What is happening in our world? Who is doing what? what is going on now? These are questions that will be answered. Enjoy.
The Only Thing
It wasn’t anything he planned to do. Everyone refused to believe that, except for Anna. Of all people, she defended him, when everyone else was ready to see him turning on a spit. Dear Anna, mother of his only child, wife of nineteen years, ex-wife for ten. His nemesis during the divorce and then no longer “his” at all, but the indifferent stranger who communicated with him only through Rob, her second husband, or Rob’s assistant, about when to pick up Maddie for his bi-monthly visits.
“Believe me,” Anna told Savanah Guthrie, via satellite, “Charley was never a planner.” Anna sat on a sage green velvet sofa beside Rob. They wore expensive-looking cable-knit sweaters. His was a turtleneck. Rob was that kind of a guy.
“His issue, which I suppose became our issue…” Anna turned and gave her husband’s hand a squeeze. Rob smiled at her encouragingly and then turned his attention back to Savannah−which wasn’t really Savannah, but a camera that remained in their apartment and operated remotely since the quarantine. Rob resisted the urge to speak, which Charley figured must have been fucking killing him. The guy loved to hear himself talk. “His issue,” Anna continued, “is a patent inability to plan anything. Everything that he worked for, that we worked for, that I thought we were saving for, I don’t know, our retirement, Maddie’s education? Gone.”
“Gone?” Savannah interrupted. “Do you mean…”
Anna cut her off. “Look, I’m sorry. I really don’t mean to pile on. I don’t want to say more. We have a daughter. It’s important to respect her privacy.”
“How is Madeline?” Savannah oozed. Anna slid back into herself like a kitchen drawer closing. “Fine, she’s fine.” Her voice sped up while becoming monotone at the same time. It was a story you could see she was already tired of telling. “I just mean to say he didn’t plan this. It was an impulse thing. A stupid decision that, I don’t know… that got away from him. I know he didn’t mean for it to become…” Anna closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose in an attempt not to cry. Charley felt a sharp pain in his right temple. He wanted so badly to be able to comfort her. Instead, he watched Rob reach his big solid man hand around to the side of her face and pull her head down onto his broad cashmered shoulder. While Savannah thanked them for speaking, Charley raised his head and howled in despair, continuing even after the upstairs neighbors banged on the ceiling and the elderly woman below told him to “shut his lying mouth.”
He blamed Tom Hanks. People used to say that Charley MacPherson had a “young Hanks-ian quality” back when his show was the most watched show on television—just after he and Anna moved in together, and before he began filming the first in the series of the Maximus Ryder franchise. Tom even told him at the Vanity Fair Emmy party that Charley was going to “put him out of a job.” They were photographed together when they both still had mops of curly black hair. At least Hanks still had his hair. Charley went prematurely gray, and after he started dyeing it, his hair seemed to fall out overnight, as though the hair itself had given up on him.
He was surprised after the network decided not to renew Arrhythmia after 12 seasons. He had hoped for a lucky thirteenth where he vowed not to touch his salary but just give it to Anna to invest, as he’d always planned to do, but there was a new head of the network who wanted to focus exclusively on female-driven talent. When asked what he planned to do next while on the red carpet for an autism charity auction, Charley impulsively threw out that he would be up to do another Max Ryder film, despite having publicly vowed never to do a fifth. That’s when he found out that the studio had decided to re-boot Max Ryder with Beck Evans, that kid who used to be on the Nickelodeon show Maddie and her friends watched. They recast him before Charley had even turned thirty-five, replacing him with a child actor who overnight seemed to sprout muscles like mushrooms on a hillside after a rainstorm. His agent insisted he didn’t know, but Anna pointed out that it wasn’t possible since the agency represented both of them.
