We are fortunate to be able to present “Michigan Quarantine: A Satirical Tale of Chaos and Civil Disobedience,” a tale of COVID-19 panic and reaction, in serialized form thanks to author Lilchika Rose.
A Church in Rural Michigan, April 13th, 2020
Jenna scanned the six men assembled in the dim auditorium, spread as far apart as possible. This was the third group of six to arrive that evening. Like every other group, they wore homemade masks donated by a community seamstress.
Jenna knew most of these men from her childhood adventures racing through fields and building crude forest forts. She was a native of this community in rural Michigan, as most of these men were. Now things were so different.
John Stuart, a construction worker forced to close his business due to the government mandate, broke the tense silence. “You know what I’ve been thinking?”
Everyone turned to him. John rarely spoke.
“Every single person taking a side of this is chalk-full of vanity, selfishness and self-righteousness.”
Jenna shifted uncomfortably.
“For example. People will shame you for not wanting to shut down your business, to go bankrupt. They’ll say you’re a murderer, you want people to die. But when you really look at them, you notice the speakers themselves aren’t affected. They still have their jobs; they still have their livelihoods. Some of them even benefit from the crisis.”
Many of the men perked up. They’d sensed this dynamic instinctively, but few had voiced their opinions.
“And some of them are at high risk of dying from the virus. And we as a society want to protect the weak. It’s a central tenant of our faith. But many of those weakened, who shame others viciously, do you know what the truth is? They’re saying ‘I want to sacrifice your livelihood to protect the weak. Not only you, but I want to sacrifice an entire generation, a nation, perhaps the globe.’ We want to save the lives of the weak, we do. But when people shame you for wanting to survive yourself, remember that if you look deep enough, every ugly thing they say about you is usually true about them.”
It was a profound statement, and few present could find it in their hearts to counter it.
Jenna scanned the room again. Most of the men were married, and their wives at home with the children. They all brought something to store in the church: canned goods to be stored in the pantry; pared venison for the freezer. There were sewed cloth masks and cloth diapers, and a storage room with recycled clothing. They even arranged a greenhouse with plants generated by lights.
Jenna had shivered when she inspected the makeshift hospital room designed by two nurses and two nursing aids in their community. Their husbands constructed beds from spare lumber, and they arranged their available medical supplies in that medical room, a manifestation of the worst case scenario.
Everyone was given a key to the church, but instructed not to enter the church unless they were in a dire circumstance. Jenna alone would tend to the greenroom plants once a week.
Jenna flinched. Her husband Collin was tinkering with a projector, and dropped a tool, which clanged loudly. He was one of the only “outsiders” who wasn’t raised in that area, but was satisfied to move to Jenna’s rural hometown due to his introversion and fondness of space and self-sufficiency. An IT expert, he even managed to design an amplifier allowing him to work remotely from their rural house near the church. Jenna and Collin had only once child, a teenage boy who was as fond of internet technology as his father.
A moment later, Will Price’s voice boomed from the projector.
“Turn it down!” Jenna begged, glancing again at the shuttered windows. Collin adjusted the volume, and the teleconference with Will Price, their district representative (and also Jenna’s childhood friend), began.
Oh, the conversation went as Jenna expected. Will Price, their district representative, apologized for not arriving in person. Everyone concurred he must protect himself from scrutiny. They reported to Price all the resources they had pooled. They would only visit the church in a state of emergency or catastrophe.
Price spoke of the usual. Yes, this governor was known to constantly redirect resources away from the rural conservative districts of Michigan to benefit urban democratic strongholds. They had dealt with numerous fiascos documenting that tendency; this was just an extension of that principal. Governor Koch targeted rural conservative businesses, such as greenhouses, to inflict maximum economic harm on rural areas, when she should be targeting the urban areas where the virus was most prolific.
Jenna hardly listened (she knew all this already) until Price referenced the car gridlock protest against authoritarian overreach scheduled in the Lansing that upcoming Wednesday. The room palled; everyone shifted uncomfortably. They wanted to attend the protest but feared the scrutiny.
“No worries.” Price said. “My wife and I will go to represent you. Our teens are old enough to watch the younger children. We’ll report back to you what occurs.”
