Lockdown was looming and this was bad for business.
Corona knew it was time to act.
Supermarkets were filling with anxious people stockpiling on toilet paper, canned beans in tomato sauce, frozen broccoli, boxed milk.
Long lines of people standing shoulder to shoulder, waiting to rush home and cook up a storm, then freeze it for the near future.
People were buying as if the world had reached its brim. Like a credit card nearing its limit, the world too would have to answer to the bank, the ultimate collection of intangible numbers.
And who maintains this bank? C thought.
In the meantime, her own numbers were increasing exponentially. From one day to the next she doubled in size, then doubled again. She divided herself like a fertilized egg, the start of all human life.
Governments were saying, stay at home, this might take a few weeks, maybe months. So, people were consuming madly, which in fact means to destroy by use, as by burning or eating.
Corona thought, that is what I do too. So, she found her way into the supermarkets.
She picked up some apples, lemons, sniffed them, then lay them down again. She leaned over the glass cheese-counter, asked for grated cheddar, then changed her mind. Dizzy, she stood amongst all the people moving through the aisles like frantic ants.
The checkout counter seemed the ants’ headquarters, the epicenter of the consuming colony. I like this species, C thought. Ants are known to have colonized every landmass on Earth. An example to follow, she thought.
She joined the busy line, and watched the chain of superorganisms carry their produce, pass it on from the one link to the next. She lightly touched the oil of the machine, joining its collective juices, the saliva that made it all run smooth. Like a gun, she clicked into place.
And when it was her turn to check out, she saw what made this species great. Some ants took one for the team, and in a final act of altruistic sacrifice, sneezed their mandibles off their heads, spraying a deathly phlegm onto the intruder. Onto Corona.
Lucky for her, she wasn’t alone anymore. The chain had been infected, and it would be impossible to trace every source. The contaminated ants would have to be isolated. And who ever heard of a quarantined ant?
And here it was, the expected lockdown.
Corona had no real recollection of her single days. She had been addicted to social interaction from the start. Foreign bodies were infatuations to her, contagious, she effortlessly switched from one crush to the next, always hungry for more, never alone, never committing.
How would she cope in isolation? Her mind began to wander.
There was one host who remained memorable. He had been more than a passing crush, she remembered. Had it been the beginning of something new? Still now she saw his dark eyes in front of her, how they pierced right through her when she’d first made him cough. He was asthmatic. She liked the sound of his deep, croaky breath. She stayed with him for eight weeks. Till his dry cough became wet, then disappeared altogether. Perhaps she remembered him because he’d survived her, even when she thought this one would truly give in.
He’d left her with a pot plant. A gift he himself had received from his colleagues while he recovered, halfway through the affair.
Now she sat alone, on her balcony, staring at the plant, a light pink cyclamen. Should she water it? Move it to a larger pot? How pathetic, she thought, she had no idea how to take care of an organism other than herself.
Google told her that each leaf of the cyclamen grows on its own stem. There are leaf stems and flower stems, and unlike other plants, these stems never intersect.
This tidbit made her sigh. She had never grown on her own stem, as a singular leaf or flower. She had always been a part of the larger Covid family, that branched out its leaves from the same stem as many tentacles. Some of her aunts said they are descendants of bats, and her cousins believed the Russians had plotted their beginning. But the uncles said their origin was the undoing of human greed.
Corona thought, I know about this greed, this desire to move from one locus to the next. In these past months she had traveled all over the globe. She had seen the temples of the East, the elaborate malls of the West, theaters, restaurants, skyscrapers and subways. She had followed in their steps; all the places humans had conquered.
How would she now cope in isolation?
She decided to move the cyclamen to a larger pot. She watched the flowers fall off, one by one, day by day, while the plant’s roots extended further in the dark soil, broadening its scope, its movement. Soon the flowers would return, she thought, blooming bigger and fuller than before.
Geula Geurts is a Dutch born poet and essayist living in Jerusalem. She is a graduate of the Shaindy Rudolph Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar Ilan University. Her mini-chap, Like Any Good Daughter, was published by Platypus Press. Her chapbook, Where the Sea is Quenched of Thirst, was a finalist in the 2018 Autumn House Chapbook Contest. Her work has been anthologized and has recently appeared or is forthcoming in On the Seawall, Tinderbox Editions, Blood Orange, New South, Persephone’s Daughters, Counterclock, Jellyfish Review, Rogue Agent and The Boiler, among others. She works as a literary agent at the Deborah Harris Agency.