“Where the heck er you goin?” Maureen asked Sam as a cigarette dangled from her mouth.
“The heck you care,” Sam answered in his thick, Southern drawl. “I’ll go wherever I feel like.”
Maureen stood in front of the shabby door in the run-down trailer. There was barely a surface in the small mobile home that did not have something on it. Small windows only allowed trickles of light to come in. The furniture was threadbare and dirty. Ash trays were filled with cigarettes, the walls were stained a sickening yellow and the air was filled with the permanent stench of stale smoke.
“No, you certainly will not, Mister. Not while this here vi-rus is threatenin’ ever-ee-one with a death sentence. Are you some kinda moron? You’re not bringin’ that damn thing into this mob-ile unit. I will not have my family exposed to it,” she yelled at Sam with an even thicker drawl, stretching her words out.
“Get the f–k outta my way, Woman. Whadda you thaink I’m gonna do? Sit here all frickin’ day with the likes o’ you, just sit here with no booze, no cigarettes, no food? There ain’t no food in this darned place. What the f–k are you doin? Aren’t you supposed to feed the family? You don’t do nuthin around here but sit in fronta that TV?”
“And you don’t do nuthin’ to bring in no extra money!” Maureen yelled back. “What kinda man are you? Huh? Mother f–ka! You ain’t no good.”
Sam responded with his usual argument, although this time he had another excuse because the economy was tanking and unemployment rates were skyrocketing. “Ain’t nobody got no work since ever-body has to stay home.” His shoulders slouched just a little more when he heard her reprises about his inadequacies; she reminded him of his mother, which is probably why he married her in the first place. But he wasn’t going to let a woman tell him what to do or talk to him this way, so he raised his fist, the only way he knew how to win an argument. He held his fist close to her face, threatening to give her another bruise. The problem was, he didn’t scare her anymore. Not really. She was numb to his punches, and she could fight back, but he punched harder. Still, there was always a little hesitation when he threatened her, always a little flinch. She almost backed away, but when she needed to make her point, she took her chances. It wasn’t anything the kids had never seen before. They were used to it, but they still hated when Sam hurt their mom.
“Bitch! I told you. Get away from that door,” Sam’s voice got softer when he was about to hit her. “I provide for this here family good ‘nuf.” He glared at her with rotted and missing teeth. “Who gets a social security check evra month, hmm? I’m the damned breadwinner here. It’s my damned money and I’ll make the decisions ‘round here ‘bout what to do with it.” He felt powerful again.
Maureen always had a comeback. She carried on for as long as she could until he lost it. “And I told you that I don’t trust you to go out there in this qua-ran-tine. I’m the only one who goes to the store now. You won’t wear a mask, you won’t stay away from those people, you won’t clean your freakin’ hands with soap. You’re threatenin’ the lives of me and the kids,” she answered, posturing herself a little taller as she admonished him, but backing away just a little. He had her cornered and she didn’t want to provoke him too much.
Their 3 children were crowded in one bedroom trying not to fight, playing video games and reading comics because it was too hot to go outside. The two older ones didn’t pay any attention to their parents fighting, but the youngest hated it and put her hands over her ears and cried.
“Shut the hell up, Justine,” Sam Jr., the older boy yelled. He took his cues from his daddy and hit Justine in the head. “Stop yer damned cryin. Ain’t gonna do you no good.” Justine took big gulps of air and stopped crying out loud. She threw herself on the ripped, bare mattress that was her bed and sobbed into it. Her brothers went back to what they were doing, blocking out the rest of the world.
Sam was out of alcohol and his body craved it more than any logic Maureen could provide. Not only was he bored more than usual, he was starting to detox and hadn’t gone this long without a drink since as long as he could remember. “Then why don’t you get out there and do what the good lord wants women to do for their husbands. Get out there to that store. Ain’t that part of yer job description?”
