She and C19
A kind of peace fell over the Lawrence household. Harry could no longer hear his daughter crying and wailing in her bedroom. Although the crisis wasn’t over, he hoped that they could avoid further arguments. Mrs. Robertson, a friend of his wife, spotted her in Highland Park with college friends, and all of them were ignoring social distancing. So, she needed to agree extra care must be taken. Harry’s spouse, Lucinda, remained in bed trying to sleep. Her lungs often prevented the luxury of that temporary oblivion. Her illness hung over their shared home like a thundercloud. Despite that, the child they treated with so much love had risked importing Covid-19 from the outside world. Harry tried to understand that. He recalled it was over three months ago that Tom Wolf, the State Governor, signed the Emergency Disaster Declaration. Harry decided this meant his family was self-isolating. There could be no exceptions. While he realized claustrophobia was crushing everyone, he felt living in isolation didn’t excuse his daughter’s actions.
When he woke that morning, Harry sought to recall the day of the week. Yesterday they collected the trash, so this must be Wednesday. Wednesday 10th June 2020. The day had started badly. Lucinda needed extra medication and left her breakfast untouched before returning to bed. During frequent visits, he checked she hadn’t begun running a temperature. Stable thermometer readings provided good news, except every visit involved walking past his daughter’s bedroom and cursing the music. However, Lucinda made him promise to let her keep playing it. ‘Their’ daughter was being confined because of her, and it would be unfair to remove the few remaining creature comforts. Especially so as she was having to do her Pitt studies online from home. Although that didn’t mean he shouldn’t object to the volume being louder than he liked, she met his attempts to suggest turning it down with fury at disrupting her. She complained life had become hard enough without everyone bugging her. So, he walked by, not once, but several times. When he summoned up courage to enter to plead for silence, he expected an outburst of anger, but there was none. He found an empty room.
After Mrs. Robertson rang, he waited for his miscreant child to return. She didn’t. So, in frustration, he called her cell phone, but that produced no reply and the waiting continued. Alerted by the missed call, she realized Harry knew she was away from home and so she returned to Chislett Street cautiously and was able to spot him lying-in wait. After retreating from peeping through the window, she walked to Swan Way, an alley running along the rear of Chislett Street. The back door opened soundlessly before she slid through the gap as when she departed earlier. The hush lasted as she crept to the bottom of the stairs and prevailed until a creaky middle stair. Although she sought to avoid it, she missed her footing, and the broken wood reacted to pressure. Harry shot to living room doorway saying, “I know where you’ve been, how could you? And how dare you risk being close to strangers?”
She raised her voice, “They aren’t strangers, they’re friends, and I needed to see them. It was vital for us to meet up.”
“Shush, keep the noise down. Come here and explain yourself.”
“No, I’m going to my bedroom, I have essays to finish.”
While running up the remaining steps, he pursued her. Attempts to shut the door failed. Both of them were strong, having trained together with weights in the back yard. But his superior strength meant they soon stood in her cramped chamber facing each other. The confrontation didn’t begin with screaming, instead she tried to look away and pretend he wasn’t there. “You realize how ill your mother is. Coronavirus would be certain to cause her death.”
“She’s not my mother.”
“You’re happy enough to call her Mum whenever it suits you. Anyway, don’t change the subject. We should remain in isolation, and you’ve wrecked that strategy already. How many times did you disobey me and leave the house?”
“Dad, believe me, this was an isolated event, something essential.”
“What’s important about cavorting with your ‘friends’ in the park?”
“A response to the Black Lives Matter call to action. Everyone agreed to meet.”
“Oh no, not that. If you must get involved, wouldn’t phone calls or texting have sufficed; not meeting in a group breaking the rules about social distancing. Someone told me they saw you ignoring every safeguard.”
“We’re witnessing a life changing shift in society, making the pandemic almost trivial. Something I need to be part of.”
“Well, your role in that BLM nonsense is over. When I’m downstairs, I’ll lock the doors and take away the keys. I refuse to trust you anymore.”
With her voice raised again, she said, “You can’t, you can’t make me a prisoner.” The decibels increased further, “Anyway, I have to go out again next Thursday, as there’s a huge demonstration and I must be there, and I missed the 30th of May event. So my friends will disown me if I don’t attend this one.”
Harry wasn’t listening; he was thinking on his feet. “Sad to say, you’ve already broken our quarantine, so someone may have infected you. I need a fresh approach to restore safety. I’ll arrange delivery of a test kit to check you in a fortnight. Meanwhile, you’ll stay in this room. Yes, that’s the plan. Meals on a tray in your bedroom and whenever you use the bathroom, I’ll disinfect it.”
