. 4 million were sick, and 16 million people in the world were infected. My country alone was a quarter of the whole world's infections.
But they opened schools and malls anyway. Salons, bars, green grocers. Mrs. Jacobsen, down the hall, she was nearly 80, but she remembered it all, and told me lots of stories about that time. How the schools reopened, and very little kids, got sick and died in scary places called Hospitals, hooked up to lots of wires right next to their grandparents. Older kids, they got sick, but you couldn’t tell. But then they would come home and pass it to their parents and grandparents. Lots of kids became orphans during the Pandemic Times. So they said only anyone from kindergarten to fifth grade could attend school.
If you were over ten, you started TabSchool-School beamed right into our houses. We sat at virtual desks alongside all the other Kids in our year. This year, I'd start TabSchool, too.
"So, what do you think?" My mother stood in the doorway watching me.
I turned the mask over in my hands, then ran to hug my mom.
Hugging, that was another thing you couldn't do anymore-not anyone outside your own family anymore-no hugging your friends, no hugging your grandparents, no hugging your neighbors or your teachers-everyone was very careful not to touch each other. Our handbook said no “high-fives” or “handshakes,” which I asked my teacher last year to explain. She said it was an outdated way that people then had greeted each other. Littles didn't understand. They shared everything. But that was ok, because they couldn't get sick or spread the Virus like us ten-year-olds.
"I love it!" I said sincerely, immediately threading the elastic over my ears-a perfect fit, sealed to protect me from droplets spread by other people talking or sneezing, with a filter to protect me from micron-sized germs that could sicken me and my family. I couldn't wait to show Jessie over the vid-screens. Maybe we'd get really lucky and be able to sit at one of the separated tables at a local cafe, and I could show her in person! I took the mask off and placed it carefully on the table.
"Could I show Jessie? Please, mom! It's my birthday!"
Dining out was a treat. The risk was so high, no one went out to eat or out in public if they didn't have to. Some special places in each district had a permit to place three or four tables outside, separated six feet apart, with each table divided by folding glass partitions, where they served a small menu of edible options. Reservations sometimes were booked out for months in advanced.
"I made a reservation for today 9 months ago for you and Jessie," mom said with a smile.
I squealed in excitement and ran upstairs to get dressed.
My room was a little young for me now, since I was all of ten. The walls were still the ballerina pink I had begged for on my fifth birthday, and the curtains were a soft yellow-Nana had sewn them for me last year, and momma had picked them up, careful not to come into contact with her own mother, just in case. I picked out a long, thin-strapped dress that came down to my ankles, a faded gray with floral print-flowers from a place called Hawaii. Mom promised that one day we’d travel there, in a real airplane! I’d seen them flying overhead, and often thought of how wonderful it must be to fly through the air, over all of the United States. To be honest, I was terrified-I’d seen pictures on the vid-screens of people in these long, narrow tubes held together by metal and kept alive by compressed air pumped in from machinery below. It wasn’t the flying, or the construction that terrified me. It was the thought of being in such a contraption with so many people packed together. We’d learned for years that the disease came to our country on one such airplane, and had spread rapidly by people continuing to travel that way; close together, with air recycling through and through again, and often refusing to wear their masks, even when the captain themselves told the people to wear them.
I shook the thought from my head. Such thoughts were fantasies, anyway. Travelling in such a way was expensive, and we wouldn’t dare travel until it was safe to do so. Mom was careful like that. I slipped on my sandals-brown leather straps wrapped around and up my ankle, supple and broken in from years of wear. They complimented my darkly-tanned skin perfectly, which is why I still wore them all these years later.
I looked in the mirror and smiled-not that you saw people do that much anymore. Often, you judged a kind face by their upturned eyebrow, a sparkle in their eye, the crinkle of a forehead. I wasn’t what most people traditionally called beautiful. My skin was sun-darkened from days spent out in the fields with my brothers-catching frogs, bicycling down the dirt road we shared with a few neighbors, or fishing in the creek that ran behind our house. If I wasn’t there, I was helping mother in our home garden, planting and harvesting berries, tomatoes, and cucumbers which we shared with our neighbors. My native American heritage-several generations back-and my summers spent outdoors combined to make my skin darken to a not-unpleasant brown. My mother often said I was the color of a chestnut mare, the finest and fiercest of horses. My hair, however, refused to compliment my skin tone, lightened from my father’s Irish roots. My hair seemed to glare off my skin tone, a dark blonde to light brown depending on how the sun hit it that day.
I deftly pulled my hair back and braided it to the middle of my spine, where I tied it off with one of the hair ties I kept hanging by the mirror. The vanity had been a gift from my father last year-he had reinvigorated it from an old discarded wooden desk someone had been giving away in our neighborhood. Now, it was a finely varnished light brown, nearly the color of my own tanned skin, with drawers organized to hold makeup when I was older, as well as my hair ties, brush, and assorted odds and ends I collected throughout my school days. I fingered the finely polished handles, shined to look like finely polished crystal, and took one last look in the mirror. For a birthday girl, I guess I looked as good as I could manage. I rolled my eyes as one piece of hair fell into my face, having already worked itself loose from my braid, and blew it back with a puff of breath. As good as it’ll get for today, I told myself, and came back down stairs.
My mother had been busy while I had been dressing, and there was a full breakfast on the table-potato skins, scrambled eggs and a stack of pancakes, fluffy and white and topped with maple syrup which dripped, thick and sweet, with a rich brown color, over the edges and onto the plate below. I scooped a healthy helping of each offering onto my own plate and sat down, as dad and my two brothers, Sean and Eric, traipsed downstairs still half asleep, following the smell of food. They ruffled my hair and wished me a happy birthday before sitting at their own seats. I tried not to roll my eyes that they had mussed the hair I had so carefully pleated.