Self Ventilation

There’s an apartment in Vancouver in one of those glass towers that overlooks the water. They’re all the same in the way mineral specimens from the same family are all the same. So are the apartments. Every numbered door opens on a hallway that goes past a closet, a bathroom, a bedroom on the left, a bedroom on the right; it ends at the kitchen and beyond the kitchen island is a single open space you’re supposed to divide into a dining area and a lounging area, but it isn’t really big enough for both. If you’re lucky you are on the corner of the building and two of the walls are floor to ceiling glass with sliding doors that open onto a narrow balcony that is too windy to enjoy.

Jenna hasn’t left her apartment in five weeks despite the pressure, the constriction, she feels, despite her girlfriend’s pleading.

“We can go for a run. Or even a walk. Maybe buy some sourdough from the bakery? They’re still doing pick-ups.”

She wants to leave, needs to leave, but she also wants to say “Do you know what else is doing pick-ups? The corona virus.” But that would sound panicked, unstable.

She waits for the afternoon when the sun starts to shine directly through the windows and onto the carpet, and the oblong of searing light, like a scanner moving at the speed of God, makes its way towards the furniture. She is there to put herself in its path.

It’s warm on the tops of her bare feet. She knows that’s the infrared component of sunlight. The UV component, the band of electromagnetic radiation that is powerful enough to dismember viruses, can’t be felt, but she imagines its effect as a series of tiny explosions across her skin as microscopic invaders seeking entry into her body are destroyed.

The heat is therapeutic. Her worries—corona, work, money, time, life—are a wax that leaks into her muscles and binds them, hardens them until they ache. Lying on the carpet in the light, the warmth creeping over her thighs, over her stomach, the wax softens, her muscles soften, their ache melts away. It will be hours, well into the night, when the only sound is the low rhythmic hum of Claudia exhaling in sleep beside her, before the wax re-hardens.

Sometimes Claudia joins her on the floor, but most days she’s on a video conference in the bedroom. She is still working on housing policies because governments never stop. Visual effects studios, on the other hand, are notoriously fragile.

When the light reaches her chin, a new stage begins. She thinks of it as uploading. The glow is bright enough to penetrate her eyelids, filling her sealed-off vision with a blood red shadow that brightens until the sunlight is across her eyes, when fireworks cascade and overlap and out of the crazy geometric patterns memories open, memories she may not have chosen to recall, but the light extracts what it wants. Some days it’s high school, others have been early childhood, a season, a birthday, weekends in high school frying chicken and serving customers.

With each memory the pressure in her ears created by the walls of the apartment, their proximity, the limited volume of air they entrap, gives way to the space of a class room, or a backyard, a restaurant interior, a vast open plan office, a zoo, a park, a beach, an ocean.

When the sun moves off her eyes and the memories reduce to fireworks and then to a fading red glow, before the pressure in her ears returns, she falls into the sleep she can’t seem to find at night in the windowless bedroom.