We have really enjoyed reading these journal extracts from some of the Fabulamundi playwrights based in Europe, posted earlier this year in reaction to the days of isolation during the pandemic. We hope you enjoy them too!
Content Warning: Suicide
April 3 2020.
One of the important writer’s issues in times of widespread fear is the problem of truth. Should I write the truth?
On Monday, the next day of isolation, a girl who had participated in an online play-reading the day before committed suicide. Should I write about it? Should I write that I remember her face and her a-little-tired voice, and her specific way of reading, and how she switched off the screen at the end of our meeting.
I know, I remember, that every piece of information about a successful suicide is like a spark that ignites the thought of suicide in some heads. Even if, among those who read this text, this spark does not ignite a flame, some of you will tell others about it, and some of them will tell others, and so on. And if it is just one person at the end of this chain who will feel this thought ignite a fire and who will jump into it, the writer was the one who sent her the bullet. And don’t let him pretend he doesn’t know it. This is not just about information about suicide, but about all other types of fear, hopelessness and desperation, especially when they are true.
I should write funny, only funny and only cheerful things. I told everyone I talked to about the death of this girl. After which I wrote this text.
What is more important? Writing truth or human life? Does anybody know?
Closed pet store in the hypermarket. Hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, white rats, gerbils, bunnies in glass tanks. Calm. Somebody knocks on the glass every now and then. I see if they have something to eat and drink. They have. Someone comes and refills the bowls.
Dim light in the hypermarket. Only food stalls are open. A handful of people hang around between long shelves full of sausages, cheeses, desserts, kefirs, yogurts, frappucinos, baking ingredients, meat in all forms, dead fish and their dead eggs, a hundred kinds of flour, a million candies, candy bars and cookies, fresh fruit, dried fruit, frozen fruit from all continents. A great, always laid table full of deliciousness from around the world is waiting. But guests didn’t come.
The closed pet store is located opposite the closed travel agency. In the window of the travel agency, full of invitations to great adventures and unforgettable journeys to the most remote corners of the globe, hamsters, guinea pigs, mice, white rats, gerbils, bunnies in glass tanks, as well as caged birds and fish are reflected. One hamster jumps stubbornly on two paws, leaning his whole body against the glass, staring up. The front paws try to stretch as high as possible. Stretches the body, flexes it, bounces once on two hind legs, once on one. So many generations in captivity, who still believe that the glass will eventually give way and the walls will collapse.
There are solitary cages, containing one individual, and there are overcrowded ones, full of small and slightly larger children who were born here and do not know another world. A small mouse runs at the edge of the cages back and forth, back and forth, at an even pace. Her roommates are trying not to react.
You know every millimeter of your space, from wall to wall. You can see every tiny change. All landscapes of the world, all the changes of the seasons, wind and weather must fit in this narrow space.
I stare at a small aquarium with fish. What are they doing? Spending their lives in a decorative aquarium fishes in a large hypermarket, where nobody disturbs them, nobody catches them, nobody touches them. There are no vibrations from human footsteps.
There is a large veiltailtail with a giant tail. There is small silver, shiny fish. There is a bristlenose.
All interpersonal relationships, all ocean emotions must fit in a tiny aquarium. The veiltailteil, which at first seems confident of its place, stable and strong, occupies the left, lower quarter of the aquarium and almost does not move from it. It hangs in the water, as if in lethargy, as if it led an intense and absorbing internal life. A small bristlenose crouched on the other side, stuck to the right window, hidden behind a leaf of an underwater plant, near the filter, which works constantly in harmony with the bubbles. But the cards in this isolation are dealt by small, silver fish. They are fast and move with energy. Must do something. Three-quarters of the space of the aquarium continuously flows, back and forth, at an irregular pace, making sudden turns. Small silver fish carefully avoid the part occupied by the veiltail, but she clearly violates it from time to time. The veiltail loses its apparent calm and turns, but the small silver fish is no longer there. The veiltail floats majestically through the entire aquarium, from wall to wall. She swims three times and returns to its place. Exactly the same place, as if she had some invisible, reclining armchair in which time had carved out the form of a veiltail on a scale of one to one. After this show of power, the small silver fish retreat and swim only to the right, leaving the entire left part of the aquarium for the veiltail. She bites an bristlenose. Hates him. She spreads him under the leaf and bites his neck. Or whatever bristlenose have in place of neck. She swims to the invisible border in the middle of the aquarium and returns doubly aggressive. The bristlenose goes away to the farthest corner. Into the bottom edge of the aquarium, as if he is trying to drill a tunnel. But there is no escape from here. Irritated, small silver fish look like they want to kill him and spread the debris all over aquarium, but they don’t. Nothing will change here in the near future.