Everyone relaxed. Jenna thought about her own teen son Carter. He was probably sitting at home on the computer now, teaching himself another software coding language. He definitely took after his father in that way; he was practically a computer genius. Jenna had worried he would struggle socially, but she was mistaken. He excelled socially with his peers; Jenna had the strange suspicion he approached them with formulas similar to his computing formulas. He seemed to input the appropriate actions trial and error taught him would achieve maximum social status. Jenna smiled thinking of her son.
Representative Will Price was almost finished. He promised to disseminate information about the Lansing Protests through social media. Collin recorded everything since they had one more group coming that evening.
Lansing, April 15th 2020
State Representative Will Price and his wife Linda sat in stunned silence in their pickup truck. “I’ve never seen so many American flags before.” Linda whispered. There was traffic in all directions as far as they could see, and they could barely make out the outline of the capital building down the road. The road was a blur of vehicles, signs, and flags.
“There are thousands of people here.” Linda murmured, adjusting her face mask. “Please, stay in your cars!” She begged the fellow protesters. She was a nurse, and understood the gravity of the pandemic, while simultaneously feeling the horrific weight of impending economic disaster and disagreeing with the new senseless, authoritarian government dictates.
With amused distraction, Will had been reading every sign he saw, his voice muffled by his mask.
“That’s right! No unessential workers!” Will seemed compelled to punctuate every sign with his verbal approval.
“Yessir! The land of the free!”
“Down with tyrants!”
“Not Vice-President material!” Will Price scoffed.
“Er…” Will said uncertainly. “A bit off topic, but still valid!”
“That’s right, take her job away! That would change her tune awfully fast!” Will Chuckled.
“Detroit does have most of the cases.” This time Linda commented. She knew nurses who were sent from their rural hospital to Detroit; she’d heard all the horror stories.
Will had been inching along; he suddenly slammed on the brakes. Some people were running in their direction
“What on earth…”
Lansing, April 15th 2020
Tyler Cunningham shifted his cloth mask and leaned against the crosswalk sign, observing his surroundings smugly. These redneck idiots had no chance. They weren’t even smart enough to recognize they were propaganda bait for their opponents. There were a lot of them too; at least more than ten thousand.
Tyler noticed a photographer across the street. Grinning under his charcoal mask, he turned to raise his arms, flashing a swastika covered flag.
It was all so easy. Only a few days ago a fellow democrat party member contacted Tyler, asking him to go undercover at the upcoming Lansing gridlock protest. As a tactic of “blending in” he should carry swastika paraphernalia.
It was genius. He’d blend in all right, while exposing those simpering rednecks for the Nazi bigots they really were.
And yet, it hadn’t been a lot of sunshine and roses. Protestors booed him and heckled; he’d had to dodge a couple drinks thrown at him. Still, that swastika would be plastered on the front page of every newspaper, and those republicans would learn their place.
“Tyler? Is that you?”
Tyler stiffened and spun around. Someone just arrived at the crosswalk…oh no. Ohhhh no. It was Fred, Tyler’s acquaintance from high school…with two intimidating “friends.”
Tyler laughed nervously.
“What are you doing here?” Fred hovered approximately six feet away. “Aren’t you a democrat? Is that a swastika flag? What are you trying to do?”
Tyler still laughed unnaturally, slowly backing away.
“You’re a spy, that’s what you are. You brought a swastika flag to make us look like Nazis!”
Tyler turned to run. Fred and his companions were flat on his heels. A woman stuck here head out of a pick-up truck, reinforcing her mask with a large scarf.
“What are you doing?” She screamed at Fred and his buddies. “You’re making everything worse! Get back in your cars right this minute.”
Fred and his friends stopped and hung their heads, but Tyler continued unaware, racing to the first building he could find.
General Care Hospital (Lansing) April 13th, 2020
Dr. Amarati stared at her test results in disbelief. “It can’t be.” She blinked and looked again. She’d tested positive for the virus. Her supervisor analyzed the results sternly.
“You’ll have to go home.” The supervisor monotoned.
“But I don’t understand.” Amarati slid into a chair, leaving the test on the table. “I don’t feel sick at all.”
