Nicolas Poynter Roncagliolo
I awoke craving Mexican food, decided to walk to the store for tequila,
Somehow still allowed, thank you Jesus, under the thirty-day plan to save the world.
But I was not quite halfway there, moving to the memory of delicious cumbia beat,
when I heard a woman clearly through an open window, “A foreigner has escaped quarantine and is dancing loose down the middle of the street!”
My brain lapsed into slow motion, unsure of the physics of both time and space.
Surely she was referring to me and no doubt speaking directly to the authorities.
When she threw back her drapes, aimed her cellphone in my direction,
I ran like a monkey, my arms flailing to hide my face.
So I arrived at the store coughing badly, the employees quickly retreating behind a back-to-school promotional pile of notebooks abandoned by students who no longer existed, now a makeshift barricade, one young woman crossing herself, another with her palms out, asking for peace.
I explained in three great big gasps, “I swear I’m not sick—just breathless—after running from the police.” They sprayed me with disinfectant and took my temperature three times but then allowed me to pass with their blessing, my stride triumphant toward the booze aisle, the idea of drinking myself blind. “This is some sad surreal shit,” I told them as I walked away. “But because I can buy Mexican food, I’ll admit it: I think this is still much better than Election Day.”
The truth is I think I died two weeks ago and simply did not take note.
Quarantine is my afterlife, hell obviously, basically an endless super-bad dream— nice people arrested for walking their dogs, the Facebook shaming of women who decide to go for a quick isolated jog, an endless line of coffins, the army salivating as a final last resort, even the fucking quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, stranded and helpless, living inside Jorge Chavez International Airport. So I imagine it is a certainty that every time this mess comes near the end, The President of Peru will appear on the news in a surgical mask and extend purgatory once again.
Nicolas Poynter Roncagliolo is a graduate of the Red Earth MFA Program at Oklahoma City University. His work has appeared in dozens of publications and is collected here: poynterstories.com. He is a high school dropout (not quite completing the tenth grade) who has been teaching physics in Latin America for many years and is currently in the third month of quarantine in Arequipa, Peru.
Manuel Bello was born in Cuba. He grew up in Miami. He earned a BA from Vassar College and an MS and Sp. Ed. from the University of Miami. He lives in Nantong, Jiangsu Province, China. He teaches history and English composition in a Chinese high school. He lives in a traditional hutong in the old part of town where he tends a garden and produces his writing and artwork. He is a devoted diarist—writing daily since 1986.