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My neighbor’s cough

Musings from a Tel Aviv apartment that gets fresh air, but no sunlight, as I can't escape hearing the incessant symptoms of possible COVID-19 through the walls
Sand Daffodil, the Negev
(Photo: Sari Friedman, 2019)
Sand Daffodil, the Negev (Photo: Sari Friedman, 2019)

I don’t know if the coughing comes from a man, woman or child; young or old; tall or short; kind or crabby. All I know is he or she is close. In the apartment above or below. Maybe in the building a few feet away. These aren’t like any coughs I’ve ever heard before. They seem unproductive. They sound waterlogged, desperate. Hearing my neighbor cough makes me — a mild-mannered super-nerd — want to inject hard drugs, drink till I’m sh*t-faced, binge-eat.

Before, when I went outside, escaping my tiny studio apartment felt like a marvel, glorious. Today, hearing my neighbor’s incessant cough, and knowing there’s plenty more coronavirus outside, I’ve stayed in.

I close my windows. But I can still hear through the walls. Israel has socialized medicine and quarantined people are getting food and other deliveries. The Palestinian Authority and Israeli counterparts are cooperating and coordinating resources admirably during this crisis, sharing responsibility for the whole of the region.

After a while, I re-open my windows. When they’re open I can hear the warning sirens when rockets are shot toward Tel Aviv, where I currently live. When Israel’s attacked, there’s between 15 to 90 seconds to find shelter. So many rockets have been shot toward places I’ve been, in various parts of Israel, I’ve lost track.

I’m accustomed to rockets. Same as I got accustomed to violence when a former partner was abusive; got used to earthquakes when my California walls shook and shattered things covered the floor. I got used to muggers when I lived in dangerous parts of New York.

My studio doesn’t get sunlight. But it does get fresh air, so that’s precious. With my windows re-opened, though, I again hear that cough.

My throat is sore. That’s a symptom of coronavirus, but I don’t have a fever and don’t think I’m sick. Maybe my throat is sore from all the things I have not said, things I have not screamed from the rooftops.

That I wish my neighbor health, but don’t know what I can do to help. That I wish our increasingly-polluted planet recovery… If our planet could cough, it would sound like my neighbor. But I don’t know what I should do. I wish all our leaders would lead us toward sharing and peace. I wish I could stop every rocket. End the hoarding of money/resources/things. End slavery. End intolerance. End greed. End pain.

Sand Daffodil, the Negev
(Photo: Sari Friedman, 2019)
About the Author
Sari Friedman's short stories appear in the Beloit Fiction Journal, Blue Lake Review, So It Goes, Satirist, Daily Freier, Ilanot Review etc. The first chapter of her (not yet published) novel will appear in the July 2020 edition of The Woven Tale Press.