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3:AM in Lockdown 52: David Nutt

An Apocalypse of Hugs
By David Nutt.

Now, an alarming amount of hugging happens in our house. Wife hugs dog. Husband hugs dog. Wife hugs husband. Husband hugs wife, etc. The two cats watch this cuddlement warily and scrabble for the nearest exit. I — the husband — adore my wife and our cozy menagerie, soft-furred and eminently huggable, clawing deep trenches into the hardwood. I’m just not sure we need our guts squeezed halfway up our esophagus every time somebody decides to shift position on the couch. Some nights, I wake to find my wife half-rolled off the bed, an arm flung to the floor, trying to hug-snuggle-grapple the poor dog. The dog sits awake in the doorway, head arched, watching us sleep. Our shaggy sentinel, with her wool-gray cataracts and fluff dander, pungent peanut butter breath wafting across the kingdom at two a.m. So much love, so much love.

We don our cheap, improvised masks, like old-timey train robbers, like godly surgeons, and we beach ourselves on the couch to tediously marinate in generic TV sitcoms we won’t remember an hour later. Quarantine porn, basically, but everyone keeps their hair and fluids to themselves. Every day, I spend at least an hour, also, peering at coworkers via virtual meetings on my laptop. I see more of them now than I ever did in the office. And I do mean more. I see their kitchens, their living rooms, their over-hugged pets and spouses and kids, hoarded dry goods in the background, the mass quantities of alcohol with which all of us are slaloming through our plague year together, a waterpark of barrel-proof bourbon.

This I adore, too.

And I get it. I do. So many somber citizens growing elated because they haven’t been hospitalized or intubated, or unplugged/sandbagged/toe-tagged, yet. They haven’t been raptured up. They need to hug something. But perhaps there is another way to express the survivor’s gratitude. Like money orders. Carnal shenanigans. Peanut butter in unexpected places, i.e., the dog’s mouth.

Thank god, people can still cry. My wife grabs for a cat and misses, and the house fills with the most spectacular turbulence. I bury my face in the dog’s hyper-absorbent fur. She whimpers. Some wet thing sludges out of me and crawls under the couch. Outside, a fleet of fire trucks hit their sirens, a symphony of dog-whistled decibels, and our menagerie sings along. The TV weeps.

The dog and I periodically leave the house, leashed together, on red alert. I stand on the sidewalk, a slightly-less-shaggy sentinel, watching her shyly pee-bleach the color from our neighbor’s yard. Several times a week, I jog into the evening and hold my breath as I pass strangers who are holding their breath on the nature trail. A nation of red-splotchy faces, a whole planet, shirts over noses, looking for a train to rob. Coughers, we wonder. Are any of us coughers?

Always I return home, alive and limping, my ragged hair sweat-moussed into bizarre geometries because nobody believes in haircuts anymore, haircuts are a vestige of the Old World and will be replaced by something more inventive and freestanding, a new manner of hirsuteness to rug the skull, when the lockdown finally lifts, decades after we are dead. I consider this morbid business a little longer, and, after scanning around to make sure nobody is watching, I thrust out my arms, throttling blank — hopefully germless — air.

I used a kitchen knife and hacked away my beard this morning, leaving in its place a mostly bare face, that of a stranger, notable for its handsome razor burn and, lord help me, a very large moustache. Okay, I added some muttonchops to the affair. I hear all the atomic matter in the universe will someday unravel, too.

Of course, the W.H.O., the C.D.C., the other dogwalker who lives somewhere down at the murky end of our block: just about everybody discourages the touching, embracing, lust-stroking, any form of physical bombardment. But that’s not why the hugs unnerve me. I don’t know why the hugs unnerve me. I will probably survive the plague year, the death of haircuts. I’m less sure I can survive the even greater apocalypse of hugging. All this raw, unrepentant compassion. What a bloody mess.

I stay indoors, but my birthday comes for me anyway. My wife gifts me a couple books, an LP, a bottle of peanut butter whiskey. The waterpark continues to pour forth! I blush and thank her. I sniff the peanut butter whiskey.

Have you been feeding this to the dog? I ask.

I hug her anyway.

First posted: Monday, May 4th, 2020.

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