Quarantine

Between flailing limbs, the expanse of Earth comes into view until the Pacific is obscured by Dimitri’s dancing palms.

Quarantine

Dimitri tells me I need a routine. His is to set an alarm ten minutes before Roger rises. Working himself into a sweat, Dimitri folds his wiry frame to the silver-coloured floor. I watch him from my pod in fascination as he limbers up, readying himself for somersaults and jumping jacks. Infinite possibilities of childhood

The clock strikes 07h00. Roger’s twin lights flicker before they pivot towards our pillows. It’s time for his daily poem, something about death from Christina Rossetti. Between flailing limbs, the expanse of Earth comes into view until the Pacific is obscured by Dimitri’s dancing palms. We self-cater. The tastes of white bread, raspberry jam and dried banana chips are indistinguishable. Food fills my stomach, but no more.

There’s a dim hum, then a rustle of bodies from beyond the duct, creeping into action. Duvets are stashed away and breakfast bowls placed on pods, but that’s next door and we’re not allowed any contact. It used to be gravity that separated us, now its Roger’s consoles. I hold my nose; we were on the third rota together, so Dimitri caught my cold when we assessed the rock samples.

Last night, we were settling for dinner when Harden sent us a communication. As always, Roger delivered it devoid of any emotion.

‘In case, you can send a message home at 21h00 tonight. There’s a virus. We understand global estimates suggest at least hundreds of thousands dead. Supersedes impact of Coronavirus, (2020).’

Minutes later, a note through the plastic flap to our berth. We’re not meant to receive messages, but Stella Kanchensky is my one friend.

‘You may wonder what Rog’ means, its serious, but not affecting Oregon badly (yet).’

Dimitri’s frenetic air-kicks have an invasive chill, but I float upwards to dress and scan Stella’s note a second time. Roger’s over-sized eye lids flap down as he concludes the Rossetti poem,

‘So lost from chime to everlasting chime, So cold and lost forever evermore.’

I pick up my paperback copy of Brave New World– it was the centenary last year. The pages recede in the reflected breeze of Dimitri’s air-punches. As I gaze, his meets mine, sparkling red with conjunctivitis and resentment.

It’s not as visible as Mikhailkhov’s, but my routine is to imagine Smurf chowing through a sourdough cheese toastie. I see the tomato relish he’d lick from his upper lip and his steaming Earl Grey, which he’d savour last. The three freckles high on his boyish cheekbone, the colour of chestnuts browning at a Christmas fayre. For a fleeting moment I think about using this as an opportunity to reach out, but he’s not in Oregon anymore. I don’t know anyone else who is.

‘You know what this means, don’t you?’ Dimitri says, snatching the book from my hand.

I tend to the algae tubes and sprinkle soda water on them, avoiding a confrontation.

‘If she mentions Oregon, and she deliberately emphasises it’s not badly affected – yet – it means all the major cities are. Houston, surely, LA, New York…’, Dimitri continues with keen anticipation in his voice that I should turn around and face him.

‘It doesn’t mean anything, except we’ll be here for many more months. Beyond that, there’s nothing to say,’ I add, affecting a coolness inside I know I don’t possess.

‘Months? No, years. Remember 2020? It wasn’t just the one year, was it. That’s the point. There was the halo effect, that second wave, the third wave after that.’ Dimitri seems excited by the proposition.