The Queue

After Vladimir Sorokin

“Hey, is this the back of the line? Vous faites la queue pour—?”

“Yeah, this is the end. Whoa, back it up, buddy: six feet, at least.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know all about that. It’s not my first time.”

“Well then, keep your distance, okay?”

“They’ve painted these squares on the ground, but it’s clear that they aren’t actually six feet apart.”

“You mean two metres. Ici, on utilise le système métrique, quand même! J’en ai marre de vos six feet!”

“Sure. Two metres is probably best.”

“And look at all those people ahead of us, they aren’t even wearing masks.”

“Well, it can be hard to breathe—”

“Of course, but it’s for the good of everyone! We must all wear masks, to protect ourselves and each other. That is the agreement! It’s what they’re saying, on the news.”

“Yes, have you seen the new numbers? Unbelievable.”

“Y’know, I heard that they’re actually giving them out, once you get near the front.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Dites-moi, do you know if they’re letting the people in yet? Vous attendez depuis quand?”

“It’s been a while, since at least 9 am.”


“I’ve lost all track of time. I try not to look at my phone these days. The news notifications are all awful. Last time I checked the count, it was near five thousand and I had to stop after that.”

“Well, it’s a lot higher than that now, I’m sorry to say.”

“It’s irresponsible to ignore the news, in my opinion.”

“If only the numbers would stop climbing so fast—”

“Ah, but they won’t unless they really start doing something about it, and you know how this government is.”

“Hey, you two, back of the line! You can’t just cut in between us because we’re spaced out!”

“Sorry, sorry! We didn’t mean to cut, it’s hard to tell where the end is!”

“It’s fine, fine. Everyone is a little on edge. This heat.”

“Ah, this heat.”


“You over there, why aren’t you wearing your mask? You can’t just drape it around your chin like that. Get with the program!”

“Nose hanging out like a penis.”

“Who, me? Mind your own business!”

“Your business is my business now, buddy, it’s everyone’s business, okay? You can’t just refuse to participate in the collective. Not if you’re in line with us all!”

“You can’t tell me what to do, it’s a free country. This mask stuff is total crap anyway. It’s the government trying to control us. I’m only wearing one to get into the damn store.”

“Monsieur, with all due respect!”

“No respect due, he doesn’t care about public health!”

“This public health bullshit that you’re all buying, it’s fake! It’s the elites flooding the system with lies. Look at us! They have us waiting in a lineup all day long, it’s a distraction from what’s really going on! Mind control, occult rituals, child—”

“What do you mean, what’s really going on? This guy is one of those conspiracy theory nut-jobs, don’t listen to him.”

“You bet it’s a conspiracy—an elitist plot to turn us all into chemical-filled mindless drones! Why are we even here? What are we waiting for? Where does the line end, huh? They’ve infected us all! Through the 5G network!”

“What the bloody hell is he talking about? What’s 5G? Should we know about this?”

“I thought it was spread by droplets?”

“Each day, they say a new thing. That’s why I don’t watch the news anymore.”

“Well, we have to stay informed.”

“There’s no such thing as information anymore, just dis-information. From the Right, the Left, from all sides! But I’m an independent thinker, I know the codes, I know exactly what to look for, and let me tell you—”

“Sounds like you need to spend a little time offline. Go for a walk or something. Talk to some normal people.”

“Honey, I don’t blame you, it’s impossible to regulate internet usage these days. No structure to the days, no end in sight.”

“Tell me this, if you’re all so smart: why’d the officials say for weeks not to wear masks, and now suddenly, they turn around and say everyone has to wear one? Where’s the data? It’s a scamdemic, it’s all fake news, look it up!”

“Dude, get a grip! Have you ever heard of epidemiology? S-C-I-E-N-T-I-F-I-C R-E-S-E-A-R-C-H? No, probably not, you’re probably too busy scrolling through your anti-vaxxer, MAGA-filled newsfeed, right?”

“Who the fuck asked you, you dumb—what gender are you even supposed to be, anyway? This is what they want, for freaks like you to dictate what we can and can’t do in our own homes!”

“Whoa, buddy, calm down, okay? Give the lady some room. Back it up!”

“I’m not a—”

“At least she’s got a mask, what about that whole group in front, all lumped together, not a mask between them?”

“I’m not a ‘she,’ but whatever.”

“It’s the young people, they don’t understand the dangers.”

“They don’t seem so young to me.”

“They’re obviously new to the neighbourhood. That fancy new university campus. All sorts of clueless students clogging up the grocery stores like they own the place.”

