With a surgical turn of my wrist, I position the front-facing camera so that the end of the world is in full view. I'm in the center of the frame, standing in a polished kitchen, glazed with perfume and peach powders. It's the second month of quarantine. The once-warm tones of my apartment now smear together like the gooey brushstrokes of Edvard Munch, but I think my scream is quieter than the one he painted; it melts behind my chest, stretching out a single thought: I am so damn lonely. I dab my phone's flat screen to take the picture. It shows me pulling a bottle of wine close, but I never actually opened it. A book I read years ago sits on the countertop, as if I bothered to give its pages another glance tonight. I've tricked myself into appearing happy enough, so I post the image to my online profile with a leisurely caption. The next morning, I decide to seek a little company. The coffee shop is open for take-out. I brush my hair back and withdraw from the wilting walls of my cell. The coil of cars at the drive-thru roll along steadily. I start to picture what sort of bodies are packed in each vehicle. I see a van, probably stuffed with kids, and a father with scratchy eyes. I imagine that it's a couple waiting in the blue sedan a few cars back. He props his head on his partner's shoulder reading aloud from a brochure for the next vacation they'll take. A bundle of scarves is driving the Buick. I wonder how she putters about at home, ticking her evenings away. What might she have said to me last night? “Nonsense!” I bet. “It's nonsense for you to be spending so much effort on another lousy portrait. Wash your face. Call your mother.” I feel calm in my little community. It's a pity to have to inch ahead, only to vanish again in the neutral tones of isolation: pandemic news, boredom with marriage, collapse into childcare, delays at work, and the dense nothing for the rest of us. Once I reach the shop's window, my face inflates with such joy, the barista's eyebrows pop upward. She recites my order and says it'll be ready in a minute. “Sounds good! And how are you...‘Jasmine'? Any plans for the weekend?” I can tell she's smiling behind her facemask by the way her eyes crease. “Not much. Not sure what I can do.” “Pick up another hobby, I guess.” She laughs and agrees. There's a pause while she tilts out of view and returns with my drink. “Here you are!” she announces. I take it, thank her, and pull forward. I approach the exit lane, I have a sip, and then—I decide to tug the steering wheel right and snap my car into a parking space. I forgot to tip. I slip on a facemask I had tossed in the center console, swing open the door, and march to the drive-thru window. Jasmine pokes her head out when I get there. “Is something wrong?” I stuff my hand in my pocket and pull out a couple of bills. “I didn't leave a tip.” Jasmine bounces back. “Oh!” her eyes go round. “That's very kind of you!” Nervous now, I quickly cram the cash in the small container perched on the sill and hold my hand up to wave “goodbye” as I peel away. There are just a handful of paces left until I reach my car. After each step, my sneaker skips off the pavement. For a moment, I'm expanding. My gaze slides left and right, skimming for anyone who might be looking for a greeting. The apartment building is just seven minutes away. It's been a small day. Still, a good one.
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