Maureen slipped out of his reach and grabbed her purse. Needing to get a few last words in before she left, she yelled back at him as she walked to the old jalopy they both shared. Luckily, Sam was a good mechanic, but he got injured a few years ago and lived on his disability check. “And another thaing,” Maureen yelled back, “I’m the only one here who brings in any extra money, you lazy, no-good baastard! I do ever-y darned thing for this family! You could work extra jobs if you wanted to, even in this qua-ran-tine, but you just sit yer lazy-ass on that couch all day while I clean houses! Bastard! I should let you die. I should let that vir-us take you away, but then you’d bring it home to my child-en! Bastard!” She was bold when he wasn’t anywhere near her.
Sam stumbled out the door and ran after the car. He pounded on the window, but she got it started just in time and drove away, although not before she looked at him and laughed with a sinister chuckle that he could hear through the broken car window.
Sam Jr., and his brother Butch, were tired of being in their room. They were bored. If they had to admit it, they actually missed school, but the schools were closed. Ironically, they tried to ditch school when they could, signing their parent’s names or calling in sick, pretending to be one of their parents. The fun of ditching was knowing that they were doing something naughty and getting away with it. They didn’t really care for the learning, but some of the teachers were nice, and they got to hang out with their friends, and the free lunch was pretty good. Now, there was nowhere to go, nowhere to be, the streets were paroled so nobody could be out cruising around. Some of their gang were in quarantine, but some of them would meet the brothers secretly. At least they could be naughty by sneaking around the town, except there was nothing really to do. So, they would just hang out drinking some illegal liquor that one of them would steal from a store, or from someone’s parents.
The problem for Butch and Sam Jr. was that their mother wouldn’t let them go out, so they had to sneak out of the trailer. When they heard the car start, their ears perked up. “Hey, Jerk,” Sam threw something at Butch. “Get up, we’re outta this flippin’ prison.”
Butch was as eager as Sam Jr. to go somewhere. He grabbed his knife, his wallet, and his hat. “Let’s go, man.”
The boys attempted to stealthily sneak past Sam who was laying on the couch in a stupor watching some reality show on fly fishing.
“Where the hell you boys goin?” Sam asked, pretending that he cared. “Your mama is gonna whup yo ass if she finds out I let you out.”
Sam Jr. spoke to his dad in his usual teenage, disrespectful tone. “What the hell you care, Old Man?”
Sam straightened up in his chair just a little, always itching for a fight. “Don’t talk to me that way, Boy. How many times I tell you not to give me any lip? Huh?” Sam had just enough energy to act like an authority figure, but not enough energy to do anything about it.
Sam Jr. retorted, “we’re gonna go completely crazy sittin’ here in this damn house. We’re goin’ out for a bike ride,” he lied.
Sam continued his attempt at parenting. “Well, just don’t go gettin’ yerself in any trouble and stay away from people.” Amusing himself, he laughed sarcastically. “Yo mama actually believes this horse crap about that vi-rus. Ain’t nobody can see it. It’s a damn hoax, is what it is.”
As Sam rambled on, his two sons slipped out the door, not missing an opportunity to get out before Maureen returned home.
Sam continued his rant to the air. “Damned hoax. What the heck is ever-body carryin’ on about? Like we ain’t got 4 million things that can kill y’all the time? Seems like ever-one forgot that there’s cancer and heart problems and diabetes and the flu. Damn, the flu probly kills more people than this here virus. It’s bullsh-t. I don’t know why I bother listening to your momma about this. I would go down to the bar and drink with my buddies, but there ain’t no bar open and their darned womenfolk won’t let them outta the house. Just plain crap, I tell ya. Plain crap. If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die. Ain’t nuthin’ you ken do ‘bout that. If the good lord wants me, he gonna take me.”