“A disgrace! What happened to the plans for public housing?”

“But they say the new campus will bring jobs and a jolt to the local economy. Buying power, something like that?”

“Sure, sure. They come into my store. But don’t buy! They complain about no organic IPA, no oat milk, they walk out, then next day, I see them at the housing rights protest. It’s a little ironic, no?”

“Well, better them than all the, you know, the criminal elements who have been taking over the neighbourhood the last few years. My son’s a police officer, and he tells me—”

“That’s right! We need to round them up, and get rid of them! Make the neighbourhood great again.”

“I’m sorry, what? What did you just say?”

“My friend, keep your bigotry to yourself, it’s not the time—”

“Dude, it is NEVER the time!”

“You people don’t get it! Bunch of liberal whiners, I see you on the message boards, trying to spread your agenda, but some of us aren’t going to stand for it anymore!”

“What exactly is your problem, sir? Do you have something to say to us? Look around you, maybe you should watch your mouth—”

“The storm is coming and there’s nothing you can—”

“What the actual fuck!”

“Alright, alright, calm down, no need to get pushy, whoa, whoa!”


“Stop shoving!”

“Hey! Watch it!”


“Oh shit!”


“Nice one!”


“Du calme, du calme, there are older people here, children!”

“What the hell is happening over there!”

“Get off of me! Get off!”


“Well, that got rid of him. Damn.”

“Nicely done!”

“Violence is never the answer! Someone should call the police on you all. The poor man was just expressing his opinions. I don’t know what is happening to people these days.”

“People can say what they want, sure, but sometimes hate speech will have consequences, okay?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know.”

“I think the wait is getting to people.”

“I don’t know.”

“And it’s damn hot too. If the line would just move into that shade up ahead.”

“Did you bring a water bottle?”

“No, I didn’t think we’d be here this long.”

“I need to water my peppers, my beans. If I’d known it would take this long—”

“Oh, you two have very nice masks. Did you make those yourselves?”

“No, but there’s a group in the neighbourhood who are taking cloth donations and giving out masks for free. To anyone who needs!”

“But I heard the cloth masks are of no use?”

“I heard they’re better than nothing—”

“Yes, and we’re meant to leave the surgical masks for the health care workers. It’s for the good of everyone.”

“It’s nice to know people are helping each other out.”

“Sure, some are, some are. But what about all those people in the park yesterday? I saw the pictures. Endangering everyone just to get a little sun!”

“We should call the cops on them, force them to disperse!”

“Well, we’re anti-police, can’t agree with you there. It’s better to inform and educate than to call the cops on people.”

“Oh sure, you’re anti-police. Until someone breaks into your house at night and assaults you—”

“Okay, okay, no need to get dramatic.”

“We’d still be anti-police. They do more harm than good!”

“Yeah that’s right, fuck the police, right ladies!”

“We aren’t ladies, but yeah, fuck the police.”

“It’s no use shouting slogans, no one can hear you.”

“Well, if we all shouted together, they would.”

“Who’s they?”

“Hey, brother, would you move it along! The line’s moved forward and you’re just standing there holding us all up!”

“It hasn’t moved forward.”

“It hasn’t moved at all in the last hour and a half. I’ve been next to this fire hydrant the entire time.”

“That’s not very promising.”

“It should be worth it, though. This is the first time they’re offering—”

“Don’t believe all the rumours.”

“I heard that they’re doing nasal swabs now. They stick it right up your nostril, into your brain!”

“What do you mean, into your brain! This isn’t a space alien science fiction movie!”

“My daughter got one, and she said she could feel it touch her brain, right through her nose.”

“Your daughter is an idiot.”

“Don’t you dare talk about my daughter like that! You have no idea what she’s been through! I’ll come over there and tear your tongue right out of your head.”

“Ma’am, ma’am, calm down.”

“You tell HIM to calm down.”

“Everybody calm down!”


“Look at this, it’s climbed up to seven thousand two hundred and twenty-three, and that’s just in the past—”

“I really have to go water my vegetables. Who knew we would be waiting so long. Here, would you do me a favour and watch my spot until I come back?”

“I guess so. But what if it moves while you’re gone?”

“Well, you’ll move as well, and you’ll keep my spot in front of you, won’t you? You seem like a kind person.”

“Hold on, you can’t just leave and get someone to save your spot, that’s not how it works!”

“Chéri, don’t be an ass. She’s an older woman, she’s higher risk. She should get to leave if she needs to.”

