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Ryan is a doctoral candidate in Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her work on the subject of transitional justice has been published by scholarly journals in the fields of political science, cultural studies, and philosophy. She lives in Durham, North Carolina.
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.
The spring was a whirl of ruin: a virus spoiled the entire world's circuits of air; the grainy pictures of plastic-wrapped bodies being loaded into refrigerated trucks flashed across televised broadcasts; garbling politicians traded refrains of speculation; and regardless of whether I drew a 6-iron or 9-iron from my bag, my swing lobbed the golf ball a weak 75-yards. “Dammit,” I hissed, slinging the recalcitrant club to the side and slapping the dirt off of my shins. It was an issue with the clubface, you see. For some reason my arms were compelled to rotate clockwise whenever they were on the move, thereby circling my palms forward and twisting the face of my irons. The wobbled habit reduced my club to a tool that slapped to the right instead of one that punched straight ahead. After I wiped a few streaks of sweat from my brow, I rummaged the range bucket for another ball, and rearranged my feet to try again. Suddenly I struggled with the memory of my last phone call with Naomi. She was scratching her way out of a sinking pit of obsessions and compulsions, and I somehow failed to supply sufficient relief. At that point, I still hadn't figured out what she could expect and— I noticed the ball needs to be more centered under my stance. Once the swing reaches the point of impact, the clubface should drag into the ground to carve a divot and make the most of the swing's acceleration. I might've been overthinking things. “Don't,” I imagined Eric saying. “It's not brain surgery. It's a natural, athletic motion. Loosen up,” I thought he would've added, churning my shoulders with a chuckle. It had been a long while since we spoke. He needed more room to adapt to the new year's shifting ground, and at the same time, I could not make myself any smaller of a piece for play. Ellen never did return my call from the other day. I was still waiting to hear back from Preston. Everyone was busy with doing all the nothing, I thought, and I pushed down a wrenching realization of it having been months since another person folded me into an embrace or since I felt a nudge after a good joke. I rolled my shoulders away from my ears, eased into my back swing, and struck the ball. There's a blend of a click and a rustle when the club hits square, and it should feel like it takes hardly any effort to peel the ball down its path. I wondered then whether or not I would be able to keep the dense space between myself and someone I cared for, should they become infected with coronavirus. The probability of such a dark hypothetical didn't seem comfortably low. I considered what it would be like to have a kaleidoscopic turn of governance; if one president and a few senators were swapped out for others would do the trick. Or, was it too late? Does the sky keep falling into a heap of frail developments, brittle pages of legislation, thin facades of movement? I stopped scooping shovelfuls of outcomes once I felt submerged in a grave. It was easier to concentrate on the angle of my wrist, the fluidity of my swing progression, the flight of the golf ball. That takes up hours of the mental labor I'm able to clock in on any given day. That's hours not spent watching footage of a single mom, escorting her children out of the apartment from which they were evicted. That's hours I avoided the pinched expressions of peaceful protestors dashing away from the heavily bundled officers throwing clouds of teargas and firing rows of rubber bullets. Before I started playing golf, I used to puzzle over how so many boyfriends dissolved on Sunday afternoons. “What'dyou talk about out there?” a leery spouse might ask, to which the golfer gives a rounded, perplexed expression. There's no pause for talking when the calculations of every stroke clutter the head. At most, while waiting for the group ahead to clear the green, there might be an exchange of cautious observations. A headline, proceeded by a cursory judgment, and once that's shared, you need to dig into your pocket for a new tee. “More cases sprouting in Texas? That's not good. No sirree. Not sure how the governor'll respond.—Yeah, you go on ahead and tee off.” Golf courses are littered with meandering bodies, clicking and thumping the tapping their balls into one hole, then another. They're there to duck for cover out in the open. When I enroll to join that sort of stupor, my world is free to crumble beneath my feet without hot worry, and without my even noticing, I'm free to drift away in a hollow place, to fade.
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