AN ENVIABLE NOTHING • by Scott Pomfret

Before this first week? I was the popular one. I was always going out. Determined to have a good time. To connect. 

But when authorities announced the quarantine, the very first thing my boyfriend and I did was seal the doors and windows with Saran Wrap. Deliveries come only through a slot like a doggie door, and we leave them for two days before we dare touch them, even with latex gloves.

When my bare skin touches something by mistake, I want to lop off my fingers. 

No masked fuckbuddies. No friends. No family. We incinerate deliveries brought by ungloved and unmasked UPS drivers, whom I film with my security camera. Then I delete the recording for fear it, too, carries infection.

I turn off Zoom. No social media. No email. No television even, but I feel watched in return, as if the virus peers through others’ eyes in search of me.

I desperately need to create a smaller target. I slim down the number of words I speak. Shorten the sentences. Curtail even the nods and gestures, grimaces and smiles. I make more of the way my eyes shift, narrow, widen and close, and expect my boyfriend’s literacy in this new language. And yet, even this seems too much. There is less I can be.

I adopt an Olympian reserve. What would Zeus think? What would Aphrodite? My mind is closer and closer to pure art. 

My boyfriend’s frantic. He pretends to be as unsocial as me, but he oozes words. The quieter I am, the more he speaks to fill the void.

On the second week of the quarantine, he strips naked and jumps in front of me and says, “Ta Da!” 

I turn a page of War and Peace. I am deep in the classics. I read everything I should have read back in high school.

When I’m not studying, I list all the things we should have bought to prepare for the crisis that are now unavailable: guns, TP, facemasks, canned beans. 

In the third week, I download the prepper checklists and try not to read their politics.  Fourth week, I’m googling how to buy physical gold. I prefer nuggets to coins. They seem to interpose less between me and the element’s purest essence.

Meanwhile, for the sake of companionship, my boyfriend wears Scruff and Grindr to a frazzle. He’s run out of excuses for my absence on Zoom happy hours with all our friends.

“Disposed of the body,” he says, producing rueful laughter from his Zoom-zombies. They’ve all considered resorting to a pillow over the head of whomever they’re holed up with for the duration. Only my boyfriend describes the murder in further detail. This is the first thing that’s truly interested me since the panic began. 

After the call, I quiz him all over again on the details, the science, the physics, and, most importantly, the relative efficacy of certain disposal agents over others in rendering the human body an unidentifiable paste. If my boyfriend had only a teaspoon of the determination in me, I’d be dead. If he only had but a fingernail clipping of my coldness.  

Here’s something I never considered before the pandemic: What is it hospitals do with amputated limbs and breasts? 

There’s clearly an answer. I can’t be the first one to ask the question. My boyfriend works for a hospital chain. In marketing, sure, but he must have access to relevant data, even remotely. 

I can’t help but think of a stockpile of limbs frozen in a meat locker deep in the hospital’s bowels. What’s gone, in other words, isn’t entirely gone. When I cut off my friends, they still continue to exist. My boyfriend continues to yap. Messages pour into my inbox. 

Who are all these people with whom my boyfriend Zooms? Everyone’s now a stranger. A suspect. A contagion vector. This virus has a thousand eyes. It smells high blood pressure. It senses loneliness. It seeks vulnerabilities and imperfections in hard surfaces where it clings-sometimes, says the CDC, for days. 

To make myself a smaller target, I reduce the total number of words I speak to three per week. I hardly breathe. I sweep every picture off the walls and paint them stark white. 

I regard my limbs with suspicion. They seem sodden, heavy, unwieldy possible repositories of virus. If I hacked each off one by one, it wouldn’t slow me. No, the pure kernel of me would spring from the wreckage, released from limbs as from any other burden or weight, like a snare tied to a bent sapling that when tripped by a fox causes the tree to straighten like a soldier coming to attention. I aim to be an enviable nothing, properly disposed of. 

Indeed, I envision becoming so dense and drawn into myself that no virus can penetrate me, however long it remains viable on my surface. Hose me down in Lysol. Be not afraid. The death rate among stones is nil. Contagion rare.

As the states announce reopening, my boyfriend tears the wrap from the door and flings himself out for some social distance. 

I change the locks. Turn off the modem. Cut the cable. Sit in the dark. Move as little as possible. 

This is what God wants. God and fear, too, of course. But the longer I shrink to nothing, something ennobling takes over. It banishes fear and God, and I retreat to pure grace, and it doesn’t seem quite right that what originally brought my boyfriend and these other, terrible, contagious strangers together was none other than me.

Scott Pomfret is author of Since My Last Confession: A Gay Catholic Memoir; Hot Sauce: A Novel; The Q Guide to Wine and Cocktails, and dozens of short stories published in, among other venues, Ecotone, The Short Story (UK), Post Road, New Orleans Review, Fiction International, and Fourteen Hills. Scott writes from the cramped confines of his tiny Provincetown beach shack, which he shares with his partner of twenty-one years. He is currently at work on a comic queer Know-Nothing alternative history novel set in antebellum New Orleans.

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