Plague

plague
Johann August Corvinus (after Salomon Kleiner): The Plague Column in Vienna, copperplate engraving, 1724
"Not one of us seem especially blessed or cursed now …"

A stroller down Die Graben, the highest-end shopping street in Vienna, finds a magnificent Plague Column dominating the scene. Sponsored by Emperor Leopold I and finished in the late 1690s, twenty years after that last plague lifted, it sort of celebrates survival. Some cities built their plague columns in real time, while their plagues raged, to placate whatever vengeance God seemed to have been inflicting at the time, to demonstrate piety and survival worthiness. This artifact graphically illustrates suffering as well as salvation with gruesome depictions of agony supporting a gilded top featuring uplifting cherubic angels. Today, the symbolism hardly seems to spark piety in the passersby, overloaded with freshly acquired mammon. The visitor might linger to briefly ponder their own uncertain fate, but not long enough to make themselves late for the Opera.

One of the times The Muse and I visited Vienna, we were met at the airport by two separate drivers. The conference organizers had concluded that since we didn't share the same last name, we were not a married couple, so we rode into the city center in separate cars.
The hotel also had two separate rooms for us, though The Muse wasn't going to accept that. She convinced them that we were indeed husband and wife, so we were graciously upgraded into a fine suite overlooking Die Graben, just around the corner from that Plague Column. Unable to find a laundromat and unwilling to pay hotel prices for the service, we washed two suitcases full of clothes in the bathtub then strung them all over that suite, fogging the floor to ceiling windows for much of our stay. Those were times before current precautions needed to be made. We traveled without feeling afraid that we might catch anything more consequential than a head cold. We might not make that same trip today because there's a Plague out there.

This morning, I'm mixing up some homemade hand sanitizer, a product I previously avoided like the Plague it might now prevent, preparing for what I would have before considered an uneventful little flight. I don't exactly feel frightened, though I'm already well into wary territory. One never knows. One of the SmallThings stalks me with unknowable consequences. Some preach great caution. Others speak of it with melting derision. I'm the one facing consequences, or not, depending upon something I cannot perceive. I feel every bit as if I'm trying to ward off evil spirits, uncertain whether I believe in them or if they're malevolently stalking my soon to be sorry butt. I cannot confirm anything, so I feel forced to fuel my forward progress with wavering faith and homemade hand sanitizer. Somebody in the Bible insisted that the end always appears like a thief in the night, a total surprise regardless of how prepared one feels, for nobody can adequately prepare. One does what one does whenever the enemy might just as well be evil spirits. Leopold I fled Vienna until the hostilities subsided. I flee The Villa and might later learn that I flew right into the thick of it.

Later generations came to understand that fleas spread The Plague. It was a contagion much worse than the one currently threatening, though I doubt that any victim could care any less about comparing one to the other. A year or two from now, those who survive might have forgotten how the uncertainty haunted them, how misinformation threatened them, or even why they were chosen to survive, as if they could ever know. I'm not married enough to this life to storm some big box store to secure more than my fair share of whatever juju's supposed to increase my chances for survival. I'll resort to wiping my sorry ass with pages from one of my many unpublished manuscripts if it comes to that. Not one of us seem especially blessed or cursed now, each blessed with a suddenly certain uncertainty and cursed with the very same condition they're blessed with. My future seems as fogged over as was our view out of that suite overlooking Die Graben. A Plague levels distinctions before sometimes inspiring a column sculpted to its terrible greatness. Fleas once threatened our world. SmallerThings threaten now.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved










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