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De Nachtwach (The Night Watch), Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642
"I admit that I just cannot tell …"

I fulfilled the role of night watchman through my father's final days, taking the six pm to six am shift, which included the witching hours. I'd sit up in one of the living room recliners and enter that coma state, aware but inert, watching; though, not being a healthcare professional, I'd diligently watch for what I knew not. I'd sometimes wander into his bedroom to watch him struggle to breathe in pitch darkness, listening for unsettling rhythms, but I mostly held my post two rooms away, watching with increasing intensity for the dawning and the end of my boring shift. A few times, alarming events occurred to which I'd respond with another frantic, completely anticipated call to the night hospice nurse. She'd arrive with aching slowness, though only a few minutes would pass, and neutralize the emergency while I waited at my post. My dad was performing a cum laude seminar in radical acceptance, having embraced his terminal diagnosis without ever insisting upon any but palliative care. I was simply there to witness what no watchman could see, often bored to my knees with the utter banality of the experience. On that morning when I watched him take his final breath, I believed that he exited out of sheer boredom with the proceedings. I felt that I could understand and even justify his response.

I figure that watchmen of old wore grand uniforms to elevate the otherwise insignificance of their role around the old castle.
Most nights, nothing would happen, though it would have constituted absolute folly to not staff for the unlikely. I suppose that throughout history, watchmen have dozed through their shifts, though few kingdoms seem to have suffered from this. I expect that the overseers expected a sampling of dozing, so they posted several watchmen, never any single one. Their catnaps probably moved around the perimeter on little cat's feet, tiny footprints emitting little noise, endangering nothing.

We're all watchmen now, alert twenty-four seven, or supposed to be, intermittently dozing. I'm hardly that diligent myself, hanging in shadows and mostly keeping my distance. I eyeball any place before entering now, assessing potential dangers and choosing to bypass any that seem especially clear or present, though the dangers I assess never once appear as anything like clear or present. Long queues chase me off. Clustering of any kind suggests that I should simply let that planned stop pass. Neighborhood kids still run in their usual packs, their parents watchful if powerless to break up gangs of two, three, and four year olds. They're watchful, as am I, aware of possible peril yet still heart-warmed by their kids' innocent if potentially perilous camaraderie.

Our common enemy measures in nanometers, tiny enough to drive its little semi-trucks right through any but the finest store-bought face mask weaves. None of us watchmen wear face masks. They didn't come with the uniform. Nor can any of us ever hope to see our enemy. It carries no tell-tale scent, no sensory hint of its presence, yet we remain watchful, necessarily aware for the enemy that's probably not anywhere near. We scrub surfaces with great diligence but without confirmation of success. We must seem needlessly obsessive-compulsive in practice, engaging in rituals to ward off our foes, genuflecting to absurd and heartless gods. Still, we maintain our discipline, fulfilling our duty even while disinterestedly watching old Hollywood Squares reruns on TV, responsible watchmen all.

The Muse spent her Sunday sewing face masks, not for Covid-19 doctors and nurses, but to free up the genuine articles for those people to use. Those treating other patients might usefully employ plain cloth masks given the severe shortage of the sub-microfilament numbers. Me, I kept to my station, watching into predawn gloom and through the day, looking for something I cannot actually describe. I'm considering installing a bell which I could hourly toll while proclaiming, "Six o'clock and all is well," though I admit that I just cannot tell, just like all my fellow BlindWatchmen.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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