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Were you after laughter?

On day 55 of quarantine, at exactly 4:56 in the morning, the first alarm sounds. It’s rare that I’m not up before the second one set for 4:57. Just like the 54 days before it, those dulcet chimes drag me out of my dreams and back into a quiet bedroom. I pull my legs out from under the covers as David breathes deeply behind me. After a moment’s pause and total silence while I rock on the edge of the bed, he exhales with a soft snore.

I navigate the dark room with my usual lack of grace. No amount of routine or conditioning can activate my dexterity before the sun comes up. With a thud, I walk into the corner of my closet on my way to the bathroom.

With the last of my morning breath evaporating under the strong mint flavor of my toothpaste, I pull my running clothes off the hanger where I draped them the night before. They hang by the wall-sized window looking out to the Belcorp tower across the street. I peer through the glass and down to the street fifteen stories below, and it’s empty. Curfew ended only five minutes before.

I wind down the stairs of our building in a slow jog, arriving in less than a minute to the ground floor and the opening to our small parking lot. It’s enclosed by eight-foot walls, and I feel secure as I run in endless circles in the space. Last night’s curfew might have ended, but only for essential workers. No sport or recreation can take place on the street during quarantine. I make do with my quiet parking lot.

The sound of routine

Forty minutes later, I’m back upstairs. The wind blows in through the balcony door and rushes down the length of the kitchen, weighing powerfully on the front door as I try to close it softly behind me. It snaps shut instead.

My shoes squeak as I walk from the door to the bedroom, where I like to stretch. It’s the only carpeted room in the apartment. My labored breathing is like the offbeat to David’s steady snore.

I squeak back to the living room, open the mini fridge and reach for my water bottle. The kissing sound from the seal of the refrigerator covers a muffled snore from the other room. Then comes the soft clap of rubber as I close the door, the plastic bottle crinkling in my hand as I drink deeply.

Next, breakfast. The whole purpose to my morning run. Back in the kitchen, I open one cabinet for the bread, then the kitchen fridge for the butter. I open a drawer for a butter knife, and within minutes I’m eating in front of the dining room window as the sun comes up. On a day like day 55 of quarantine, when there’s cereal in the cupboard, I even get up to serve myself a bowl—a breakfast helping of “seconds” after my buttered bread. The tink of the spoon accompanies me until the job is done.

It’s time to shower. The glass shower door slides open with rollers that rumble like distant thunder. The hot water feels good, like it did the 54 day before it, and invariably I sigh as I step in and close the door.

Once I’m cleaned up, now fully awake, my coordination finally kicks in. I move back to the kitchen to open new bottles of water, then fill one after the other with the day’s flavor packets. The artificial sugar is my cheap means of spicing up our water intake for the day. As I elect each packet, I flick it twice to shake the powder to the bottom of the pouch. And after carefully opening them, I pour each mix into a bottle before screwing the cap on and giving it a shake. I move the bottle almost rhythmically as the powder dissolves. The sloshing of the water is as relaxing as the sound of the washing machine on a lazy Saturday.

Day 55 of quarantine, indistinguishable from so many days, has dissolved into the preceding and the next day, just like a powder. And, with this routine, time is as fluid now as the water in my bottle.

Where humor strikes honor

David got up around 8:30 a.m. The day was unadorned with anything even remotely out of the ordinary. Even quarantine was now normal. Hours ticked by as I worked in the office with only the occasional scratch at the door from Charlotte, our dog, hopeful to lay on the office floor below my feet.

Just a few minutes after 2:00 p.m., I closed my computer and headed back to the kitchen. It was time for lunch, and I called out to David, who was working in the living room on his laptop. It was the first real interaction we had that day beyond smiles and greetings as we headed from one room to another.

I asked him how his day was going. He told me, “fine.”

Then he pulled out his cell phone.

David opened the voice application on his phone and grinned at me. He said, “listen to this.” I listened. He pressed “play” on a recording and, as the progress bar quickly advanced five seconds to its finish, I delayed in appreciating what it was. It sounded like wood snapping in two.

“That’s you in the kitchen each morning at 5:45 in the morning,” David said.

It was clear that it wasn’t me on the recording, rather David had recorded his own take of me opening cabinets as I make breakfast.

I was still taking in what he had said when he pressed “play” on the second recording. It was the rapid tink of a spoon against a bowl. “And this is you at 5:50,” he announced. He was grinning continually at this point.

“And this is you at 5:55,” David said as he pressed “play” on the third recording. It sounded like thunder rumbling.

I finally caught up with what David had done. In a fit of amusement and gawky embarrassment, I began to laugh. David’s grin had stretched to its breaking point before he began to laugh with me.

“Then this is you at 6:00,” David insisted as he pressed “play” a fourth time. This recording captured the violent flapping sound of paper packets of water flavors. I finally doubled over in laughter. Whether it was the embarrassment or the hilarity of his efforts, I felt drunk.

“And here you are at 6:02,” David finished before pressing “play” on the fifth recording. It was an almost danceable rhythm of shaking water bottles.

All this time, I thought the city was sleeping—including David. Those early-morning, peaceful moments were the soft, silver lining to a reality trapped behind the bars of quarantine, curfew, and a world at risk. And yet, on day 55 of quarantine, I’ve been shown how audible every bit of my routine really is.

It was David’s cheeky and risible effort that have me most amused. And that time he devoted to his joke will, ironically, do him in tomorrow morning. It might haunt him the morning after that, too. Because now, when I wake up at 4:56, even my efforts to remain quiet will be riddled by giggles as I open cupboards, slide the shower door, and remember.


Joke's on David.

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