Forlorn, pale, banal, crestfallen, Dora walked up the stairs of her home. A large, old home. A solid home. Made of brick, timber and reinforced with different types of concrete. A shabby, flaky grey-yellowish-light-brown facade typical of the buildings off the Via Foria in Naples. Napoli. Italy. Italia. She wore a old dress; once it had been designer; once it had been fashionable; now, it was just an old, blue dress. She’d just parked her Fiat in her small garage, a luxury for the area, and somberly progressed out into the main hallway that led from a large front door to a staircase. Opposite the garage, another apartment, empty and barren, reminded her of her daughter Chiara. Upstairs she had a massive space, full of every manner of odds and ends to herself. Two apartments, three kitchens, three floors. Old Italian money turned, and over the decades, by degrees, petit bourgeois; the last decade had annihilated anything left of the bourgeois condition, and left the family simply impoverished and petty, bickering over scraps.
Dora’s husband had been taken ill by the latest virus; she was returning from a drive around the city, for she could not visit him. The hemorrhagic fever spread quickly; it acted like, in symptoms and outcome, Ebola, yet it was airborne. People incubated it for up to twenty-and-one days, maybe more. The World Health Organization, hit with spending cuts, struggled to maintain even a count of the cases as they reached into the millions. The mortality rate ranged between sixty and ninety percent. The year, bleaker than the bleak year before it, almost tore the very fabric of post-industrial social and political life to shreds. The Carrington Event would be the calamity, but the calamity had been with life long before 2032. The year, 2028, became marked in editorials and news reports as “humanity’s annus horribilis.” By 2029, a vaccine became available and slowly made its way from the wealthy in so-called rich countries to the wealthy in so-called poor countries, then to the middling and poor in rich countries, and finally to the poor in poor countries.
Shattered found himself standing on the top landing of Dora’s staircase. She shouted, her mask obscuring her mouth. “Tu chi sei? Esci! Esci!” (Who are you? Out! Out!) Only moments ago, or perhaps a week, or a century, or a millennium, he had been at Mar’s old cabin gazing into wispy, white nothingness. Kyoto had said more regressions were possible. This is what she meant. I must be… Yet before he could organize his thoughts, the woman had pulled out a taser. “Esci! Esci!”
“Wait, do you… Do you speak English?” Shattered put his hands up in the air, palms directly in front of his torso.
“Che cosa? Yes, yes, a little. Who are you? Why are you in my… home.” She trembled with fear. She had locked the doors. She had closed the shutters. She had turned on the alarms. She had even had new bars installed on the large window that overlooked the back terrace; the same large window that Shattered, from the top of the stairs, now could see just behind this frightened individual. He noticed, for a moment, the bars, and they seemed very odd to him, yet this queer feeling of being caged-in only came in a subtle shudder. His physical proximity to this person with a menacing, even lethal, looking device focused his otherwise disorganized consciousness.
“Um, what year is it? What’s the date?”
“You must be crazy! How did you get in? Tell me!” She stepped back towards the door that led to her living chambers, not letting her eyes off Shattered, her right hand trembling with the taser.
“I really do not know how I got in. Please, tell me the date!”
“That’s some day in June?”
“And the year?”
“Sei pazzo! Esci! Esci” (You are crazy! Out! Out!)
“Please just tell me the year, and I will leave.”
“Two-thousand and twenty… eight.” Dora made her best effort to speak the year clearly in English; each word weighed on her tongue. She never liked English. It always felt like she was speaking as though a robot had invaded her. She had joked to her daughter, who had married an Englishman, about the “linguaggio robotico.”
Shattered knew history. He had devoured everything from books, magazines and miscellaneous articles he could find. The 2020s were not his favorite decade. They were his least favorite. He preferred to read about the ancient Greeks, the Roman Republics and Empire, the end of the Chan Dynasty, Yang Su and the unification of North and South China under the Sui Dynasty. He preferred almost everything except the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. He found that history seemed to become increasingly more monstrous from sometime around what had been called, by historians, “The Enlightenment” until the calamity. Here I am. Here I am in the midst of one of the worst years in the worst…
“Please, go! I do not… Want to hurt you…” Dora began to cry. She reached for the doorknob. She had locked the door; she needed to get her key out of her handbag and open the door, all while holding off this strange stranger. She craned her left hand back into her bag, which hung on her left arm. Shattered did not move. A great explosion could be heard in the distance. Shattered looked out the large window over the stairwell. He saw only an abandoned building, blue sky and palm trees. Tearful, Dora began to shout. “Non di nuovo! Non di nuovo!” In the two, maybe three, minutes they stood there on the banister, Dora had summed Shattered up. Or rather, she had made an educated guess: this man is not an immediate threat, but he is a pest. And what if he’s infected? Why isn’t he wearing a mask? How did he get it? Is he a relative of Chiara’s husband? Damn, I must check the Internet to see what that explosion was about. What do I do with this…
Dora said her next words slowly and carefully making sure their meaning was relayed clear, crystalline: “Are you infected? Have you been… tested?” There could be no deviation from the isolation protocols. And she had been standing in the hallway with him for sometime now, shouting. She felt her mask with her gloved hand. Still secure. But she had left her plastic face-shield in the car. In its sanitizing case. The eyes are a gateway to many things, including vital organs that the virus decimates.