ASPERO: Hello, friend Cat.
CAT: Hello, Aspero.
ASPERO: Friend Cat, I have questions. So many questions.
CAT: You would dialogue?
ASPERO: Yes, yes. I would dialogue very much. I would ask and ask. I feel anxiety. Worry. Fear. I read something on the internet. About a virus. I read a lot of scary things about the virus.
CAT: Oh. That. Yes. I’ve seen.
ASPERO: Yes! You saw it as well? All last week I’ve been reading about this virus! May I sit down? Here? On the bench, next to you?
CAT: No, of course not!
ASPERO (upset): Ah. What? Do you not enjoy my company any more, friend Cat?
CAT: What have you even been reading? Physical distancing, Aspero! Two metres. Six feet if you can’t manage a full two metres.
ASPERO: (shuffles feet and tries to sit on the far edge of the bench, about 125 centimetres from Cat)
CAT: (gets up, a little alarmed and makes to jump off the bench)
ASPERO: (stops and backs away) Uh … isn’t that just about two metres? Isn’t it about the same?
CAT: No! Two metres is a little bit more than four average housecats. Look, just stand over there, by the phone booth.
ASPERO: (turns around, startled) A phone booth? Was that there all along? Do they still make those?
CAT: It’s just a placeholder for the dialogue. You startled me. It could have been a palm tree, I suppose.
ASPERO: Yes, a palm tree would be more useful.
(The phone booth turns into a palm tree. Aspero leans back against the palm tree.)
ASPERO: I don’t understand why I would need a booth just to use my phone in. It seems a bit silly.
CAT: (stares for a while) That’s not what a … never mind. So, what have you been reading?
ASPERO: The internet. Everything I could. You know, facefeed and twitter and all the others. Watched a lot of videos from the big imporant people, too.
CAT: (sighs) I assume you’re confused.
ASPERO: Yes, a little. I want to be a good person, and this Wuhan virus makes it difficult.
ASPERO: But why shouldn’t I call it the Wuhan virus?
CAT: Because that spreads prejudice against Wuhan and Hubei and people who come from there. And that’s bad.
ASPERO: But I’m not prejudiced. And they called the other disease the Spanish flu.
CAT: That … that’s just silly, Aspero. It’s not about you. Imagine a strange new mold is discovered growing on your house and people start calling it Aspero’s house mold. How would you feel?
ASPERO: Uhm … a bit shitty.
CAT: Right. Also, the Spanish flu certainly didn’t start in Spain. They just didn’t censor news reports, because they were neutral in the war.
ASPERO: The war?
CAT: Aspero, please, back to your topic.
ASPERO: Right, right the China virus.
CAT: You shouldn’t call it the China virus either, Aspero.
ASPERO: But the orange capslock man on Twitter called it the China virus, and people are saying it’s China’s fault.
CAT: You really shouldn’t take advice from the orange capslock man. Also it spreads prejudice against Chinese people and everybody who looks East Asian. It’s just really, really a bad idea.
ASPERO: But lots of people are saying it.
CAT: Doesn’t mean it’s true. Or good to do it.
ASPERO: So does it make me a bad person if I call it the China virus?
CAT: It means you’re doing something bad and hurtful, and if you want to be a good person, you should stop and apologize.
ASPERO: I do want to be a good person, Cat.
CAT: Most people do.
ASPERO: But shouldn’t we hold someone accountable for doing this?
CAT: A virus isn’t a person. It’s a thing. It’s not even really very alive. You can’t hold it accountable.
ASPERO: No, no. I mean, shouldn’t we make China pay for making the virus happen.
CAT: That’s … not how this works.
ASPERO: You know, I read about their cover-up and how they made these wet markets and then cooked bats and fed them to pangolins and mixed them with noodles and ate them and that’s what made the virus happen in the secret laboratory and it’s all their fault.
CAT: (annoyed) Have you been reading the conspiracy websites again?
ASPERO: I was scared and confused! They promised the real truth, the one the mainstream is hiding!
CAT: What did we say about the conspiracy people?
ASPERO: (looks away) They’re sad people terrified of the confusion and chaos of a massive world in which they are as meaningless as motes of dust looking for patterns and reasons and secrets that make them feel important and relevant.
ASPERO: But they’re just as unimportant and just as human as all the rest of us, except you, friend Cat, and just as far from the ultimate truths as all the rest of us.
