"Deca-meron" by Alexandria Peary

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

“How I make my way through this thicket of information—how I manage it, how I parse it, how I organize and distribute it.” Kenneth Goldsmith

“Blessed citation! Among all the words in our vocabulary, it has the privilege of simultaneously representing two operations, one of removal, the other of graft, as well as the object of these operations—the object removed and the object grafted on, as if the word remained the same in these two different states.” Antoine Compagnon

“Because I could not stop for Death—” Emily Dickinson

“Ever since the world began, men have been subject to the various tricks of Fortune, and it will ever be thus until the end.” Spray down your Amazon packages. Just leave it at the door. Thanks. These instructions were overheard from kitchens, basement apartments, half-opened garages, and second floor windows throughout the day as could floral and laurel laughter in the garden maze at any hour except siesta. This particular garden maze of shoulder-high hedges turned sentence after sentence around the property; composed from sophisticated grafts, these [green sentences] made interchangeable fourteenth century Florence, twenty-first century northeastern United States, and constructed from a story-within-a-story, story ten times ten, for there were ten youths, seven women in their early twenties and three equally jejune men, who had committed to each telling a tale to occupy their fourteen days safely together. As in a waiting room on Zoom, the seven maidens and three knaves sit on the lawn of the preface, the maidens plaiting wildflowers into each other’s hair, worn loose unbound in the style of the age, or else gently debating the merits of taking the Pass/Fail option at the distant castles of universities, lute music playing on a soundbox™… In the early spring of the year the plague began, in a terrifying and extraordinary manner, to make its disastrous effects apparent. Numerous instructions were issued for safeguarding people’s health, but to no avail. “How could that be?” The same was said in Florence and in an American city. Whatever its cause, the disease that had decimated their city had originated some months earlier in the East1, where it had claimed countless lives before it “unhappily spread westward,” growing in strength as it swept relentlessly on from one place to the next (2,13).

It was a time of tremendous sorrow. For not only did people die without having many family members or friends about them, but a great number departed this life without anyone at all to witness their going.19 Online funeral services, held on Facebook or Zoom, people dressed in mourning and holding laptops. Here one day, gone the next, falling directly into the pit as “they extracted the bodies of the dead from their houses and left them lying outside their front doors, where anyone going about the streets, especially in the early morning, could have observed countless numbers of them.” The horse of bones could be seen turning the corner to the Palazzo Vecchio, to the Bargello. [On one of the morgue trucks of the city] “a dying bouquet of flowers was strapped to the metal barrier that closes off the truck from the street, and on the side of the container were the faintly spray-painted words, ‘Dead Inside.’” NYT, May 27, 2020. ( ). Oh, ( ). On Utica Avenue, “Mr. Cleckley said he had used the trucks for overflow storage, but only after he had filled his chapel with more than 100 corpses. ‘Bodies are coming out of our ears.’” (NYT, April 29, 2020). People were dying in isolation in florescent hospital rooms, not enough ventilators, “the ones helping or burying the sick becoming themselves rapidly ill and dying,” insufficient personal protection equipment. Such was the multitude of corpses (of which further consignments were arriving every day and almost by the hour at each of the churches), that there was not sufficient consecrated ground for them to be buried in…huge trenches were excavated in the churchyards, into which new arrivals were placed in their hundreds, stowed tier upon tier like ships’ cargo, each layer of corpses being covered with a thin layer of soil till the trench was filled “to the top.”

Those professions of close contact with the bodies of others were suspended, their practitioners left unsure about their livelihood, awaiting governmental edict. Still others were given status of essential and were asked to volunteer their health and possibly life to obey their employer and so prevent economic carnage. To support their families, youth the same age as our maidens and gentlemen in the Waiting Room in the garden of this narrative, were hired at grocery stores and pharmacies or to deliver packages, masks hanging from van rearview mirrors. “Fewer and fewer people were coming to work—the person from the Meat Department didn’t show up, then the Deli, then the Fish Counter—and so I was doing a lot of overtime. Was I worried? Yes, but what choice…” Hence the countless numbers of people who fell ill were entirely dependent upon either the charity of friends or servants and in performing this kind of service, those who served occasionally lost their lives as well as their earnings. “On Tuesday at work, she started coughing and had to turn away from the client’s bed until told to go home.” Their jobs became a source of horror. Still others’ end of unemployment benefits became a cause of insomnia. For those who conducted business or lessons from home, it was customary portraiture to pose before (preferably white) bookshelves with curated objects, book titles, and photographs of nuclear family or of the powerful and famous, or to use a green screen, i.e.: a saint’s lonely mountain and a winding road through cypress or the Virgin Mary were most popular. These people were not eager to return to commutes or office politics. Working virtually will be the new normal. Office centricity is over. NYT June 29, 2020.

Some people were of the opinion that a sober and abstemious mode of living considerably reduced the risk of infection. (27, 6, 103, 56, 85, 92) Having withdrawn to their comfortable abode where there were no sick persons, they locked themselves in. Their salary (unfurloughed as of late spring) appearing automatically in their coffers. They refrained from speaking with outsiders, refused to receive news of the dead or the sick, and entertained themselves with whatever amusements they were able to devise, binge-watching Netflix, wearing yoga pants: “It was merely a question of one citizen avoiding another, and of people almost invariably neglecting their neighbors and rarely or never visiting their relatives, addressing them only from a distance.” Those related by blood, marriage, or romance stayed six feet away from other groups related by blood, marriage, or romance, selling cars, inspecting power lines, chatting with neighbors, celebrating Easter and then Mother’s Day on plastic benches set far apart, excepting those attending rallies. This scene was repeated in meadows and lawns, on the pavement before big box stores