More decibels, “Don’t be fucking crazy, I’m not staying cooped up in a 10 by 8 box for two weeks without exercise. Besides, I told you I need to join the demonstration next week, and I AM GOING.”
“No, you aren’t, you’ve placed this family at risk enough. What I’m telling you is essential and keep the noise down.”
She didn’t comply. Instead, the crying and wailing mentioned earlier began. No concessions were available from her father, whose absolute resolution rendered her distraught. Although he attempted to tell her to calm herself, it was without success. After leaving her alone, he ran to lock the outside doors as planned. With the dead locking of the front door complete, he heard her chasing down the stairs. When they reached the kitchen together, his superior strength meant he approached the rear exit first. Any further struggle proved pointless, so she cursed. No one else in her world used dead locks, but her dad insisted on installing them. Deployment occurred every night, they combined with normal latches for security against criminals. Now he was using the damned things as her jailer.
Inches apart and panting, they stared into each other’s eyes before she spat in his face. Without thinking, he raised his hand to strike her, but he controlled himself. The noise had finished, and she stomped upstairs. That was when the kind of peace fell over the Lawrence household. It involved sobbing into the pillow of her bed. He attended to Lucinda and was glad to find her asleep and having slept through the arguments. However, when sleeping, the rattle of her lungs became distressed. The stroking of her brow woke her as intended. She needed a session with a nebulizer.
After tending to Lucinda, attention returned to restraining his daughter, who he no longer trusted to stay at home. Fitted on a backyard shed was a padlock, hasp and staple assembly, which he removed and took to her bedroom. Despite disturbing her by screwing the cluster in place, he went on with his task as she called, “Dad, what are you doing?”
No reply promoted her to investigate. By then, the door wouldn’t open. That evening, she heard the padlock being undone. When the door swung open, she saw a tray of food on the floor. Harry stepped back saying, “Collect this, and after you’ve eaten, we’ll try to discuss what’s happening without raising our voices.”
“Rubbish, I’m not hungry and don’t want to talk.”
“Beyond this mess, no one is going to accuse me of starving you. You shall eat.”
Collection of her dinner formed a pretense; she had zero appetite. However, she was thirsty and a Seven Up dripping with sparkling water from the icebox tempted her.
After moving the laptop aside, she set the tray in its place. She paused, thinking how cool it was having been with Martin again. A week had passed since her previous (more successful) escape from the house to be with friends in the park, and on that occasion, he’d talked her into leaving the others to be alone together. Now she ached to be alongside his slender, naked body again. Today’s meeting heightened her yearning. After dinner, when he got away from his parents, she would try to ring. Beforehand, they would demand to know who was calling. Another neighbor in spying mode reported seeing him bringing a white girl into their home, a transgression they considered they’d resolved. From boredom, she ate the tasteless food without interest. Even the Seven Up was like water. At least the bland, cold liquid proved refreshing.
After the teenage lovers spoke, they emailed each other. A master plan emerged. The house the Lawrence’s rented on Chislett Street had UPVC windows. Martin helped his father replace a failed double-glazing unit at their home and knew how to remove them. She said there were ladders in her dad’s shed. From her bedroom window, she could see it remained unlocked. Harry hadn’t replaced the padlock he removed. Martin would come to rescue her on Tuesday night because that day his own parents planned on heading to Florida to stay with his grandparents in their retirement retreat. She didn’t comment, although it occurred to her that their intentions seemed crazy. They were visiting a state that was no longer at low risk of Covid-19. A stay in the home of an elderly couple, an apartment he’d described as tiny, made no sense. She considered they should be more careful.
Harry woke feeling exhausted. Worse than his usual mornings. Not surprising with having spent a week catering for two people confined to their bedrooms under his care. Deep cleansing the bathroom after every use by his daughter was a burden. Fair play. She told him what she’d touched, but he cleansed the entire suite, regardless. The task would be easier if everything wasn’t so decrepit. As he reflected on these thoughts, he held his forehead and the warmth surprised him. Then he placed his hand on Lucinda’s brow, which proved even warmer. He struggled out of bed before the dry cough began. He realized what these symptoms meant and collapsed to sit on the bedside. Anger overcame fatigue, and he stomped to confront the culprit.
