Blanking Out

How to live a storied life amid a pandemic

By Maria Johnson

For the entertainment of our Covid-weary readers, we’ve concocted a fill-in-the-blank game in the spirit of Mad Libs. To play with another person, don’t read the story aloud. Just ask him or her to supply a word for every blank space, using the prompt. Remember, the wackier and saucier the answer, the better. Then read the story aloud. If you want to play solo, go to

How I Spent My COVID Summer

By ( ______ —  _______ your playmate’s first and last name if you’re playing with a partner, or your name if you’re playing alone)

One pandemic day, it was really hot and humid, and my air conditioner was broken, so I decided to go to a Zoom meeting wearing only a ( ______article of clothing). The camera was focused tightly on my face, so nobody noticed. Then my ( _____uncommon animal) walked across my laptop keyboard. Forgetting my attire, I got up to put him out, and then someone said, “Hey, nice ( ______ vegetable, plural) and I was like, “Excuse me?” And they said, “In your garden. I can see your new raised bed garden through the window.” And I said, “Oh, thanks. Maybe I’ll bring some of the harvest into the office when we have another meeting there in ( _____ year in the future).” And everyone laughed ( _____ adverb ending in -ly). Except my boss. She just sat there looking like the proverbial cat who ate the  (_______ cooking utensil). People were getting slaphappy because already the call had lasted for ( _____number) hours.

When the call ended, I needed a break. So I put on a mask made of solid  ( _____ type of metal), which they say is the best kind because it lets nothing through. I saw a picture of ( ______ name of a celebrity) wearing one, and I thought maybe I could pull it off, too, because people say we look alike. Also, I put on a pair of ( _____ Disney character) sunglasses for eye protection, and I hung a garland of ( ______type of fruit) around my neck. I felt pretty safe.

We were in Phase (_____ number) of the reopening, which meant you could leave home but only if you were an essential ( ______ type of worker), which I happen to be. Perhaps you didn’t know that about me. A lot of people don’t. Anyway, I put on more clothes, including a ( _____ type of hat), which I stuck with a (______type of bird) feather as a fashion statement. I got in my car and drove to ( ______ a North Carolina town) because there’s a store there that always has
( ______ noun, plural), which have been hard to find locally. I know it’s a long way to drive for that, but I enjoy the scenery: the rolling hills with trees, cows, horses and an occasional ( ______ zoo animal) ( ______verb ending in -ing) through the countryside.

Anyway, I turned on the radio and listened to an interview with a chef who became famous for making pan-seared (______type of toiletry) with tofu. I had it once, and it was surprisingly good, considering the main ingredient. Anyway, this chef got Covid while her restaurant was closed in Phase I. Her first symptom was a fever of ( ______number above 100) degrees Fahrenheit that lasted for ( ______number) days, during which she was plagued by nightmares of ( ______verb ending with-ing) squid. Naturally, her doctors were ( ______adjective) about the whole thing.

Finally, her fever subsided but she had lost her sense of smell and taste, which is terrible for a chef. So she decided to close the restaurant permanently and go into the ( _______type of flying insect)-farming business, which seems like a strange career switch, I grant you, but you have to be flexible in these trying times. By the time the interview was over, I had arrived at my destination, a new grocery store called Trader ( _______ first name)’s, which is a very socially conscious store. All stockholders are required to reduce their personal ( _______type of cookie) emissions by more than 50 percent. Anyway, I pulled up my mask, adjusted my sunglasses and garland and started ( _______verb ending with-ing) through the parking lot. Suddenly I heard a loud voice “Hey! You with the ( ______ color) hair!” That’s right, I dyed my hair this summer just so I could look in the mirror and see someone new. Anyway, I looked up to see a store employee on a megaphone. This was because the number of infections had soared, and social distancing had been increased from 6 feet up to ( ______number over 100) feet. The guy continued on his megaphone: “I need to ask you a few questions. First, have you had a fever or coughed up any ( _____noun, plural) in the last two weeks? “Certainly not.” I replied. Have you had any hallucinations or thoughts of ( _____noun, plural). “Negative,” I said. “Have you ever ( ______verb, past tense)?” I said, “Once. In college. Does that count?” “No,” he said, but I could tell he was smiling under his mask. “You can go in.”

No one else was in the store, owing to the new social distance. I picked up a few items and put them on the conveyor belt at checkout. Then I left the store. This was the new protocol for shopping. You had to put your items on the belt and leave the store, then a cashier would ( ______action verb) in from a back room and leave a note for you saying “Did you find everything you need?” — and leave. Then you would come back in and leave a note saying, “Yes. Also, I find your selection and prices to be (______adjective)”— then leave. Then they would come in and ring up your purchase — then leave. Then you would come back in and swipe your credit card and bag your own groceries and leave. It was exhausting. As a result, people were eating less and walking more and we were actually becoming a much more just, verdant, ( ______ adjective), ( ______adjective) society, if that makes any sense. Which it probably doesn’t.

Who would have ever imagined such a ( _____adjective) surprise ending, except maybe O.Henry himself? OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. She can be reached at

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