Life in the Time of Corona
Passage to Paradise
Susan Marie Molluy
Susan Marie Molloy is a retired analyst and published author. Growing up in a bilingual family helped foster her love of languages and nurture an interest in exploring other cultures. In addition to writing poetry and short stories, she enjoys Pre-Code films, photography, music, travelling, and reading.
A week or five ago, in a nameless month, on an otherwise nondescript day, I slipped my car into a parking spot after rolling through the lot for a length of time.
The featureless grey sky distracted me as I pulled my shopping list from my jeans pocket.
I strolled towards the store, dodging globs of purple and green on the asphalt. Some looked like fingers splayed and twisted; some were just crumpled lumps. Flat white tissues flapped their corners against the curb in the breeze, signaling me to enter.
The doors glided open. I reached for a grocery cart, just as a masked man in a dark green apron cut in front of me and wiped the plastic handle with a white wet tissue that he yanked from a canister. Wipe, wipe, and one more wipe with a flourish, he kicked the cart towards me with his foot and nodded that it was ready to use.
I lifted my eyebrows and raised my head to witness a horde of strangely outfitted people pushing their carts, dodging one another. Most wore green or blue masks or shabby rags across their faces, many sported green or purple gloves, all were disengaged, and no one spoke.
The deli counter was my first stop. A line of blue drywall tape marked where I could not cross. A paper sign ordered me to wait to be served; that the server would approach me.
“Can I help you?”
“Pound o’ salami.”
The server yanked the link from the case, furiously sliced off a pound, weighed it, wrapped it, and slammed it on the counter.
“No, ma’am,” and I leaned in nimbly towards the deli case, my toes still firmly fixed behind the blue tape that I dared not cross.
More blue tape directed me which way to walk in the aisles. Arrows pointed his way to the udon noodles – no, this way – do not enter, but enter here. Follow the arrow, obey the all-powerful forbidding X.
The udon noodles hid behind the chow mein noodles, which in turn hid behind dented cans of bamboo shoots – a confusion of products on partially empty shelves.
The salt sat in an aisle that boasted a glut of nuts and canned fruits, valiantly shared with empty flour and sugar shelves. I seized the Morton salt as a man in a mask and flesh-colored gloves glared and sized me up as he marched by.
I chuckled and plodded ahead, pushing my cart and dodging several people in the aisle who theatrically hugged the shelves as we passed each other.
A cold female voice droned from above.
“Wash your hands. Be courteous to your fellow shoppers. We are in this together. Thank you for following these guidelines.”
There was no rye bread, nothing on the bread shelves but old, beat-up paper signs commanding shoppers to take only one loaf, and thank you for your understanding during these difficult times.
Last on my list was vinegar. Back to that aisle – do not enter here, but enter here, this way! and I obeyed the blue taped arrows and x’s on the floor. The last jug went into my cart.
I made a beeline towards the checkout lines, seeing people heading my way down the aisle, abruptly stopping and swiftly turning around to go down another, hopefully empty, aisle. It was all so peculiar, this apparent fear of contact, these strange fashion accessories, the disembodied voice from above.
“Practice social distancing. Be thoughtful to all. Wash your hands. Thank you for following these guidelines.”
I zigzagged my way to a checkout line, sighed, and leaned against my cart’s handle. A woman wearing yellow Playtex gloves up to her elbows and a doubled-up mask, shrieked.
“Six feet apart! Stay away from me! Six feet apart! The virus! This is 2020!”
She made an impressive Electric Slide move away from me, all the while glaring and clutching her shopping basket.
Something cold and wet poked my neck.
I turned and focused my eyes.
My dog poked my neck again, and I sat up on the couch.
A small, garlicky burp reminded me of my salami and rye bread sandwich snack. I smiled and got up.
I turned the television channel and settled for a new episode of Fantasy Island. This was 1984, for Heaven’s sake, not 2020.
And I sprayed a bit of Lysol in the living room air for good measure.