Dafoe's classic work on the horrors of life during the 1664-1665 plague is eclipsed in minds of readers by other works such as Moll Flanders and Robinson Crusoe. The pestilence referred to is the Black Death or Bubonic plague, a malady which killed millions over its centuries of terror. The organism responsible, Yersinia pestis, has been found on archaeological sites going back 6,000 years ago. There are pockets where the Black Death is endemic. Disease historians recognize three major pandemics (Sixth Century, Fourteenth Century, and Nineteenth Century). The periods between pandemics saw hundreds of local recurrences of the Black Death, as described in Dafoe's work.
Since many of us are hunkered down in our imperfect fortresses of isolation hoping to thereby avoid a visit from the most recent infectious bogeyman, I thought it might be interesting to dedicate the next segments of Shadowlands to an examination of one of those oft-repeated themes in human history, surviving epidemics and pandemics. Such historical backdrops bring out the worst and the best in us. Literature and history are filled with examples of heroism and sorrow. Edgar Allan Poe's Mask of the Red Death A Fantasy (known more recently as Masque of the Red Death) is a classic tale of how pestilence can reach into the strongest of isolation cells and have its way with the inmates.
Rod Serling introducing an episode of the Twilight Zone might suggest that we all are embarked upon our own meeting with history and ourselves with his classic introduction of "Picture if you will...". In the coming pages I wish to examine not only historical figures and those of literature who embarked on this uncalled-for journey. I would like readers to submit their observations and thoughts about remarkable and terrible times. We can leave the current political finger-pointing aside for now. Now that the hoax is locking us in and we hear it shuffling about the front door waiting for a chance to visit, all those political concerns are secondary. This blog will contain hints for dealing with the isolation, keeping safe, making do, and is intended to be a bridge to break through the physical isolation and find within that unwelcome place the kinship of fellow beings embarked on this same journey. Please send your experiences and I will reproduce portions of them here. Please keep yourself and loved ones as safe as you can and remember at the time you feel the most alone we are here beside you.
So... here goes– "Today is day one of our "total" lockdown. I am here with three dogs. My wife and daughter are in the Miami area, where work and college are located. Miami, is ground zero for infection in our state, at the moment and there are restrictions on bars, restaurants, beaches, and other gathering places. People are having the Devil's own time getting tested, a situation which makes contact with anyone a roll of the dice. My mother, aged 95, lives roughly one mile away as the crow flies but three miles as the crow drives. We have sufficient food for a couple weeks or more in each of our houses. It has been interesting to see that friends of my mother leave packages of toilet paper as a kind of secret Santa present outside her door. Since we have hurricane caches there never was a question of such supplies being near the end. When the pandemic hit we were already well-into cycling out last year's hurricane cache with replacement supplies. It is at times like this one discovers silly inconveniences in our larders. Mine was having a can of Pam, the cooking spray, on its last legs. If that's the worst of my problems, I'm happy to overcome by a change in my cooking habits to add a grease jar to the kitchen. I will travel to my mother's home every day. I am preparing meals on occasion (some will find it interesting that my first delivery of food included a bread recipe from my Donner Party Cookbook). We have decided to create our own film society and will watch a classic movie every day. I will also bring the Yorkshire Terrier (Rhett Butler) to visit. He is just under eight pounds of hate and discontent, but she loves him anyway. It's a good thing he's cute or someone would have knocked him in the head by now. When not at my mother's I have a large yard to keep the jungle from reclaiming, so I get a little sun. I walk the dogs around our cul-de-sac in the darkest hours of night and hence avoid encounters with people and other pets. We are creatures of the night. This gives my sleeping schedule a bifurcate cast. One may find me writing at any odd time now. I am currently working on an historical/horror novel. My beautiful bride calls me every night and we spend long hours on the phone trying to dissolve the enforced distance of over 200 miles. She is a superintendent of a national park and it is her job to shepherd her team through these rough passages and provide companionship for our daughter. She has a lot on her plate as all this happened as she started the job and I miss her very much and look forward to more normal times when we can be together again.
I will add details as our story unfolds. This is something new for all of us. I never thought I'd be forced to act like a germaphobe and carry a container of hand sanitizer along with my car keys. I never conceived that I would routinely check my temperature twice a day (97.4 this morning). I never thought the darned allergy season would bring a memoria mortis moment with every sneeze.I never thought I'd look at my luxurious aloe vera plants and wonder if I could mash the meat into a pulp and add alcohol to make hand sanitizer. (Anyone know if that will work... oh hell I only have a couple of ounces of alcohol in the house.) So... dear friends and fellow passengers on this voyage, let us keep in touch. Share your stories. You are making history.