I think I first noticed it sometime in April. After the global coronavirus pandemic shut down our city, and our quarantine days started to melt into one another, my partner and I settled into a routine: Every morning, we would water our tiny garden of parsley, basil, and scallions so that we’d have herbs to season whatever it was we would be cooking that week (often using our homemade chicken stock); we fed the dough that would become our next loaf of bread; we drank cups of iced tea and coffee, not from our usual neighborhood coffee shops but from big batches we’d started brewing at home. Then we’d boot up our laptops and smartphones and teleconference all day: into work meetings, exercise classes, happy hours with our faraway college friends, even our parents’ houses while they did puzzles together. We traveled around the globe and never left our apartment. Life felt like an equal mix of Back to the Future Part II and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s prairie novel The Long Winter.
That was spring; the early, high-alert phase of coronavirus protocols. Now summer is here, and out in Ingalls Wilder’s onetime home state of Minnesota, my dad has recently resumed going to his office every day. When he arrives, a machine scans his face in the doorway, announces his body temperature aloud in chipper, chirpy robot English, and either reminds him that he needs to put on a face mask to enter the building or thanks him for already wearing one.