Writings from "Sheltering in Place"
Stories on Stage received many wonderful entries for our "Sheltering in Place" show.
We aren't able to perform all of them, but wanted to honor all of our authors and share their great stories.
Feel free to read below (posted in alphabetical order):
"Sheltering in Place" Stories
When the Quarantine Ends
By Nick Arvin
1. Rick steps outside and exults at the breeze in his face, the quivering trees, the scudding clouds. As he gazes upward, however, he notices a sensation of lightness. His arms seem to rise of their own accord, as if buoyant. Then he sees that his feet have drifted free of the pavement. Too late, he realizes that he has forgotten how to remain earthbound without a roof overhead. He balloons away, to the far distance, a speck, vanishing.
2.Yonette comes out and finds an eerie quiet. The streets are empty, the parks, the restaurants, the stores… There is no one. Finally Yonette looks into the apartments and houses—here are the people, eating dinner, watching TV, playing games. She calls, waves, knocks. They look at her and wink—then return to what they were doing.
3. Sloan tries, but she finds that, as others have reported, it is actually, physically, literally impossible to step through the door, back into the world, without simultaneously taking video of herself with her phone.
4. Brian sees that a terrible storm is raging, but he is so excited that, nonetheless, he goes out. He is instantly struck by lightning and incinerated. His roommate, Sean, who has been terribly depressed, and who has just watched a bolt incinerate his roommate, winces, and quietly closes the door.
5.Tobin emerges onto his porch, and immediately he can tell that the world he left behind has been replaced by a replica, a false world exactly the same as the world before the quarantine, but betrayed by one small difference, which has to do with the squirrels. The squirrels are vaping.
6.Vera, who abhors change, decides that she just won’t.
7.Laurie walks through the door, and as she meets neighbors and friends, she is shocked to find that while everyone else has aged twelve years, she has aged only one. She regrets the terrible aging of all those she loves. But, secretly, she feels that it suggests a certain superiority on her part.
8.Samantha stands in the doorway and sees that, while the living were trapped, the dead have risen. A mustached man nods and waves to her while a car passes through him. A boy with several gaping wounds rides a trike along the sidewalk, singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes.” Well, Samantha thinks, recovering from her surprise, everyone said that things would never be the same as before.
9.Jenn sees all her neighbors running away down the street. She rushes after them, shouting. But they do not answer, or do not hear. They are fast, and she is, admittedly, not in very good shape. She’s been stuck in the house for so long! Gasping, she stumbles to a halt. In a moment everyone has disappeared down the street, out of sight. Jenn wonders, What are they running toward? Or, are they running away from her? But then she glances behind herself, and she sees what they were running from.
10. Carlos steps out the front door smiling, but then his phone makes a noise. The screen flashes an urgent notification. A regrettable mistake has been made. The quarantine is renewed. Carlos rubs his face, sighs, and goes back inside.
11. Ted, admittedly, feels a little cautious, a little worried, and so he goes out and examines the situation closely. He reviews all the things that have changed and all the things that have not changed. It takes years. This study becomes, in fact, his life’s work. But it is worthwhile, for when he finishes, he is reassured that he was correct in each of his opinions all along.
12. Dale walks out and sees his neighbor mowing his lawn—that is, Dale’s neighbor is mowing Dale’s lawn. The divorced mom who lives across the street gets into her elderly neighbor’s car and drives away. A little further down, people are carrying furniture back and forth between houses. Dale is surprised, but, after a moment’s reflection, he concludes that perhaps it is not really surprising, and so he goes to play with his neighbor’s children.
By Stacie Booker
I came here for 6 days;
I stayed for 6+ weeks.
I came back to mend a broken heart
- the one forged in steel
crafted by his two hands
a bespoke two layered heart
wrapped in a strand of red christmas lights.
hung at the threshold
of this working man’s modest home.
His message was clear
crafted daily to our liking
yet the timing was off
My soul sought higher power nourishment.
