Chapter Eight

As September approached, Charrington was keen to end his rural adventure and reclaim his SoHo apartment. He would find a neighborhood much altered.  As BLM protests moved uptown or to Brooklyn, and as black umbrella-toting-agent provocateurs found new unprotected windows to smash, the plywood covering SoHo windows came down. The restaurants had spilled over into the parking spaces on the streets, offering outdoor dining “for health safety reasons during the pandemic.”  The outdoor dining morphed into covered outdoor dining. Soon the covered spaces were walled in and air conditioned or heated “for health safety reasons during the pandemic.” SoHo was sprouting a parallel shanty town in its streets, “for health safety reasons during the pandemic.”  Ours is not to question why, but to circumvent arbitrary rules in the most extraordinary ways.  On every block a giant dumpster held the discarded plywood, standing by for the next riot.

My contract at the Public Library was about up, and I was only there now two days per week, cleaning up bad scans and missing files, and so for the remainder of my time with the library, I would be commuting in from my farm two hours north.

No one met me at the Wassaic train station. Charrington had parked Gertrude’s EV there for me on his way down.  My three months in the city with Julia had been therapeutic. I wouldn’t tell her this, but obviously it makes sense that when a man loses his mother, another woman is just what he needs to heal the pain, start imagining himself moving into the next generation as the head of the household and etc., etc.  Any way, the point being, when I stepped off the train, with my three suitcases, and let the bright clear September air—full of squirrel chatter and the scent of cut hay—receive and envelop me, I was home; I was healed.

The car was unlocked and the key bob under the front seat where I’d instructed Charrington to leave it.  As I drove up the double-yellow lined road, I noticed many lawns were still decorated with heart-shaped yard signs.  The words “thank you” often accompanied them.  Should I feel guilty that I do not appreciate the attack nurses who failed to save my mother? Should I resent the doctor who pooh-poohed Gertrude’s request for that “alternative” early treatment she had successfully treated Kimmie and Ariel with? 

Instead of the heart signs and the popular multi-colored Nicene Creed already mentioned, there were new reactionary multi-colored yard signs that proclaimed:

All lives matter.

Socialism is Communism.

Life is life.

I stand for the Flag.

Guns Save Lives.

I drove passed the road leading up to my farm.  I was late for an appointment at the hospital.  Three months after her death, what was left of my mother was still stashed in the deep freeze. Lately, all of a sudden, I was being hassled to come out to claim her, as if I had left my dry cleaning too long, and I was instructed to get the cremation process going.  I requested an autopsy, which, I was told, was not ordered by the doctor and so the fee would have to come out of my own pocket. Fine. So be it. 

I sat in the coroner’s office. Dr Z.—bald, full bearded, reading glasses, white lab coat, maskless—was summarizing his report.  “Kidney failure. Edema.”

“What does that mean, edema?”

Dr. Z removed his reading glasses to look me directly in the eye as he pronounced the words, “Lungs filled up with fluid.” 

“The ground glass thing?” I questioned, drawing upon my Internet knowledge of what Italian doctors had found early on. 

“No, that would be more typical of Covid-19, but this was fluid that she wasn’t able to clear from her body due to the kidney failure.” He replaced his glasses and sighed at the papers he held in his hand.

“I don’t remember my mother having kidney problems.”

“It doesn’t mean she did before.  Not pre-existing.”  Again, that penetrating stare.

“Covid attacks the kidneys?” He seemed to want me to draw the information out of him with a syringe.

“We don’t know.”

“Well, it must,” I said, confused. 

“We don’t know.”

I was starting to become irritated. “What else are you unsure about?”

“Well, we’ve seen this only in the patients on remdesivir treatment, not all of them, but some like your mother…”  He said, hinting.

“So you think the remdesivir hurt her kidneys?”

“I haven’t concluded that, exactly, in the report. But you should look into it. Blood creatinine was increased, glomerular filtration rate decreased, creatinine clearance decreased, blood urea increased, renal tubular necrosis, glomerular filtration rate increased, urine output decreased, nephropathy toxic, oliguria. You didn’t hear this from me.”

What the hell?  Why the crime thriller dialog?  “Then who did tell me?” 

“What I mean is you have the record of treatments.”  He pointed to some additional papers that I had in my lap.  “You have edema recorded as cause of death. If a lawyer can, that is, if you were to hire a medical expert to testify…”

“But not you?”

