Satire | The Plague Diaries: Dispatches from 1348

By Alison Sivitz, Staff Columnist

Lockdown has left me with too much free time. I spent the first few months staring at the wall across from my bed, and the more recent months staring at the wall closest to my bed. As a result, I’ve started to feel a certain hollowness between my ears — you know, the place where thoughts and ideas are supposed to exist.

In a last-ditch attempt to restore my own brain matter, I decided this past weekend to become an explorer, because “exploring” seems to be the choice activity of smart people like Dora and Gloria Steinem during that period of time when she roamed the land in a trailer. Unfortunately, being stuck inside leaves minimal square footage for searching or finding. Nevertheless, I persisted.

The first thing I discovered was Cheerios in my kitchen cabinet, which I ate. Then, I took to scaling the floor like a nimble cat. Within minutes, I found myself covered in crumbs and dog hair, which majorly tested my dedication and resilience. But just as my inquisitive spark was about burn out — just as I was about to permanently retire from this new hobby — I stumbled across a dusty journal wedged underneath a floorboard in my attic. While the pages were practically falling apart, the writing was just legible enough for me to read. It was a teenager’s first-hand account of plague-era England, 1348. How topical! Here’s what it said:

MAY 27

A new shop opened down the road. The townspeople have nicknamed it “Forever 31,” which reflects the average life expectancy of people who shop without face coverings during a plague. For one half shilling, Forever 31 offers masks with decorated beaks that say things like “It’s wine o’clock somewhere” and “Oh, that’s your girl? Then why is she jousting with me?” I think these are very clever. I told sick neighbor Ethel about them, and she laughed so hard that she bled.

Despite all this, a woman named Etsy is offering to hand paint mask beaks for one shilling. The price is higher, but her business is more sustainable than Forever 31. Oh diary, where should I get my beak decorated?

MAY 29

We are running low on toilet moss and toilet leaves. I stopped by The Target — where father practices his aim — earlier, but there was no material suitable for use. I am concerned about this shortage and scared to use the outhouse.

MAY 31

Two women in town wrote a new song, and it’s quite catchy. They call it “WAP,” which stands for “We Are Plagued.” They performed it for us. All the local men told them to shut up.


Cousin Janet licked an infected patient yesterday. I told her she shouldn’t lick the literal plague. She got angry and accused me of “trying to take away her freedom.” I don’t know what that means.


Janet is dead.


Despite the plague, school carries on. Students must remain socially distant, so they conduct classes by screaming at each other through windows.

There is only one girl in our whole town receiving an education, and I often sit by the window to hear her literary analysis of “Beowulf.” She’s quite smart and claims to have a Wiglaf poster hanging above her bed. I don’t know this girl’s name, but everything she says ends up getting repeated by a boy named Josiah. I know Josiah’s name because he prefaces every comment with “I am Josiah.” Yesterday, he stole the girl’s analysis word-for-word, and when the Queen caught wind of his comments she made a special trip to the village just to make him a Lord.


With the residuals he’s made from this new Lord gig, Josiah purchased a new set of pristine chalices and claws, and now he’s inviting all the other nobility to come over and drink wine. I can’t believe how unsafe and irresponsible this is.

I want to alert the authorities, but Josiah’s newfound status makes him untouchable. I suppose there are no laws for those who drink from claws.


Cousin Taylor came over today. We read some folklore.


Brother has been spending lots of time at home in order to avoid the virus, and I admire him for being so responsible. However, he is acting a bit annoying. During this time, our family has focused on staying healthy and completing practical tasks. But Brother? Brother won’t stop doing crunches and sharpening tools. He keeps saying that the “grindstone never stops,” which means absolutely nothing.


The local hospital is quickly running out of resources. The townspeople have received word and are trying to scrape money together whenever possible.

In other news, the wealthy family at the top of the hill has expanded their floor plan and decorated their lawn with ornate pottery. They’re charitable, too — at sundown, they walk outside in silk robes and clap in the direction of the hospital.

Alison Sivitz writes about pop culture and politics. Follow her on Twitter @ali_sivi. Write to her at [email protected].