Chapter 8: GIOVANNI ROMANO
18 MARCH, 2020
Paige’s freckled; youthful person completely vanished since our encounter. She no longer attended Statistics or the other courses on her schedule; she avoided the campus as if it had been cursed. I was forced to withdraw her from my student roster due to her accumulated absences. Paige was a student with a devout work-ethic, and perfect grade point average. She was passionate about her major; it was not within her character to drop out, unless her reasoning concerned with her newly acquired visual handicap I wrote Paige’s student email informing her of my obligation to withdraw her… and received no response. I never considered my involvement in her abrupt decision to abandon her education. That same morning I opened an anticipated email from the University itself, it contained the same message for students and faculty.
Good Morning Warriors,
As per the CDC guidelines and due to the recent increase of COVID-19 cases, we have made the difficult decision to suspend on ground classes until further notice. All instruction will continue remotely. Students and faculty, please check your @warrior.edu email accounts on a daily basis for updates. All remote classes will continue as scheduled.
Prospect University President,
Sonja L. Roberts
Great—I sighed. My students were deeply submerged in their mid-terms; which I had foolishly assigned as a group project. Due to the circumstances I would need to either change the format of their mid-term, or assign a second part they could complete on their own. I sat back in my desk chair and rubbed my hands over my face. The ticking of my desktop accompanied my thinking; it was barely seven thirty.
The Coronavirus—or COVID-19 was sweeping across the
United States like a furious maelstrom. Its mysterious ways crammed all of humanity into strict quarantine, one country at a time. It was public enemy number one—a respiratory virus that had allegedly escaped from an undisclosed laboratory in Wuhan, China.
Announcement of its entrance onto the world stage triggered mass chaos; fools flocked to the shopping-centers in droves to cleanse the shelves of toilet paper. A rumor spread over social media declaring a looming shortage; prompting mass flocking and immeasurable terror. The world was petrified; I was ashamed of mankind. As I had been told—men of the first dimension were easily frightened without reason, ignorant, and intolerable.
As Emperor I had learned to tame—and utilize society’s strengths, and weaknesses. Mankind possessed similar traits through-out all six dimensions. He was passionate, gullible, curious, greedy, and willfully ignorant. These qualities contributed to his internal squabbling when faced with the mysterious Coronavirus; instead of inventing solutions he fell subject to indefinite conspiracies. I subsumed to despair—through lack of leadership and organization, man had given up his humanity. Instead of utilizing his greatest talents, he had become simply obnoxious.
A series of knocks echoed throughout my apartment; it was early. Their pattern was familiar; though they were executed by a heavier fist. I rose from my office chair and traveled through my abode as the knocking transformed into frantic, relentless banging. The unremitting thumping enraged me; I quickened my stride and ripped my front door open, breaking my door chain in the process. Paige stood on the other end. She looked downright awful; she bore an expression that was tainted with distress.
“Do you have any sense of decency for the other people in this building!?” I roared as I trapped her both paws in mid-air. They were destined to continue beating on my door. Her eyes had healed and her coordination had improved since the last time I encountered her.
“Giovanni—you son-of-a!” She sobbed and thrashed like a wild animal within my grasp.
“Stop this infernal tantrum!” I wrestled her wild movements
as she sobbed uncontrollably. “Hush! Stop your blubbering!”
“I…can’t believe it, you asshole!” Paige continued; she was genuinely troubled and out of control.
“Stop it! Why did you come back—where have you been? Why did you drop out?” I interrogated her, hoping she would begin to answer my questions and calm down.
“Gio…vanni, we need to talk,” Paige finally ceased her thrashing; her face was soaked in her bloodied tears, and had turned beet red. She hyperventilated in my hold, “please.” Her voice was desperate; I could tell that she wanted to discuss something incredibly serious.
