Quarantined near the North Pole, my middle daughter protects her face with a polarized shield from the blinding sun that circles endlessly overhead for the duration of an arctic summer. Suited up to ride on her scooter across the arctic wilderness, a Yamaha Viper, she lives up to her childhood nickname, looking like a Bug. She lives on Svalbard, part of an arctic archipelago that belongs to Norway. When the coronavirus began to spread, the island shut down — no ships or planes in or out. Considered a US citizen in limbo abroad during a pandemic, she’s making the best of it. Most of her work has shut down because it’s tourist-based, but she still brews beer at the world’s most northern brewery.
On the Hub’s birthday, she showed us the midnight sun through her web camera. I now know where the Crayola Crayon gets its color for “midnight blue.” Bug tells us that the sunny times disorient her more than the long winter darkness. I might complain of spring snow squalls on the Keweenaw, but she is still encountering white-out blizzards. During the shut-down, she and a small crew of locals attempted to make a grocery delivery to those isolated at Isfjord Radio, and they got stuck in massive drifts and had to turn around. Today, she texts that she returned from scootering to Little Russia.
Such trips are what tourists pay tens of thousands of dollars to do. My daughter and her partner work in the hospitality industry of Svalbard’s bustling eco-tourism and arctic research. They carry rifles to work because a law in Lonyearbyn states all people outside must be armed with bear-chasers. They don’t shoot the bears; they fire warning shots. With the island shut down, they have little work. Bug still brews beer and plays an odd game of tag with her co-workers, which leads to the loser drinking beer from a mukluk, but they are taking advantage of the downtime to scoot across landscapes few ever see. And, yes, I wish my daughter could wear a full-body bear shield.
Shields protect us. From basic coverings to high tech gear, humans have long developed shields to protect against the elements, war, and unseen particles.
At this moment in time, the world is showing solidarity through facemasks, bandanas, and 3D-printed face shields. On the Keweenaw, the grassroots sewing circles gather individual efforts to sew 10,000 facemasks for local medical workers and those medically compromised. This sewing phenomenon encircles the globe. Recently, I interviewed those involved and wrote an article for a local publication, Keweenaw Now. Women are producing masks from quilting material, t-shirt fabric, and even shop towels. If you read my article, you’ll find links to open source patterns and a study that shows what materials are best and why (fun fact: tea towels doubled up are as effective as a medical-grade surgical mask).
My eldest daughter, the Dancer, has not had a full night’s rest since the coronavirus crisis began. A science writer for a research university, she showed up at work a month ago to find out that overnight she had been reassigned as a crisis communicator. After emptying the college of most of its students, she’s been on call 24/7 to university researchers, the VP, and state senators. Behind the scenes, while the US grapples with a pandemic and a shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE), Michigan Tech has reassigned labs for emergency development. I’m not the only Mills woman writing local articles. My daughter publishes through Tech outlets, but her stories also get picked up by Keweenaw Now, like this one: MTU Engineers Build Mobile Unit to Clean COVID-19 PPE.
Of course, it’s not just the women concerned with shielding our faces. My son-in-law, Solar Man, has employed his 3D-printing hobby into making face-shields full-time. According to the CDC protocols, when no medical facemasks are available, homemade facemasks beneath a face-shield of clear plastic will suffice as PPE. Solar Man not only prints the headpiece, but he also cuts and applies the plastic sheets, and arranges distribution of materials and finished shields while still upholding stay-at-home orders. Together the men and women of the Keweenaw are working to protect our remote community, our vital health care folks, and those most vulnerable among us. We have no ICUs and little capacity to manage a surge in critical illness. Our motto, developed by the sewists to encourage the use of masks, is: protect me, protect you, protect the community.
Another kind of shield to protect medical workers is the use of technology during a pandemic quarantine. Teachers Zoom to stay in touch with students, and health care workers use telehealth systems to screen COVID-19 patients. My son, the Runner, works for Epic, and he was on the frontline in New Jersey, setting up their telehealth before the quarantines hit. His work is leading to new innovations in the way patient symptoms are screened and recorded, giving much-needed data to map hotspots. He’s working from home now with his fiance, who is furloughed from her job in Wisconsin tourism.
Even the Hub is shielding his face. Every time he goes out for essentials or exercise, he wears a ducky mask.
April 9, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that declares, shield your face. It can be a knight of old, a doctor, or a senior citizen. What is the circumstance? Who makes the declaration? Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by April 14, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions closed. Find our most current weekly Flash Fiction Challenge to enter.
A New Dance Begins by Charli Mills
The Texas sun baked the canvas tent where Jess ripped lengths of satin. She cranked her sewing machine, finishing the edges of royal blue scarves. When she had enough, she carried the stack outside and handed two to every man who rode for her husband’s brand. The trail ride to Montana with a herd of longhorns would be arduous. Her husband survived the War and sacrificed all he had for this cattle drive. The least she could do was sacrifice ballroom gowns. “Shield your face,” she told him. He understood the gesture, her willingness to trust a new dance.