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“Balance,” she said. “It’s about balance, and this soil is not even alive right now.” She drove her clawed hand into the ground and closed her fist around the dry dirt. Lifting it in the air, it blew away as dust. “But, we can remedy this. And quickly. We must try, if nothing else. Mother Earth is remarkable and resilient. More than we know.”

A young couple walked into the café, two lovely blonde kids in tow, barely past breastfeeding age, and another is growing in Mama’s belly. All of them are wearing blue face masks. I know they just want to protect their family — they trust their doctor, and the health authorities — still, my heart sinks.

How did we get to this awful place in history? What kind of world are we leaving those kids?

A scientist works feverishly in the lab. His task, to find and purify the virus; to help uncover the code that will let his team derive countermeasures against this deadly pandemic. He’s waited for years for this opportunity. This could be his moment, the way to make his mark, and to contribute to humanity.

But what he’s seeing doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t correlate with what the world health leaders are saying. He keeps amplifying and spinning and boosting the raw materials to find something, some evidence that supports the narrative, but he knows that he’s pushing it well past any useful margin for error, stretching his code of ethics.

These metrics are terrible. Sure, something is there, but it’s not proof of what they’re looking for. It’s inconclusive at best.

What’s going on here? What is he missing? Why is nobody talking about this?

“This is great! Look at the turnout.”

“Yeah, I guess. How many do you think are here?”

“I dunno, five, maybe ten thousand. Huge crowd.”

“How many people live in the city?”

“Oh, who knows. The city and surrounding area…maybe two million?”

“Yeah. And what are they doing right now?”

“Well…I don’t know. They’re not here.”

A New York doctor sits at his desk, a pile of death certificates filled out to his left, and several remaining to be filled on the right. These are just from this morning. In his mind, he rehearses an open letter, to no one in particular: “Regrettably, it appears that many patients were killed by our own actions, by our painfully wrong presumptions. How could we have been so negligent? How did we get so caught up in the hysteria? How many more will die because of our arrogance and hubris?”

“Something just doesn’t add up. They’re not telling doctors what we need to know to save lives. Why the hell are they suddenly barring us from using HCQ? I’m furious…but I can’t say anything.”

“Ten years we saved up for this business. We finally opened the doors. I was so proud, I laughed out loud in tearful joy as I welcomed the first few customers. A dream come true…now look at it. Boarded up. Warning signs taped up on the windows about ‘stay safe’ this and ‘in this together’ that. Fuck them! I’m fucked! All that sacrifice, losing a marriage, my parents, and after jumping through all their hoops and red tape…this. I hope I get the virus. I’m done.”

“Mommy, that man is too close.” We locked eyes for a moment, that toddler and I. I don’t think he was aware of the meaning of his words, but he knows that people are supposed to be kept apart. He doesn’t know why, not really. His eyes query my face for a response. I say nothing. He can’t see my mouth, my partial smile. His mask agitates him, so he keeps pulling it off, as his mother unloads their basket of groceries for the cashier.

“It’s OK, honey, we have enough space.” She slides his mask up. He pulls it down.

An elderly man lies quietly in his bed. He knows he’s dying tonight. It’s very difficult to breathe, but no more than usual. He can feel it coming. A droning machine beside him keeps him company. He lost three old friends this week. He wishes he could see his daughter once more. They wouldn’t let her come. That damn virus! He understands. He wonders if he did alright by her, in this life. My goodness did it go by so fast. So fast.

Heath placed a cold beer by Avery’s hand on the table, then sat down and took a sip of his own. “Viruses have been around forever. What’s so special about this one? What’s so novel about it?”

Avery sat for a moment to consider his response. The sun was diving again behind the faraway mountains, and the cooling summer air was rich with the sounds and smells of the sea in front of them. He’d been looking into this situation for months, investing hundreds of hours into research and making sense of the hysteria.

“Our reaction. That’s what’s special. We’ve somehow lost all reason this time. We panicked. We turned on each other. We let them tell us how to think, how to behave, what to believe. It’s a bloody mess.”

Heath looked over at his friend, who kept staring at the setting sun while drinking his beer. “Yeah, no shit. They started mandatory masks at the shop in town.”

“It’s a joke. Masks don’t do anything…except maybe give you a rash. They’ve lost my business. It’s one thing to cover your ass from liability. It’s another to force everyone — illegally, mind you — to wear masks based on nothing but fiction.”

Heath had been hearing about the same from other friends, too. He wasn’t sure what to think anymore. “What can we do then?”

“I don’t know. I’m angry, but I don’t know what we can do about it. It’s so huge…global. I’m nobody. I can’t convince anyone to dig deeper, to look harder, to stand up and tell those bureaucrats to fuck off. I don’t know, man. We can’t remedy what has been decades, maybe generations in the making.”

“She tested positive at the school. They say she has to be quarantined for two weeks.”

Maya pressed the button to end the call. She couldn’t manage any more words right now. The drive home was uncomfortable. Both she and her daughter were crying. She was stunned, and ashamed. When her family moved out to California decades ago, she’d never imagined something like this could ever happen.

The health inspector would beat them there, to make sure Autumn’s bedroom was adequate for separating her from the rest of the family, and that they had enough bathrooms for everyone. They put in a porta-potty. She’d have to bring Autumn meals, so she could eat alone in the room.

“I’m sorry, honey. But it’ll go by fast, you’ll see.” She knew her daughter hadn’t shown any signs nor symptoms of the disease. But she didn’t want her to have to go to one of the quarantine facilities.

Later on, after she’d given her daughter some dinner, and closed the door, she sat on the floor and leaned against the barrier. She felt a gentle thud at her back as her eleven-year-old did the same from the other side.

Again, they both cried.