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.