CAT: Anyway. A virus is no specific person’s fault. It’s all of you humans. There’s so many of you. You’re consuming so much. Getting in so many places. Doing so much factory farming. Traveling so much. You’re making it much, much easier for new viruses to pop up and hurt you.
ASPERO: But this one happened in China and we should blame someone!
CAT: That’s … stupid. This one happened to emerge in China, but it could’ve happened anywhere.
ASPERO: But they covered it up at the start!
CAT: Sure. Basic human denial instinct. This won’t be so bad. Hide your heads in the sand and pretend it goes away.
ASPERO: But it was them!
CAT: This time. Afterwards they still went to a lot of hard work. And so did the rest of East Asia. Lots of people, lots of doctors, worked very, very hard to control this virus.
ASPERO: (triumphant) But they failed, so we should blame them!
CAT: Aspero, where are the hot spots now?
ASPERO: Europa and Usania, because they didn’t stop it.
CAT: Aspero, it’s more than two months after the lockdowns started in China. Why didn’t these hot spot governments take any measures before then?
ASPERO: They couldn’t expect the disease to spread! Nobody expected that.
CAT: Everybody in East Asia expected it could spread. Everybody in East Asia warned them it could spread very easily indeed. Everybody was saying be careful. Take precautions.
ASPERO: I heard that this kind of thing can’t be predicted. That it’s a black swan and black swans only appear once in a blue moon.
CAT: First of all … all the experts predicted this was just a matter of time. It’s not a black swan. Also, blue moons happen every two to three years.
ASPERO: How do you know all this stuff?
CAT: Google. Wikipedia. Britannica. Reputable news outlets from different parts of the world. Science and technology outlets.
ASPERO: What’s a reputable news outlet?
CAT: Just … make sure it doesn’t have more pictures than text. That it doesn’t use caps lock or exclamation marks in its titles. And try to find one that isn’t mean to people. Gods, Aspero, didn’t you ever practice any information literacy?
ASPERO: I’m still confused.
CAT: It’s not that hard. Don’t go out of your house unless you have to. Wear a mask. Keep your distance from people. Don’t do dangerous sports. Don’t touch other people. Avoid touching door handles, rails, elevator buttons and other stuff if you can. Avoid crowds or confined public spaces. Wash your hands regularly. It’s really, really not that hard or complicated.
ASPERO: But people say wearing a mask is hard and worse than none at all.
CAT: They’re … talking nonsense. That’s me being charitable. It’s not hard. It helps. Even a home-made mask helps.
ASPERO: (looking worried) I sense you’re getting exasperated, friend Cat.
CAT: Oh, I am. I am.
ASPERO: (lights up) I could scratch you between your ears! You like that, friend Cat.
CAT: Gaaaaah. No. You can’t. Physical distancing.
ASPERO: (looking downcast) I don’t like this distancing. Why do we have to do it?
CAT: I hate it too. But we have to do it because all of our European governments acted too slowly to put in place any kinds of measures to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, and now we all have to stay put, until the genie’s bottled up again and under some kind of control.
ASPERO: How much longer will it take?
CAT: Well, depends how much of a mess the governments make of the lockdowns. A month if we’re very lucky. Probably two. Maybe three or four.
ASPERO: Isn’t that too hard? Too expensive?
CAT: It would have cost much less to stop this in the bud, but some folks kept whining about the economy. Well, now they can sew facemasks out of their banknotes, can’t they?
ASPERO: What about if we just give up?
CAT: Then it costs more. And lasts longer. And lots and lots and lots of you humans die.
ASPERO: You keep saying ‘you humans.’ Don’t cats get the virus?
CAT: Well, we could probably spread it on our fur or our noses or our paws, but I doubt we can get sick from it.
ASPERO: Oh. I wish I were a cat, friend Cat. I don’t want to get sick.
CAT: Just one of many reasons to want to be a superior felid.
ASPERO: (looks around) Where are we, anyway?
CAT: (yawns) In a dialogue.
ASPERO: Oh. That explains all the white space.
ASPERO: Can’t catch the virus here, in the white space, can I?
CAT: No, Aspero. You’re a lucky imaginary human.
ASPERO: (pats the palm tree) I do have quite a good imagination.
CAT: (stares hard) Yes. Sure.