“Yes, we must protect our elders. Now more than ever!”

“I’m not so old! I just need to water my peppers.”

“And who’s to say you yourself won’t need to leave later on? What about using the bathroom, how is anyone going to do that?”

“I saw a Port-a-Potty down that side street, by the condo construction site.”

“Fucking condos, don’t get me started.”

“Are you kidding me? It’s probably a breeding zone for the bug. No way am I using one of those.”

“It’s a virus, not a mosquito.”

“Well, whatever. The germs. Ugh.”

“Seven thousand two hundred and thirty-five!”

“Shit, it’s already 4:15.”

“Man, Serena still hasn’t answered my texts from yesterday.”

“Bummer. I have a video call at 5. Do you think we’ll make it?”

“Hard to tell.”


“I knew we should have come earlier.”

“You always say that, and yet, here we are.”

“Here we are.”


Photo by Chloe Evans on Unsplash

Photo by Chloe Evans on Unsplash



“Fucking pigs!”


“It’s those students up ahead! I told you they’d get us all in trouble!”


“Still no need for the pigs to get on our backs. They aren’t even wearing masks, the assholes!”

“Madame, your child dropped his hat!”

“Oh thank you, thank you. Rahim, hold onto the hat, please. Put it on your head.”

“I don’t wanna wear my hat!”

“It’s very sunny out, you must wear it.”

“I’m hungry!”

“Yes, everyone is hungry, it’s why we are in line.”

“Wait, is this a grocery line? I thought it was the line for testing?”

“No, no, it’s for PPE.”

“I thought this was the line for the free boxes of canned food?”

“Nah, I heard there was a warehouse full of toilet paper and they’re giving it out at 5:30.”

“Why wait until 5:30, let us have it now!”

“Toilet paper, now!”

“That’s right, crions ensemble!”

“Everyone, on the count of three!”








“Shut up, shut up, they’ll ticket us all!”






“What’s happening, they’re passing something out along the line.”

“Toilet paper?”

“I can’t see.”


“I can’t see, I said!”

“I think the line is moving!”

“Just barely.”

“Did they just arrest someone??”

“I can’t see, Mama! I don’t wanna wear the hat!”

“Not sure, maybe some people got tired of waiting and left?”

“Are you drinking beer? Hey! Did you hear me? Have some respect! Do you want us all to lose our spots?”

“Look, we’re rounding the corner, finally! I thought we’d never get to see beyond that building.”

“I don’t think we’ve moved so many steps since early this morning. But I still can’t see the front!”

“Seven thousand two hundred and forty-seven! It’s climbing faster, people!”

“Will you stop reading out the count, it’s giving me hives!”

“My god, are hives a symptom now?”

“No! I just get them when I’m stressed. But thanks for commenting on my health without being asked.”

“Okay, okay, sorry, no offense!”

“Khalas, Rahim, for the last time! Your hat!”

“Shit, I think they’re doing some kind of inspection.”

“What do you mean, inspection? Inspection of what? They won’t ask for papers, will they?”


“Wait, is that Serena over there? With Geneviève? What the fuck!”

“Whoa, really? Didn’t Serena say she’s quarantining alone?”

“Well apparently not!”

“That’s awkward. Are you pissed?”

“That liar. And with Geneviève! She told me they were over, like, weeks ago!”

“Doesn’t look over to me.”

“I should text her right now. Is ‘How’s Geneviève’ too creepy?”

“Aren’t we trying not to touch our phones while we’re out? We’re out of hand sanitizer, remember?”

“Right—ugh, right.”

“Just try not to look at them?”

“I hate this…whole…THING. I want the world to go back to normal. I haven’t been topped in months.”

“Amen, sister!”

“Easy dude, I’m not your sister.”

“And anyway, back to normal isn’t what we want. We want an overhaul of the entire system. Starting with the cops! And institutional racism!”

“Yeah, of course. I just mean, I miss being around people. I’m an extrovert.”

“We are all dealing with loneliness.”

“Except the young people who are having germ parties!”

“I heard they’ll impose a curfew soon if people don’t stop assembling.”




“Écoutez! My son just texted me that his landlord told him that anyone who doesn’t pay rent by tomorrow will be arrested.”

“My ex’s boss emailed her saying there’s no more solidarity payments after next week.”

“The dep owner’s daughter told me that anyone caught buying N-95s after sundown would be fined.”

“My cousin’s boyfriend’s father told me the schools will never re-open.”