Stars and Sunsets
is the reason i gave
when pressed (by those in the know)
for why i journeyed to colorado.
I found solace in the pleides
and the milky way
and in sunrises over
and the routines of
front desk hospitality work
along with dance
During my deflections of commitment,
Time yielded a burning out
of the vibrant red wrapping.
as turns were taken:
him placing the sparkling ring on my desk
me moving it carefully to his shelf - not being ready to answer the questions it raised.
I came here for 6 days;
I stayed for 6+ weeks.
I came back to mend a broken heart
- mine and his.
i came to weave in a new strand of red lights
in the forged steel
crafted by his two hands
a bespoke two layered heart
wrapped in a strand of red christmas lights.
hung at the threshold
of our modest home.
Covid-19 Pandemic Personal Ramblings from Colombia to Canada
By Alexander Campbell
This is NOT a lie, but everything in my life is some sort of Paul Bunyan-esque, 'The Onion'-esque, 'Ripley's Believe It Or Not' Tall Tale.
This includes my current pandemic blues. I was ripped out of Panama due to the Covid19 Pandemic assuming God is a Colossal Wax strip. I am now trapped in a Toy Box in Toronto. I am staying at a Women's Shelter after saying I had lifelong Gender Dysphoria, which is true, to avoid further hardship & unnecessary pain. Only days before, I was visiting the Survivor Pearl Islands, Exile Island, & AllStars filming location of Isla del Rey, with its ginormous litter problem, stray dogs & children, & Pan-African fisherman shouting Gringo & Rico brazenly at me for 10 minutes. I can still smell the brackish salt off of the driftwood.
I am so tortuga-slow & subconsciously self-destructive when I should be bulldozing warpseed. The agony of putting one foot in front of the other after you were on track is monumental. I have been in Canada for 6 weeks, & would have done better, happy & warm with Life in Colombia.
Boy, wish I could afford therapy. I with nothing in the bank the other day went out to be strong & positive; only to lose the $80 of belongings I had just purchased. This had wasted days of time & sleep; & kept me frozen. How could I be such an idiot? How could I need not feel the lost weight when I left the bags on the concrete steps? Why were they not there when I retraced my steps only 90 minutes later? Why did I waste my days looking at various security footage?
I could use a hug right now. I feel the sanctimonious, steady hum of other's presence as they fart forward with ease & no worry.
If not for this Pandemic, I would have been in a Colombia hostel with like-minded, Survivor Superfan Friends & warm, fizzy beer. I would have stilll been writing after selling a piece to an online website. There is no reason why I cannot focus on my writing in shelter. I will improve after figuring out my Governmental benefit situation which currently is smaller than the President's penis, …, & less orange. I can lose my current benefits if I leave the Province of Ontario. I am afraid of being trapped in this frozen wasteland forever. I am not suicidal, but not being able to leave Canada in a year or two; I hopefully would Hunter S. Thompson the 'fuck-out-of-heah'! Live free or die.
Oh, cries to be grateful. I am talking about the White Savior Nation of Canada where everyone wishes to be from Americans to Mexicans & Refugees that have limbs amputated due to frostbite. I spent most of my life in The US Undocumented against my will. I just want to be free & not controlled: Irony.
I do not want to remain in a freezing, passive-aggressive Nation that has buffaloed the rest of the world in thinking they are polite / nice. I do not want to be in a place that feels it has to control / institutionalize the disadvantaged. Canada refuses to pay people benefits more than $600 to $900 a month, but the average rent is 1200 per month which is snatched if you leave.
Canada must be my launch-pad as a Global Citizen & I do not want to be born here ever again. Never ever. Let's carve this desire on pumice stone & amplify it through the Speakers to the Universe on a Golden record travelling through Space. I am an American in soul & spirit. The US is also a flawed Nation, but it is where the souls & land I recognize cohabit.
I cannot let 'could-ofs', 'would-ofs', & 'should-ofs' weigh me down. I have to work from where I am presently rooted, & not be my own worst enemy.