When he should have been focused on the next job, instead he set off on a hedonistic trail of debauchery, a primrose path of poor decisions—last minute trips to Vegas, wine collecting, micro-dosing, regular dosing, raves in the outer boroughs, all while Anna and Madeline stayed in their loft. The years-long protracted bacchanalia culminated with an unfortunate life-imploding foray into music. While he had only dabbled at playing guitar in high school, he managed to be convinced by a group of hipster Brooklynites a good decade his junior to join their band. When he was with them, either jamming or on stage, he felt like a newer, better version of himself. Younger, edgier. Arrhythmia’s Dr. Scott was retired. He was just Charley. Or Charley M or Charm, as the fan-girls rechristened him.
It was strange how during all those years, when countless actresses, make-up girls, and fresh interns eagerly vied for his attention, batting their eyelashes at him like so many butterflies, he’d been able to keep them at a distance. But when he started performing with Bellum, the indie, synth, alternative, lo-fi band, he found the groupies irresistible. Is it because he felt like he was playing the part of the rock star? That’s what he told Anna, and she forgave the first one. The second time, after the Bard student he slept with started posting experimental art films she made of the two of them online and Page Six picked it up, Anna filed for divorce and changed the locks. He quit the band and did everything he could to win her back, but as the years passed it became clear that the window had definitely closed. She met the newscaster, Rob Consuelos, as a potential buyer for their loft when she listed it for sale at the height of the 2009 recession. Instead, Rob ended up moving in with her and Maddie, and then married her one day after the divorce was finalized, replacing Charley as the husband and father that Anna always wanted him to be.
It was in March, at the end of pilot season, when he was on his way back from LA that he noticed something. The woman seated beside him on the flight was wearing a surgical mask and spraying every surface with a spray bottle. Every time he sniffed or coughed, the woman glared at him, brought out the spray bottle, and went through the cleaning ritual again.
The cab driver into Manhattan was also wearing a mask. He asked Charley if things were bad where he was coming from.
“I guess?” He had spent the past twenty-four drifting between K-holes, having snorted the last glassy shards at a house party in Echo Park after finishing the week’s meetings. Everything had seemed weird and surreal, but fun. Now they just seemed surreal. A text popped up on his phone from Anna telling him she didn’t think that Maddie should come over as planned because of the virus. “Her school might be closing.”
He was too hungover to argue, so he sent her the thumbs up emoji and passed out until the cab pulled up outside of his apartment on 9th and Ave C. He tipped the driver and nodded to the super outside the building who was also wearing a mask.
The couple from upstairs was standing in the elevator, flanking their toddler in shiny knee-high yellow rainboots, blue raincoat and a pointy glossy hat. Charley yelled ahead to hold the door. The father thrust his arm out, blocking the door, as Charley lugged his two suitcases up the steps from the foyer. When he went to push the button the toddler shrieked, “Me push!” She hollered and squealed, marching in place like an irate Hessian soldier. Charley pulled his hand back.
“All yours,” he said to the girl, who flung herself at the buttons, mashing them all in rapid succession.
“Poppy honey? I don’t think you should be touching those,” her mom said, reaching for her daughter. “Come here sweetheart.” She nudged her husband. “Give me the wipes.” Poppy threw herself at her father, running into his shins like a little battering ram.
“No wipe!” she cried, letting loose a vociferate wail of protest.
“Okay okay, shhh, Daddy will do it,” the mother cooed. “Wipe her hands now!” she commanded her husband.
The husband tried to speak in a hushed low tone that only his wife would hear. “We’ll be in the apartment in a sec, and then we can put her in the b-a-t-h.” But of course the girl caught on, and unleashed such an ear-splitting lament that Charley moaned “Fuhhh…,” stopping himself before pronouncing the offending “kuh” at the end. The girl stopped crying, cocking her head up at him in curiosity.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
The girl resumed her complaint all the way through the seven dings to Charley’s floor.
Less than a week later, the country folded up like a pup tent. Both Charley’s agent and manager were in quarantine after having been at the Milan fashion shows with their young influencer starlets. When Charley emailed to ask about the L.A. meetings, his manager wrote back that it was basically moot since at the moment all of pilot season was on hold. His agent didn’t even reply.
