Welcome to The Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is a story inspired by the phrase “back to normal.” It could be a pandemic-related story about getting back to normal, or one about not getting back to normal, or a story about something else entirely.
This week story comes from Chiara. Chiara is currently in Berlin, Germany, not quarantined anymore but still doing her best to catch up with semi-abandoned writing projects.
The Ghost of Pandemic Future
by Chiara De Giorgi
I hadn’t been able to work all day, I was too distracted by the news, posts, and articles about the pandemic: our life before, during, and after it. The question: “Can we go back to normal?” was everywhere. Some said we could, some said we must, some said it was impossible, some said it was irresponsible… Headache! So I went to bed and fell asleep, despite feeling so restless.
A noise woke me up. A sneeze, maybe? I opened my eyes: in front of me stood a ghost. He was dressed as a plague doctor, you know what I mean? Those doctors wearing a robe and a mask with a long beak during the 17th century plague?
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I am the Ghost of Pandemic Past”, he answered. “I’ve come to tell you that it was right to stay home and be careful. To not touch stuff, to wash your hands a hundred times, to avoid crowded places, and so on. It helped, it really did. So, thank you.”
“Er… You’re welcome, I guess. Can you tell me what happens next?”
“I can’t, but soon you’ll receive another visit, and you’ll know more.”
“Alright, then. Thanks for the visit. See ya.”
“See ya?” he said. “Do you really mean it?”
“Well, I… No, I guess not. Good bye.”
I went back to sleep, but soon something woke me up again: the annoying sound of an ambulance siren.
In front of my bed stood another ghost. He wore the protective suit, mask, and goggles that doctors all around the world have been wearing since the beginning of this wretched year.
“Hello”, I said. “You must be the Ghost of Pandemic Present.”
The ghost did not reply. He showed me hospital beds, in which lay patients on ventilators: helpless, sedated, pale, clammy; doctors rushed to a bed where a machine insistently beeped.
The ghost showed me other people. People crying while they said goodbye via video-chat to a spouse, a parent, a child who was about to take their last breath. And then: people crowded on a beach, drinking and laughing, dancing the night away.
“Is this how it is going to be?” I whispered, a lump in my throat.
The Ghost did not answer, and I fell asleep.
I woke up a third time, to the sound of birds singing, and I saw that a new ghost had entered my bedroom. She wore jeans and a blouse, and a cloth mask on her face.
“Hello there”, I waved. “Are you going to show me the future?”
She scoffed. “I am the Ghost of Pandemic Future. What do you think?”
“Okay. Go on, then. Are we or are we not going back to normal?”
She shrugged. “What do you mean, back to normal? What is normal?”
“Well, it is… It means…”
“What, you don’t know? You open your mouth just to let in some air? Aren’t you supposed to think, before you speak?”
“Hey, now, wait a minute…”
She threw her hands up in the air. “You spend all day getting drunk on other people’s words. Words, words, words, and no meaning. You don’t stop a second to think what those words mean. Well, don’t look so battered, you’re not the only one. All those people who vomit thousands of words on the media don’t think about what they say or write most of the time.”
Her tone annoyed me. “Excuse me, was there something you needed to tell me?” I asked.
She sighed. “Okay, let’s do this. You want normal? Here’s normal: the sun comes up every single day, doesn’t it? Spring follows Winter and Summer follows Spring, right? So: everything’s normal. Happy?”
I glared at her, and she went on.
“Not enough? Very well. Your mom cooking breakfast for you and taking you to pre-school was normal until you were five. Then it wasn’t normal any more. Normal became waiting for the school-bus and having homework to do. Later, a Saturday night at the cinema with your friends was normal. And what about when you broke your leg? It was normal to use crutches for a month or so, wasn’t it? Bet you wouldn’t want that to be normal now, would you?”
“Alright, you made your point”, I snapped.
“Did I? So what’s your question gonna be, since I’ve made my point?”
“I guess… I’m not sure what to expect. Everything’s so alien, you know? So different from my experience so far. And it’s not just me, it’s everybody! I mean, it was one thing to have to use crutches for a few weeks, but people around me didn’t have to, so they could drive me around, or go grocery shopping for me. This is different, because everybody’s involved.”
“So you wish everything could just go back to how it was before the pandemic. For yourself, and for everybody else. Right?”
“Yes. That would be great. Is it going to happen?”
“What do you think? Based on what the other ghosts showed you, what do you think?”
I sighed. “I don’t think it is going to happen.”
“And why is that?”
“Well, the virus is clearly still around. We’ve seen that a few changes in our lifestyle can make it less dangerous for everybody. We can go on like this for a while, I guess, and fix the bigger issues, like school and travel… Think of something new, you know? Yes, this can be our normal right now. And after that… We will all have changed, life will simply never go back to what it was before. We will adapt.” I looked at her and smiled weakly. “We’ve done that for millennia, after all, haven’t we?”
“Very good”, she said. “Yes. Changes belong to life. Some changes take long, some happen all of a sudden, but humans learn to adapt. You wouldn’t be there at all, if it weren’t like that.”
I nodded. She was right. We would have to stop longing for the past, wishing the pandemic hadn’t happened, pretending it was over. We would have to learn to give a new meaning to the word “normal”.
And we did.
The Spot Writers—Our Members:
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com
Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/