Despite unlocking the padlock, the door refused to budge. He charged it with his shoulder, but his tired effort produced no effect. He shouted, “Open up. Open up, now!” When he received no response, he tramped downstairs, cursing and planning to prepare coffee and Lucinda’s medication. Then he spotted it through the window, a ladder, his ladder, propped against the house. So, he investigated, and he could tell the window aperture was now unglazed. Upon clambering through the opening, he saw the unit resting against the bed and the desk chair wedged under the door handle. She was gone.
The previous night, she waited up. At 2 a.m. there was a flashlight signal. As arranged, she positioned her desk chair to prevent the door being opened in case the planned activity alerted her father. Indeed, as Martin dislodged the trim from around the window, he couldn’t help making noise. Despite that, it drifted into the background and woke no one. As soon as he removed the glazing unit from the frame and passed it through the windowless opening, he descended the ladder. Then he held it for her to follow. First, she threw down a knapsack with essential clothing and other items. Halfway down, she remembered she had overlooked her contraceptive pills and began climbing back up. Martin asked, “Where are you going.”
“I’ve forgotten something, something important.” After diving into the room, she dashed to her bedside cupboard and grabbed a pill packet, which she thrust into her jeans pocket. Soon she was on the ground. Following a brief kiss, the couple fled.
The pair sat in the kitchen cum diner. Modern fittings and spaciousness showed Martin’s parents had spared no expense. In that respect, the open plan chamber matched the rest of the house. The French toast for breakfast was filling, but she thought it tasted like cardboard. Despite that, she smiled, remembering the middle of the night before. The elopement was a prelude to a bedroom scattered with clothes. During every stage of undressing, hands explored genitals, lips met, and tongues followed. Their union was traditional but exciting. Their hips moved together, and their final delight was shared. After having little sleep, she awoke to find Martin’s chest nestled against her back. After realizing he was aroused, she felt his hand wakening her desire. Then he pressed his manhood into her body from behind before he created a rhythm of wonderful sensations in her vagina. Despite there being no need to create further excitement, he stretched to jiggle his hand between her thighs, and she writhed with pleasure. When he climaxed, she shared his joy with an orgasm beyond anything she had experienced before. Now that was all over. So they each stared across the table, smiling. He said, “Your Dad will have missed you.”
“Yes, he sent a text.”
“Did you reply?”
“No, he’s trying to use blackmail tactics, saying he and Mum are displaying symptoms.”
“Don’t you trust him?”
“No, he springs a guilt trap when I ignore his demands. His reasoning is I owe him and my stepmother.”
“I remember, you spoke about that. What happened to your proper mum?”
“Cancer; bad enough that during pregnancy, she insisted on a premature delivery. I was born by Cesarean, a risk too far that didn’t pay off.”
“Poor woman, but her sacrifice was to look after you.”
“How could I say otherwise? But her final care, the birthing and ICU confinement afterwards- the insurer classed these as elective treatments. No cover left Dad broke. While he never complained, he demands undying gratitude. And then after remarrying, my new ‘Mum’ treated me so well in his view he considered the debt grew. Now, my Pitt fees form another burden. In every conversation, money struggles get mentioned. Especially so as his wife is sick with an uninsured chronic illness.” Her eyes watered before she spoke again. “Damn, everyone expects me to be beholding. I can’t be perfect. If only they let me breathe.”
The morning zoomed by. They walked to the Strip District before taking in a bagel and coffee for lunch. Then they rendezvoused with their group of friends back in Highland Park. The discussion concerned meeting up and events thereafter ending up downtown.
Martin’s friend Jay stood out as the group’s leader. This well-built guy had liaised with demo organizers. He spoke first, “Everyone is gathering at Freedom Corner.”
“That’s fitting,” Martin reflected. In the 50s, Pittsburgh’s largest African American neighborhood was in the Hill District. A misguided civic project led to a crude displacement of many residents. But within that devastated area, Freedom Corner became the preferred location for protests. Locals named this focal point after a mass assembly took place there. Those present on that day were on their way to hear Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech.
“Correct. The setting is perfect,” Jay continued. “Then the idea is to head towards Liberty Avenue near Commonwealth Place to block the on ramp to Fort Pitt Bridge. Next we intend heading downtown.”
She asked, “Will Thursday prove bigger than the 30th of May gathering?”
“Hell no, this is a specialist event for the Black Trans people. It’s supported by members of the LGBTQ community. Wider attendance is likely to be limited.”
She became quiet, as she hadn’t understood the narrower context of the demo beforehand. Now she tried to convince herself it didn’t matter, but she thought of her father. When he discovered his daughter was encouraging Trans men and women in his home city, he would throw yet another tantrum. Although there were many reasons why he voted for Trump, his resolute stand on this issue stood out.