He texted Anna about re-scheduling Maddie’s visit.
“R U crazy?” she wrote back seconds later.
“I’m her father,” Charley wrote back.
“I know that. There’s also a plague happening in case you haven’t noticed.”
“Don’t ecxagurate.” He misspelled “exaggerate,” went back and tried to fix it, but was so off the mark that the auto-correct couldn’t even find the word. So he just left it, “Don’t.”
“Don’t WHAT?” came Anna’s instantaneous reply. My God, his ex-wife had the fastest thumbs in the western hemisphere. She didn’t even use predictive software. “Do you think I’m exaggerating? I’m not. Rob interviewed a statistician today. It’s bad.”
“Well, if Rob says so,” he typed.
There was silence.
“Cause Rob knows everything.”
“As Rob himself will tell anyone who will fucking listen…”
It was petty but it felt good. He was about to text something else, something about Rob’s habit of saying the word “visceral” or his prodigious collection of bomber jackets, when his phone lit up.
“Hey, it’s Rob texting from Anna’s phone.”
Charley dropped the phone on the granite island in the kitchen. He eyeballed the phone, half hoping it was broken. Finally, he picked it up and turned it over. There was a deep crack that splintered into a web of little fissures across the screen.
“WTF,” he typed.
“A was helping Maddie blow-dry her hair. She asked me to answer for her.”
A? He can’t even take the time to write the three remaining letters of his wife’s name?
“I can have her get back to you when she’s finished.”
“Don’t bother,” Charley typed. “But would you tell Anna to have my daughter FaceTime me when they are done?
There was no answer.
“Please?” he added.
He tucked the phone in his back pocket and went to take the frozen enchilada he was heating up out of the microwave. He tore into it even though it was still steaming, and winced as the bubbling hot red sauce and melted cheese scorched the delicate skin on the roof of his mouth. He removed a tray of ice cubes in the freezer, twisted one free, and popped it into his throbbing mouth.
A faint “ping” came from his back pocket.
“Siri, read the text,” he said. But with the ice cube in his mouth, the command came out garbled.
“What would you like to know about sex?” the automated voice replied. He spat the ice cube into the sink, grabbed the phone, and read the text from Maddie. “It’s really serious Dad. I’m freaked out.”
“Let’s FaceTime, honey,” he replied.
The blue dots undulated and disappeared. Then the message popped up. “I don’t want to. Sorry. I have anxiety. 😣”
Charley sighed. “Honey, I think everyone might be over-reacting,” he typed. “Don’t let ’em get you down.” He added a GIF he had been saving just for her of a pug and a parrot eating a bowl of spaghetti together.
“It’s a REAL THING, Dad. TOM FUCKING HANKS HAS IT.”
Charley spent the better part of the week scrolling through stories about the coronavirus on his phone. His social media feeds were packed with posts wishing Tom and his wife Rita love and a speedy recovery. There were emotional, full-hearted tributes to Tom’s decades long career and first-class congeniality. The Nickelodeon kid posted a pic of himself, presumably at home, reclining on a modern chaise lounge with a Kombucha in his hand, his heavily tattooed arms somehow even more muscular, and what looked to be a vast bowling green behind him. “I’m with you brother! Let’s slay this thing and get back to our film!” There were 30 million likes. Charley’s agent was one of them.
Charley quickly scanned the comments. “Marry me please? I’ll nurse you back to health!” “Srrsly, I would get Covid-19 and die for you.” “Are you going to do another Max Ryder movie???” followed by four praying emojis.
Then his eye landed on a comment from Hanks himself. “Thanks, my man. Doing my best to get back to work on our film. Rita’s already scouting houses in Fiji.”
The beefy child and Hanks were doing a movie together? In fucking FIJI? And here he was begging the network he had put on the map for scraps.
