Starving to Death in Brunswick West by Marlee Jane Ward

Welcome to Short Fiction Friday! Every Friday, Black Forest Basilisks will be shining a spotlight on a new short story, novelette, or flash fic in addition to our regular posts. These stories will usually be available for free online, but occasionally stories from published anthologies will also be featured. 

This story is available online for free at: Curious Fictions. Click through to read!

While the pumpkin is roasting, sauté the portabellas in some butter to release the flavour. Ignore the news you’ve put on the TV for some background noise, but let your ears prick up when you hear the words ‘epidemic’ and ‘China’ because you’ve been following the story online and you know it’s getting pretty bad over there. Scary, right?

From the author: The story of a quarantine told in recipes. Originally published on the now-defunct Australian short-story website ‘Slink Chunk Press’. The only story I’ve ever written in 2nd person, and probably the only one I ever will.

I am not in danger from the COVID-19. I am young, healthy, and have no preexisting conditions that would cause complications. I am safe. 

But here’s the thing: I know people who are immunocompromised. I have family members who are older and at risk. A 3% mortality rate across the board means that, statistically, someone I know will die. Maybe multiple someones. People I care about. They have no way to protect themselves other than quarantine. There is no vaccine.

COVID-19 isn’t about me. It’s about them.

Marlee tells us a story in which no one is safe – and it’s not just the virus that endangers them. It’s the way communities fracture, the food scarcity, and the lack of infrastructure in place to handle a disaster. This is a rupture in the fabric of society. 

The vision of plague Marlee creates is told in just a few small vignettes. Specifically, ones focused on meal time. First, there are rustlings in the new while she makes baked risotto. Later, they’re lucky to have beans. Soon, they’re grateful for a meager mix of flour and water. It’s desperate, and real. 

To be clear, I do not believe we will devolve to this level with COVID-19. It is not so very desperate. It’s not ideal, but we aren’t going to collapse. That said, we all have a responsibility to each to ensure that we take basic precautions to prevent those who are immunocompromised or otherwise at risk from infection. 

It’s not much trouble to wash your hands and take basic steps to prevent virus transmission. If it’s reasonable to work from home, do so. My workplace is looking to switch to a rotating schedule so we can still receive deliveries with a minimum of on site staff.

Stop buying masks and other supplies that hospitals need. Start working from home. Start washing your hands throughout the day. If you have any symptoms, consider having food and groceries delivered rather than exposing more people to you at the store. Be smart, and protect vulnerable populations.

Past featured short stories can be viewed here.

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