Pandemic From California by Kiran Bains Sahota

August. The haze in the sky is thick, like a slate smog stretched thin over a blaring sun. It looks as if heat will rain. I can picture it: sizzling bolts of light touching down, the earth jittery from its touch. Some gnats collide into the glass of my window, as if they seek shelter with me. The round bodies stagger elsewhere; some drop into the cracks of the concrete far below the sill. 

I was throwing out the trash some moments before I grabbed my pen to write. The sun, a neon citrus ball in the sky, blazed fiercely as if to remind me that it too is made of the same fire that burns through California. Little patches of grayish-white descended from the slate ceiling. I wanted to stretch my tongue out, as if it were snow––as if, for the first time in almost 6 months, I was somewhere new––but the acidic smell of burnt wood made my nose wrinkle behind my mask. The air is dangerous. I could see it, drifting onto a blanket of ash settling along the lid of the garbage bin. A cloud of gnats shimmered a few yards away and I wondered if they were as unsettled, intermixing with the powdery residue.

I bent back the lid of the bin, the rancid smell of smoke intermixed with the stench of soiled scraps. Some ash fell in and stuck to streaks of grease. The heat pulled at my skin as I watched. The ash drifted until it dressed the cement, the thick, thirsty leaves of the bushes, and the whirring box pumping cold air into the house that has been my only place of rest, work, and socialization since quarantine started. I closed the lid, accepting that I’d thrown away the whole summer in that elastic bag of tattered tickets, invisible smiles, and expired invitations.

But as I watch behind my window now, concealed in my shelter with my cheek free to rest on my palm, I realize this isn’t the first time that ash has fallen in heaps or that plumes of smoke pretended to be clouds. It’s also not the first-time people have been sick, or that politics have been unmasked. But it’s the first time I’ve grown tired of it all happening at once. 

Tink. I focus beyond my reflection. Another gnat. I wonder if they’re tired too, slamming into the glass barricade that I know how to open. I look down from my window. The ash must’ve slipped into the cracks of the pavement too. I hope the gnats that fell will rise again. I can picture them doing so; the tiny, winged creatures dodging what must feel like chunks of their world crumbling around them. But they’ll do it. They’ll fly up, go back to their cloud of family, friends, and potential love. And I can only hope that when the smoke clears, we can do the same.

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