Clary sits on a park bench, and tries to remember what it feels like to be touched. The quick push of a stranger’s shoulder as they slide by you into the subway car beside you. The energetic hug from a friend you barely knew. The desperation for feeling the interlaced hands of a lover. She missed what life felt like before the mist crept into the city from the river and concealed it with a punishing grey. Now, the masked figures scurry past her, practically floating on the surface in their attempt to avoid contact. Clary is weary for the first time in her life of the germs that might have polluted the surfaces around her. She tries to distract herself by rubbing the ink that these days seems to have permanently dyed her hands and everything she touches with a dark blue hue.
Clary likes to write notes to herself. The pandemic has only exacerbated her fear of forgetting. Her memories, dreams, and secrets, mingle together into a dismembered mess of sticky notes, covering every inch of her tiny hideous apartment. She spends most of her time peeling the purple, orange, yellow, and blue sticky notes off the floral wallpaper, but she can not stop her active hands from replacing the note as soon as she tears one down.
Clary puts her hands back inside her coat pocket and lets the perfectly folded orange note press deep indents into the palm of her hand. She wishes it was a love note from the barista that works across from the preschool she teaches at, not the recounting of a nightmare scribbled in her illegible handwriting. She tries to distract her anxious body by creating stories in her head like she did as a kid, but her mind seems to be broken.
As a child, Clary loved to play games using her imagination. She would conjure up characters resembling real people, make them flawless, and eventually abandon them when she discovered, like all humans, they had their ugly secrets. Clary’s father taught her how to reconcile with the imperfections of humanity. He managed to calm the ferocity of thoughts that plagued Clary’s mind, and threatened to drive her to insanity. He used to pick her up, put her on his shoulders, and tell her how much he loved her beautiful mind. She believed him.
Clary shuts her eyes as the wretched screams of the ambulance siren become unbearable. She tries to breathe deeply to calm herself, but only manages to inhale the same air she had just exhaled. The knot in her stomach tightens and anxiety begins to eat away at her insides like a screwdriver pushing its nails deeper into the wall. She panics, choking on the fabric covering her mouth. She rips the mask off in frustration.
When Clary was a teenager, her father left her, abandoning her the way she would leave the characters of her mind. Her father’s absence affected her as if he took a pistol from the pocket of his coat and shot Clary in the head. Her brains scattered all over the walls of the small apartment in the form of sticky notes. Clary felt as though she had been turned inside out like a dirty forsaken shirt found at the bottom of a drawer. Everything internal was now external. He had discovered her secret. Clary was cursed with omniscience.
Clary knew her mother had died before the drunk driver’s SUV collided with her mother’s red bike. The night before her accident, the spirits of the dead visited her dreams and whispered gently in their breathless voices their predictions for the future. Clary listened patiently and silently prayed to herself that the spirits were wrong. She knew they were right.
Even when she was a child, the spirits visited her imagination to reveal the truth about the humans she created. As she got older, they would visit her dreams with predictions. Each one they made would eventually reveal itself to be true no matter how obscure or horrific the outcome of it was. She was given the power of sight, but the inability to act like a soldier forced to witness the bloody death of human beings, but without the authority to command it to stop. She tried not to sleep at night, but found herself drifting off anyway. Her mind was hungry for the predictions of the spirits, and needed their voices to fuel it As Clary grew older, her dreams became more violent and cruel. She would wake up with her body shaking and sweating like a leaf disrupted from its peaceful perch on the tree and knocked to the ground by the aggressive wind.
She gently scratches at her neck where fresh scars and bruises appeared a few days ago. The guilt of knowing the horrors of the future eats away at Clary’s skin. Her blue stained hands are bloody and scarred, showing the layers of bone beneath. The more graphic her dreams are the more physical wounds appear with each prediction made by the spirits as if she had taken part in the event that had happened.
Absentmindedly, she takes her hands out of her pockets and clutches the bench, hoping it will give her the human contact she so desperately craves. She knew the stories of tear-soaked benches in New York City: the site of a budding romance or a bed for a frigid homeless person. She wants to feel connected to those people, but all she sees is them strapped to a hospital bed, coughing up their vital organs.
Clary is afraid to see her father again. She imagines him sauntering up to her with a cheeky smile on his face and a witty comment to tame her rampant mind, but she knows that image of him isn’t of the same man who left her. He had hardened with grief for the loss of his wife, and anger for his daughter who knew about her death and neglected to tell him. Clary had tried to spare him of that pain, but guilt swallowed her heart whole, and she eventually told him about her dreams. Clary touches the scar on her cheek absentmindedly. The silver wedding band sliced through her skin, and blood contaminated her tears as they rolled down her face.
“You knew about this.” His screams echoed off the walls of the tiny apartment.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Clary repeated in quiet whispers. She shook her head with such vehemence she thought that her head would pop off her neck. Her father glanced at the blood dripping down his hand like the tears dripping off the face of the child in front of him. She knew that he had punched her to try to reach inside her head and grab her hideous mind that held responsibility for the events that happened. Realizing his mistakes, he stomped out the apartment with large pounding steps and slammed the door shut behind him. She never saw him again. He disappeared out her life like a bird that flew south for the winter to escape the icy cruelty of the North East snow.
She shouldn’t be afraid of her father anymore, and his ability to change from kind to cruel in a matter of seconds. He had called her a few days ago, when the world shut down from the virus, and all humans hibernated in their houses like bears waiting for the life of nature to renew. He wanted to see if she was okay. He wanted to say he was sorry. He wanted to meet. She knows he is trying to clear his guilty conscience, before the painful virus corrupts his body and claims his smoke stained lungs. But she believes his falsehoods anyway, like she always had. She knows he will blame her for the virus. After all, she blames herself too.
She misses watching children run outside of their school buildings, laughing, screaming, and teasing each other as they fought to be the first in line for the ice cream stand always perched on the same street corner. She misses walking down the crowded streets, glancing into the window displays of expensive shops and dreaming of herself wearing clothes she would never be able to afford. Even the pigeons fight with each other as they scramble to be the first bird to grab the scarce scraps of food that someone carelessly left on their window sill.
Clary hears the quickening footsteps beside her, and quickly pulls up her mask. She lifts her head to shift her gaze upward, searching for a familiar face. Instead, she sees her scared eyes reflected back at her by a brave pedestrian carrying groceries. She can feel the eyes of the people watching her from the safety of their homes.
For the first time, Clary feels grateful for the coverage on her face. It hides her secrets, and protects her from her father’s fists. She tries to imagine what she’s going to say to him. She can feel the heavy hand of one of the spirits of the dead on her shoulder, guiding her. She pulls the orange note out her pocket, and unfolds it. In smudgy blue jagged letters, she wrote,
Coronavirus will kill my father.