‘How’re you doing? I asked Al this morning, sitting at the dining room table with his books. His open books.
‘I need a break.’
‘You’ve just got going. Hey, focus.’
‘For heaven’s sake, Mom, I’ve been working for an hour. You’re the one whose just surfaced, and now you’re slouching on the couch, fiddling with your cell phone at 10:00 am.’
‘Ja, but I got off to a late start.’
‘Overslept, Mom? Missed your exercise hour? Missed the sunrise?’
‘One of those nights, Al.’
…I could not sleep… I obsessed over every Corona theory, thinking of the projections of spiking infections and more death… but also mulling over ending lockdown… it’s necessary, to get on with life… Africa has only two percent of world cases… I heard Abdool Karim saying yes, there will be small outbreaks at schools… and I wanted to get on a plane… to be in he departure lounge, a boarding pass in my pocket… on my way to Greece again… but how could I head to the islands without a new bikini which of course I can’t buy… Love the one you’re with, the moon is in the sky, here I am… One cat was sleeping on my head, another between my legs (not my pussy), I had Rob beside me… but even the comfort of three warm bodies could not relieve the 3:00am blues… I wondered how I’d handle another death… in the end, one is alone…
…The black cat has feline AIDS and leukemia. I have to take him to the vet but I can’t bring myself to. He’s been with me for 13 years. I can’t bear to that moment after the injection when he’ll be limp in my arms. In my dream-state I watched a clip of an Italian couple on their balcony, lowering their dog on his leash from from their first floor apartment for his exercise; I saw an elderly patient locked in an ambulance, one hand hanging from a stretcher, a shock of grey exposed over an oxygen mask. In a hospital passage doctors and nurses moon-walked in full protective gear; I saw coffins, simple pine boxes, lined up in a school hall below my house; I hovered over the mass burial-ground on Hart Island off Manhattan, and I flew above the funeral of a South African newborn and another of a care worker…
Al distracted me from my slump: ‘Mom, I’m talking to you.’
‘Sorry, my boy.’
‘At least I didn’t have to wake up this morning to you belting out your army bugle-call in my ear.’
It’s true, this week I’ve started cheerfully singing with. the break of dawn: ‘Calling A, calling B, calling every company…!’ to get All out of bed before eight. My father, during my childhood, had tried to get me up in the mornings in the same way, with his loud tune. Then he’d tweak the sheets and blankets and when that didn’t work he’d bring a glass of water to the bed and sprinkle droplets on my cheeks and finally he’d rip the covering off my shivering body. My mother never had the heart for this. Al, like me, is not a morning person. But hell, school starts on the first of June and we have to get accustomed to waking up a little earlier.
‘Mom, I had to make my own hot chocolate this morning, and I had to hang up the washing. I got myself motivated. How’m I supposed to focus with you fidgeting over there? C’mon, pick yourself up, you can do it, go get writing.’
And so I dragged my fuzzy self, in my stretched tracksuit, to my work spot, offering myself a pep-talk: You have something to say, no doubt. Get your word count up. Meet your target (not that I really know what the target is, except to sit, and write…)
We had chatted last night, Al and I, about the fact that there’s been so little wind in Muizenberg lately. My theory went something like this: ‘There are no airplanes in the sky, churning up the air. No scientist has said it yet, but just think, hundreds of thousands of flights grounded, over a month? Fewer jet steams? Less turbulence? Makes sense right, Al?’
‘Lol, Ma. Go Google the Coriolis Force. Wind is related to gravity, and the earth rotating around the sun. Wind is definitely not created by planes flying. Planes are designed aerodynamically so they’re not bounced about by the wind which already exists.’
So he actually knows a thing or two, my baby boy.
Sitting at my computer, trying to eek out some insight, I looked up the Coriolis effect. Sometimes I need to trick my mind, to get to deeper stuff, start with something concrete, like a little research… ‘Coriolis effect refers to how a moving object seems to veer toward the right in the Northern hemisphere and left in the Southern hemisphere.’ I scratched my head. Isn’t this the whole bath-plug thing? That the little whirlpool you see spins at the plug-hole in different directions in different hemispheres?
I needed more help. I tuned in to Weather 101: What causes the wind to blow? Class is in session! In précis, it starts with the sun. Air warms and rises, creates imbalance, air moves from low pressure to high pressure, the greater the different in pressure, the greater the wind speed.
One minute I was learning about the wind, the next I was getting tips on surviving a tropical storm: large plastic rubbish bags are useful to fill with sand, with water, use them to collect rain, use one as a tarp, another as a waterproof poncho; and small plastic bags are handy, particularly worn inside your shoes, as socks, to keep your feet dry and surprisingly, warm. As for your valuables, store them in the dishwasher… the closed door creates a seal which keeps water out… and how about making your own firelighters of egg cartons, lint and Vaseline, storing it in a Tupperware for an emergency…
Before I knew it, I was watching classic auditions for Britains’s Got Talent, one clip morphing in to another… I’d wasted another hour of my life, culminating with Susan Boyle’s first appearance, belting out ‘I dreamed a dream’ from Les Miserables. Enough! Stop! Now!
We’ve just had lunch. Fish and salad.
‘It’s true, Mom. We really have had so little wind over the past weeks.’
The day was beautiful. Still. The wit-ootjies and sunbirds at the sugar water, the fat cat spread on the hot slate. The dogs lolling under the table, forever hopeful for scraps, which of course they get.
‘Ah,’ I thought back to last night, ‘so you think my theory holds water?’
‘Mom, I hold you in high esteem. It pains me to hear you talk like this.’ And he explained how gas molecules bounce around. ‘Planes fly through gas. Only solid matter conducts energy. For once and for all planes do not cause wind.’
‘Ok, back to work,’ I said.
‘How’s the writing going?’
‘Yeah, someday’s are better than others… And you, sticking to your schedule?’
‘Of course,’ he said.
I heard the cogs turning…
‘But my schedule is built on flexibility.’
‘So I’m gonna take a break to play a computer game…’
That suited me just fine. The day has felt long enough. It’s Friday after all.
I’m back on the couch now. I’m taking a break. From Corona. From Facebook. From the news. Hopefully from myself, from obsessing… if I can. How? My mother’s voice is in my head, ‘Read a book…’