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Mason Wray


The Oxford Swim Club is less the country club that the name evokes, and more a simple, rectangular, neighborhood pool with a six-foot wooden fence running its perimeter. The pool remains, however, a club in the sense that access is only granted in return for several hundred dollars of membership dues per season, not to mention a one time joining fee. From my apartment’s back deck on the other side of a two-lane road, I can easily peer over the fence as if I’ve paid for some lesser degree of access; the “look but don’t touch” level. Like every June first, the newly filled water reflects lazy ribbons of light onto the underside of overhanging branches. Like every June first, dozens of mothers tan in dozens of crowded white lounge chairs, sipping iced chardonnay from thermoses that perfunctorily disguise their contents. Children splash in gaggles around the diving board or dive into each other on the volleyball court. Unlike every other June first though, the state of Mississippi, where the Oxford Swim Club and my apartment are both located, just experienced 439 new cases of COVID-19 in one day, the state’s highest to-date since the pandemic began.


Some other states experienced early virus spikes. However, Mississippi’s case count has slowly climbed over the past three months. The bar graph showing new, daily cases looks like a deceptive hill you might encounter on a run; in the overeager gusto of an early morning, you could underestimate its pedestrian grade, but it just keeps going, and going, and going. And yet, this week, the Oxford Swim Club, along with a slew of other bars, clothing stores and restaurants around town, opened for summer. And yet still I sit here on my deck, alone, shirtless, wearing the same plaid pajamas I’ve hardly taken off since March, my bangs overgrown in my eyes, wondering whose the crazy one? I know who the moms over at the pool would choose.


There was a unique sort of collective anxiety just a few weeks ago when all the streets and storefronts in our town stood quiet and vacant. It was uniquely disturbing to witness for many reasons, not least of which were the deaths and the dangers that quiet embodied. And yet, in some ways, this new period of “awakening” feels more alienating in its Orwellian doublethink. Despite the numbers (greater here than ever), and the danger to everyone (but mostly poor, black and brown Mississippians as the statistics have shown again and again), the Oxford Swim Club across the two-lane road excitedly yells everything is ok. I want to believe it. The almost exclusively well-off, white crowds sip their concealed spritzers as if at a thronged victory party, potentially enabling new vectors for the virus to take the most vulnerable from us.


Today I ate canned black beans (again) with eggs for breakfast after another night of anxious half-sleep. On NPR, stories played of protests raging all over the country. In the background, protesters chanted the names of those who had died due to the insidious workings of systemic injustice. On the other side of the wooden fence, someone dove into clear blue of the deep end.

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All images other than author photos and artist artwork ©Matthew Batt 2020