Chapter One: Morir Soñando

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“…but for some people, the symptoms don’t start to appear until 30 days after exposure,” Clara said nervously as they hugged their partner goodbye moments before leaving the apartment to drop off their children at Uptown Loft, the private school the children attended on the Upper West Side.

Clara looked anxious as they grabbed their coat. “Should I just stay home?” they thought, and watched stoically as their partner, Viv, helped the children put on matching, fluorescent orange rain boots and bucket hats. Clara hated the color but Viv insisted for safety reasons.

“I know we promised each other that we wouldn’t, you know, really start to panic unless we were absolutely sure that we had something to actuallyworry about…but…” Viv began but trailed off when she noticed that Clara was making a facial expression that signaled for her to stop talking like that in front of their anxiety-ridden triplets. A look that Viv knew all too well because it took over the triplets’ countenance quite often.

Lex, Jaz, and Pru were days away from their tenth birthday and it seemed as if they grew more soul-glaringly observant with each passing year. Each one inherited Clara’s deep, dark indigo eyes that could pierce any impenetrable wall with a single, focused glare. So when Viv spoke it didn’t take long for Jaz, the self-proclaimed comedian, to exclaim, “what everyone should be worried about is getting us to school on time. The school bell waits for no one and nothing. I’d really hate to have to throw a tantrum right now.”

Jaz, more than either of their siblings, definitely inherited Viv’s impatience and need for punctuality. But what Lex and Pru lacked in anal-retentiveness they made up for with wild and active imaginations. All the more reason to keep foyer fear mongering to a minimum.

“Maybe you all should stay home today,” Viv began as she gave Clara a kiss on the cheek.

“We’ll be fine,” Clara replied. Then they grabbed four colorful face masks out of a container sitting atop a wooden shelf next to the front door. The masks, pieces from the Everyday Objects collection at Tiffany & Co., were gifts from Viv’s mom and featured tiny, sterling silver floral arrangements on the outward-facing side of the masks. At $600 a mask they were still less money than the Leather and Walnut Table Tennis Paddles covered in McDonald’s Sweet & Sour sauce lost somewhere in the triplets’ study.

“Okay, let’s go, I’ll start the car!” Jaz said as they grabbed the set of car keys hanging from a hook next to the mask container and ran out of the door. Viv faintly heard Jaz yell “I love you” as they stormed down the hallway toward the elevator. Lex and Pru followed suit silently.

Finally alone, Clara and Viv shared a quick but passionate kiss in the doorway before Viv decided to try, once again, to convince them to stay home. Clara shook their head.

“I know, baby, I’ve been on the fence about it all weekend. But, we’ve all been fine! Not even a sporadic cough. I have a really strong feeling that we’re going to be okay since we were all able to get a few doses of Inovate before they sold out,” Clara said.

“You’re right. I’m just, I think I’m still pretty traumatized after what happened at Kim’s party last week,” Viv replied.

“Oh my god, I’m such an idiot, of course, yes, baby, yes, you’re so right. Fuck, I feel like fucking trash, yes. Fuck!”

“It’s okay, really, I just, I hear the sound of their bodies hitting the floorboards all the time now. Gentle thuds. Then the laughter. We all thought it was a joke and then…yeah. Just, people are dying. Here. They’re dying here. Not just in the United States, in New York. In Manhattan. Uptown. On our block. Just dropping dead.”

Before Clara could reply, they heard the sound of a car horn blaring from the open kitchen window down the hall followed by the sound of a particularly upbeat Jaz yelling “Mama C” at the top of their lungs.

“I love you. I love you so much. I’ll keep you updated every half hour. No,” Clara promised, “every fifteen minutes. I’ll text you every fifteen minutes. And the kids? You know their school admin runs that ship tighter than that fuckin’ corset you wore last night…”

Jaz seemed to have sat on the car horn so Clara kissed Viv goodbye and ran out of the apartment and down the stairs to the car.

Alone and concerned, Viv walked over to the kitchen, opened the fridge, said, “Alexa, turn on the TV,” and proceeded to take out three oranges, a small glass jar labeled “lavender simple syrup,” and a can of evaporated milk. Then, she took out a juicing machine from a nearby cabinet and placed it on the kitchen island before she peeled the oranges. As the oranges were squeezed to a pulp, she added two handfuls of small, round ice cubes to a sterling silver cocktail shaker and poured some of the lavender simple syrup over the ice.