He opened his fridge, took a six pack of Heineken, and carried it into the bedroom. Every channel on the TV showed the same picture of Tom Hanks and his wife in Australia. He muted the volume and started scanning his phone for the picture of Hanks and himself at the Emmys all those years ago, but quickly became distracted by pictures of sweet Maddie through the years. Maddie with their labradoodle Ginseng when she was a puppy; Maddie and Anna and the “Under the Sea” birthday cake Anna had stayed up all night making. Maddie grinning a gap-toothed smile holding the first offering for the tooth fairy. He kept scrolling to more distant days. Anna pregnant. Anna at the diner where she worked before they got together. Anna and his mother.
Mom. She was still in the home that Anna had found for her when he was filming the movie his agent convinced him would revive his career, but which thus far had yet to be acquired for release. He wished he could talk to her now, but the last time he saw her, at Christmas, she didn’t remember who he was. She kept calling him “Dr. Scott,” the name of his character from Arrhythmia. “No Helen, he’s your son, Charles,” the ruddy nurse reminded her, while smiling at him. “I don’t have a son,” his mom said blandly, tugging at the plastic ID bracelet on her thin and frail wrist, brittle as a tree branch.
By the time Charley finished the six pack, he remembered that he had promised to stop drinking and drugging after the L.A. trip. But since it was clearly too late for that now…
Back in the kitchen, he hunted for something else alcoholic. He found some sake that he didn’t remember buying. There were only a few ounces left in the bottle. He drank it down in one gulp and decided to chase it with the popsicles he had picked up at Trader Joes in anticipation of Maddie’s visit. Oh, but look! A half-full bottle of Tito’s cleverly hidden behind the Bagel Bites in the freezer. He unwrapped the cherry popsicle, tossed the wrapper in the direction of the trash can, and headed back to the bedroom, carrying the bottle like a baby in the crook of his arm.
At last he found the picture of himself and Tom Hanks, buried on the fifth page of a Google search. His hair was dark and glossy, a big silly smile breaking across his face. He couldn’t remember ever being that happy. Maybe the night Maddie was born? It had been an emergency C-section after two days of a difficult labor, and then Anna hemorrhaged, sending both mother and daughter to the ICU, so the experience was happy but fraught. The night he met Tom Hanks, however, was just perfection. He was young, successful, award-winning. He had all his hair. He loved Anna and Anna loved him. Everyone loved him.
The older actor told him to remember to enjoy the moment, that even though he would have many nights like this, it would never be exactly the same.
“Thank you, Mister Hanks,” Charley had said.
“Tom.” Hanks bestowed a generous smile, his eyes twinkling as he patted him on the shoulder, before sending him back out into the crowd where he would be surrounded and cradled in the yummy narcotic warmth of an industry-wide approval.
Around three in the morning, stumbling into the bathroom to take a piss, Charley tripped over the bags he never unpacked in the hallway and was sent sprawling face first onto the parquet floor. The painful welt on his forehead didn’t bother him as much as the nosebleed. Blood always made him woozy, so he sat on the toilet and peed. “I gotta drink some water,” he said out loud. He never talked to himself, unless he was very drunk, which he now most certainly was. “I’m drunk,” he announced. ‘What else is new?’ he said to himself, but he heard it in his father’s voice.
Hours later he awoke on the living room floor. The cold hard tile pressed unpleasantly against his back. He reached up and patted his chest, feeling for his cell phone. Raising the device slightly so he could see the screen, he swiped it awake with his finger. Even though everything looked blurry, he managed to open Instagram and get the Hanks picture up with a decent crop.
“I always follow your lead,” he typed, then deleted it and started again.
“You lead the way, Hanx…” Delete.
“Hey Tom, I always did my best to be like you. Now, just like then. Fever, chills, the whole shebang.” He deleted the “whole shebang” part, threw in a hashtag #tbt hashtag #Corona, and posted it.