That evening, she was pre-occupied. The takeaway pizza was a tummy filler but provided no enjoyment, despite Martin saying it was delicious. Throughout their meal and whilst watching television in each other’s arms, one image dominated her thoughts. As the group split up, everyone hugged. Jay held Martin with a hand around his neck and his other, clutching his backside. But it didn’t appear to stop at a clutch, it developed into a grope. Why? She couldn’t find the words to ask. That didn’t form her only distraction. As was her routine half an hour after dinner, whilst they sat on the couch, she opened her purse to take her pill. Then she discovered that in her rush, she had picked up the wrong packet. “Martin, you remember I went back up the ladder. It was to get my contraceptive pills. But I grabbed some Tylenol by mistake. I should take the proper one now.”
“If we pick some up from the pharmacy in the morning, it’ll be okay, won’t it?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’ll be fine, tonight will be special.” He pulled her into a cuddle, and she stared with a blank expression over his shoulder, unable to raise any objection as he fondled her.
Although still frightened, she agreed to go to bed early. While she was trying to dither, he pulled her into his arms and dragged her fleecy top over her head, and so he exposed her bra. Despite not wanting her nipples to tingle, they did, and tingled more when he removed the bra and kissed her breasts. The stirrings in her body did not match the reluctance of her logic, and she sensed her vagina moistening. After undoing her jeans, he pushed her onto the bed and pulled them off before throwing his own clothes on the floor. She sighed as she saw his swollen penis. How she wanted to feel it within her, but how that frightened her. As he lay beside her, an escape route emerged. As she spun her body over, she took him in her mouth while positioning herself so he couldn’t ignore using his tongue to excite her. Her plan was for the fellatio to bring him to a climax. When victory was in sight, and he was almost there, he thwarted her by spinning over and burying himself deep inside her just before his explosive release. Despite the strength of his stimulation of her vulva beforehand, the event produced no orgasm for her. Tears were her only response.
After awaking early, they had another breakfast of French Toast. Martin said, “Yum”, but she didn’t! Then they headed for the UPMC Pharmacy in the Hill District. She emerged looking worried, “My pill is out of stock, they won’t have any until this afternoon.”
“Okay, don’t worry. Once the demo finishes, we’ll find somewhere downtown. It’ll be fine, but we better hurry we’re late for the gathering.”
The speeches at Freedom Corner ramped up emotions. While Martin joined in the cheering, she was subdued. He remained animated as the crowd marched down Liberty Avenue. A trio led the protest carrying a decorated banner stating, ‘Black Trans Lives Matter’. Despite sticking close by Martin’s side, he still failed to notice that her demeanor was remote.
The horde moved on, heading across to downtown. After parading a short distance up Grant Street, they arrived at the City Council Building. There she stood amidst the throng, but Harry had the TV on in Lucinda’s room and spotted her on Pam Surano’s report on KDKA. Through his tears, he sent a text, “Honey, please come back and make up. I’m waiting for our turn for the paramedics to arrive to take Mum, who is ill and fighting for breath, to Allegheny General Hospital.” She made efforts to pull Martin aside, but the proceedings absorbed him in the litany of chants. When at last he responded, they withdrew to speak in private. “Martin, I have to go home. Dad texted to say my Mum is unwell.”
“Are you certain he isn’t just winding you up again?”
“No, but I can’t risk missing her. Dad says they’re taking her to AGH. There’s no visiting, so if she goes, I may never see her again.”
Martin held her hand. “Will you be okay going alone?”
“Sure,” she wanted to laugh off her disappointment at his words, “Dad’s not likely to invite you to come in.”
There was no kissing. Their hands parted, and Martin rejoined the crowd. Before she left, Ami watched Martin put his arm around Jay’s waist and lean up to whisper in his ear. Then the friends smiled at each other with their faces close together. Were they about to kiss? She couldn’t tell as other demonstrators blocked her view.
Harry took his daughter to her stepmother in the marital bedroom. Lucinda tried smiling but was distressed. They held her hands. “You’ll be fine, Mum. Once the hospital puts you on a ventilator, your breathing should soon be under control. With no other underlying conditions, I’m sure they’ll get you better.”
Although Lucinda made another attempt to smile, farewell words were beyond her. On hearing the ambulance in the street, Harry went downstairs to greet the paramedics. They arrived dressed like spacemen, and left father and daughter to cry, locked in a tight embrace.
