His name was George. He lived in the Midwest when it happened. I never knew him, yet everyone knew him. We knew him because of how he died. We were in the first few months of the global pandemic. The Corona Virus was spreading rapidly around the earth and we had very few answers. What we did know was clouded by misinformation coming from almost everyone.
No. He didn’t die of COVID-19, though he tested positive earlier that month. He died with his neck pinned to the ground by a white police officer. We might never have known except someone recorded it on their phone and broadcasted it to the world.
In a time, when everyone was locked in their homes, talking about the novel corona virus and the economic fallout sure to come, we had all the time in the world to be online and to see that horrific crime play out. I remember watching the video and seeing the protests that followed.
I wanted to go to a protest. I heard the shouts from my backyard, but I had my life. Book club was scheduled for that night (the first in-person event in a long time) and the following nights I had to travel to Phoenix to help my mom pack up her second floor condo because she was hit by a jeep and her knee was crushed.
But all of that was just the beginning. We had no idea of what the future held. Millions of jobs were lost. Protests turned violent. Some remained peaceful. We tried to pass more just laws, to change the system. We took down the old statues of awful men whom we had been honoring for far too long. Others said we were erasing history. But history can’t be erased.
We can’t erase the fact that millions of people died when their deaths could have been prevented. We can’t erase the fact that it is not safe to step outside our own front door. The risk is too high. But because we must continue to live, to eat, to love, to be, I think of George every time I leave my home.
Taking a deep breath, I placed my mask securely on my face and stepped outside. The sky was clear, clearer than it ever had been, because very few people drove their cars anymore. That is one of the only positive things to have happened as a result of all of this. Less pollution. But it was the invisible virus that made us wear the masks. I breathed in again, this time the air came to me slowly. I could still breathe. . .
What happens next? What is this story about?
I was going to talk about The Lady Astronaut of Mars in this post, but thought I would try to emulate it instead. I love the voice that Mary used in her short story! That is what I mostly tried to capture in the story here. But also, what would someone say thirty years from now after all the facts are sorted and sifted through, after more political events transpire and the course of the virus has waned?
What’s interesting about these short stories is that they could be the beginning or ending of a novel. We could explore where this character has been why does he or she think of George every time they step outside wearing a mask? How are those two things connected? Did the civil unrest cause a civil war? Or we could wonder what will happen next. Where is this character going if the risk is too high? We could even go back and tell George’s story or the person who took the video that everyone saw.
If we were to extrapolate on this story we might say that there was a civil war or that the vaccine we all thought was safe was more lethal than the virus. Either way it’s the author’s job to decide. What kind of story is this? What is it about? A short story is usually about one thing unlike a novel that can explore many different plot threads.
As for The Lady Astronaut of Mars, it was about the choice between two very good things. It is a story of love and longing, uncertainty and regret. How does one choose between their dying husband and the opportunity to fulfill one’s life long dream? What would the character in my story have to choose between? What does he or she have to learn? Perhaps they have to learn how to fight for what is right despite what feels safe, to go to the protests or possibly to speak up about the vaccine that isn’t ready despite what the media is saying. Maybe it’s a more personal choice. Maybe a family member’s life is at stake and this person has a chance to save them or do something bigger for the peace of the world.
What do you think? Where would you take this story? What did you think of The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal?
Our next book is the The Electrical Menagerie (The Celestial Isles #1) by Mollie E. Reeder.