“My roommate’s girlfriend’s brother retweeted that anyone caught breathing loudly while running would be banned from the outdoors.”

“My grandmother’s hairdresser shared a post saying that haircuts will be illegal by Thursday.”

“Ah là-là, là-là!”

“It’s high time something was done!”

“Hear, hear!”




“Seven thousand THREE hundred and—”

“Shut the fuck up, dude, it’s not helping!”


“It’s all so depressing, I don’t know how much longer I can go on. All this struggle, all this pain.”

“But don’t you think the time for change is now? If not now, when?”

“Yes, yes, inshallah.”

“But how, if we can’t even get this line moving?”

“How long have we been here, anyway?”

“Hard to say—but look, the sun’s setting.”

“Have you noticed that the sunsets are so much more beautiful now? Every evening! I take a picture of each one. I have a whole album. I send them to friends when they are sad.”

“I heard it has to do with the smog reduction.”

“No, but I thought that more smog makes for more beautiful sunsets.”

“Well, you have to believe your own eyes, no?”

“Maybe it’s just that we’re all looking at the sky more than usual. We’re noticing things we didn’t notice before.”

“Like police brutality, like injustice!”

“Oh come on, none of that’s new! It was just easier to ignore for some of you.”

“Some of us, what do you mean? I’m a woman, I know about oppression!”

“I’m sure you do…”

“I do!”

“But tell me this: when did you ever stand up for your Black and brown sisters? Have you made phone calls, have you marched? Have you supported us?”

“I’m not a racist! Don’t go calling me a racist!”

“I bet she’s one of those people who shamed Hijabis. And now she’s out here covering her face, too! Because the government ordained it!”

“Look, don’t blame me for your problems. I have a busy life, two kids. Who stands up for me?”

“Everyone has a busy life!”

“And look at us now. Hours spent lining up, and for what?”

“Look at all the people behind us now, though, that’s a comfort.”

“Is it?”

“Well, we could be back there. But fortunately, we’re…here.”

“Where is ‘here’? I don’t even know this block. I don’t want to stay here overnight. At this rate—”

“Nobody’s staying here overnight!”

“Speak for yourself, I didn’t wait here all day to go home empty-handed.”

“If they want us to get tested, they need to hurry it up!”

“If they promised us toilet paper, they’d better show us the goods!”

“Perhaps they’ve run out of PPE?”

“Maybe the staff caught it? Maybe they’ve closed it down?”

“Is that the cops again, up there at the front?”

“I’m checking Twitter—someone made a #boredinline hashtag.”


“I can duck out of the line and go check what’s happening up front?”

“Yes, it’s a good idea. We will save the spot.”

“Thanks! I’ll be back soon.”


“The line must be much longer than we thought.”

“She’s taking a very long time.”

“Perhaps she’s being thorough, asking important questions.”

“What if there’s a disturbance up there?”

“What if she cut the line?”

“What if she got lost?”

“Don’t be silly, how can she get lost? It’s a line! You follow it for long enough, you get back to where you were.”

“That’s a circle, not a line.”

“What if we’re somewhere else entirely?”


“Hey, can I bum one of those?”

“Oh, hi, actually, I wouldn’t mind one as well, if you have?”

“You shouldn’t be smoking! It will spread the contagion!”

“Says who? Where’s the evidence?”

“Well, then, you shouldn’t be sharing cigarettes with young people.”

“If you’re going to be so judgey, we’ll go smoke them over here. Hold our spots.”

“Hey come on, you can’t just leave and expect the rest of us to—”

“We’ll hold your spot when you need to take a break, how about?”

“I don’t even know you.”

“You’ll want to duck out eventually.”

“Well, fine, fine, do what you want. Maybe your spot will be here when you get back, maybe not.”

“Okay, whatever, I can’t stand here any longer, fuck it. Are you coming with?”

“Sure, why not, I guess! I’m dying for a smoke.”


“Where are we—”

“What about over here, behind these bushes.”

“Seems okay. God, those people, I’m sick of them all.”

“Here, want a light?”


“Ahhhh, that’s more like it. Man, I haven’t been able to relax since this whole thing started.”

“Yeah, the tension really gets to you. I meant to quit at the beginning of the year, but now anything that takes the edge off is worth it to me.”

“Hey, I actually have a flask as well, I brought it just in case. Was gonna share it with my roommate, but they ditched me for a video call an hour ago.”

“You don’t have any food, do you?”

