A Virus Is Not A Living Thing

by Geoff Schutt

Eleanor to her Biographer: My words are nothing compared to your words. I don’t know why I even bother speaking, really. I don’t know why you take the time to listen, even worse. I feel like a virus. I am a virus. I have this all figured out. You know, how a virus is not a living thing, how a virus needs a host body or whatever in order to do any harm — or even any good, I suppose, if a virus can do good. I’m a virus that’s infected you, and you better watch out, because once I’m inside you, I can become two Eleanors or four Eleanors or as many of me as your body and mind will allow before you’re no good to me anymore. I can kill you. I’m like a rock falling off a cliff. I’m not alive, but I move, and when I move, I am dangerous.

Eleanor says: I am so frightened of losing you. I am so scared that I will fill you up with too much of me that you will die.

Eleanor says: Sometimes I am afraid that you will die in your sleep, of natural causes, not even because of me, and I’ll be left, by myself, or with all of these versions of myself, and I won’t want to leave you for anyone else, so I’ll slowly die too. I mean, I would die, if I were alive to begin with.

She walks into the courtyard. She is alone. The only movement is the water in the fountain. The warmth is the sun above her. She sits on a bench.

I’m not waiting for anyone, she says. (The audience applauds.)

I am like a flower that blossoms and you think, how beautiful she is, but you forget what I’m called, or you don’t even know what I’m called, what kind of flower I am. It’s not like you can go to the florist and say, A dozen of her, please.

You like me best when I’m shades of a color, or perhaps two complementary colors. You aren’t one for the red roses, because they’re so common, and besides, anyone can ask for a dozen red roses. You know what roses look like.

Well, I am nobody’s red rose, sorry. (The audience gives a standing ovation. Encore, encore!)

Okay, okay. Let me say it like this. One upon a time, there was this girl. Let’s just say she was me, for the sake of argument. She was a very patient girl. She would wait for hours on end. She would sit on a bench in some secluded courtyard and just wait. What is she waiting for? you might ask. And she might answer, I am waiting to be alive. I am waiting for life to catch up with me, because somehow, well — somehow or somewhere —at some instant, you know — some time ago, life fell behind. I wasn’t patient. I went too fast. I sped ahead. I didn’t wait. I was impatient. Life could not keep up with me. Not the life I wanted, I mean. There were plenty of other lives along the way. It was like window shopping, you know? I could have had any of these lives. I could have gone inside, and said, I’ll take that life in the window over there. Yes, the third window over. The window with the Aimee Mann music.

Well, I want Aimee Mann to write the soundtrack for my life. I want her to start with one sentence, one lyric. I want to be a virus in that first song and then I want to be inside the next song, and the next song, until I fill an entire record. And that will be my soundtrack.

If you want a simpler story, more easily understood, then listen to this. Once upon a time, there was me and there was you, and by mere chance or coincidence, we happened to be in the same quiet courtyard — the one with that fountain. Except I did not see you on your bench, and you did not see me on my bench. So we just sat for the longest time, waiting. We both had grown patient. Too patient.

And then the clouds became dark, and the breeze picked up, and the storm moved toward us. We could see the clouds, and how fast they approached.

I took shelter by the door.

Perhaps you were always more patient than I was, because I was there first, at the door, and you were so patient that the rain had started to fall and you were sprinkled with the wet and when you stepped into my space, you realized you were not alone, and this startled you. You even jumped a little, I swear to God you did.

I saw you coming of course. I saw you, yes. I watched you, more like it, and I wondered where you came from. (This would be one entire Aimee Mann song in my soundtrack — how you walked into my space.)

You smiled at me, and I told you the honest-to-God truth. Honest, I said, even before I told you. I told you, I am a virus. I am not a living thing, but I could exist inside of you. You don’t want to be too close to me. You don’t want me inside of you.

You said:
I have been waiting for you.
I did not see you, but I was waiting just the same.
I knew I would see you eventually.
I knew I would find you.
I knew we would be together.
We were meant to be together.
We are like two peas in a pod, you know.
We are like bees to honey.
But we are not, nor have we ever been, a cliché.

You said:
Once upon a time, I believed in everything.

You said:
Once upon a time, I believed in you.

You said:
Now you want to infect me, but I believed in you.

I felt the tears or the rain or whatever. I felt my face and it was numb. I could not believe you were saying these things. I could not believe how cruel you could be.

So I said:
I never believed in you. I’m sorry, but I didn’t.

(And I was lying, of course. It was a big fat lie. But you knew it was a lie, didn’t you? Because of your smile, and because of the way you took my hand, and because there was no amount of rain that could melt us.)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

an excerpt from The Girl Behind The Glass, a novel

(for Angela Campbell, who believes)

Biographical Note:

Geoff Schutt’s short fiction has appeared in The Quarterly (edited by Gordon Lish for Vintage Books/Random House), The Best of Writers at Work, The Wastelands Review and The Laurel Review, among others. He has received three artist grants for his fiction-as-performance art from The Arts Commission of Greater Toledo. After living in Ohio for many years, he now resides in the Washington, D.C. area. His novel-length work is represented by James McGinniss of McGinniss Associates Literary Agency, New York City. More about Geoff Schutt is available at his blog, “This Side of Paradise,” at



Apples 6

Artist: Marsha Strong



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