How in the fuck am I going to be a Global Citizen once again?
If not for this stupid pandemic I would still be.
By Shirley Carnahan
I am an introvert. Most of my friends have no idea of this fact because I am a high-functioning introvert, but it is indeed the truth. People sitting too close to me make me sweat, and I crave the moments when the seat next to me at any venue is empty. In fact, large gatherings freak me out, and when stressed I happily cocoon myself at home.
So you might say that this COVID-19 lockdown is perfect for me, right? You would be soooooo wrong. Isolation by choice is not the same as enforced isolation.
Now I admit, being able to dig into my large stash of unread books by the side of the bed is wonderful. Having to disinfect them when I pass them on to friends? Not so much.
Watching my long-neglected hoard of recorded television programs makes me feel good. Not remembering whether I just saw an episode of Home Improvement or Last Man Standing is less exciting (but at least Tim Allen is in both, right?).
On the plus side of lockdown is that I can make lists of all the things I plan to do now that I have more time at home. The negative side is how few of these items are crossed off at the end of each day.
But since I am an inveterate list maker and a ridiculously optimistic person, I have decided to notate five positives of the situation we all find ourselves in at the moment.
- Grocery shopping is less complicated. No really. Is there toilet paper available? If not, stay home.
- Laundry is simpler. Leggings, big shirt, undies, leggings, big shirt, undies….who needs bras?
- My technology skills have vastly improved; I can now Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype with the prowess of someone 60 years younger than I am. My great nieces and nephews are duly impressed.
- My appreciation for what used to seem like simple pleasures has increased immeasurably. Getting a haircut, going to a restaurant, seeing a live performance—all these are now luxuries I look forward to being able to do in the (I hope) near future and are no longer taken for granted. This is a good thing. I will appreciate all seemingly simple pleasures much more when I can do them again.
- But ultimately, one of the most positive results of this lockdown time in our lives is this: my extrovert friends will now perhaps more fully understand the joys of being an introvert, and my introvert friends and I will perhaps more fully understand the joys of being an extrovert. There are pleasures to be found in staying at home and pleasures to be found in mingling with the world. If we all can come a little closer to understanding our fellow human beings who might not be exactly like us, then enforced isolation might not be such a bad thing after all.
Bows and Arrows
By Shelly Catterson
While I shelter in place, while I walk or hike every day, watch mountain birds and storms, I remember Charlie. On April 2nd, his heart gave in during his sleep, unrelated to the virus. His family, my second family from childhood, cannot gather and grieve the way they taught me decades ago. Charlie, or Char, as I always knew him, from a family of nine kids, and one girl, Kathy, the youngest. Kath became my sister from another mister.
While I shelter in place, I work on a book about my mom dying when I was ten. And I write about Char, this memory:
I am at Outdoor Lab School in April of 1981 when I am twelve, two years to the month since Mom died. Near Mount Evans, just at the end of a road from my hometown, I feel far away, in a better world, with more deer. Other than all the rules, I am at ease, a mountain kid surrounded by mountains, trees and granite.
We break into smaller random groups, named after tribes. My all white group, the Sioux, resembles nothing of the nomadic culture, except some of us ride horses on occasion. We are an insult to any tribal culture, but I still want to learn anyway. Local high school counselors try to teach us different subjects.
Charlie gets us for archery. I am supposed to call him Mister. But I still call him Char; he calls me Shell. When I use a right-handed bow upside down and left-handed, like a young Jimi Hendrix, when a friend from church says, “You’re doing it wrong,” Char says simply, “She can do it anyway she wants.”
Left dumbstruck by such a fox, and an older brother, standing up for me, I go numb down through my feet.
Later we play Indian Games in a meadow. I only wish I were Indian, living in a culture that makes sense. I want to live even closer to wilderness where funerals last a few days and the richest people give the most away. But instead, I don’t know what is wrong with me when I wander off to the side and sit down in the damp grass crying.
