He knew how to put it on so that it fit snugly and the elastic straps didn’t snap against his face. He knew how to stay calm wearing it for long periods, which he’d learned drilling with a gas mask for a different kind of war. He remembered how some had freaked out, but he’d never panicked. He knew he looked like those following the rules and wouldn’t feel out of place in the grocery store, like he had two weeks ago, when people were still running around without protection. He wore rubber gloves, the mask and, per his wife’s request, a ski hat to protect his bald head. When he got home, she met him on the front porch and they took every item out of the plastic bags and wiped them down with disinfectant and hung the bags on a hook where they were supposed to air out for three days, but in fact were left to flutter in the wind. When they were done, she made him strip off his clothes in the cold hallway, even his underwear, and his penis hung flaccidly. She carried the bundle to the washing machine downstairs where he knew she was stripping off her own clothes, and heard her shout up to him to make sure he took a hot shower with plenty of soapy lather. When he came out of the bathroom, she was standing there naked, and they passed each other like ghosts, not touching. He’d thought about playfully reaching out to touch her nipple, but didn’t. She closed the bathroom door and he heard the shower head spit and gush. In the bedroom, he thought of her standing there naked as he pulled on his underwear. Then he went into the kitchen and got a glass of water. Soon, she emerged, clean, dressed, disinfected. In silence, they ate their lunch out on the porch watching the white-breasted nuthatches scavenge in the beech trees.
DS Levy lives in the Midwest.