Sam looked over to see if his sons were listening to him, but they were long gone. “What the … those damned kids! Maureen gonna kill me. Probly poison me with that virus. Justine!! Justine! Where the heck are you?” He called for his daughter to come out, but knowing that Sam would probably not get up from his chair, she pretended not to hear him. It was never good, so why bother.
Sam fell asleep while muttering to himself. Finally, Maureen returned home. She had worn a mask that she made from ripping apart an old tee shirt. When she got to the store, she wiped down the cart with the Clorox wipes they provided at the front by the door. They didn’t have much money, but there was always money for booze, cigarettes and snacks. She loaded up the wagon with cookies, beer, Bar-S hot dogs, white bread hot dog buns, but no beans – everyone had cleaned the shelves of them. She also bought several bottles of the cheapest soda pop, a few bags of frozen french fries, and because the doctor recently told her to include fruits and vegetables in her diet due to her bad heart, she threw in some bags of frozen corn niblets, and mixed peas and carrots. Nobody in her family liked the peas and carrots, so she melted cheese on them to mask the taste. That’s when she remembered to get a big block of cheddar cheese. She was happy that she could find anything on the shelves.
Hardly anyone in the store wore a mask, but she believed what she saw on the news channel and made masks for her entire family. The only ones who wore them were Justine and her. She figured the males in the family were either stupid or stubborn.
When Maureen was done shopping, she loaded everything into the jalopy and drove home. She pulled up to the trailer, hauled as many bags as she could out of the car and called out. “Hey, anyone gonna help me with these here groceries?” The only one who came outside was Justine. “Where are your brothers? And where is your daddy? They is men. They have muscles. Why did they send you out? Ain’t they good for nuthin’?”
Justine was the timid one in the family. She rarely screamed like the rest of them. “The boys went out, Mama. I heard Daddy tell them not to, but they didn’t listen, like always they don’t. They bad, Mama.”
Maureen knew that her sons would try to escape the minute she left, but at least she tried. “I told them,” she screamed, “not to go out! Those little bastards are gonna bring that darned vi-rus to this here home. Goddammit! I did not spend all my time raisin’ those boys just to have them go die on me. But then, I guess if the lord wants ‘em, he gonna take ‘em. Have mercy on me. Damn it! Justine, grab these bags and bring ‘em into the house. And get yer Daddy’s butt off the couch and get him out here to help me.”
Sam heard the commotion and stumbled out the front door. He was in a much better mood now that his beer and cigarettes were here. “Watch out, Woman. Let a man do a man’s job.” He grabbed the remaining bags and put them on the kitchen floor because there was scant room for anything on the counters. He did not help put the groceries away, but took his beer, popped the lid, gulped one can down almost without breathing, and left the empty can on the counter. Then, he popped another open, took his cigarettes, and went to sit outside in the afternoon sun. He mumbled to the insects, to the mangy dog that scrounged scraps from his garbage, to the feral cat that visited from the neighbor’s trailer. He talked ceaselessly about viruses and hoaxes and darned politicians and conspiracy theories. He talked to God about taking him if he needed him.
Maureen and Justine put the groceries away. Maureen grumbled to her daughter about Sam, about her shitty life in the trailer park, about her stupid sons, about how Justine might be the only one to escape this rotten life. She talked to God and Justine simultaneously, thanking Jesus for providing the people at the hospitals with the good doctors and nurses, and masks, and those things, what-were-they-called? That helped people breathe.
“You and me, Justine honey, we is gonna beat this virus. We is gonna live and we is gonna thank the good lord for gettin’ us through this. Now, as for your daddy, and your brothers, they just might not make it cuz they is stupid. But we gonna be okay, baby girl. You’ll see.”
Justine loved her momma. She didn’t really like her daddy, but sometimes he was fun. Mostly, she hated him because of what he did to her momma, and because he was lazy and mean. Justine threw her arms around Maureen and hugged her. “We gonna be okay, Momma. We not gonna be sick. I love you, Momma.”
“I love you, Baby Girl. We gonna be alright.”