Everyone ignores me. Except Char. He crouches down to my level. He talks right to me.
He asks, “Are you okay?”
He asks, “Are you tired?”
I’m afraid he thinks I’m a baby, that I need a nap. But I am tired. In a room full of bunk beds, I am the last one to fall asleep. I don’t realize enough tired makes anyone want to sit down and cry.
I only shrug at his questions.
And then he asks me my dream question, what I ached to hear since Mom died: “Do you wanna talk?”
But the shock of those words, from him, from anyone, leaves me frozen, unable to speak, my longing too long. As kids swarm around, ignoring us and my tears, maybe I am too exposed. Or Char, so close to home, he is my home, which I cannot risk.
I only shake my head, my hair never brushed by Mom again, stunned and weighted to the spring grass with regret.
And after Char asks me to speak in that wilderness, my crush on him will stretch out for decades, until I am almost forty years old. We will share meals and couches, mourn at funerals, dance at Kathy’s wedding. And though both of us will not ask or answer enough questions, he will remain part of my home, however broken.
Thank you, Char. We miss you.
By Chris Chandler
It’s not that I am not afraid of this virus or what it would be like if I got sick. It’s not that I don’t worry about what’s happened to our stock portfolio. It’s not that I don’t feel stymied at my inability to access simple things like topsoil to get garden going. It’s not that I don’t mourn the canceled trips to see dear friends and family.
It’s not that I don’t wonder if my 17 year old son will go to school in person next fall. Or what he’ll do this summer.
It’s not that I don’t feel worried for the people out there who are working because they need to but exposing to the virus because they don’t have a choice.
And yet. This time of “safe-at-home” has been balm for my introverted soul. I’ve been well aware of my introverted nature since childhood, even if I didn’t always have a name for it. I’d be playing happily at a friend’s house only to be flooded with the feeling of I-want-to-go-home. NOW. I’d reach my being-together limit with astonishing suddenness.
This still happens. I’ll be out doing errands and be overcome with the same overwhelming and undeniable urge.
Now I am home. All the time. And here’s the thing. I LIKE IT. No—the truth is—I LOVE it.
It’s not until now I’ve realized how hard the introvert in me has worked, how often I’ve denied her the desire to not participate, to stay out of the world, to disengage. Even as that kid who wanted to go home, I had an awareness of the perceived oddness of loners, of people who step away from the world too much.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve had what I call the Sunday Night Feeling, the dread that creeps up as Sunday afternoon turns to evening and I and those around me prepare to go out into the world on Monday. What I want is to stay in my home, my little world with my family, holding everyone close, for just another day.
Being quarantined, the Sunday night feeling is gone because the need to leave home, to go places, to venture out, is gone.
I’m not quite sure how to explain myself. I DO have friends and family I love to see. It’s not that I’m not social. I miss those people. And yet there are so many things I don’t miss—so many of the things that pull me away from home.
Somehow it feels easier to me to say no to online events I don’t want to participate in. People are offering so much online and often free these days. I appreciate that. And I find it overwhelming. I spend a lot of time deleting emails about things I don’t want to engage in. It feels like lots of noise. I understand why people move into cabins in the woods with no wifi.
Though I do look forward to more free movement in the world, there’s a big part of me that doesn’t want “stay-at-home” to go away. Because then the pressure from the world will re-assert itself on me to get back out there and mix it up. I don’t want to return to that world. I want to sit still, move more slowly, do less, say “no” more often. I want to give in to the one in me who wants to hold the world at bay. Now that I’ve had the gift of indulging her, there’s no going back.
Shelter in Place
By John Davenport
I never really considered death. Then, as the governor was describing sheltering in place, he gave as the reason, “flattening the curve.” OK, as an engineering student at Lehigh University in the 60’s, I understood how important it is to flatten the curve. Every course was graded on “THE CURVE” by the sadistic professors and grad students that took delight in creating hourly exams with a median score of 39%. By flattening the curve, my 15% could possibly be a “C”.