Charley wasn’t aware of the monstrous error he had made until much later in the afternoon. He woke up half naked and shivering, this time on the bedroom floor, sprawled out like a beached sea cucumber. He could taste the sour, acidic contents of his stomach. He felt around for his phone, brought it up to his face, but it was dead. Stumbling into the bathroom, he plugged it into the shaving outlet after multiple tries, then vomited the contents of the night and crawled into his bed. The usual noises of the city were oddly muted, which he would have normally questioned, but for now was just thankful.
The next time he woke, it was from the punishing sunbeam that seemed to have located the exact location of his orbital region. Reluctantly, he lifted his violently pulsating head from the pillow, squinting and shading his eyes from the sun as he lumbered into the kitchen for sustenance like a great bear prematurely roused from a winter’s rest. He flipped on the TV on the way out.
“In other news… Mayor DeBlasio is declaring a state of emergency in New York City.” He half listened to the news drone as he guzzled an old bottle of orange Gatorade he’d found in the back of fridge.
“Charley MacPherson, best known to viewers as Dr. Scott on the long running Arrythmia…” At the sound of his name, Charley froze. He dropped the bottle on the counter and sprinted to the bedroom just in time to see the photo of himself that he had posted on Instagram in the middle of the night.
“… The latest on the list of celebrities to test positive for the coronavirus. Other than the late-night Instagram post where he revealed his medical status while paying a heartfelt tribute to Tom Hanks…”
No. No. He shook his head, closing his eyes in silent prayer.
“… there has been no comment from the actor. His representatives could not be reached for comment at this time. All of us here at NY1 wish you well, Charley.”
Charley stared at the TV, tapping his forehead over and over, as though he could somehow dislodge the memory from the soupy mush of his brain. His phone. Where was his phone? He raced to all the usual places he left it without success. Finally, a “find my iPhone” search led him, via urgent silvery chimes, to the bathroom.
There were over thirty unread messages, most of them from Anna and Maddie. Anna’s were a carousel of emotions—from worried, disbelieving, irritated, scared, to panicked, and then cycling back to worried. Are you okay? Is this a joke? Why didn’t you say anything? Can you please write back, we are honestly freaked out. Maddie just seemed sad and scared. Dad, I love you. I’m sorry I didn’t Facetime. I’m so worried, I can’t stop crying.
Oh God. What had he done?
The rest of the messages were from managers, errant publicity reps, old bandmates, Lila (the student from Bard who apparently was now doing graphic design for The Wing), producers and actors he had worked with over the years. They all expressed the same concern and hope for his well-being. It was the first time he had heard from his agent in months.
He couldn’t face anyone right now, not in his condition, but he had to let Maddie know he was okay. Should he tell her that it was a mistake? That his account had been hacked? That it was a false positive and once he got tested again…? The array of possible explanations folded over each other, like an origami cootie catcher−each choice representing a different outcome, none ideal. For now, he decided, he would just reassure her, in a vague but consoling way. No phone call. A text message would limit making a mistake in his state. He couldn’t risk saying something stupid.
Hi honey, it’s dad. I’m sorry. I just wanted to let you know I’m okay.
Instantly he received a response from both Maddie and Anna.
Anna: Call me.
Maddie: How can you say you’re fine? You don’t know.
He decided to answer only Maddie. They were obviously sitting together, and anyway, he thought peevishly, Anna didn’t get to tell him what to do anymore.
I just know, Maddie. I’m healthy, I don’t have any underlying conditions…
Maddie: I heard Rob telling mom he’d bet his Apple stock ur pre-diabetic.
Charley felt a jagged wave of anger rising up out of the sour pit in his stomach. Fucking Rob. How dare he? Every chance he got to make him look bad in front of his kid. And since when did he have Apple stock? How much alimony was he still paying Anna?
Focus. Right now, he needed to stay focused for his daughter. As pissed off as he was, he needed to present an air of calm. He took a deep breath and counted backward from ten, instead of typing the first thing that came into his head and hitting “send,” his usual modus operandi.