Once all of the ingredients were in the cocktail shaker, she asked Alexa to play “Otherside” by Red Hot Chili Peppers so that she could shake along to the beat and dance around the kitchen. But also so that she could distract herself from the fact that her heart was racing, her chest felt heavier and heavier by the second, her palms were starting to sweat, and that she’d started silently crying the moment her family walked out of the door.

Just as Viv started to calm down, a news brief on the television caught her attention:

“…and while the CDC encourages families to take special precautions if they plan to travel to any of the cities on the list, many people still remain skeptical about the alleged heightened risks of transmissibility for people who refused to get the recommended four doses of Inovate, the new vaccine developed by researchers at the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health.”

Viv rolled her eyes at the newscaster’s use of the word “refused” because she knew that for most people, the reasons for foregoing the Inovate shots were financial instead of a matter of choice. Each of the four recommended doses cost just over $1000 and it wasn’t covered by Medicaid or Medicare.

Luckily for Viv and her family, of the many issues with which they were concerned money certainly wasn’t one of them. And as Viv poured her drink from the cocktail shaker into a chilled copper mug, she couldn’t help but feel and overwhelming sense of gratitude as she looked around her home.

“We’ll be okay,” she said as her phone screen lit up with a notification for a call from Clara. Before Viv had a chance to speak she was interrupted by the sound of screaming and crying on the other end. Suddenly, she heard a frantic Lex yelling quickly into the phone.

“Mama, Mama V, we have to go. We’re coming back to get you. Pack a bag, pack, like, pack stuff for all of us, big bag, pack a big bag. Clothes, food, I don’t know, just pack,” Lex said hurriedly.

“Lexie, Lex, honey, slow down, what’s-“

“No, there’s no time. Pack a bag, lock up, and be downstairs in exactly three minutes.”

“But what about-“

“You’re wasting time. I have to get Pru to calm down before…just-“

The call ended abruptly and Viv stood in silence for a few seconds before filling two blue IKEA bags with as much as they could hold. She decided to leave the TV on and music playing loudly to give the impression that someone was home.

After closing all of the windows and locking the door, Viv ran to the elevator and then ran to the car when she saw the Narvik Black Jaguar F-PACE pull up in front of the building.

Viv opened the passenger seat door, passed the duffel bags to the Lex, and a sat down. Before she had a chance to close her door, Clara sped off down the street.

“So, is anybody going to say anything?” Viv asked.

“Get the gun out of the compartment. Now.” Clara replied.

Viv looked stunned but she obeyed Clara’s demand.

As she sat back up and looked out of the window, Viv suddenly understood her family’s sense of urgency.

“Go ahead, mama, you can worry now,” Jaz said as she started to rummage through the IKEA bags.

Suddenly, Clara slowed down and they all heard a series of loud thumps, of not-so-gentle thuds. Viv looked at Clara in horror until Clara spoke again.

“I don’t know what happened last night but it’s safe to say that we’re no longer safe here. This is going to be…difficult…but I have to drive faster. Try not to think about what the sound means,” Clara said.

“I’m trying not to think at all,” Pru said.

None of them could believe that what started as a hypothetical worst case scenario had evolved into something beyond their wildest nightmares. Multiple lifeless bodies lined the streets and sidewalks.

All of a sudden, Clara’s vision went blurry and the world started to spin and disappear before their eyes. After a few moments of excruciating pain and spasms throughout their body, Clara came to in the foyer of their home.

“…but for some people, the symptoms don’t start to appear until 30 days after exposure,” Clara said nervously. Then they stopped, looked around, and felt an overwhelming sense of familiarity before she said, “Viv, I’m worried. I think we should all stay home. In fact, I think we should all leave town. Let’s all go to our rooms and pack.”

Viv looked confused yet relieved. Jaz looked ready to plotz.

“Don’t worry. You won’t be late for school today, Jaz,” Clara began, “I just found out that your school is closed indefinitely.”

NYC-based philosophy graduate student whose work covers Genocide Studies, Repro + Enviro Justice, and Critical Race Theory. @moontwerk

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