I was standing on the sidewalk out past the Western Addition, just on our way for a late baseball coaching session, the phone bleeped to tell me to go to Chinatown at 6pm to go look at an apartment. It was already late afternoon and all I had had to eat was a tiny bowl of cereal and a cup of soy milk. I was fading fast. There was no way I could go from baseball practice and then out to Chinatown, getting back after eight in the evening without blood sugar crash. We had just walked past a little market, I picked up a bag of peaches on our walk over, except there was a problem. Did I dare to eat a peach? Eating a peach would mean taking off my gloves, removing my mask and eating in public. I have a fear of eating in the street since Japan persuaded me of the acts essential uncooth nature. It just feels wrong. How anyone eats a full meal on those sidewalk tables, I will never understand. Fainting from low blood sugar was not going to help anyone.
I have had a terror of covid since I first read about bad things happening in Wuhan back in the early days of 2020, before we had heard about it here in the USA. I like to trawl Wechat, and 4chan, and there were tales and videos of bodies and bad things happening. I made a mask out of a bra insert and some ribbon. I started to wear gloves and tell bemused friends that we were heading towards disaster. Ruthie started calling me Cassandra once things actually slid out of control outside of China. I was washing grocery shopping, backing away from people like that had the plague and feeling terrified back in early January 2020, so right now, after all of this death and disease, and a prolonged campaign. After being forced out of my campground life, after the shelter, and the lockdowns, and all of this, then realizing the risks that come with the vaccine for someone with an autoimmune disease and some very tetchy food allergies, I have reached a fever pitch of worry. I am all that stands between my son and disaster. I can’t get sick. It is impossible.
The Boy held out a peach in his freshly ungloved paw. “Ma, you gotta eat something, you look pale.” I knew he was right. I can only manage small quantities at a time, my stomach is so damaged after years of celiac and no medical care, that large meals leave me in pain. : took off a glove. I unhooked my mask. I started to laugh.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me. (The Lovesong of Alfred J Prufrock. T.S. Elliot)
Do I dare to eat a peach? The way the light fell on the sidewalk. The late afternoon heat of a San Francisco day. The hustle and bustle of the unmasked vaccinated faces. The abnormal normality of it all. The dogs sniffing lamposts. All contaminated. All dangerous. All brewing some vile biological weapon soup. All breathing, and pissing, and spitting and scattering death and destruction. My eyes swimming with a stupid blood sugar crash. Not having tested my blood sugars today anyway because I am lazy and I don’t like to stab my fingers because I do like to play guitar, and I can’t get blood out of anywhere else. My ears started to roar. Eat a peach or faint.
I pulled off the mask and let it dangle from my wrist feeling naked and exposed and in danger, held out a freshly ungloved hand.
I took the peach.
I didn’t even wash it, since I was standing in the street on the way to ____Ave.
Walking up the road, away as far as possible from the crowds and the dog walkers, the coughers and the spluttering masses, I ate that peach in greedy gulps of syrupy goodness.
I dared to eat that peach. I put the mask back on, pulled a fresh pair of blue gloves over my hands, and wondered when the human voices would wake me up to drown in fear of large risks again and again. I have taken so many risks, so many huge daring risks. I’ve dodged so many bullets, that I weigh any further chance-taking very carefully indeed. Elliot would have been a pair of ragged claws crawling across the floors of silent seas, or something like that. I would be a bird flying above disaster, carrying my babies like some deformed stork.
Baseball came and went. We rushed up to Chinatown. After waiting outside for twenty minutes and trying to find the right apartment, I got a note from the housing coordinator. She thought it was a ____ Ave CHINATOWN, San Francisco listing. It wasn’t. It was a same named street in Oakland listing. Wild goose chase. A taxi all the way back was too much money, it was past 7pm, so we hurried down the Chinatown streets, up hills and over towards the Loin. I was glad I had ate the peach. Sometimes pragmatism is the only way to go. Sometimes doing what you have to do is not ideal, but there is nothing else for it. It is risk or die. Eat that peach or faint on the dirty San Franciscan streets. Sometimes there are no good options, and the lesser evil is the only way to go. Sometimes the peach has to be foregone, sometimes you have to gulp every sugary drop down and suck the stone dry. Live or die. Sometimes you get sent to the wrong address. You think you are going to Chinatown, but instead the apartment of your dreams is sitting in some murder avenue of Oakland. Wild geese and deformed storks. Sometimes you think the answer is right there, sitting in the palm of your hand, light at the end of the tunnel, but instead you are just as much in the dark as you ever were, but you know what they say: the darkest hour is just before the dawn. Never seen it myself, but I suppose the dawn might just be round some corner, but it ain’t gonna be today.
The boy threw well today. Someone asked me if he was my son, and saying how well he was pitching. My heart hurt with pride at saying yes, that was my Boy. They say love is unconditional. I don’t believe it is true, but love takes a lot of breaking.
I just want a home for us. A home to fill with books and quietude. What a cruel joke to play. A 24 hour cafe called the Lucky Penny that has been boarded up and covered with graffiti, promising steak and breakfast, but won’t ever be serving again. Probably for the best, but I can’t help being hungry as heck and sad as hell.