“No, I had no idea we’d be waiting this long, I thought I’d be home by dinner. Ha! How could they not warn people?”

“Fuck if I know anymore.”

“We shouldn’t be sharing a flask, though. The germs—”

“I’ll open my mouth and you just pour it in.”

“Right, okay.”

“Damn, that’s strong! But it feels fucking great.”

“Yeah, my roommate actually made it. Been trying not to go to the stores. Who knows if you can even buy booze anymore.”

“Shit, no kidding. I’m a lightweight today. Barely eaten anything.”

“Same here, phew.”

“Shall we lie down in the grass, just for a moment?”


“Oh look, there’s the moon rising, it’s huge!”

“Yes, it’s a new energy, a full moon in—”

“Please, no astrology. I can’t hear any more predictions, not in this weather.”

“Sorry, it’s just a reflex.”



“Speaking of reflexes, I feel a strange urge to put my arm around you.”

“Oh, I mean, normally I wouldn’t mind, but!”

“I know, don’t worry, I won’t do it, I know we can’t, we shouldn’t, I just feel that I suddenly want to—”

“Yes, I haven’t touched anyone in months, it’s unusual for me.”

“I still go on the apps, but like, just to look around.”

“Another reflex?”

“I guess so.”





“Well, maybe just a little bit of touching would be alright.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I’ve been very careful until now.”

“Until now, me too. Haven’t seen anyone. Not up close.”

“Up close, like this?”

“Like this, yeah.”


“How’s that? Is that okay?”

“Mm yes, definitely.”

“And this?”

“Ah, yes, that’s good too.”

“Tell me what you—?”

“Oh, you have nice hands, I did notice that.”

“Oh wow, um, well, thank you.”

“Well maybe you could put them over here…and unbutton this—”

“Oh hmm, like this?”

“Yeah, like that—”

“And what if I—?”

“Oh, more like that, oh shit—”

“Is this the kind of thing—”

“Ahhh, yes, this is definitely the kind of thing.”

“This is so gay, here in the bushes, with the moon, the moon in whatever you were going to say.”

“Ahhh, hahaha, you can’t make me laugh while you’re doing that!”

“Oh, sorry, how rude of me.”

“Maybe if you had your mouth full, you wouldn’t distract me like that.”

“I think that could be arranged—”

“Fuck, oh, fuck.”


“Oh, god, yes please—”


“Oh fuck, I think I’m gonna—”



“Argh, what the hell!”

“What’s happening! What! Did we fall asleep?”


“Shit, I think so, we’d better get back over there!”

“Should we, though? What do they mean by ‘verified’? Did they just make that up?”

“I mean, I really need some—and we weren’t far from the front, maybe there’s still some left?”

“Me too, but it sounds like things are heating up over there, we’re safe where we are.”

“I think we should go back, maybe it will help to have more bodies there.”


“Strength in numbers.”

“Right, okay. Give me another swig of your moonshine first though, would you?”

“Sure, have at it. Oh, my pants. Whoops.”

“Let’s get up, then.”

“Help me, my legs are all cramped.”

“Here, easy, easy.”

“Oh, haha, thanks, it’s been—”

“Yeah, this was. Unexpected. A little strange but very—”


“Very fun, right, very—”

“Yeah, hey, should we trade numbers or IG handles or—?”

“Well, maybe, I dunno. Like, you seem very cool, and—”

“Right, no pressure, we could just leave things as they are, what happens in the queue stays in the queue?”

“We may be staying in the queue for a lot longer, anyhow.”

“We may in fact be living in the queue from now on.”

“Who even knows if it’s a queue anymore, it could be anything at this point. The whole situation is pretty amorphous.”

“Maybe it’s more of a blob now.”

“A sphere.”

“An ouroboros.”

“A five-dimensional rhomboid.”

“A two-dimensional line.”

“Time to flatten out. See things in a new way.”

“Alright, are you ready?”

“Shall we go back out there?”

“See what we’ve been waiting for?”

“Yes, come on, are you with me?”

Helen Chau Bradley is a writer, musician, and arts administrator living in Tio’tia:ke / Montreal. They are the author of Automatic Object Lessons (House House Press) and will publish Personal Attention Roleplay, a collection of stories, in 2021. Their essays, stories, and reviews have appeared in Cosmonauts Avenue, Entropy Magazine, Maisonneuve Magazine, the Montreal Review of Books, Ricepaper Magazine, and elsewhere. @notesofacrocodile on Instagram. @notesofacroc on Twitter.