As was his habit, Jack woke very early and very suddenly on this particular Sunday morning. It was still dark both outside and inside. His small apartment was cold, but his blanket warm, with only the flickering light from the muted television scattering the darkness. He had fallen asleep not so long before and now found himself swimming in that state of limbo between the frustrating dreams of the sleeping and the harsh realities of the awakened, jousting with phantoms of his previous, better life.
His habits hadn’t changed much with the Pandemic. He was already living on the fringes, and, with the Pandemic putting so many people into survival mode, he was closer to the mainstream than he had been for a while. It didn’t help much, though, to know that everyone was in the same boat in so many respects, scrounging for resources while the dark cloud of pandemic hung over the land.
Jack sat up on the couch, planted his feet on the floor, and reached in the dark for a half smoked cigarette in the ashtray on the table, carefully placing it in his mouth and slowly striking a blue tip match, breaking the sounds of silence with the crackling paper of the cigarette as he inhaled.
After he finished the cigarette, which did not take long, as it was already half smoked the night before, Jack stood up. Without putting on a jacket or even his shoes, he quietly padded across the worn carpet for the door, opening it slowly so as to not wake his landlord, who lived upstairs and seldom missed an opportunity to intercept Jack upon his comings and goings in order to lodge various inquiries as to his wherewithal and his needs. At times, these inquisitions by his landlord were comforting. Other times, they were perceived by Jack as harsh and subtly admonishing, and they often left him feeling uneasy about himself.
The slowness with which Jack opened the door, and with which he intended to preserve the quietude of the building, served only to prolong the loud creak of the unoiled door. At this, Jack felt irritation at the irony of how quick his landlord was to collect the rent check, but how slow he was to fix anything. In truth, though, the irony was double in that Jack seldom made a rent payment, and the landlord was actually quite gracious in this regard. He stood still for several seconds after the creak ceased, until he did not hear any of the landlord’s footsteps above, whereupon he walked out into the cold damp air, leaving the door open behind him.
The ground was covered with dirty wet snow, which burned his feet through his quickly saturated socks. Jack fumbled for the key to the garage in his right pocket. The snow packed hard under each step, and the cold pulsated into his foot.
He found the key in the soft glow of city light, which bounced off of the thick dark storm clouds, which had been present for weeks, depriving a populous on house arrest even the satisfaction of a sunny day. The mid-April snow fell lightly and melted on the ground, reminding Jack of those old nuclear war movies with all of the radiation flakes floating down from the sky as the survivors came out of their shelters, usually basements, like Dorothy and her family in the Wizard of Oz.
He opened the garage door, and stepped in. By memory, he navigated all of the junk of past tenancies that was haphazardly strewn about and only partially arranged. When Jack had moved in two years ago, the landlord told him that he could take anything from the garage for his apartment. He had spent several hours rummaging in there to come up with his furnishings, which, though they made for a livable and relatively comfortable arrangement, they were incomparable to the comforts of the home in which he had once lived with his family.
Leaving the light off, he navigated his way to the middle of the garage. Hearing something move and looking up into the dark rafters.
In the same instance, the lights came on and the landlord appeared in the light with two cups of steaming coffee in his hands. He held the familiar cups Jack had seen before, one saying “Landlord” and one saying “Tenant” on them.
"Now Jack, good morn’in, Jack, I thought I might’n find you down here in this here garage again, I just could’n sleep up there in my apar’ment think’in on you all alone down here work’in on your things in the dark, work’in on fix’in things and such, sett’in up to do sommut, god knows what, now com’n out of the cold there and let’s us hav’n some coffee, I brewed it up special for you an me, you ain’t even got no shoes on now, come on son, whatchu doin’ up so early anyhow out here, you know there’s a pandemic and you’re supposed to be inside, now come on, you ain’t got no business out here in a pandemic, now you see, we’re supposed to stay inside, an you ain’t no differen’ from nobody else, so get your ass back on in the house before I call Governor Whitmer on your ass.”