“Shh…” I weakened my grip and permitted her to collapse into my chest. Paige clung tightly onto me and bawled with her nose in my shirt. “Come in… this isn’t for the neighbors to know, the walls have ears,” I softly stroked her bushy hair. Paige nodded and followed me behind the door of my apartment.
We had settled on top of the linen cushions of my loveseat; beneath the fragmented lighting of my muslin cloth shades. I laid along its length with my feet propped up on the armrest. Paige consumed my chest and torso. I watched her tiny head dunk and rise with each breath I took. She had found peace within the shape of my body. I continuously ran my fingers through her hair in a repetitive motion; combing it; soothing her tears. It was still before eight in the morning; I could sense that her fatigue wasn’t basic morning tiredness.
“Giovanni…” Paige spoke, “I am sorry for dropping out.”
“Do not apologize to me, your decision does not affect me apologize to yourself—that is who you are hurting by not continuing your education.” My advice was sincere; I loathed what she did. “Paige, why did you quit—you quit on yourself?” I investigated. Paige swallowed and her stress resumed its previous heightened state.
“Giovanni… I’m pregnant,” her words shocked me; I figured
I misheard her. Pregnant? I thought. “It’s yours… you are the
father. That’s why I came back. I had to tell you as soon as I
found out.” Dread engulfed me. Mine—was she certain?
“What?” I straightaway sat up, shoved her petite body off of my torso, and then stood. “On what do you assume that this mistake is my shared responsibility? It cannot be mine?” I insisted as I began to pace around my second avenue home.
“It’s yours Giovanni… I have not been with anyone else,” her tears returned as she shivered. “I’ve never been with anyone before you or after you. It’s yours…” Paige’s foggy brown eyes looked toward the window, “I’m only nineteen. Please… I am so scared,” I felt like I had been cornered—my world was imploding and I had no one else to blame, this was a nightmare.
I was in denial. I did not impregnate her—how could I have been so irresponsible! I had lived for nearly three centuries, and only produced two children of my own, both planned. My child with Paige would have a seventy year age-gap with their older brother—he could be their grandfather for Christ’s sake! I had no intention or desire to raise another child.
“Tell me, how did you find out?” I emerged from my bedroom with a pack of cigarettes in my fist. They had been stored in my nightstand, and were undoubtedly stale. I had a habit of rotating between cigarettes and cigars. My taste for tobacco was one of the common traits I shared with my first dimension reflection, though he preferred snuff over the robust aroma of smoke. Paige watched me attentively as I removed a pair of menthol cigarettes from their carton and chucked one on her lap. She delicately took it—puzzled.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” She held the cigarette up and examined its rolled body between her fingers. I unconsciously stomped a foot, irritated at the world, including her.
“Smoke it—or just look at it. Come with me,” I marched to my muslin shades and ripped them aside to reveal a pair of French doors that exited to my patio. Paige trailed me as I lead her outside. My ‘humble’ abode overlooked Gowanus Bay; boats tore across the breaking crests of the waves that rolled in from the mighty Atlantic. The rumble of their motors faintly intermixed with the urban roar of New York City.
The streets were near barren, all of Brooklyn was either locked down or trampling each other at the Rosedale Wal-Mart. A stray pack of boys rode up Second Avenue on their bikes. They freely swarmed in the middle of the road; they did not have to worry about traffic. I slipped my cigarette between my dry lips and lit it with a spark from my fingertips.
“Bonjour Giovanni!” Shit the neighbor was out. The gentleman who lived in 1B shared my second language, French. My familiarity with the language brought us together, his English was poor and he relied on me for conversation—sometimes for hours. Damn, that man could talk. He had emerged for his morning coffee and cigarette.
“Salut Raymonde,” I leaned on the banister and tried to give
him a cold shoulder, I did not wish to exchange dialogue with Paige present. I exhaled smoke out my nostrils, and kept my attention away from my neighbor—hoping that he would vanish inside his apartment. Raymonde grinned a perfect-toothed smile when he detected Paige.