In this pandemic however, the governor did not stop there. He went on to describe why this was important. If the curve was not flattened, Intensive Care Unit resources could be overwhelmed. As a healthy and active person, an ICU resource was not something I planned on overwhelming. Pandemic or not. But as the governor explained, young healthy folks enjoying the Colorado lifestyle would probably not be stressing the ICUs. Experience from other countries was indicating that active healthy people from infants to 60 years olds were only experiencing mild or no symptoms at all from the Coronavirus. BUT, he hastened to add, for those over 60, it’s like “RUSSIAN ROULETTE.”
Full stop. What??? Russian Roulette. I’m familiar enough with probability calculations to stay away from life or death gambling, especially if it involves putting a single bullet in a six shooter and spinning the cylinder. I have never understood the fascination with this party game. If there are six players it is guaranteed that there will be brains on the wall. Spin the cylinder, pull the trigger, pass the pistol. This is really a very stupid game. Do you win if you blow your brains out or do you lose and everyone else wins? I’ve often thought it is really just a test of bravery for the mathematically challenged. Is the player smart or stupid to spin, pull, … and maybe pass on the pistol?
Was this just an ill-considered simile or is my demographic in a spin, pull, ...OBLIVION … pandemic game of chance? I never gave two thoughts to oblivion? Death has always been far away and assigned to other people who are not as careful, smart, or fortunate. According to the Governor though, it is now right at the doorstep for me and he’s got lots of retirement and assisted living doorsteps to prove it.
Russian Roulette though is a game of chance. Facebook is telling me that everyone is going to get it. That’s not chance. That’s certainty. The Governor is shutting things down, closing schools, closing barbershops, closing restaurants. But fortunately not gun shops so we can still buy a revolver. Shelter at home he says, or otherwise, for me it’s RUSSIAN ROULETTE.
OK, so I Stay At Home to flatten the curve. ICU admissions are indeed pushed out over a longer period. Wait.... Am I not playing Russian Roulette or am I just not playing it now. Flattening the curve, if everyone is going to get it, just means spin,wait, wait, wait,pull….. OBLIVION.
As the Stay at Home drags on, we all get masks, and the conventional Facebook wisdom morphs to “Open up. They’ll die sooner or later anyway.”
But it seems possible to me I can avoid oblivion by not picking up the revolver. A vaccine takes the Russian Roulette revolver away. I’ll wait with minor modifications to Stay at Home. Like stay out of restaurants, stay in the car, stay out of bars, stay in a mask, stay out of stores, stay in Zoom, and stay outdoors.
Now I can go back to ignoring death again.
Shelter in Place Podcast
By Laura Joyce Davis
When we got the quarantine order, I did pretty much the same things as everyone else: stocked up on dry goods, binged on home-schooling blogs . . . and started a daily podcast.
The podcast is called Shelter in Place, and it’s about finding daily sanity in a world that feels increasingly insane. Every day since March 17, my eyes snap open before dawn, my brain buzzing. I grab my coffee and head out to my backyard writing shed. For the next five, six, or seven hours, I research, write, and edit at top speed. I record episodes hunched under two blankets to eliminate echoes. I share survival stories, explore big ideas, and show that even in isolation, we’re not alone.
55 episodes in, I’m exhausted. But as a fiction writer and a mom of three who did more kid-wrangling than writing pre-COVID, it’s been electrifying to be working this much: I'm a light bulb finally turned all the way up. It’s been satisfying to be making something with this time, gratifying to see my episodes on iTunes. Don't look now, but I might be a real podcaster! There’s my midnight blue logo on my husband’s phone: Shelter in Place! Right between Death, Sex, & Money, and Snap Judgement.
Compared to literary fiction's glacial time scale, daily podcasting feedback is a sugar high. I often publish episodes, then get a reaction or review the same day. “Much-needed respite,” “great observations and insights,” and “solidarity during a weird time.” Drafts of my novel took years, but with my podcast, progress comes daily. But also, creative self-esteem is a game of Jenga: a kind email from a listener builds me up; a criticism or drop in downloads topples me down.
