Lester’s wife, Elvira, left that year on Valentine’s Day when lockdown appeared imminent.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I can’t be quarantined with you. I still have my youth. I have still have time to be happy.”
“You’re forty-eight,” Lester said. “Almost forty-nine.”
“Exactly,” said Elvira.
He never saw her again.
Lester thought about being sad, but three people in his county had a cough so he didn’t have time. As soon as Elivra’s car left the driveway, he made for the garage, hitched his small wagon to Ol’ Blue Betty, his pet burro, and skinned out for The Everything Store.
Lester already had a spare bedroom filled with paper towels and toilet paper. He’d been using the cardboard rolls in his folk art for years so he quietly thanked Providence for being so providential. This also made his shopping list a slam dunk: Sports drink, 20 cases; instant mac and cheese, 20 cases; cheese curlz, 20 bags; vienna sausages: 20 cases; glycerin suppositories: 20 boxes; and one jar of adult gummy multivitamins.
Lester lived forty-five miles from The Everything Store so when he got back home with his supplies five days later, he piled them in the bedroom his wife had been sleeping in. So much had happened already that he couldn’t remember her name anymore and he was beginning to feel funny but he knew how to make himself feel better. His job required everyone to work from home until further notice so he called the cable company to upgrade to the full digital package that included seven porn channels and over three thousand other channels that he was pretty sure didn’t exist.
That first day and night had been glorious. He let his phone battery die on purpose and didn’t recharge it. He didn’t pay the internet bill either which meant he couldn’t receive emails. He was pretty sure that viruses affect computer systems, too, so it wasn’t his fault and Anna Karenina or whatever his boss’s name was could suck it. He ate three large New York style pizzas and watched porn all night then finally fell asleep at dawn.
He did not sleep well.
He woke often with the worst headache he’d ever had. What light there was in the room blinded him. It was as if the room were full of massive Klieg lights every time he tossed and turned, woke up in a haze, and opened his eyes. Nothing but blinding light and double, triple, even quadruple vision. He started thinking he might have the virus and began worrying about Ol’ Blue Betty because he had forgotten to buy her the gummy bears and tinned kippers she loved.
When he awoke for the twentieth time and couldn’t get back to sleep, he kept his eyes shut and walked around the den turning off all the lamps and overhead lights. Once he was pretty sure the room was dark he opened his eyes.
The glow of the fifty-two inch widescreen tv was painful but bearable. He found the remote and dimmed the screen. He was hungry and was pretty sure he’d been asleep for a few months. Walking was difficult. Why were his legs so stiff? This could be a problem as there were steps up to the kitchen from the sunken living room. His skin was becoming very tender all over. Surely he didn’t have bedsores? It was difficult to tell in the dark but he seems to have developed some kind mild lesions. He wondered if this were a symptom of the worst virus in the history of mankind and decided to look it up on the internet but when he tried was confronted with the error page since he hadn’t paid the bill. But because he had forgotten he hadn’t paid the bill, he called customer service and yelled at someone who spoke a language that he was pretty sure was Canadian and which he didn’t understand and who he was pretty sure didn’t understand him. He then realized he didn’t understand himself, either. Did he really sound like that?
It was then he realized his phone was dead and he’d been yelling at himself. He didn’t remember letting the phone battery die and couldn’t find the charging cord in the dark and didn’t really care to look.
The next thing he did to make things easier on himself was to bring the microwave into the den and set it up on an end table at one end of the sofa. He fought through the increasing pain and stiffening joints and brought his Everything Store food supplies into the den and stacked them on the love seat. He was pretty sure the pain and stiff joints were from ejaculating too much that first night watching porn. He remembered almost nothing, but the front of his gym shorts were crusty and stiff. He was starting to feel bloated and noticed his belly was distended and getting somewhat round. He was either getting constipated or gassy, or both, and made a mental note to cut back on gluten in a couple of years or maybe next week.
For now it was nothing a couple glycerin suppositories couldn’t fix. He congratulated himself on his forward thinking about his diet and gluten, and headed for the bathroom.
As that first week wore on, he stayed on the couch as much as possible. Moving had become painful and the bloating continued. He hadn’t urinated or moved his bowels in days. Maybe a couple of years. He couldn’t be sure. Measuring time was beginning to confuse him and he just looked at the window curtains to see if it were day or night. The rest of the time was determined by the tv schedule. He was beginning to realize that calendars were a scam.
By the fifth or maybe the twenty-seventh day he had everything he needed surrounding him on the couch. The microwave at one end, the food at the other. Salt, pepper, and a few condiments were arranged neatly on his coffee table along with several boxes full of individually-wrapped anti-bacterial wipes he used to wipe down his fork and spoon after eating. He also used them for sponge baths, but the lesions all over his body had gotten worse and every time he gave himself a sponge bath with the antibacterial wipes they burned like fire, so he eventually stopped doing that.
He wasn’t sure how long it had been. A few weeks or it could have been a year and a half or may just a couple of hours–he couldn’t tell anymore–but he awoke one night and could just see in the dim glow of the television that had been on since that first day that he had become fat. He must weigh a hundred pounds! he thought. Or is that a thousand?
The lesions had opened up completely and were highly sensitive. The double-vision had gotten so bad he couldn’t walk straight, and his joints were so stiff he couldn’t have if he wanted to. Even the dimly lit tv that was now running constant infomercials with honeymoon footage or some such caused him a lot of pain. He was getting a little worried because he hadn’t heard a peep out of Ol’ Blue Betty for a few years or it could’ve been seven minutes he didn’t know. He couldn’t be sure at this point that was even her name because who would name a hamster Ol’ Blue Betty? He couldn’t smell anything like death or even body odor, just occasionally a faint earthy smell and was pretty sure that was a sign of the virus. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d used the bathroom, he only knew he never had to go. The sunlight shining through the curtains the next morning intensified the headache that never went away so he pulled the large soft comforter over his entire body and went back to sleep.
When he awoke he was pretty sure it was the future although for some reason he kept thinking it was 1869. His arms didn’t work anymore; he couldn’t even feel them and getting up was too much of a hassle and he practically had to roll. himself off the couch if he wanted to get up anyway. He answered his dead phone that wasn’t ringing by rolling over so that it lay pressed beneath that side of his face. He had a long conversation with someone from Hawaii. The call either lasted fifteen minutes or seven months.
“Say now, who is this?” he asked. “I need to keep this line clear.”
“This is Ol’ Blue Betty,” the voice said.
“That’s a lie,” Lester said. “Betty is a hamster and I’m pretty sure she’s dead. I haven’t fed her in eleven minutes or fourteen months. I can’t be certain.”
“I’m a burro and I’m not dead. I’m in Hawaii,” the voice said.
“How did you get there?” he asked.
“Travel agent,” said the voice.
“But why?” Lester asked.
“You really don’t know?” the voice asked.
“You shouldn’t answer a question with a question,” Lester said.
“You’re a potato,” the voice said.
“Who’s a potato?” Lester asked.
But the line on the phone with the dead battery suddenly went dead. He rolled back away from the phone. There was enough light in the room that he could see a number of eyes reflected in the dark screen blinking back at him from the dead phone.
It was the craziest YouTube video he’d ever seen.