Eric D. Goodman


When the COVID-19 pandemic began, it had been all fun and games, at least for Stu and Tiffany. They relished the opportunity to spend all their time together in their spacious home on Pinehurst. Coronavirus was all anyone talked about on the news or in phone conversations—it dominated talk the way it dominated the economy, the health system, politics, and everything else.

On the plus side, Stu and Tiffany and most of their friends and family were healthy, so even if they contracted the virus they knew they would likely be fine, not much worse off than if they were to get the flu. But as the quarantine dragged on from March to April, April to May, all the way into June and July and autumn, and winter, the novelty of being stuck in the house together had worn thin.

“Did you wash your hands and clean your mask?” she would ask when he came home from a grocery run; “Do you really need to visit your hairdresser in her home?” he would ask after overhearing her on the phone making a non-essential appointment.

Stu spent several hours each day on the computer, processing 20 percent refunds on Wreck of the Hesperus auto policies while she used online video conferencing to see patients as best she could. Telehealth had been an emerging movement before COVID, but the pandemic had given it the boost it needed to thrive. She had fewer appointments since many patients were opting to wait until they could get in-person visits, so to fill the empty hours Tiffany’s practice partnered with a telehealth company, Capstone Health Network. Subscribers to the telehealth network would be referred to Tiffany and her partners under the Capstone umbrella, allowing her to pick up more telehealth business.

In their spare time, Tiffany read the books she had always been meaning to read and Stu watched the movies he had always been planning to watch. They talked about where they might want to visit after the pandemic was over and travel was allowed again—perhaps a return to Lithuania or a visit to nearby Latvia or Estonia. Maybe a trip to Spain or United Kingdom or Germany. And they looked at digital photos of past travels to National Parks, to Lithuania, and to Chicago. Memories and talk of travel made them feel even more imprisoned in their own home. The spacious house began to feel constraining. They cooked together, ate together, slept together, went on masked neighborhood walks together.

And they began to slowly drive one another crazy.

Every morning and evening, Tiffany would tell Stu about the daily Coronavirus cases in the county, the state, the nation, the world—and the number of corresponding deaths. Every afternoon during lunch he would look up from his smartphone to tell her about the latest news or gossip stories: would the pandemic result in a baby boom, or an increase in divorce rates? Tom Hanks had pulled through just fine, but Nick Cordero had died. And President Trump seemed to jump back and forth from one position to another regarding masks, restrictions, the seriousness of the pandemic, and whether they were fighting to defeat a horrendous foe or waiting for it to just go away on its own. But whatever position of the day he proclaimed, he proclaimed it loudly for everyone in the world to hear.

It got to the point that Stu couldn’t go out exploring to pick up new pieces for his collection of relics, so he began to find things right within the dwelling. Like a sliver of the ceramic Japanese mug he dropped when the cup of boiling water washed over the side and burned his hand, or the shard of meteorite that had fallen from the casing of the necklace he had bought Tiffany for Christmas last year. Or a shard from the platter she threw at him after he replayed the new 17-minute Bob Dylan song, “Murder Most Foul,” one too many times.

“Isn’t one listen enough?” she had asked in a shrilly voice.

He responded by putting the 17-minute Neil Young and Crazy Horse song “Ramada Inn” on repeat and she countered by stomping off to her home office and slamming the door. Stu wasn’t sure whether she blew her top because she found the music annoying, or because Neil whined on and on about a marriage on the verge of collapse.

Prior to the pandemic, going to the insurance office each and every weekday had been a drag and he’d always looked forward to coming home to Tiffany. But now, in the new normal, staying home together had become a heavy weight to bear, like a chunk of meteorite colliding with the earth. After the first few months of the state-of-emergency shelter-in-place, their own appreciation for one another was dipping south quicker than the economy.

“Enough of that shit,” Tiffany yelled about five minutes into the fourth replay of Neil Young’s nasal drone over Crazy Horse’s jam session. “Is there anything he’s ever thought that he hasn’t already said?”

Stu appreciated the reference, but decided to correct her. “No, wrong album. That’s Greendale. This is Psychedelic Pill.”

“Why do you always play that depressing stuff?”

“Well what about that Pink Floyd you were playing yesterday,” Stu threw back.

“That’s upbeat compared to this disheartening wailing.”

“Upbeat?” Stu scoffed. “Just another sad old man all alone and dying of cancer? Real crowd-pleasing material, there.”