Think, he urged himself. He had to craft an age-appropriate response, one that could somehow get across that he was “taking the high road” and, at the same time, “fuck Rob.”
The screen lit up. He was too late.
Maddie: I’m Facetiming you
Charley stared at the profile picture of Maddie dressed as a pirate from Halloween a few years ago. She wore an eye patch and her two front teeth were missing. It physically hurt to look at her. He desperately wanted to talk to her, but she couldn’t see him like this, hungover, wretched. He could still feel the dried blood caked around his nostrils, and when he touched the bruise on his forehead, it felt as swollen and fat as a leech.
“I can’t talk right now honey,” he typed. “I’ll call later.”
“u ARE sick. 😢”
“I’m just in a meeting…. About a possible film. Can’t talk about it now. But I’ll tell you all about it later. Tell your mom I’ll talk to her later too. Ok? 😘.”
That night he considered his options. The only reasonable thing to do, he decided, was to come clean. He had just finished drafting the statement he intended to release when he got Maddie’s text.
“OMG dad, Ur trending! 😃”
And he was. The world had fallen in love with him again. Over the next few days, the following on his social media surged, even doubled. People wanted to know about him again. The New York Times asked if he would like to write an op-ed. His agents put him in contact with a podcasting company interested in co-producing a show from his apartment. He was asked to participate in live readings on Facebook to raise money for health workers. Once again he felt the intoxicating pull of connection, the succor of belonging. Everyone loves a comeback. He promised he wouldn’t fuck it up this time. Even Anna warmed up to him again, checking in on him regularly. They spoke for long hours on the phone when both of them were sleepless. He was able to apologize to her at last, finding the words for the way he treated her during their marriage. For the first time, she let down her guard, her anger and indifference dissipating. She seemed to actually forgive him.
“It’s ok, Charley,” she sighed. “Maybe we were always just meant to be friends.”
“Don’t say that. I don’t believe that, do you?”
In her weighted pause, whether or not it was true, he heard the answer he hoped for.
We could leave Charley’s story here and call it a redemption tale. A story of a man given a second chance to right the wrongs of his past. But as everyone knows, a house can’t be built on a fault line. Eventually the crack will open and swallow everything—or, at the very least, irreparably damage the structure. Charley knew this, and yet still he thought that, once he had “healed” from the virus he was never infected with, he would be able to continue along the path of atonement. To be the father, son, man he was meant to be. But as the country progressed through the various stages of collective grief, rapidly transitioning from panicky fear to big-hearted altruism to antsy cabin fever to full-throated reproach, people began to cast about for someone to point the finger at. If the government couldn’t pay up what was needed financially, someone else would need to. Scapegoats were required.
Anna texted him that Rob mentioned something had come in on the AP about a lawsuit being filed in LA by the woman who had sat next to him on the plane. Based on the timing of his Instagram post, the suit claimed that he had knowingly and with malice exposed her and everyone else on the airplane to the virus. The case would have been thrown out, but it seems other people had joined in. The father of the toddler upstairs in his apartment building had fallen ill, and although he seemed to be on the road to recovery, the family blamed Charley for not wearing a mask or warning them before the elevator incident.
“I didn’t know,” he told Anna.
“Well, just say that,” she said. “There are going to be a ton of these lawsuits. It’ll be thrown out.”
The lawyer he consulted with told him the same thing, adding that if he cared to expedite the process, he could just provide the results from the test.
“I lost the test results,” Charley told the lawyer.
“That doesn’t matter. Reach out to the doctor. He can email a copy and we can put this to rest.”
“I don’t know…” Charley stalled.
“Look, I could do it for you, but trust me, it’ll cost you a lot more. Just call the office, they’ll send you a release form, you sign it, yada yada, results.”
“Right….” Charley murmured.
How could he say there was no doctor, no test? That it was all just an idiotic alcohol-induced mistake? Even worse, how could he justify the weeks he neglected to correct the error?