The telephone call Harry dreaded came five days later. A silver lining arose, although they struggled to call it that. A cremation slot was available that week. She and Harry attended alone; other family members stayed away. Throughout this period, she texted Martin with short bulletins. The replies were terse. With the funeral over, she sent a longer message asking to see him before his parents returned following Independence Day. He didn’t respond for several hours. Then the words she read were, “That’s not a good idea, honey. Just before I met you, I’d split up with Jay. Now we’re back together and he’s staying with me until Mum and Dad come home. Sorry if I’ve been a bitch.”
By July the second, her period was three days late. So she bought a test kit and at bedtime that night it confirmed she was pregnant. The next day began as any other since the funeral. Father and daughter spoke little, although they often tried to smile. By midafternoon she became brave enough to say, “Dad, I have some news that I expect you’ll regard as bad, even awful.”
“Not as awful as our recent loss.”
“Perhaps, I’m with child.”
There was a lengthy silence. Then Harry asked, “Who’s the father, and will he stand by you.”
Her eyes watered as she said, “No, but I don’t think that will upset you. He’s black and gay, or at least bi. The trouble is, despite him deserting me for a man, I love him.” Then tears overwhelmed her. Father and daughter said nothing, and he held her tight while matching her weeping.
“Before you ask, my real mum died for me. I will give my child the same opportunity to live.”
“I would expect no less of you. A new life full of hope is precious, its later the value can diminish.”
She cooked dinner. When ready, she called her father from the rear door, but he didn’t respond. That confused her as he’d gone to his shed to complete a chore and he should have heard her calling. So she crossed the yard and opened the shed door. That he’d completed his planned task within the last few minutes was obvious. The rope swung like a pendulum that was spelling time. But Harry’s time was already over.
During the next morning, she received a text from Martin. “Happy Independence Day! Jay has just left to be with his family today; do you fancy coming around?”
There was no need to reply. The walk to his house took less than five minutes. When she arrived, Martin stood at the doorway with his mouth open. “You look terrible, what’s happened?”
To cry while delivering her news wasn’t the plan. But it soon proved inevitable. Martin became distant after hearing about her mum and dad. But the distance turned to agitation as she dropped the real bombshell. Displaying little sympathy, he asked, “Do you need help to arrange a termination?”
She had expected that reaction from Martin, so the fury she felt surprised her. “Life is precious, you know that. Isn’t that what you’ve been campaigning about since events in Minneapolis.”
“There’s a difference, we’re not discussing a person.”
“I disagree, and my child is even half a black life. Someone who already matters to me.”
“Don’t try to steal my heritage. These ‘all lives matter’ fools miss the point, it’s a binary thing. Whites treating Blacks with inequality, that’s the injustice.”
Now her fury grew. “I gather you’ve no interest in being a father.”
“Hold on babe, we were just about sex. If you’re asking for more, I’m not your man.”
She became thoughtful, “Okay, if you want sex, let’s go to the bedroom.”
Martin was in bed first, enjoying watching her undress. As she climbed alongside, she pushed him, so she faced his back. She reached her hand over and whispered, “On a previous occasion we began with you pleasuring me. Now it’s my turn.”
Martin moaned as her activity enhanced his erection. Her other arm was across his chest but slipped up to circle his collar. Then the rhythmic stimulation stopped, and he tried to twist to face her. Before he could, the surrounding arm grasped the other one. The hand used to excite him slipped behind and clamped the nape of his neck. The Navy Seals clutch of death made Martin try to splutter, “Stop that, I can’t breathe.” But the grip tightened, and beyond not breathing, he could utter no sounds. Flaying from side failed to release her powerful restraint. She didn’t let go until long after Martin’s body ceased to move. After dressing, just before leaving, she removed Martin’s phone from his pocket. She’d watched him use it and recalled his unlock code. Once she had deleted that morning’s message inviting her to visit, she headed home, hiding her tears in a handkerchief.
The police officer said, “I’m sorry about this disturbance so soon following the trauma you endured yesterday.”
She replied, “That’s alright. Martin and I had a few dates together, so questioning me is an obvious step. But the text he sent me shows our relationship finished two weeks ago. He preferred his boyfriend.” Then she noticed the scratches on her arm and covered them with a hand. That avoided further interrogation.
“Yeh, we have that big black guy in the slammer already. He won’t be going anywhere soon.”
“Did he admit to anything?”
“Not yet. All guys like him resist arrest, so restraining him became necessary. Maybe he’ll own up later when the doc says he’s fit to be questioned.”
“Oh well, the traces of semen you’ll find in Martin’s bed will prove his recent presence.”