Steinbeck’s Journal Entries During The 1918 Spanish Flu

March 17, 1918
They call it the Spanish Lady, a flu-zie, no doubt, born with a cowardly heart, wide eyes, tiny hands, a belly pooch, and sharp teeth, with a scar on her chin that she hides beneath a cheesecloth mouth covering. I know a girl like this at school. Her name is Cathy. She’s a close talker and a mouth breather. I think I may ask her to be my wife.

March 24, 1918
I awoke to find four fresh acne bumps on my face, commanding the attention of the kitchen, like a hobo and three tramps this side of the railroad tracks. I blame my double gauze mask, which I wear like a bank robber, chasing my pesky sisters around the house, sounding off pew pew sounds while I rob their piggy banks. The banks are the real monsters, are they not? Father says no. Father always says no.

April 14, 1918
Today, I started old man Granger’s Ford for him again, after which he let me take it into town, to the post office and back, to pick up his monthly Sears Roebuck bathroom wiping material. Sadly, on the drive home, I hit a turtle. I reckon it finally made it to the other side. And by the other side, I mean the afterlife.

April 17, 1918
I dreamt of Cathy again last night. She wore a thin mouth covering you could almost see through. I awoke before I got to first base.

April 25, 1918
Another day in bedroom jail, as Mother calls it. She thinks I lock myself in here to write stories. Truth is, I stole a pin-up propaganda poster from the town square. I call her Virginia. Her sexy ensemble takes me out of my bleakness, as she proudly announces, “Be a man and do it.” I scratched out where it says “Join the Navy.” Sometimes I practice-kiss her. And I barely think of Cathy anymore, which is good because she is my teacher.

May 20, 1918
I now follow my dog Winston around the house. The highlight of today was watching him watch a spider. We named it Samuel. I imagine Samuel to be a well-respected arachnid, as Winston could have eaten him, but didn’t. Instead, Father mindlessly strolled by and squashed Samuel into the floor. It’s no surprise. People do tend to die around here for no reason.

May 96, 1918
I’ve lost track of the months and the days of the week, but what I’ve not lost track of are the things I miss most — Father having work so he isn’t home in his underpants, Folger’s Tea sales with Mother, and everything else I used to hate. After all this is over, I may finally enjoy those things. Or not. Timshel.

October, 1918
I can see the changing of the seasons in the mountainsides of the Salinas valley. I can smell the drought in the air, as the dust sails across the lively foothills, seeping through the cracks of the window pane, and settling on my nether region, as I ponder…what are pants? I hardly even know them. Also, where are pants? This must be how Father feels.

Winter, 1918?
Tonight, we had three cans of beans with ketchup for supper, as another reminder of what a terrible time we’re all having.

Who Cares, 1918
So much for my future rabbit farm. The squirrels have taken over now, holding a daily convention in the front yard, where one stands facing the others, delivering a speech of ill intentions and smoking a pipe that looks a lot like old man Granger’s. I fear the look of newfound confidence in their eyes. They hold acorns in their tiny hands and use them to spell messages for me in the grass. Rumors like, “Cathy doesn’t love you.” Escalating into direct orders, like “Run” or “Hand over Father’s house keys.” Before the birds awaken tomorrow, I shall collect all the acorns into a bucket and set them afire with the rest of the soil before locking myself in my bedroom and closing the shutters indefinitely. 

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