The initial mistake would have been difficult but possible to rationalize. The cover-up, however, is always worse than the crime. No, confessing the truth wasn’t a solution. He had to find another way out. What if he found someone to fashion a lab report? Surely he still had the number of Louis, the old prop master on Arrhythmia? That guy could create medical documents out of anything. He rifled through his filing cabinet looking for old cast and crew sheets. Or was it Ed?
He found the name “Angus” (not even close) and called the number. A woman answered.
“Hi, this is Charley MacPherson. Is Angus…”
There was a sharp intake of breath.
“Oh! Hello. He’s still in the ICU at Providence.” The woman’s voice was hoarse, as though she had spent the night crying.
“Oh my God.”
“It looked like he was turning a corner, but now I’m afraid there’s been a setback.”
Charley swallowed. He opened his mouth to say something else, but couldn’t think of anything. “Oh” was all he managed.
“It will mean so much to him that you called. He’s always talked about how much fun you were on the set, all of the pranks you pulled.”
“Joanne. We met years ago, but I don’t expect you to remember.”
“Joanne, of course.”
“We aren’t allowed to visit him right now, but it’ll mean so much to him that you were checking.”
“The boys and me. Chris and Jeremy.”
Charley had a sudden flash of shaking hands on the hospital set, posing for selfies with two little redheaded boys.
“You’ve always been such an inspiration, and then the way you handled your diagnosis, and that you recovered…”
She choked back a sob.
“I’m sure he’ll pull through, Joanne. Angus is strong.”
He heard a young man’s voice in the background calling “Mom?”
“Just a second, honey,” she said.
“Listen, I won’t keep you anymore,” Charley said. “You just… just tell your husband I called and I, uh… look forward to seeing him again. You know, when we’re all on the other side of this.”
“Thank you,” she said. “Bless you.”
After the call ended, he sat for a long time next to the window. He felt profoundly tired. Staring out at the rain collecting onto the bars of the jungle gym in the abandoned playground across the street, he resolved to stop. To just quit bargaining with himself and accept what he knew was the only thing he could do.
He called Anna when she probably wouldn’t pick up, since she had signed up for a livestream yoga class at the same time every day.
“I’m sorry,” he said, after the beep, then hung up and called the lawyer back.
The online reckoning was swift and brutal. He was the subject of an endless array of memes, nicknamed Charley MacFaker—plus a few cruder variations—and insulted with such savagery it was dizzying. He shut down all of his social media accounts. Maddie refused to speak with him and blocked his texts. Anna reverted to communicating only through Rob and his assistants. Watching her talk about him on morning television made him feel like a ghost haunting his own funeral.
Spring became summer, and then autumn but most everyone still stayed inside. Charley grew a beard and started spending his days walking around the deserted city. One day he jogged passed a sign asking for blood donations. He took the same route the following day and the day after that. The next time he went out, he tucked his ID and folded up medical record into his pocket.
He braced himself for the look of contempt from the woman at reception wearing a mask that said, “If you can read this, you’re too close,” but she greeted him with a friendly hello. It was hard to tell with the face covering, but it almost looked like there was a smile behind her eyes.
“O. Universal donor. You’ve given blood before, yes?”
“Um, actually it’s my first time.”
“Well thank you Mister…” she glanced down at his name. “MacPherson. Take a seat, we’ll be right with you.”
An hour later, the same woman waved to him as he walked out.
“Mr. MacPherson, we’ll see you in eight weeks, I hope?”
A week later, he received a call from the hospital informing him that Covid-19 antibodies had been found in his blood. Would he be willing to come back to give plasma?
After a serious trial for the vaccine began, Charley kept returning to the hospital for donation. He made sure to come when the kind receptionist was there. Eventually, he worked up the nerve to ask her out once the quarantine ended. He found that the sight of his own blood had ceased to make him dizzy. Just the opposite. Feeling the sharp needle enter his vein and watching the dark liquid rush back into the tube filled him with a peace and tranquility he had rarely known. It felt to him like a proof of something, and for now, that was enough.