This is an excerpt from Pandemic tales, by Jonas Gutierrez
In a world recovering from an epidemic, a collector is trying to find old books and movies to restore humanity’s knowledge.
Inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s 1353 masterpiece „The Decameron“, „Pandemic tales“ is a series of stories all of which intermingled and somehow blending together at the end.
It features stories about murders, isolation, exes stuck together in their tiny apartment all merging into a dystopian world where humanity’s dependence on urban technology has been suddenly severed after the Internet breaks.
After a few decades of pure survival, in a world rebuilding itself books became so rare that they are more valuable than gold, giving birth to a new profession – wild west style gunfighters who roam the globe collecting these valuables at all costs.
He wake up soaked in sweat.
He dreamt of her again. The girl whose name hasn’t spoken out loud for weeks.
He must have subconsciously felt guilty.
The sweat was the betrayer.
He turned his head slowly to look on the other side of the bed. There she was. Not the girl he was dreaming about.
Lying next to him, she slept with her back turned to him.
He glanced at the back of her head, thinking frenetically.
Was I talking in my sleep? What if she heard me? What if i said the wrong name?
He was sweating more and more.
He get out of bed slowly, very slowly, making sure that he does not wake her.
He was even holding his breath.
After he creeped out of the bed, he tiptoed out of the room closing the door slowly behind him.
The sigh of relief followed.
He hid in the bathroom.
As he was sitting on the toilet he felt like a criminal.
He hated this. Sneaking out, sweating, being frightened of his own thoughts.
He felt like a cheater.
He hated this entire situation.
Being locked here with her.
He tried to remember which date it is.
„Day 31“, he said quietly to himself.
For 31 days he was trapped here with her.
In this tiny apartment.
It did not supposed to be like this.
The girl lying in the other room, just a wall apart, was a love of his life.
She was his first love and now he was sick of being stuck in the same room with her.
He wanted to turn on the television to see the news, to see when it will all be over, but he knew that the sound could wake her up – and she’s cranky when she doesn’t get enough sleep.
He thought about causes and effects of life decisions.
He couldn’t figure out where did it all go wrong.
Perhaps, the virus was was at fault. If the virus didn’t swept the globe, perhaps he and her would part ways peacefully.
They would say to each other; „We tried, it didn’t work. Goodbye. Have a nice life. I will always love you, but you know, like a fond memory. You know, because you were a part of my life“. Stuff like that.
But now they are stuck together.
Few days since the virus started killing people, officials have sealed off their buildings.
They were at the epicenter, half of people in their building were infected.
That night they watched the news. As the as the anchor was talking about new drastic measures, behind his back there was a footage of their building.
It was showing a masked man welding their apartment building door. It was surreal.
The anchor said that the food and other necessities will be delivered through the window.
Two days later they had „the talk“.
She cried as she was telling him that it didn’t turn out to be like she thought it will be. They agreed that they are not meant to be together. When the quarantine is over, they will go their own ways.
It was a good breakup, but everything got so complicated.
She complained every day.
At first, little arguments would end up peacefully.
He remembers how it was in the first days. Once they had an argument about the toilet seat. In midst of it, she changed her attitude and asked him curiously; „Why do men never complain about the toilet seat being down?“
„I mean. It takes the same amount of effort to put it down as putting it up, yet it is always we who complain about it. Does it bother you when you go to the toilet and see that the seat is down“, she asked him.
He didn’t know what to say. He never thought about that.
He said that he doesn’t even notice is the seat up or down.
After 31 days in quarantine with her, he notices if the seat is up or down.
With constant quarrels she drove fear of toilet seat into him. He hates her because of that. Now, when he goes out of the toilet, he is thinking about the goddamn toilet seat.
Sometimes he can’t remember did he put it down, so he has to go back to the toilet to check.
If he has left the seat down it means that, after he was done pissing or shiting, he remembered she is a nagging witch so he put it down.
If the seat is up, it means he had a good shit or piss, it means that he was thinking about any other thing or perhaps about nothing at all. These happy and blissful moments on the toilet are usually punished with a loud accusation when she sees that the seat is up.
„I told you a thousand times…“, still echoes in his head.
When it is not the toilet seat, there is something else. The dishes not being cleaned or stored properly. Asking him to put the headphones when she wants to sleep while he wants to watch some more videos on his smartphone, despite knowing headphones hurt his ears. Stuff like that.
Weird thing is that should have known it was going like that. This is nothing new. They lived together few years back, split up, and haven’t seen each other in a while. Years have passed. Few weeks before the virus outbreak, they met again. She was drunk and lonely, he was also drunk and lonely and they hook up again.
As he was hiding from her on the toilet, he thought about the fallacy of memories. While they were apart, years have washed away all the bad memories, all the nagging and quarreling, leaving only the good ones – only the Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet moments.
When they met againg, he was remembering stuff like; her knocking on his apartment door soaking wet after she walked miles in rain just to see him; or two of them talking for hours while in each other’s arms; memories like two of them driving into the sunset or running on meadows smiling. She also forgot about the bad things so they decided to try again, and they both quickly remembered why it didn’t work for the first time.
But, they were stuck and things were weird.
They tried to be friends, they even talked about everything for the first few days after the „talk“. He even told her about the girl he fancied before – before he hooked up with her again. He could swear he saw a quick shadow of jealousy crossed her face, and he decided not to talk about it anymore, even though they have agreed they will not be together anymore. He decided not to tell her about the dreams.
In the last days, they argued more – always about the small things. Sometimes he would be moping and they would just sit there in silence. For hours.
He wanted to get away. He knew that she also wanted him to go away. He knew that she also started to hate him. He knew that he makes thing hard for her. He knew that she’s also suffering. He thought how she probably sick of him, same as he is sick of her.
It was weird that they had sex two times after the talk. Both times it was weird, after it was done they both turned their backs to each other, both thinking how they’ve made a mistake.
While sitting on the toilet in silence, he thought what is she thinking about love. Does she believe in it still? Does she believe that once this is over, once he is gone, she will find a prince charming, a perfect guy and everything will be peaches and roses?
He said to himself that he doesn’t believe in love anymore. He said to himself, love only exists in movies.
He saw to many married couples living like the two of them. Resenting each other, always yelling, thinking about escaping. He said to himself that at least two of them made a right decision – not to torture each other. He wondered what would happened if they decided to stay together.
He imagined how they would probably go on each other’s nerves for years until one of them died. The one who would stay alive would be sad and would probably cried. Couples who spent years together got too accustomed to each other. After all, man is sad if he loses a cellphone he had in years. He gets attached to it with years.
„That’s it. She is just a cellphone“, he said to himself and went out of the toilet, walking silently trying not to wake her.