“Not me.” He looked down at his hands on his desk. “Look,” he said, turning his palms up. 

I looked at his palms.

“I would like the standard of care changed at this hospital, but all my advice doesn’t seem to be worth anything anymore.  I have to put Covid down on every certificate, even when I see facts that indicate otherwise.” The palms concluded and folded themselves again.

Dr. Z. smiled grimly.

Although I was intrigued by the doctor’s moral quandary, I, first of all, needed to understand exactly how my mother died. “What is remdesivir?”

“Anti-viral. It’s shit, Sir, excuse my language. It shouldn’t be used.”

He got up quickly and said he was “late” for his next cadaver (who had beat him to it).  I followed him out of his office, but decided to sit down in the waiting room to look through the stack of papers I’d been given. I found a free chair that wasn’t marked off limits by caution tape. Dr. Z. hurried away down the empty, wide sterile hallway, toward the cool, probably, very quiet, basement where he did his somber work alone. I watched until he stepped into the elevator and shot me a leftward troubled look.

Across from me, a frail old man was lowering himself into a chair with little gasps of caution. Once settled, he stared at me. In lieu of a mask, I had grabbed the colorful Babushka silk scarf that I had bought for my mother in Saint Petersburg. I had only covered my face to get through the entrance; now it was just around my neck. I reckoned the old man might have noted the scarf dressed up my jeans and black T nicely. 

I looked down at my papers.  They included the reports from the doctors’ rounds, telling, in the briefest of narrative form, the paltry tale of her last days.

When she was admitted she was “put on O2 support, lovenox, and remdesivir.”  Someone, presumably, Dr. Z., had penciled in the margin “Patient given lovenox instead of aspirin, which could have prevented microclots in the lungs without the renal failure risk. Hydroxychloroquine denied. No N-Acetyl-Cysteine, which might have helped increase O2 saturation levels.”

The rounds report continued: “Day one, patient received bipap oxygen support for 26 hours.  Day two, patient received nasal cannula feeding tube to provide nutrition. Remdesivir treatments continued.  Day three, Palliative care started to help patient tolerate the feeding tube.” Another handwritten margin note opined that a fast might have done Gertrude good. “Fluid retention in the legs, feet, arms and hands. Day four, patient was not able to stay off the oxygen support long enough to get nutrition. Bruising on both forearms. Day five, patient not tolerating the feeding tube. Remdesivir treatments ineffective; dosage increased. Day six, intubation recommended to make feeding and breathing support easier. Day seven, edema and kidney failure. Significant hair loss.  Day eight, patient put on comfort care.”

Nothing else was written the rounds, although she lived on for another two days. Her death would be unremarkable on day ten as I came running down the hall.

Back on the farm I found an unweeded garden going to seed. Gertrude had managed to get a bounty planted in May, but Charrington had not harvested her work. Although he had paid extra to rent the farm and garden experience, he must have ended up having his organic™ vegetables delivered from Colossus Whole Foods instead. He’d probably never seen a snail on a lettuce leaf before. He probably couldn’t tell collards from broccoli from Brussels sprouts from rutabaga.

I set about it, easily pulling out the wild morning glory that was trying to strangle her cabbage. Purslain had her okra surrounded, but the flowering strong stocks were five-feet tall, fruiting mightily. The green beans had all over-ripened and dried out, so I collected them for seeds. Her pease pods had also swollen, dried out and fallen to the ground, where they were replanting themselves, and a new crop of sugar snap pease was well underway. Nature, clearly, was ambivalent to the fact that some people do not appreciate her gifts. She just kept growing, reproducing, expanding, going wild. I pruned out the old dead pease plants to give the new blooming wines some space and more sunlight.  And I would cut the collards, there were bushels, and I would can them, if I could locate the pressure canner and remember how she did it.

Oh, damn me. How did she do it? I didn’t pay attention.  All those hours she trained me at the table prepping vegetables from the garden.  I don’t remember. I don’t remember.  Her wisdom lost.  How am I to plant the garden next spring without her? 

I sat back upon my heels and wiped my eyes with my dirty hands.

