It’s like a David Sedaris essay, I say, talking to the tiny faces on the screen, listening to a wild tale about lost keys and madcap driving and children standing on the river bluff, cheering for newlyweds.
(Because, even in a pandemic, people get married.)
And the wedding was magical, the tale goes on, even if strange, and the weather cooperated, and the lost keys were found, both of them, though one not until the next day.
We gather, in this strange way, and get settled while the details spill out, messy and inviting, like the foamy head of a cold beer cresting the rim of a glass and running down its side. Still, after all these months, we’re learning new rules about audio settings and cadence so every voice may be heard. Pardon me. Oh, no, no; you go ahead. What was that?
(Even in a pandemic, people look to one another for clues about how to behave.)
After a hard book, then a sad book, we have just read a funny farce of a book, written (quickly it seemed) by a journalist. That’s what journalists do, pull stories together quickly, the journalists in our group say. Yes, it’s baked in us, they say, and that training comes through in every kind of writing.
The prolific author hasn’t written since 2016, someone remarks. Has he been working on this book all that time? No, no. Doesn’t seem like it. This book was written FAST. He was a journalist, once, wasn’t he, before he was a novelist? Yes, yes; we’re sure; we just discussed that. And wasn’t his brother a journalist, too? Didn’t his brother die recently? There was a shooting, in a newsroom. Was there? There was. And the brother was murdered, along with his journalist colleagues. Here, in America, not too long ago. Five people shot dead by a man who wrote on Twitter that he was going to kill a journalist.
We’ve all forgotten this story. Even the journalists have forgotten. Even though it happened only two years ago.
Are we sure? Yes, sure. We look it up, on the other tiny screens, the ones we hold in our hands or let rest on tables next to us, while we try to stay connected.
(Especially in a pandemic, people multitask.)
Yes, he was shot. Oh my God, we remember this now. And his brother, who used to be a journalist, too, but is now a novelist wrote a moving tribute, and at the time it seemed like the world couldn’t get darker. But it did.
There is too much to remember, too much to want to forget. But here we are. We remind ourselves to write things down.
We finish discussing the book, the farce, and we ponder what to read next. For December, we will read a short story, because December is a busy month with lots of obligations.
(Except this December will not be that way, not in a pandemic.)
What are we doing for Thanksgiving, between now and then? Not much. We will stay home. Try to stay well. Try to stay sane, and connected, and grateful. And the story we will tell, one day, if we are very lucky, is that we were still and quiet and small and alive.
The faces smile, hands wave from the tiny boxes as each square closes out, one by one. Once upon a time the faces would have been left behind for a few seconds, the images burned into the screen by a hot picture tube. Our children will never know this particular peculiarity of olden times. Perhaps we will sprinkle it into a story for them, preserve this tiny, unimportant detail.
The dark screen stays propped up in its stand for a few days. With it lingers the tale of madcap driving and lost keys and books, the heaviness of recent years, the lightness of friendship, and a warmth that remains long enough to carry time, marching ahead.
One, two. Left, right. Onward.