Chronicling the Days – Ian Thomas Shaw

Welcome to a new QWF series ‘Chronicling the Days’, specifically for this strange uneasy time of coronavirus and pandemic, of social distancing and self isolation, of lockdown and quarantine. We’re inviting writers in Quebec in April 2020 to submit a story – up to 500 words – of a single day at this time, because while we’re all living through this time, we know that we’re not all living through it in the same way. To stay connected – to know how we’re getting on. Every story is valid.

If you’re interested in submitting a piece, please see the QWF Writes website for further details.

What’s the story of your days?

This piece is by Ian Thomas Shaw, writing on April 8, 2020.

Andy Warhol Campbell Soup Cans (1962)


I walk toward the entrance, mustering the courage to put on the mask. I pull it out, adjust it as I have seen on Youtube and jam my hands back into my pockets. A guard approaches. He stops six feet away and says, “Vos mains.” I start to raise my hands into the air when he nods to a portable sink in the corner. Dutifully, I shuffle over to it. The water is lukewarm, the liquid soap cheap and slimy. “Vingt secondes!” I nod at this new command.

A young girl sprays sanitizer on the shopping cart’s handle. She rubs it vigorously. With a smile, the enthusiasm of youth, she signals it’s good to go. I shake my head and motion to a larger cart. She grits her teeth at my lack of appreciation for her perfect cart and begins to spray and rub a bigger one.

The first aisle is empty. I eye the produce, wondering how many infected paws have judged its freshness that day. Canned veggies and fruit will do instead. The fresh steaks entice me. The butcher rubs his nose with the back of his hand. Canned tuna will be fine. A lone woman approaches me from the dairy section. I adjust my mask. She turns into the canned soup aisle. The soup can wait.

Toilet paper has mercifully returned to its rightful place. Gone are the empty shelves of the previous week. I grab a twelve-pack, then decide to go for the jumbo pack instead. The soup lady is now at the cashier’s. She glares at me when I put back the twelve-pack and reach for the larger one. I realize I’ve forgotten my gloves. I pull them out and wave them at her. But the damage is done. She whispers something to the cashier who shakes her head. I put on the gloves, grab my precious booty, turn and march down the aisle. Their eyes drill into my back.

The other shoppers disperse at the sight of my mask. I want to shout “Look, this mask is for you. To protect you not me.” I feel like Bernie Sanders shouting to the crowds, “Not me. Us!” But that didn’t work out for him either, did it?

The cashier sizes me up through a thick sheet of plexiglass. My cart is overflowing with canned food, pasta, hand sanitizer and the jumbo pack. She whispers as if not to anger me, “deux bouteilles par client.” I nod as she gingerly puts aside the extra bottles of Purell. When I tap my credit card to pay, it’s beyond my tap limit so I push it in the machine, and clumsily punch in my code with my gloved hands. As I put the bags into the cart, the cashier opens the confiscated sanitizer and douses the keypad. I bite my lip and think of how people have been brainwashed into fearing the mask. But I fear the unmasked.

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