“Ey Giovanni, qui est la fille?” He approached, giddy as ever.
“C’est une amie,” I was brief as possible. I did not introduce my company, or elaborate on her identity.
“Très bien! Giovanni… elle va bien?” He noticed that her face was distorted from crying, and then tried to address Paige directly, “Ey fille, are you okay?” Raymonde placed his coffee cup on the railing and gave his smoldering cigarette butt a displeased look. “Giovanni, tu as une autre cigarette?” His usual mannerisms were annoying; he used my alias like it was going out of style—ugh. I tossed my entire box of cigarettes across the three meter gap that separated our patios. Raymonde extended himself and caught the carton from midair.
“C’est à toi.,” my words lit Raymonde like a torch.
“Merci beaucoup Giovanni!” He miraculously spun and disappeared to the void in which he came. Paige glanced at Raymonde’s empty balcony, and fumbled with her cigarette.
“He seems… nice,” Paige commented as she mouthed the cotton filter. I observed her awkward behavior, she clearly never smoked before.
“Too nice! Come closer,” I rested my hand on her spine and drew her near me. The young girl timidly followed my lead; I repositioned her cigarette in her lips. “You got it?” I eyed Raymonde’s direction—he was still absent, “now inhale.” I instructed as I snapped my index finger against my thumb, creating a spark and lighting the tip of her smoke. Paige’s deformed eyes bugged and she began coughing; a smirk came across my lips as I watched her.
“Ey Giovanni tu as un briquet?” Raymonde reemerged from the darkness of his cave—damn it.
“Non… Raymonde,” I prayed for him to disappear.
“Vous devez avoir un briquet, Giovanni?” He continued. The fool couldn’t take a hint if it slapped him in the face!
“J’ai utilisé le poêle.” My words encouraged Raymonde to retreat inside his abode.
“Hm!” He rushed inside. I felt relieved, only… for my overly friendly neighbor to reappear with his smoke lit after taking my advice. “Désolé, Giovanni, j’ai perdu mon briquet!” Raymonde continued ranting about his cigarette lighter.
It was a useless conversation that I was not in the mood for—my patience was absent. “Avez-vous regardé la télé aujourd’hui, Giovanni?” He insisted on communicating. I had no choice but to say something to him; all I wanted was privacy for ten minutes.
“Nous parlerons plus tard, s’ll vous plaît, Raymonde.” I begged for him to exit, my cigarette was almost fully extinguished. Ash clung to its end.
“Oh, désolé…” my neighbor finally understood my pleas and stepped inside his apartment. He was a bit hurt. I rarely—ever pushed Raymonde away. Paige puffed out a cloud of smoke; she was getting a little dizzy from the punch of her first cigarette.
“I can understand some French, he seemed hurt? Does he speak English?” She leaned over the railing and eyed the street below.
“Some, but not much,” I inhaled the last waft of my cigarette
and tossed its butt.
“Wait… I didn’t know you spoke French? I thought you were Corsican?”
“French is my second language,” I stepped away from the banister.
“When did you come to the United States?” Paige made small talk as she finished her cigarette.
“A long time ago,” I sighed, still distracted by the cloud that loomed over us. “What did you tell your father?” I changed the subject. My young peer tossed the remnants of her cigarette as I did before. The moment of light vanished from her face as she rethought the mammoth before us, in nine months we would be forced to collaborate as parents. And now—I had to teach from home. If COVID-19 couldn’t be contained by then, I would have to adapt my work schedule around the needs of my infant child.
“The governor is forcing us into quarantine. He says we will have to stay home for the next two weeks. Giovanni, I can’t do that. I can’t stay at home for even a minute with my father. And… if he finds out I am pregnant… he will kill me Giovanni!” Paige’s tears returned, they were dry; she didn’t have any water left.
“Stay here. I will take care of you, but we will need previsions.” I owned little groceries; it was determined that Paige and I would take a trip to our local convenience store before its stock ran dry.