September 23, 2020 by The Citron Review
by Anthony Varallo
One Saturday, in March, I picked my daughter up from her dance class. The class, part of our Saturday schedule, as fixed in my mind as 6:15am wake-up time on school days and 4pm bus stop pick-up afterward, had always afforded me just enough time to drop my daughter off at the dance studio, grab a cup of coffee at a local café, and then make it back to the studio in time to sip the last of my coffee while listening to music or NPR in the parking lot. Like most of the other parents, I chose to wait outside rather than waiting in the studio’s nice-but-sort-of-cramped waiting room, until the studio’s owners decided, wisely, that it would be safer to have parents retrieve their children from the studio, and kindly requested that all parents wait inside from now on.
I had nearly forgotten the rule change, when, stepping from my car, it suddenly posed a new question: was it safe to wait inside the studio? News of the coronavirus was nearly everywhere, or so it seemed, back in those early weeks, before virus news graduated from nearly everywhere to absolutely everything. The night before, my wife and I watched TV from our family room sofa, discussing, after our kids had gone to bed, whether or not we felt comfortable sending them back to school on Monday. Our state, South Carolina, still had not issued school closings, even though schools were closing in other states, and even though our children would, in theory, be on Spring Break the following week, which made forcing them to attend another week seem dubious, to say the least. No, we decided, we would not let them return on Monday. Our plan: wait until Sunday, and hope that our governor would issue the closings, thus relieving us the burden of telling our children that we had decided to keep them home. If no closing was issued, we would tell our kids the news. Still, we wondered, What would other parents do?
I entered the studio, where parents sat on the studio’s two leather couches, or congregated near the door, making room when the next parent stepped inside. I stood near the doorway, not wanting to sit on the couch, even though, as I recall, there was a space available. Instead, I talked with one of the other parents, asked how her daughter was doing. The other parent told me her daughter was fine: she was very much looking forward to Spring Break, of course. I laughed and said I knew what she meant. We agreed that our kids needed a break. Sensing an opening, I asked the other parent if she was planning to let her daughter return to school on Monday.
“What do you mean?” the parent said.
“Well, with the virus and everything,” I said.
“Oh,” she said, and shrugged. “I guess we’ll just do whatever they say to do.”
I said that I agreed, even though I was inwardly kicking myself for broaching a topic that might make it seem like I was faulting her for allowing her daughter to return to school—this, my first encounter with coronavirus shaming, although many other encounters would soon follow. A few moments later, my daughter appeared, water bottle in hand, and waved goodbye to a few of her friends. I said goodbye to other parent. She said goodbye, wished us both a great weekend.
In the car, I turned off the radio and asked my daughter how dance class was.
“Good,” she said.
“And how was your teacher?”
This, part of a ritual that included me asking her how her friends were (“good”) and what dance pieces they were working on now (“it’s kind of hard to describe”). We drove for a while, my daughter in the back seat taking sips of water, while I wondered whether I should just turn the radio on, like always, another part of the ritual.
Instead, I asked, “Were any of your friends talking about the virus?”
“No,” my daughter said.
“How about your teachers?”
We drove for a while, listening to the radio together.
The next day, the governor issued state-wide school closings.
And I haven’t been out in public since.
Anthony Varallo is the author of a novel, The Lines (University of Iowa Press), as well four short story collections. New work is out or forthcoming in The New Yorker “Daily Shouts,” DIAGRAM, One Story, STORY, and The Best Small Fictions 2020. Currently he is a professor of English at the College of Charleston, where he is the Fiction Editor of Crazyhorse.