Collaboration in the time of COVID

Text by Katherine Bernard
Images by Lily Olsen

Lily Olsen

Covid 1-9

  1. Answers. 

Hot? We don’t need these extra blankets in March. Weak? You didn’t eat much last night. Tired? This virus that we definitely do not have is a lot to process, everyone is anxious about the next two long weeks. Worried? Let’s make a list of things to do that we always meant to do, like painting, baking, watching the sunset, and taking pictures on the bed. Still hot? Don’t panic, there are many other things that cause a fever. Hot still? It could be anything. Still hot? All we can do is drink water, stay here, be hot, be still. 

  1. Days. 

March 16. Sweat. My sister, a doctor, tells us if we can’t hold our breath for ten seconds, come to the hospital. This is our only test, our only plan. Before (before?), we planned days together, days apart. Now, we won’t separate. Soon, we won’t be able to separate days. 

  1. Voids. 

There is no memory of Three. Three was three days of sleep. I don’t know if I brought water to her or she brought water to me. 

  1. Meals. 

Though we are hungry, we cannot taste or smell. Cooked green peppers are boiled frog skin, eating dry granola is like sucking on potting soil. Peppermint tea with thick slices of ginger and a floating lemon has the sensation of plain hot water. A shot of apple cider vinegar with potent droplets of oil of oregano: fiery water. A tequila cocktail with pamplemousse seltzer and lime: bubbly water. Truffle oil: thick water. Coffee: brown water. 

  1. Others. 

When are we a danger to others? We are a danger to others indoors, or outdoors. If we cough, or if we don’t cough. If we touch, or if we don’t touch. My landlord leaves ginger cookies and green tea outside my apartment door, along with a pair of gloves she shed after placing them down. Neighbors email: “We have been on lockdown for 9 days now and have been feeling good but of course this puts a monkey wrench in that security.” This being us, because we are not feeling good. We are a danger to others if we tell them or don’t tell them. We sit at the window and watch people cross the street when they see others.

  1. Weeks. 

A friend on the phone says it’s really Week 3 that we must worry about. People seem recovered and then plummet to sudden breathless death in Week 2. Or 3. 3. So she heard. She heard right, she heard that Week 3 you die, suddenly, probably, but there’s no way to know. But she knows, and now we know, better to know, she thinks, that in Week 3 we will die. 

  1. Senses. 

March 22, we see an article: “There’s An Unexpected Loss Of Smell And Taste In Coronavirus Patients.” Unexpected loss is the symptom of Covid-19 that we’re all experiencing. Loss of connection, loss of support, loss of money, loss of structure, loss of control. Without taste and smell, we start to eat sounds for comfort. Artificial rainfall tricks our brains into feeling at peace indoors: the weather told us to stay in. We drink light, going through tapered candles like bottles of water. 

  1. Numbers.

We still can’t taste, so tears are small water. 

  1. Returns.

Lemon returns, then ginger. Onions and pickle brine return. Garlic in the pan returns, and banana bread returns. Wine returns, toothpaste returns, burning incense returns. Anxiety returns and returns. Energy returns, so phone calls return, then showering standing up, then climbing the ladder to go to the roof. We cross sunsets off the list, and return to drink water, stay here, be together, be still. 

Lily Olsen
Lily Olsen
Lily Olsen


KB is a writer, actor and filmmaker based in New York. You can find her work in the New York Times, Dazed, Garage, SSENSE, and elsewhere. 

Lily Olsen is a New York artist. Her passion stems from over a decade of photographing people across the gender spectrum who identify within the dyke community. Her work can be categorized as a thought-provoking exploration of queer tropes and characters merged with authentic personalities in the community.


“Moon Pebbles”
by Stace Brandt

You don’t feel the need for language to be strangled like I do. You let it be poetry, fall as it will. When words come out of your mouth it feels like dancing. I wouldn’t let mine loose like that. My feet were fettered as your body moved and tried to pull me in. Sometimes I feel like I’m benching myself. You have a way of filling up empty dancefloors. Everything is a dancefloor. You have a way of passing out literal roses to a bar full of strangers. You know how to laugh with strangers. 

Sometimes I feel like a stranger who wants to know you. Sometimes I feel like no one in particular. You make me feel like someone in particular while still managing to acknowledge how stupidly microscopic we are. “Life’s like two seconds,” you said, as we walked onto that beach that spilled out of the dunes. It all felt like an illustration of your point. I’ve never felt so small and so specific at the same time, like we were pebbles on the moon. 

When words come out of your mouth it feels like dancing. I wouldn’t let mine loose like that.

That same beach had purple patches of sand, crushed up garnet, apparently. When you saw the purple, you screamed and ran to it while I, becoming an onlooker, watched as you dropped to your knees and began to run your hands through it. What is there to be embarrassed about, really? I don’t know, but sometimes I laugh when everything else is paralyzed. You were rejoicing in the purple. You wanted to put some in your hair for later. There is no room for embarrassment in any of your pockets. They are heavy with sand and shells and stones. 

Stace Brandt is a queer/lesbian writer, artist, and musician based in the Boston area. She is a Sagittarius sun, Leo rising, and Cancer moon, which probably explains a lot. Along with creative pursuits in words and sounds, Stace is the assistant director and curator of an artist-run, contemporary art gallery in Boston called VERY