Two weeks in, my husband lost his job (our source of income), and the podcast that began as a creative outlet turned into a lifeboat we’re trying to blow up while inside it. We became entrepreneurs overnight, a full-time team for the first time in our 19 years together.
Every day, my goal is singular, finding sanity even as the world unravels. It turns out sanity is complex; I’ve had to redefine it repeatedly. Sometimes it means laughter and comfort. Hope. Other days it means lament over a world that is not as it should be. Sometimes it scares me, humbles me, and shows me my faults — as a parent, wife, citizen, and friend.
I’ve had warnings from friends: “You sure you should be talking about that?” Tense conversations with relatives: “I want my life to remain private.” Even mournful notes from my six-year-old daughter: “Mommy, please stop working all the time.”
I’ve lost a lot of sleep over this podcast: from fear of offending people, from mom guilt, from my late-night thoughts that just won't slow down. The daily create-and-release both energizes and exhausts me, forces me to face myself, and be brave like nothing before.
This project never would’ve happened without the virus. I never imagined it would still be going. But I don’t regret it. It’s a project that has stretched me. Shown me the world anew. Given me a vision for what could be ahead. Reminded me that even when I’m at my worst, I’m not alone. It’s shown me that the best thing I can offer is this daily gift, a place to take cover, a reminder to be present. I’m Laura Joyce Davis, and I hope you’ll join me as I shelter in place.
By Bonnie DeHart
March 11, 2020
I sat with four friends for our monthly lunch. Three of us are retired. One is facing his second round of chemotherapy. I said cavalierly, “I’m not going to stop enjoying life just because of this virus. I may be in my 70’s but I’ve worked hard to stay active and healthy. If I get it, I get it. if I die, I die.”
I have now learned that I do not want to die.
March 13, 2020
I sat at my computer checking my email. I watched as meeting after meeting was cancelled. I watched as friends decided not to go to our favorite Irish pub to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
I said I would go. I tried to talk them into it. Our favorite holiday. Green Beer, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Laughter and music! But no. We decided to err on the side of caution, as fear set in. I didn’t yet believe it.
March 26, 2020
Colorado shut down.
The Nation shut down.
My life shut down.
I found myself alone with my dog Abby Rose as I have always been. But this was different. This was not my choice. My volunteer work was cancelled. My social outings were cancelled.
I found myself alone.
The First day was like the first day of my retirement. No responsibilities. No set schedule. I was free. Maybe this won’t be so bad?
I made a mask out of one of my dog’s bandanas and posted a photo on Facebook. Everyone laughed. “Bonnie the Bandito” I was labeled. It was early days.
I watched the news as Bodies were loaded onto trailers in New York City. I saw the fear in Governor Cuomo’s eyes.
When did I start leaping away from people I passed as I walked my dog, or become afraid to go to the grocery store? When did I start talking to my appliances, saying “Good Job!” to my coffee maker, “Way to Go” to my toaster. “Why are you taking so long?” to the non-boiling water on my stove.
When did I realize our supply chain was broken? I may never be able to buy toilet paper again. A friend said not to worry. She had a mail order coming from Costco and she’d share some toilet paper with me. The order arrived minus the TP. Panic. I called my brother. I went to a neighbor. I managed to score 8 rolls which I shared with a friend who had less than I while I tried to figure out how to get more.
This is America. This cannot be happening. Shortages. Chaos. Fear. Not enough hospital beds. The entire State shut down. Schools closed, people out of work; only essential businesses open. People are dying and millions more are hurting.
Zoom meetings started. “Hey – guess what, I’m zooming!” and zooming. and . . . zooming.
I shop cautiously for groceries. I check the parking lot. Is it safe to go in? I dash through the store getting as many supplies as I can in the shortest time period, fleeing from the virus. I buy things I don’t need but I might need. I glare at people who don’t wear masks. I wipe my car down after I’ve been out. I am not this person. And I have become this person.
