It was Mukund’s idea.
“Why are you just sitting around?” he said to his wife one morning during the coronavirus pandemic. “Why don’t you do something? It is good to keep busy. That is what they say.”
“Who says that?” Meena responded. “Is it the people who are unable to relax? If they want to be busy, let them be busy. But I like to relax. Is that okay, Mook?”
As if to emphasize the point, she propped her legs on the coffee table, grabbed the remote and turned on Netflix. “Time for some Nadiya Hussain,” she said.
Mook sighed. “Not her again. You have watched her cook so many dishes, but I haven’t seen you cook even one of them.”
“Yes, it’s true,” she said. “And you have watched so many football games, but I haven’t seen you run after a ball even once.”
Mook smirked, pushed himself off the couch and limped to the kitchen to refill his coffee mug. He had pulled a muscle during his daily exercise routine: searching the front yard for the newspaper. The delivery person seemed to throw it to a different spot every day.
As the coffee machine heated up, he picked up the Lafayette Journal & Courier from the dining table, unrolled it and scanned the headlines. He returned to the living room, placed the paper on Meena’s lap with the “Life” section facing her and pointed to an article at the top. “How to Sew a Quick and Easy Cloth Face Mask,” the headline said.
“I already know how to sew a face mask,” Meena said. “It is not hard at all. I’ve seen many patterns online.”
“Then why aren’t you doing it? Why is the sewing machine gathering dust?”
“It’s not gathering dust. I have a cover for it.”
“But it’s just sitting there, occupying space in our basement. When was the last time you put it to good use?”
“I made those flannel pajamas for you, remember?”
“Oh yes, during the Reagan Administration.”
“Stop it! We didn’t even know each other then.”
“Why don’t you use it again and make some masks?”
“But everyone is making masks.”
Well, it wasn’t literally true that everyone was making masks, but on almost every street in the neighborhood, someone seemed to be making masks and placing them on a table outside for sale. At the end of Hillcrest Road, several houses down from their two-story home, a middle-aged lady was selling masks with sports logos on them, mostly Boilermakers, Colts and Cubs. Mrs. Freeman on the next street was selling striped, checked and polka-dotted masks. A senior citizen on Ravinia Road, which ran all the way through their Hills & Dales neighborhood, was selling masks with blue-and-purple flowers on them, promoting them with a sign that said: “Share Irises, not viruses.”
“You need to come up with a unique mask,” Mook said. “Maybe you could put something scary on the mask, so people will keep their distance.”
“A picture of Donald Trump?”
“No, no, that would not work. So many people like him in this state.”
“So the masks would sell well, wouldn’t they? I could write ‘Trump-Pence 2020’ on them, sell thousands of them and we could retire to Florida.”
Mook knew she was just joking. Why would anyone want to retire to Florida? Mook would rather stay in Indiana, where the winters could be quite cold, but greatly minimized the chances of running into an alligator or snake.
“What about Biden? You could sell masks to his supporters, too.”
“He has not yet chosen a running mate. But he says it will definitely be a woman.”
“You could put ‘Biden-Woman 2020’ on the masks and sell many of them, too.”
Meena smiled. “Maybe I shouldn’t get so political. We’re all in this together. Coronavirus does not distinguish between Republicans and Democrats.”
“Yes, that’s true. Imagine if it just wiped out all the …”
Meena didn’t let him finish. “You shouldn’t even joke about things like that. Life would be so boring if we didn’t have people to argue with.”
If all her friends had the same beliefs, their Facebook discussion group would not have so many comments. She had friends who were Republicans and friends who were Democrats, as well as friends who acted like Democrats one day and Republicans another day. Mary, one of her closest friends, was a Republican who had voted for Obama in 2008, then for Romney in 2012, and was now trying to erase from her memory whom she had voted for in 2016. She deemed it the second-worst mistake of her life, but only because her marriage to her first husband lasted more than four years.
Mary’s voting history didn’t make any sense to Meena. But then again, it didn’t make any sense to her that Mary had nine cats. Meena preferred dogs—she had a beagle named Cody—and though she would never tell Mary this, she would be reluctant to vote for anyone who had nine cats. Even stranger than having nine cats were the names Mary had chosen for them: Felicity, Serenity, Charity, Clarity, Dignity, Purity, Affinity, Fidelity and Sanity. Everyone in the neighborhood knew Dignity, for the orange-and-brown cat had gone missing for two weeks the previous summer and Mary had plastered every pole in the neighborhood with fliers that said, “Reward Offered for Anyone Who Returns My Dignity.”
“Maybe I should have a unified message on my masks,” Meena said. “‘We’re in this together’ or something like that.”
“Nobody will buy it. Well, some people might, but it won’t sell well. People like to support particular candidates, not sit on the fence.”
“Then maybe I could bring everyone in the neighborhood together to support one candidate.”
Mook chuckled. “Everyone supporting one candidate? That will never happen. We can’t even get everyone in this neighborhood to agree on which day to have a yard sale.”
It was true that finding agreement was hard—and even harder on political issues— but Meena was determined to prove him wrong. That afternoon, just after 5 p.m., she picked up Mary and drove to Michaels, where they bought enough cloth and elastic to make 50 face masks. They spent the entire evening making masks. Mary measured and cut the fabric and elastic, while Meena operated the old sewing machine. They used a fabric marker to write messages on every mask. Mook came down the stairs to look at the masks, but Meena shooed him away, telling him to order pizza for everyone.
The next morning, she and Mary set up a table in the front yard and, within three hours, sold 44 masks for $5 each. They kept masks for themselves and their husbands, and Meena kept two more for her teen-aged children.
“I knew I could get everyone to support one candidate,” she said, handing Mook his mask. “I just knew it.”
“You were right,” he said with a smile, putting the mask over his nose and mouth.
Meena and Mary had made the masks using cloth printed with pictures of an orange cat. On one side of the mask, they had inscribed the message: “Vote for Dignity.” On the other side, they had written, “Dignity-Sanity 2020.”