That it should come to this.  Ordinary people, doctors and nurses, turned into vile murderers.  And yet, they know not what they do.  How can this be? My mother, harmed by those who swore an oath to do no harm. Murder most strange and unnatural. She should have stayed away from the hospital, avoided the doctors, refused their medicines. What world is this where the ones who are trained to save lives take them? And what am I to do about it?  Me? Who am I? The coroner finds the murder weapon and he tells me, me only, not the authorities. What can I do with the news?  Justice inverted. No recourse to the law. All is not well. The time is out of joint.  I suspect foul play larger, much larger than this. All those nursing homes deaths, like Jews in the ovens they racked up numbers. Were they killed too? Good god, great crimes against humanity are afoot again. 

I heard the bleating of a sheep, low, distant and sorrowful. Someone in trouble. 

Looking up just beyond the garden gate, I saw an arthritic ran hobbling toward me, moaning at me for grain.  It was Fortinbras, who would be fourteen by now, which was about ninety-nine in sheep years. I opened the gate. “Fortinbras, Old Man, how goes it?”  He complained loudly and shuffled a little closer. I closed the gap between us and scratched behind his horns.  “Sorry I haven’t visited. Your joints hurting you? Let’s find your flock.” I led Fortinbras toward the barn, walking slowly.  He picked up speed, thinking I would give him a treat. We found the flock in the pasture near the barn. When they saw me approaching they froze and stared. Finally, they decided I was not Booz, and they bolted away and came to stand in a tight bunch in the corner of the field. “Don’t fear me, friends,” I said.  All the faces had changed these dozen years since I was the shepherd, but I recognized the grandsons and daughters of the flock I had known, the badger-face daughters of Navajo, the inky black sons of Vashta Nerada with golden eyes, the pure white and pink-eared children of Ute and Sven.

As I fed Fortinbras some cracked corn, I noted how his skeleton was showing through his dirty, thin fleece. He also had a nasty looking bedsore on his chest that was dry, cracked and bleeding a little bit. His wool coat would be too thin for a hard winter. I would have to put him down, I thought. 

“Winston?” called a voice from behind. I turned to see Booz, my neighbor, walking toward me from his truck.  “He needs to be put down.  I kept telling Gertrude.”

Booz (which, I always had to remind myself, was not a moniker but his actual Dutch family name) still wore blue jumpsuits that zippered down the front as he had decades ago. Yielding to the fate of his surname, he owned a liquor store, and these days also sold (illegally) sandwiches and nitecrawlers.

“Hey Booz, thanks for looking after the farm.  You should have taken some of the food in the garden. Apparently Charrington doesn’t know how to cook anything that doesn’t have a label on it.” 

“We did, in fact. My wife canned all the tomatoes. Twenty quarts.”

“Charrington treat you okay?”

“What do you think?”

“Yeah, that’s why I asked.”

“I could care less. Don’t worry.  You should have seen him. He was running around town everywhere in that white suit, blue latex gloves, matching face diaper. The whole town is full of them.”  Booz tugged at a bandanna around his neck. “For eons now, hankies have us just fine capturing sneeze particulates and mopping up runny noses. I don’t know why we can’t just go on using our hankies in the way they were intended. Did you hear? I couple of them maskedholes got lost hiking up on Rattlesnake ridge and called the fire department for a rescue.”

“You can look right down onto the hamlet from the ridge.” I said, bewildered.

“Well they can’t tell one small town from another. I guess they panicked when their GPS went out or something.”

“Or maybe they got disoriented because they weren’t getting enough oxygen. Ordinary people seemed to have become extraordinarily stupid these days.”

“We hayseeds see what’s going on.”

It seemed that Booz had included me in his hayseed group. Had I finally become a local?

“You can’t even mock us for being fat folk anymore,” he went on. “The ladies in town are so scared by the bioweapon virus, they’re all out on the rail trail trying to take off pounds. My wife too. I didn’t think a five-hundred-pound lady could ride a bike.” Booz rotated his bent knees out so I could get the picture, “like a skirted bear in the circus. I don’t know physics, but I’d think balance would be ‘specially hard to maintain.”

Suppressing a smile I said, “I promise not to laugh if I see her.” 

“Don’t you dare. You give her a big thumbs up. We fat folk need all the encouragement we can get. I don’t know if you noticed, but I dropped ten.” He put his hands on his hips to imply that he was starting to get a waist, which did not seem to be quite true, as far as I could tell, but his current beachball belly did seem smaller than the remembered one. “I’m almost ready for regular pants. I never did like wearing them because where would I put the belt? On my pubic bone or my just under my pecs? Those’re my only choices. But now look at me.” He raised his arms and rotated left then right. “I’d say, collectively, the hamlet has probably lost about 2,000 pounds.”

