“Dispatch from a Pandemic: New York City” by Terena Elizabeth Bell

Angel Talansky

This Isn’t About COVID, It Was Never About COVID and You Know It

Right before my boss lays me off, he starts going on about his Peloton. “It was a special COVID purchase,” he says, explaining how the overpriced treadmill requires its own set of headphones, fumbling in the background between them and what he says are three other pair because he doesn’t want to talk over speaker.

I sit patiently. He’s the one who called me.

It’s not as if we don’t all know what we’re there for: him, me, this girl I’ve never met from HR named Natalie. There’s only one reason they ever bring in HR, only one reason Natalie exists. He’s the one who doesn’t seem to understand his purpose, still prattling on about the treadmill. “I’m not really sure what it says about you that you aren’t surprised I own a Peloton,” he says, “I suppose I’ll just have to take it as a compliment.”

Finally I say, “Jaime, let’s get to the point,” and he stops.

“The department has overspent and needs to make cuts. We’ve decided to eliminate the PR function,” before going back to jerking and pulling more wires in the background, ancillary noise cutting through the call app on Microsoft Teams, and I say, “To be clear, by PR function, you mean me.”

He can’t say my name–or won’t: “These are hard economic times, it’s not a reflection on your work,” but it is a reflection of him, a man who spends thousands on a machine when walking outside is free, who’s always cared more about appearance than results. “When all this is over,” he jerks and he pulls, “I’m really looking forward to getting back in the gym.”

Maybe when it’s over you’ll be dead, I think, but then again, life has never been a meritocracy. Did you ever expect it to be?

— May 2020


Terena Elizabeth Bell has published in The Atlantic, Playboy, the Yale Review, Natural Bridge, Juked, and others, including a Kentucky Writers’ Coalition anthology. Under the pseudonym Lizzy Sisk, she also edits the Writing Your Way through the Classics literary craft series, which annotates classic novels with prompts and exercises for fiction writers. Originally from Sinking Fork, Kentucky, she lives in New York.