Panic attacks. When a panic attack comes, I have to walk it off. I go to an empty street in the empty town. Only a few people with dogs are walking across the street, far away from each other. I walk along closed shops, hairdressers, tattoo saloons, bars, and between houses that have turned into mini-prisons, in which people are more and more desperately doing what they can, trying not to snap at each other. TV screens shine. People still have money to pay for them. All the strange messages, full of numbers and masked faces, shine through the windows into the street. Only there, only on these glowing screens can you see the enemy who is attacking us. The streets are empty and calm. No piles of bodies. No sign of an enemy. You might think this is a great hacker attack. Fabricated news, scenes shot in television studios, in some hangars, an internet full of fake news. And to make them credible to crowd, they take a few of us and say that few have this illness and that everything and everybody must be closed. In our entire paralyzed town, which has 190,000 inhabitants, they chose several such people. I have a panic attack. It’s just a panic attack.
In front of an open grocery store, I met a man who asked me to buy him a packet of coffee and a kilo of sugar. I thought it was still a traditional homeless man from old times. That’s what I thought: from old times. Because now we have new times and in a moment there will be new people in front of this store who will want me to buy them and their children something to drink and to eat, and who knows, maybe I will be with them, because the situation develops by leaps and bounds, sudden, sudden leaps and bounds. This is the first lesson an invisible enemy has given us: the violence of change, the speed of change. Within a few days, people get used to things they could not imagine. The word “temporarily” helps in survival. You have to survive temporarily. In a while, everything will return to normal. During every war, every great crisis, every disaster it helps to survive. In a week the war will end, at most in a month – they thought always and everywhere. Somehow you need to survive temporarily. If they knew that the old times will never come back, survival statistics would probably be far less favourable.
Layoffs have started. For now, mostly in tourism. In the theatre, a message: there are no dismissals yet. For now. Temporarily. Persevere.
I have a panic attack. I won’t find a new job anywhere now. I think about children. I feel so sorry for my seven year old that he can’t meet his friends. I am choked by the thought that I may not have enough to buy him something to drink or eat. I have a panic attack. I think that poor and desperate people will appear and that I have large windows that are easy to break. In safe times there was a fashion for very large windows and bright, bright apartments.
In March, everyone had their salaries, but not everyone does in April. Those who no longer have a salary, but still have some supplies, and have something to sell, in a month they will be hungry. There will be more and more people without money. Theatres will not re-open until the end of the season. Even if the plague passes and the blockades are lifted, people will be afraid. At least until the end of the season. Everyone thinks that it is temporary. In the autumn all will be good…
I have a panic attack. I know I shouldn’t. That I have to be cheerful, smile, look good. I have to walk it off.
Those who have savings, who have a long perspective of security, say that this is a time of reflection, reflection on themselves and the world, that it must be properly used for reading, developing, working on yourself. Those who feel a choking throat grip, walk from corner to corner, unable to concentrate, unable to assemble a single sentence correctly and calmly, are not able to read anything or watch anything. They look at the glowing screen and understand nothing. If they are in their prison with children, they try to keep smiling during the day, play games with them, make jokes. They put so much effort into it that at night they are too tired to sleep. The only escape is to remember the old times. Because it all happened a long time ago: these meetings, these trips, travels, performances. Closed drawers in the head are opened. You can now take it out, watch it, enjoy it, like priceless specimens of insects solidified in resin thickening into amber.