A Short Story in Three-Acts
At dawn, Martin covers the coffee grinder with a kitchen towel to dull the crushing sound. Every night it seems he forgets to set up the preset on the machine, though that’s why his mother got it for his birthday in the first place. After the beans are dust and gathered, he takes his temperature via ass in the bathroom. Sometimes he forgets to close the blinds that lookout at the neighbor. Martin has found squatting slightly seems to make the slide easier. This isn’t voluntary, it’s mandated. The CVS down the street and Amazon have been out of orals for weeks. It was the only one in the apartment. Martin had no idea where it had even come from.
Come back next Wednesday, the cashier told him three Wednesdays ago.
Their eyes were bugged, mixed with fear, confusion, and annoyance. It was the mask. Neither of them bothered to acknowledge it.
Ok, Martin said.
Martin was trying not to stare at the hand-sewn red heart in the center of the mask. It looked like it had been made from a sock. He started to leave.
Sorry, they repeated.
Not your fault.
After Martin is done taking his temperature, he stares at the thin black line of the grayish-green screen as the shower water runs ice.
From point A to point B, Martin mouths, eyes focused on the unwavering line. Martin knows that’s not what the screen is telling him. And back to A.
Chilled air rolls over the side of the tub onto his bare feet. There is no barking from the neighbor's dog. The faint sound of a bus rolls by. Or maybe a garbage truck. Either way, it’s good. There are still some systems in place.
The thermometer read 98.6 F.
That’s right, right? Martin asks the space.
Someone upstairs opens and closes a cabinet. There is an indecipherable shout. Then, a flare-up of phone buzzing, followed by silence.
The sharp cold of the water pinches Martin’s skin: behind his ears; his right butt cheek; the back of his throat and neck; his eyes. Minute by minute, Martin counts the numbers underneath his breath. The street, the people, the shops, the cars, the world are about to be closer. He should really call his mother but he doesn’t want her to think something is wrong. Every attempt to reach out could potentially be bad news.
Martin gets dressed in his outside clothes in the basement. He leaves them down there in a plastic bag tied by a rubber band. Every day you come home from work, they told him. You must do this or wash your clothes immediately. Martin is broke enough as it is. Think about the water bill so he does the cheaper alternative, like everybody else. Martin does what he is told.
The delivery truck is a few blocks from the bread shop he’s been working at. He quit after a month, then begged to be re-hired when everything he had before closed down. Rent plays no favorites. A side of his ego felt like delivering bread was an honorable thing to do in such times. For a second, as he strutted past bursting alleyways, he felt good about himself in the role, a feeling Martin never attached to any job before.
As he turned a street, Martin saw a corner store worker with whom he assumed were their three kids. All of them were carrying boxes of food inside. A few of the smaller ones’ knees were shaking. From the cold or the exhaustion or fear, he didn’t know.
Hurry, Martin heard the mother tell them. We open soon.
Martin’s pride faded as his footsteps echoed in the empty street.