I’ll come here to borrow your husband

Juliette Blightman, Full Moon in O-Town (Aries rising). 2022, inkjet print and gouache on canvas. 69 × 53". Courtesy of the artist and O-Town House, Los Angeles.

When they came to my apartment in the dead of night, I wasn’t exactly surprised. It had been all over the news for months: the authorities were closing off streets with no warning and entering homes at random, sending residents off to isolation camps. What panicked me was waking up to find Dal no longer in bed beside me, and Sal gone from his room.

The person on the other side of my front-door security grille was dressed in an ill-fitting white gown, a badge saying health worker pinned to his chest. In the dim hallway lighting, he looked like an extra from a medical drama. He was wearing a sun visor–like apparatus over his face and its steamed-up plastic mostly obscured his features, but I could make out a surgical face mask and, beneath that, the faint shape of his mouth.

I didn’t open the grille right away. I explained we had to wait for Dal and Sal to come back first. They had probably been hungry and gone out for a bite to eat. They had grumbled about not having meat at dinnertime, and maybe I should have given in and opened some Spam, but I tried my best not to feed them canned food. While I talked to the health worker, I tapped frantically at my phone. Dal and Sal probably wouldn’t be long, they were probably in the convenience store a couple of streets over. Dal wasn’t answering his phone; maybe he was already in the elevator back up. This had never happened before, I insisted. The truth was I had no idea where they were. But surely this made it even more important to wait for them to come back? If we needed to isolate, we should do so together. The health worker didn’t seem to understand what I was saying. His lips moved behind his mask as he murmured something into an earpiece. Soon after, the hallway filled with health workers exactly like him.

They didn’t give me much time. I shoved a few items of clothing and some basic toiletries into an overnight bag and headed out, but on my way past Sal’s room I couldn’t resist stepping inside. A few hours earlier I’d heard Dal and Sal in there giggling, and I’d poked my head in to see what was going on. Sal leaped up from the floor to cover something behind him, and Dal shooed me out. Yes, and that was when I got the splintermy hand brushed the doorframe and the wood pricked my finger. I could still see a dark speck in my fingertip, and I realized it still hurt. Only a few hours had passed, but there was no trace of Sal in his room, not even a rumple in the sheets. The bed looked like it hadn’t been slept in. Colored pencils and a sketchbook were strewn across the floor. Sal had begged me to buy him those art supplies, but he never touched them. I picked them up and put them in my bag.

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