• Oz Hardwick
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I pay close attention, but after a while all phrases become identical, and the mechanics of utterance — and I don’t mean physiology or cognition, but the bald operations that lie beneath it all like sawdust on a butcher’s shop floor — become laughable in their self-perpetuating recursiveness. An untidy man with untidy hair, who may as well be orange for all the dignity he can command, tells me I may shop for necessities as long as I justify my choices, mask my face like a post box, and purify myself with fire once the deed is done. In this way I am saving lives.

My hottest archive
          pets lost heavens

Repetition breeds security, and I look everywhere for signs that tell me things have always been like this. In the park — which I can circle three times (always clockwise) and be home within my allotted hour — a metal plate is being swallowed by a tree. It reads: LIC YCLING PR OFFENDERS WILL PROSECUTED CHIEF CON. That same untidy man grins like a hand-drawn schoolboy and points a gun at my head while passersby maintain careful social distancing and try to look energetic. The tree gulps like a fat snake eating a policeman, and I hear the click of a hammer reverberating down an empty barrel. In this way I am saving lives.

Tat that shoves
          comprehensively east

The delivery driver — who looks suspiciously familiar behind his surgical mask and bulletproof clichés as he runs chubby fingers through his messy blond hair — apologises for the lack of medicines, but offers replacements in the form of wartime rhetoric. He assures me we are fighting bravely, that we are ramping up the offensive, that we are winning. He promises me Normality for Christmas, but when I open it — because any day could be Christmas and we all need to sing those familiar songs from time to time — it’s a cheap knock-off, too small, and with hazardous parts that will see it withdrawn before the New Year’s party reaches its messy conclusion. But when I hold it to my ear it rings like a musical box, or like a child’s impression of an ambulance siren. My chest is tight and there’s a silver bullet working its way through my veins, but I don’t want to trouble the doctors and nurses, who haven’t slept since they qualified, and who work naked for lack of PPE, then slough their skins into overfull bins. In this way I am saving lives.

Myth actor’s heaviest vole
          snaps teeth

It’s a common trope that the distinction between life and simulation isn’t always clear-cut — The Matrix, Inception, Devs, &c — and there’s that man again, his tie awry and the same words, as comforting as they are meaningless, dripping from his mouth like blood onto a butcher’s shop floor, like an injunction choking a snake, like an ambulance or a fire engine swerving out of control between parties before hitting a post box. If you count the repetitions, the number will confirm every clickbait conspiracy theory you have ever ingested, and if you rearrange the letters they will spell out the truth ‘they’ have been hiding all these years. Offenders will be prosecuted. I travel to work without leaving my chair. It is essential. In this way I am saving lives.

Stay at home
          protect the NHS
                    save lives

It comes to this: that same man repeating the same words; a bomb in a care home; that same man repeating the same words; friends in induced comas; that same man repeating the same words; the loss of all sense of time; that same man repeating the same words; a cheap knock-off of the mechanics of utterance; that same man repeating the same words. I press my fingers hard into my ears until they bleed. In this way I am saving someone’s life.