Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By  Anita G. Gorman

It was the fifteenth day of the plague. Well, not the plague exactly, but what was now being called the Hodie virus. Juliana was scared.

Everyone was now inside. Spring was starting to show itself. Shoots of flowers were emerging from the bulbs planted in the ground months before. Juliana emerged from the house at least once a day to see what was springing up. It was a sign of hope.

Meanwhile, on her television set all she saw was bad news about the new virus. Numbers of cases were increasing. Deaths were increasing. Where was it all going to end?

She kept hearing ideas on social media and taking them to heart. Leave your canned  goods in the garage for four days. That was one recommendation. Why four? Why not three? Why can’t I hose down my canned goods or bring them inside and wipe them with one of those antibacterial wipes, or plain soap and water?

What about vegetables and fruit? What about the berries she had just bought at the Giant Falcon? They shouldn’t just sit in the garage, not when the nights were still rather cold. Soap and water? She went on the internet to check. No, soap could leave residue on fresh fruits and vegetables. Washing with water was sufficient. That was a relief.

She lived alone, retired after many years of working as a secretary, executive secretary, executive assistant. She had had so many titles, but whatever her title she was still the one who made the coffee every morning.

Now it was morning again and time for coffee, a good strong cup made in her French press, stronger than she used to make it for the people in the office. Compromise, that’s what she had to do for years. Now she could do what she herself wanted to do. Too bad that she was alone. And scared.

She turned on the television set in her living room. There it was again: bad news about the escalating Hodie virus. Why was it called that? Ah yes, now she remembered from her days of studying Latin. Hodie meant today.  The name implied, she thought, that there was a yesterday virus and there would no doubt be another virus in the future, or tomorrow. What was the Latin word for future? Futurum, oddly enough. And tomorrow? Cras, that was it. As in procrastinate. But no one would use those words for a virus or a plague. After all, when the future arrived it became the present, and if a virus is here, well, it’s here, today, hodie.

Juliana began to surf. Surely there must be something else on television besides terrifying news about the virus. Then she found the Past Channel. They were talking about Johann Kuhnau. Didn’t she used to play his piano sonatinas when she was a girl? Yes. So why were they focusing on him? Because he had all sort of difficulties in his life and he wasn’t appreciated, just like so many of us. And then she heard a professor talking about Kuhnau’s response to the plague in 1660.

“Plagues hit Europe periodically over the centuries. The worst, of course, was the Black Death in the fourteenth century when from one-third to one-half of Europe died. And as with all human conditions, people responded in various ways, in various contradictory ways.

“When the plague hit Dresden, Johann Kuhnau left and found work in Zittau. On the other hand, just as a side light, one thinks of Saint Roch, who made up his mind to travel to Rome, not away from it when the plague was raging. He wanted to care for the sick and dying.”

Juliana sat up straight. The saint went toward the plague, not away from it. The musician Kuhnau went away from the plague. Who was right? Both? One?

The documentary reverted to Kuhnau, but Juliana was focused on Saint Roch. Who was he? She headed for her computer, deciding at the same time that she should get out her old sonatina book and play some Kuhnau during the Great Confinement, as she had decided to call the government-enforced quarantine.

She found out that Roch was born in France, traveled to Rome to care for plague victims and became sick himself at a place called Piacenza. He recovered and was said to have miraculously cured more than one person.

Then Roch’s story turned even more exciting. His uncle, governor in Montpellier, France, Roch’s home town, later had Roch arrested as a spy. He died in prison. Another story had Roch arrested as a spy in Italy and dying in prison there. What was true? Some of it? All of it? None of it? Two stories about being arrested as a spy. Intriguing.

But that wasn’t the most intriguing part to Juliana. What was most discomforting and challenging was Roch’s devotion to the victims of the plague. It’s easy to walk away or run away from danger, harder to confront danger or evil and fight it.

She turned off the television set and reached for the newspaper. The front page was covered with stories about the Hodie virus. She glanced at them. Cases were up, and deaths were up throughout the state. A prominent lawyer had died of the Hodie virus during the night. She shivered. Then she saw an article at the bottom of the page: Volunteers Wanted. What for, she wondered, to pick up the dead in carts as people did in the fourteenth century? No, to deliver groceries and prescriptions to the vulnerable elderly; to call people who live alone. She was elderly, but not that old. She lived alone, but she wasn’t totally lonely, just somewhat lonely.

She sat for a time and pondered. Then Juliana picked up the phone.

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