“Gertrude finally get to you?”

“Gertrude finally got to us, that’s right. She started complaining about crappy processed food school lunches a couple of decades ago and now we’ve seen the error of our ways. ”

“You’re not wearing a mask, Booz. Why not?” I asked.

“Bullshit,” he said. “Doesn’t work.”

“And the vaccine when it comes out?”

“Not taking it.”

“How did you come to that decision?”

The man was affronted. “Common sense.”

“What do you mean?”

“You can’t know what hasn’t happened yet. They don’t know about the side-effects long term.  It’s not like warp speed vaccine development involved a time machine—however much that science-fiction-y phrase tried to make like it.”

In just a dozen years since I’d left home, the tables had turned. Now the locals were the wise and rational group, while the educated people from the city, like Nellie, had gone full berserker.

Fortinbras moaned at me in reproach for ignoring him and he hobbled into barn and lay down.

“I’ll help you, if you want. Got a rifle in my truck.”

“Oh, geez. Thank you, Booz. Maybe not now.”

“He’s suffering, Winston. It’s not fair.  Say your good-byes.  Get some of that grain. He’ll stick his head in the bucket, and he’ll die just like he’s in ram heaven.”

“I should prepare a compost pile for him first.”

“All right. You let me know.”

“We’ll do it tomorrow.”

“I’ll pull the trigger, son.”

“Thank you, Booz.”

Booz started to turn away, but then paused. “Come here.”

I embraced the big kind oaf, laying my cheek against his shoulder. His plaid shirt smelled like fresh cool air and sunshine. I was sorry for making fun of him when I was a kid. 

“The coroner thinks they killed my mom at the hospital, Booz.”

“There’s a lot of that going around, son.”

Years ago when I still lived with my mom, I didn’t frequent the local pizza places or delis or Booz’s establishment. I opted for the cafes that catered to the weekenders, offering soy lattes and locally sourced greens. But now, when I tried to revisit my old habits, I found I no longer fit in. I had become a local. 2020 mask fashion in these hip places dictated that everyone wear three-inch-long pointed paper cones on their faces. My favorite old cafe, bookstore and indie movie theater were overrun by beak doctors.

In village square, of the five or six kids crawling on a geodesic dome, half had lost their cotton masks, which lay on the ground beneath them.  As they fell and scrambled back to their feet, they ground the germ guards underfoot. When their moms called for them to come along, they grabbed any which one and clep them to their ruddy faces. 

I had been looking forward to sitting down in the Library Cafe, with its funky mismatched furniture and local amateur art displays.  But when I walked over the familiar threshold, I was surprised to see that, with the exception of one round table in the window, all the tables were stacked against the walls. It seemed like a disaster area, and some sort of triage situation was underway. A very stressed young woman with short cropped hair was behind the counter. While I was taking in the scene, she yelled at me to read the signs. There were a lot of signs to read, signs explaining their specialty pandemic procedures. No eating in the cafe. Wait outside for your to-go food order.  No tasting your coffee while in the cafe. Keep your nose and mouth covered at all times. N95 masks required. No cash accepted. 

I was relieved to get some encouragement from the sign on the window table that read: Fifteen-minute limit per customer. 

Keeping the recommended distance from the young emergency worker behind the counter, I called out, “I really didn’t want to get my coffee to go. Can I have it here?” I pointed to the window table. 

“You have to wear a mask, Sir,” she shouted back.

“I haven’t got one.”

Hands busy with the espresso machine, she jerked her head toward a table by the door.  I followed the motion of her head to lay my eyes on a box of cone masks sitting next to a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Instead, I sat down at the table.  “I’m safe here. See. Sitting down,” I called back.  “I just want a soy latte.” She acquiesced with a shrug and an eye roll. We had reverted to Medieval rituals.  Hand sanitizers for holy water, masks for burqas, and “stay safe” the new “bless you.”

As I waited for my coffee, I watched terrified customers come in, one at a time, to place their orders, standing back six feet or more from the counter.

“I’m sorry. Could you say that again?” asked the muffled counter clerk.

Also muffled customer, “No tomato.”

“Avocado toast?”

“No tomato,” replied the customer, taking down his mask for a moment to be heard.