Tiffany yelled out a laugh. “Sure, if you’re aiming to pick the rotten cherries, those are the ones you get. There’s also the part about You know that I care what happens to you and I know that you care for me too.” Tiffany threw up her hands. “But by all means, focus on the parts that appeal to you.”

Stu’s response was simply to laugh.

“It’s like you love depressing stuff,” Tiffany continued. “Pictures of old destroyed buildings and wrecked cars. What’s up with that? And watching depressing movies? Can’t you ever be satisfied?”

Stu took the bait. “What, like settle? I thought I already had—for you.”

Tiffany turned red in the face. “You’re sleeping in the basement tonight, with your pile of worthless shit!”

“Wait, I was … I mean … I didn’t mean that.”

“Sure you did. It’s just who you are. I’m just another piece in your collection, another notch on your belt. Go ahead, move out and find someone else.”

“Maybe I will. This is why I never wanted to get married in the first place.” Stu spewed.

“You didn’t? Then why the hell did you ask me?”

“Because you wanted me to! You wouldn’t have stayed with me if I hadn’t. And I wanted to keep us going.”

Tiffany sighed, then shook her head. “You’re a real piece of work. You know, I thought we were going to last. I mean really last, like grow old together. I should have known better.”

“It’s this pandemic.” Stu hunted for excuses, placing them on an imaginary shelf between them. “Being cooped up in the house for so long, falling into a routine more monotonous than any kind of life we planned or expected. We’re falling into predictability because of the pandemic, not because of a tedious life, the way my grandparents did.”

Tiffany continued her own train of thought. “God knows I should have seen it coming. Should have seen the signs. It’s not like you were secretive about your feelings when we first met, when you used to talk about Clint and Amanda and how stupid they were to get married so young, or about Skip and Leona and how they were too naïve and would never last. Or how Dana had his shit together and knew to keep girls at an arm’s length so they wouldn’t latch on and get too clingy. Or when you talked about how your grandparents’ hum-drum lives were less appealing than your parents’ more exuberant divorced lives. It’s like you want everything that comes together to fall apart.”

Stu plodded through her words with his own. “I mean, it’s not like we were on a path to follow in their footsteps. We’re not boring people, don’t just sit around and watch the wheels go round and round. It’s this quarantine that’s making the difference. That’s what’s driving us into monotony and boredom. It’s not you, it’s not me. It’s COVID-19.”

Tiffany was thinking more than listening. “Or the way you talked about your first summer love and how she broke your tender little heart. What was her name? Ash? Jade?”


“Oh, yeah, Skye. If it wouldn’t work with a high school sweetheart like Skye, how could it possibly work with a mature grown-up?”

The snarky tone in Tiffany’s voice bated Stu. “It’s making you mean, this pandemic. I said some hateful things, too. We’re just stir crazy, that’s all. We can’t fight with anyone outside these walls, so we’re picking fights with each other.” Stu stopped himself. It now felt more like he was pleading than defending, his collection of excuses growing like pieces in a collection.

“And why is it only with women? Why do you have this fear of committing to a woman like me, but you aren’t afraid you’re going to grow bored with your friends, like Clint or Skip or Dana?”

“Because my bond with my friends is different. We don’t have to live together. If I had to promise to have and to hold my best friends every living day of my life, I’d have some commitment phobia about them, too.”

She had reeled him in. “So you admit it,” she said, more quietly now. “You’re afraid to commit. Even after all these years of marriage. You’re still afraid.”

Stu reflected. “It’s not that I’m afraid of us. I’m afraid we’ll fall out of love. Maybe we should do something to stop that from happening.”

“Kill a marriage to save it from dying? Makes a lot of sense.”

Stu shook his head. “No. Ending things on our own terms instead of relenting to what fate has in store for us.”

There was a long silence.

“Look at us,” Tiffany said. They both laughed, came together, hugged one another. But it was not a laughing matter, and they both knew it. This was the beginning of the end, the first moment in the last chapter of their marriage. The pandemic was still on, and they would remain under the same roof until after quarantine released them. Even as they calmed one another, loved one another, the inevitable had revealed itself like an unseen contagion that you nevertheless could tell was there.

© Eric D. Goodman

Eric D. Goodman is the author of six books, including The Color of Jadeite (Apprentice House Press, 2020), Setting the Family Free (Apprentice House Press, 2019), Womb: a novel in utero (Merge Publishing, 2017) and Tracks: A Novel in Stories (Atticus Books, 2011). “Infected” is an excerpt from his most recent novel, Wrecks and Ruins (Apprentice House, 2022). He was former Public Relations Director for MWA. Learn more at

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