I looked across the street and there was Kirk sitting alone on a bench at a bus stop. I was surprised to see him because I had only moments before deleted him from my WhatsApp. I had deleted Kirk because he was dead.
I had spent several moments debating his deletion. It’s an act of frightening finality like scratching a dead friend from an address book or a family member from your Christmas card list. Now, I felt slightly affronted that, after causing me the upset of eliminating him from my social circle going forward, Kirk was back. Uninvited.
It was Kirk alright. Over there on the bench. Waiting for a bus. No play of the light. No doppelganger. No undigested bit of cheese. No. It was Kirk in full fleshy form. Dead but somehow alive. I considered hailing him, “Kirk, what the fuck?” But, decided that might frighten him. So, I used the nearby zebra crossing to get over to him. I checked for cars to my right but when I checked to my left, Kirk had vanished. He hadn’t boarded a bus because none had passed. The street was empty. No crowd to get lost in. No place to hide. No. Kirk had vanished.
I was sure that Kirk had died earlier that day of Covid 19. At least, that’s what they told me. Covid 19. That’s what they’d been telling everyone about anyone who had died. Covid 19. But, in Kirk’s case it made sense. He was a burly type but pushing seventy and deceptively weak inside. He’d been dealt a bad genetic hand. They turned Kirk’s respirator off on the eight day. But, I knew he was a goner when he stayed in the London hospital for more than two days.
English hospitals are lethally dirty places at the best of times. Kirk would have been safer in a men’s room stall in a tube station. But, Britain’s National Health Service is the state religion and otherwise intelligent folk are afraid to criticize it. They prefer to die. To take one for the team. (This misplaced stoicism is the only remnant of “stiff upper lip” still on display on this island.) The NHS manages to kill 40,000 a year with malpractice. And, that’s in normal years. How many of Britain’s Corona dead were foolishly trusting souls who fell not to the virus but to the inept ministrations of socialized medicine?
The only other person I knew who died of Covid 19 was a New York actor of some note. I’d never met him. Yet, our lives were inextricably linked. Forty years ago, he inherited a girlfriend of mine who had just dumped me. He didn’t do this to hurt me. We’d never met. But, I never forgave him for poaching my quail.
Then, in a coincidence of startling cruelty, he starred in an off-Broadway play as a character that was based on me. And, he got the biggest laugh of the night with a monologue in which he recounted one of the most painful romantic disasters of my life. The play had been written by an old roommate of mine. I didn’t mind that he used my life as comic fodder. But, I never forgave the actor for playing me. And, worse, for getting such big laughs.
So, when he died, I was glad. Not elated. But definitely a “gotcha” moment. It wasn’t schadenfreude – that’s the sweet pleasure one feels due to the failure and misfortunes of friends. This actor was never a friend. But, his death from Covid 19 gave me an undeniable twinge of sweet pleasure none the less. I am not completely without compassion. I hoped his death had been as painless as possible but I was glad the son of a bitch was dead. And, of course, I felt a hint of sorrow for his widow. A hint. I hadn’t thought of either of them for decades and then they burst into my life uninvited and haunted my Corona lockdown dreams.
As I sat typing this post, my cat walked between my legs as she often does, rubbing against them demanding attention and food. She’s been doing this more than ever in the lockdown. And, she’s taken to sitting on the stairs that lead up to my flat. She’s always waiting there for me when I come back from my daily sleepwalk through the local parks. And, many times during the day, I see her in her favorite spot in the back garden stretching her neck to see up to my third-floor windows and begging entrance. None of this would be unusual aside from the fact that my cat died two years ago.