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The Barcelona Review

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Every night at dinner we eat sparingly, as if we are already running out of money, and maybe we are. It’s hard to tell. If it’s sausages, we each have only one. If it’s cheeseburgers, the same, and they are the size of an egg. If it’s chicken moz, then just one tender, each exactly the length and width of—yes, look at yours—two fingers. When we get up from the table it feels as though we’ve eaten nothing at all.
      They’ve been saying for weeks it will just be two months more, they’ve been saying for months it will be just another year.
      Every day while it is still allowed, I drive across the river at two-fifteen to walk the dog with her and at five-fifty to have dinner with them. Our older boy is an addict who has trouble eating food, doesn’t bathe or wash his clothes, and wonders if he should kill himself. He only leaves the house for the drive along the river into the ugliness to the dispensary, the route lined by an abandoned mill and running through a town called Steelton that seems it never was.  Our younger boy is stoic and slyly bitter, always first from the table and fully aware of the disappointment his departure causes. When I return to the apartment for the last time at seven-forty and close the door on everything but myself it feels almost like relief.
      It is true I’ve been living some version of this for years. Now it’s only further from where it began and deeper. The internet is dotted with stories about people like us but I don’t read them. Why would I when I already know what this is?
      Over time I’ve identified a way I’d like to live, the eye of my mind imagining a bungalow on a beach under a soothing thunderstorm, but that’s just an image from a disposable camera, if you remember those, if they still exist.
      Every day is a struggle with the endless small tasks to earn the family money and keep them for the moment in their home and then the apparently hopeless extra work on larger unpaid tasks that might make the future more certain but won’t. We keep trying to think big and to think new because the tried and the true have already suffered cuts of thirty percent with more promised very soon.
      We keep at it, of course, thinking of the thorny delicate nature of the sixteen-year-old, the failure to thrive of the twenty-three-year-old, and their older sister in a city four hours to the north, so petrified and circumspect she has removed herself from her apartment in our town because she doesn’t trust our own vigilance.  Not that she should.  She calls for each of us on our Day—these come in May and June—but otherwise she is silent, at remote work on a local political campaign.  I feel the anger and disappointment of the three of them, and say whenever possible I am sorry, that I understand it is the fault of my generation.  They shrug, they nod, they act like such a gesture is just a gesture because it is.
      We embrace these long twined strands of time—the you alone, the you together, the you outside absorbing that there is still life to live, the you inside absorbing that this is your life, the you on the screen, the you on the couch, the you with your face in your hands, the you sitting on the floor in the closet weeping—as luck, our good fortune, because for this moment unlike whatever moment that might come we have our health, all other elements so unsteady that this can seem not to matter at all when it is all that matters despite the fact that empirically, so they tell us, so far many more will get through this than not. But with what, to what? And besides, there is, they tell us, so much more time to come, how long nobody knows.
      At night I dream there is a prophet who doesn’t even claim to be a prophet, or there is a prophet who inhabits the body of someone else; in either case they are trying to teach us something we can’t learn.  I keep reaching for the prophet but I can’t catch hold and they don’t want to be touched anyway and maybe they don’t want me to learn what they’ve been sent to say.  I see long brown hair, eyes, no exact face, robes of white, even in versions when they are trapped inside other people. 
      Finally, there is an election and even though it is delayed and even though it is rigged, he loses. There’s a ticker tape parade through the canyon for the hero. The talk shows are filled with glee and hope. But at the inauguration, I can’t explain it but something goes wrong, and he won’t leave. He’s that mad, he’s that angry, he’s that certain. And I can’t explain it, but we let it happen, we accept it, he remains.This is an outline, it is a story, it is a treatment, it is an essay, it is the truth.

© 2020 Fred Leebron

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