The day was partly cloudy, barely in the forties, and the man had parked on the backside of Gillette Stadium where they usually parked for Revolution games. He followed the signs directing him toward the Putnam Club entrance and thought, Today the pandemic begins to end for me.
Other people were coming from the glass double doors and at least two people were behind him. He was just twenty feet from the doors when his cellphone buzzed in his pocket. He glanced at his watch: Joann.
He pulled out his phone. “Hey, Joann.”
He stepped off the walkway to let other people pass.
“Hey, sorry to bother you. I know you’re getting vaccinated today.”
“It’s ok. I’m not in yet.”
“I just wanted to make sure you heard this from me first.”
“Ok,” he said and took a deep breath.
“You know how Elke was flying to Georgia to be with her dad before he died?”
“Yes,” he said. “Did he pass?”
“Yes, he did. Just before she got there.”
“Oh, that’s terrible. I need to drop her a line.”
“Well, that’s the thing. The next day, Elke also passed away suddenly.”
“Elke did?” the man said, his head suddenly feeling light.
“They haven’t said much. Seems like a heart event. Very sudden and unexpected. Paul is with her husband right now.”
The people walking into and out of the stadium seemed to be a blur.
“I just … wow … I was just telling her about my father in law and she was commiserating about her dad. And she just sold her house to move back to Georgia so her parents wouldn’t die alone. Wow.”
“I know,” said Joann. “I know you have an appointment. I don’t want to keep you. But I know you were close to her and I wanted you to hear it from me.”
“I appreciate it,” he said. A moment later, he was off the call and past the check-in table, moving thoughtlessly through the Putnam Club.
He texted Lauren. Joann just called. Elke died suddenly.
His phone lit up a moment later. Her dad?
He tapped back. Him too. She didn’t make it to see him. And then 12 hours later, she passed also.
“Gordon Laws?” a voice called.
I’m so sorry. You liked her a lot. Are you ok?
They just called me. Gotta put the phone away. Will text in a bit.
He moved to a small desk where an attendant said, “Ok. Got your license?”
He produced it and set it on the table. The attendant pushed his glasses back on his nose and tapped some information into a laptop.
“Right or left arm?”
“Left,” said the man.
A minute later, he was on the other side of the empty bar where chairs were spread at least six feet apart. He set a timer on his phone for fifteen minutes. Most of the chairs were empty, though some were occupied with others who were messaging on their phones.
She was really good to me. A huge proponent of mine at work. But more than that, I really liked and admired her.
He set his phone on his knee.
It’s awful. I’m really sorry.
The man glanced at a TV that was playing SportsCenter. Stories flashed on the ticker at the bottom of the screen about NBA players testing positive for COVID, while a talking head was muted but clearly speaking about NBA games. The man looked at the bar. A handful of bottles were out, but most had been put away. Two security guards stood next to each other, arms crossed, talking and motioning to a TV. A woman paced next to one of the windows looking out on the parking lot. She spoke into her phone and gestured grandly with her other hand. Another woman in a chair nearby glanced at her AppleWatch, then stood up and headed toward the door. The man could see through the other set of windows to the stands across the field and the scoreboard in one end zone. He had received notice that Revolution soccer would welcome back small numbers of fans in socially distant clusters. Within three weeks, they could go back to a game for the first time in a year. Back at home, Lauren’s mother was making arrangements to move from their finished basement to an assisted living facility, while her father was sitting in a rehab facility doing barely more than the minimum physical activity they required.
Just a week before, the man had been on a large video meeting over Microsoft Teams.
“You’re starting to become a veteran here,” Paul had said.
The man had smiled. “Well, coming up on a year pretty quick.”
“When do you hit a year?” Paul had asked.
“April, I think.”
“April 20,” Elke had said. “I remember it distinctly. I was so excited to have you join that I had that day circled in red.”
“Wow,” the man had said.
“And I haven’t regretted a minute of it. Such a big addition to our team.”
Now, the man looked around the room at all the caregivers who had already gotten their shots, at the people just coming in for their first, the others sitting in the chairs, the few getting up to leave . . . all the people hoping to go on, hoping to send their kids back to in-person school, hoping to use their soccer season tickets, hoping to fly on a plane and see grandchildren or nieces or nephews whose births they had missed. He had five minutes left in this waiting place, and he tried to remember what life was like before, tried to see what it would be like again, tried to think how much longer they would all be stuck in this place of aborted living, wondered how many more would die and not see normality again. And mostly, he thought of Elke who had started his Zoom interview with her by glaring with a steely gaze through the camera and had ended it by smiling broadly and saying, “This has been great. I hope it works out.” And he thought of how, during a meeting just after being hired, he had had to shut off his video to run to help a kid, and she had told him, “Don’t sweat it. I hung up on a call of thirty-six people the other day because my dog came trotting through in pursuit of our chickens. We’re all just figuring it out.” He thought of the absurdity of chickens in a Salt Lake City suburban home and of a yellow lab running through the house after them. He remembered the previous summer telling her that Lauren’s father was deathly ill but had been sent home from the hospital and that they had to move his in-laws in with them, and she had said, “You go take care of that. We’ve got you here. You tell me what needs to be taken care of, and I will make sure it happens.”
He looked again at the people milling around him, then at his timer ticking down on his phone, and he lowered his head toward the floor, wept, and, with blurry vision, watched his tears fall to the carpet between his feet.