“We noticed you had the sniffles.” Amarati’s supervisor was matter of fact, already transitioning to action mode (while subtly distancing herself from Amarati.) “Any personnel who show symptoms are to be tested. Those with positive results must self-quarantine at home no fewer than fourteen days.”
“I’m sure it’s for the best.” Amarati blinked back tears. “It’s just that, I wish to help.”
The supervisor softened slightly. “This will help. Now run along. Clock out, go home, and take a well-earned rest.”
Amarati collected her things robotically. A nearby nurse was panicking; after the governor issued the mandate prohibiting anyone from visiting their vacation home in Northern Michigan, this nurse was informed by her neighbors a stranger began squatting in her cottage (which she legally could not visit). “Can you believe it?” She cried. “We can’t visit our own cabin, and what are we supposed to do when some stranger squats there? How does this protect anybody?”
Amarati glanced out the window at the cars lined as far as she could see. The gridlock protest caused quite the controversy in her downtown Lansing hospital. Some staff felt the protestors were protecting their civil rights, others vehemently insisted they were going to kill everyone by spreading the virus. Several verbal yelling matches had exploded over the issue. Amarati just wanted to go home; and she trudged down to the hospital lobby. She was jolted from her reveries by a commotion; someone ran frantically through the hospital entrance.
“Help!” It was a boy wearing black clutching a flag. “Help, they’re after me! Please don’t let them in!”
Dr. Amarati gasped. The boy’s flag was covered in swastikas.
All the personnel in the hospital front office froze, staring at that horrid flag. The boy suddenly became aware of it and backed out of the hospital. He shoved the flag in a nearby garbage can and continued to race down the street.
Lansing, April 15th 2020
“Those stupid boys.” Linda Price lamented to her husband from inside their pickup truck. “What are they doing, running outside like that during a pandemic? Besides, how would it look if there were a fight?”
Will and Linda Price gasped. After inching along for hours, they finally turned a corner and had a full view of the lawn in front of the capital building.
“How could they?” Linda demanded. Her voice was on the brink of tears. “How could they?” She repeated louder.
“They” were dozens of protestors who exited their vehicles, sauntering up and down the capitol lawn. Many wore no gloves or masks, or any kind of personal protective equipment. Their attitudes were jovial and festive, and every moment of watching them made Linda the certified nurse more ill.
“They’ve ruined everything.” She whispered. “What will everyone see first? A bunch of people with no concern, risking themselves and others. The democrats will have a field day!” Linda’s voice cracked. “If only they stayed inside their cars!”
Linda turned to her husband. “Will, I think I’d like to go home.”
It wasn’t a bad sentiment, but perhaps a bit unrealizable after voluntarily participating in a purposeful traffic gridlock. Regardless, the Prices pressed on with the intentions of eventually arriving home.
Rural Michigan, April 16th, 2020, Evening
Jenna slammed her folder down in her home office. She was an English teacher at the nearby school which was now closed, and had been putting together packets for her students to study at home (if they actually applied themselves).
The governor’s voice boomed from the television in the corner of the room. She was providing her official response to the gridlock protests.
“It’s really incredible.” Governor Kock intoned smugly. “When you look at the people who attended this protest, walking outside without masks or gloves. Consider all the people they could have infected while stopping to use the restroom, or visiting fast food for a drink.”
Jenna rolled her eyes.
“And besides, the terrible reality is the protestors really revealed their bigotry. Because listen to me, that is what many of them are: bigots. There were sightings of swastikas, confederate flags, and other bigoted paraphernalia.
Jenn grabbed her remote and switched off the television. Collin entered the office.
“How’s my favorite teacher?”
Jenna smiled weakly. “Getting by.”
“Will Price sent us some messages about the protest today.”
“Yes, I know.” Jenna sighed. “Apparently it was a big fiasco.”
“It’s not so bad. We now know how many people agree with us. That won’t be hidden any more. There is strength in numbers.”
Jenna glanced toward the door. “What is our son up to?”
“He’s been tinkering away at some computer project for hours.”
“Well, let him.” Jenna glanced at her watch, then at her pile of papers. “At least someone has the energy to get things done these days.
Tags: covid-19, fiction, lilichika rose