Having paid for his meal, No Tomato exited to wait for his food to be delivered to the curb. One could be sure he held his breath as he passed within a few inches of the next customer coming through the door.   

The next customer stopped to get a squirt of the new holy water to sanitize her hands of 99% of good bacteria before approaching the counter.

As virus containment fantasies occupied the minds of my neighbors, they, no doubt, hoped that bioengineers would just hurry up and whip up that cutting edge technology to inject them with. Biotech would almost certainly, the TV doctors assured, improve upon the complex system that nature has been perfecting for billions of years. An emergency situation required an emergency cure.

When the barista brought my coffee to my table, it was in a to-go cup, but I didn’t dare complain. She placed a bottle of locally-sourced hand sanitizer on the table for me. A Harlem Valley whiskey maker had apparently found a way to stay in business while bars were closed. Then she showed me a hand-held credit card machine and had me run my own card through. I did it wrong a couple of times and she began to lose her patience with me, such as it was. Between her young brows, anger lines were forming. I imagined a permanent frown beginning to mar on her young face under her mask. 

As I drank my coffee, I watched the lunatics strolling around in the open air asylum.  The beaked weekenders were distinguishable at a glance from barefaced locals who begrudgingly wore bandannas around their necks. There was a kind of Hatfield and McCoy thing going on.  Would I choose a side?

I took out the little leather booklet I’d been neglecting to fill since Julia had come and separated my thoughts from me. I glanced at the young woman behind the counter who was too busy with customers to notice that my fifteen-minute meter had expired. 

September 11, 2020

I’ve learned, Dear Reader, that my mother was very likely done in by medical malfeasance.  I know that a reader’s sympathies typically lie with the victim and family, so I am appealing to you on those grounds. If, however, said surviving family member goes off and starts blaming corrupt systems or an immensely powerful ruling class for having a part in it, then the victim is even more despicable than the jihadi virus itself. Clearly. I know this. But stick with me.

The murder of my father on 9/11 was easier to grasp and talk about (though it seemed inconceivable at the time). But that crime was over and done with by the time I knew about it, and I merely had to make the claim. The evidence already there to find. Now today, with the murder of my mother, there is too much to speculate about, too many subsidiary crimes still in the works. I’m in the midst of a long form crime. Much of it yet to come. And there may be no understanding until it’s too late.

They, whoever or whatever they are, may be committing more murders even now in hospitals all over the country by means of a deadly standard of care. Weaponized bureaucracy.

I am very uncomfortable writing about my fear of the future. No good empiricist can be at ease with such a project. I am forced to speculate, guess, and that is shameful. I am not even allowed to predict that people will die from the vaccine when it comes out—like the test cats and ferrets in all the previous attempts to develop a coronavirus vaccine.  Even suggesting that what happened in the past might happen again will be met with derision. All prediction is paranoia now. 

It’s spooky how intelligent people deny the plain facts; the low infection fatality rate, the insanity of intubating patients, the suppression of effective treatments, especially early treatments. All of these anomalies evidence a kind of mass pathology to which the average Uber driver seems entirely immune while highly-credentialed doctors have succumbed completely.

They just keep going, the lies, on their own inertia. What I think we have here is ideology wedded to bureaucracy, which makes it seem to have a purpose of its own. Bureaucracy ought to be just a neutral administrative tool, but when it is infused with ideas and theories, it takes on a life of its own, like a Golem.

Bureaucracy naturally needs to increase the scope of problems it’s been tasked with solving—if  it is to survive and prosper. The regulatory outcomes are always predetermined; they are the ones that lead to the need for further regulation. The containment strategy was selected because it ensures maximum government involvement and minimum successful health outcomes.  The more people die, the more work for public health officials.  I remind myself that the bureaucrats who promote virus eradication are not in control of the machine that they appear to run. If they fail to do their part to keep it running, others will take their places. Although the plan did have its originators, I reckon, the current Covid-19 response is pathology on autopilot.

I wondered how difficult it was becoming for the Davos crowd to keep control of the plan they’d launched.  The new universal feudalism depended upon the machinery of governments and financial systems involving billions of people, all of whom have their own goals and different loyalties. Even if they have installed their Young Global Leaders in every key position—prime ministers, governors, transportation secretaries, public health leaders—they had no way of controlling what would actually happen in the implementation phase. The Earth is a complex organism, with many unruly souls riding on her back.

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