May 11, 2020
Safer at Home
I don’t feel safer.
I don’t know when I’ll feel safe again or trust again. I am alone.
But damn. I’m getting my hair cut on the 25th!
By Bonnie DeHart
Do you hear the Silence?
Life’s busy-ness is gone.
I can almost believe it’s just another day.
But can you hear the Silence?
Life’s busy-ness is gone.
I’ve not seen a daily death count on TV
Leave Me the Fuck Alone
Forty years ago, it always went the same way. A couple months into October she would ask me, “What do you want for your birthday this year?”
I would yell to the boy, who was always in another room. “Bill! What do I want for my birthday?!”
Bill knew the routine. “To be left the fuck alone!” I would grin at her, and she would give me her look of bemused exasperation.
When the boy moved away, he would text me in early November. “Happy birthday. Now I’ll leave you the fuck alone.” I would smile. She didn’t need to ask anymore; she knew my reply.
Then she died, and then this happened, and now it’s me and the two cats, the ones she picked out for us.
I gaze off into the fuck alone, and there she is, with her look of bemused exasperation. I grin at her.
Journal Entries from the Pandemic
By Karl Greve
A journal, nervously submitted by Mr. K, let me be clear this not my story, I just heard about this. Oh and many thanks to David Bryne and the Talking Heads
Day 1 of the Lockdown
I am so lucky, I find myself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife. This can’t be so bad
Day 4 of the Lockdown
Oh good lord, Honey where is the extra toilet paper?
And now I find myself behind the wheel of a large automobile
In search of paper gold
Day 6 of the Lockdown,
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down, a bath how unusual for a grown man
Day 11 of the Lockdown
Again, I find myself behind the wheel of a large automobile
Risking life and limb, on to the Soopers
Hey not so close, don’t paw at the beans, oh good lord the man in the orange hat coughed must avoid him
Never have I bought so much food, $234 for two people?
Week 3 of the Lockdown
The wifi is down, Honey do you have the password?
And you may ask yourself, how do I work this?
Thank God my phone works, calling son, confirming my ignorance, I hear his eyes rolling, you mean just unplug it and plug it back in? That really works?
Week four of the Lockdown
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was
Week 4.35 of the Lockdown
I thought we were going to exercise; this seems like I am rearranging the furniture
Is this my beautiful house?
Author’s note: Any resemblance to a living or soon to be dead individual is purely a coincidence
Week 5 of the Lockdown
Is this a work day? Honey what day is it? Honey?
Oh no, does she have the virus? Is she taking a nap? I shake her awake
Oh good lord, she isn’t speaking, must google symptoms
Let’s see excessive sleeping, no
Inability to articulate, no
The look, no
Whew, we live another day, kind of
Week 6 of the Lockdown
I thought she was a blonde
Is this my beautiful wife?
Week Umm, it never ends
This is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife
By Helen K. Hedrick
I don’t have a mask and neither do I want to retrieve my sewing machine from the closet and sew one. The sewing machine has collected dust and I have no idea whether the old needle would go up and down without tangling thread in the bobbin.
The answer during this time of pandemic is to use a bandanna. No sewing necessary if you want to go outside. Definitely in elevators you should use a bandanna. Many bad guys, possibly bandits, crowded in -- eyes floating, darting. You shouldn’t talk. If you talk, you could likely shed. Shedding is not good.
a large, printed scarf for the neck or head
typically with white spots or figures
on a red or blue background.
- - - - -
I haven’t seen a bandanna with white spots, though leopards have spots and snow leopards are completely white.
- - - - - -
Bandshells, elevators = danger.
Shells on a white sandy beach, glistening in the sun.
Shell of a man.
Hell of a man.
Hell of a time for us all.
You can stay home and watch “Tiger King” on Netflix about tigers bred in cages. Guys with missing teeth and ugly sets of tattoos blow air into lady mannequins and shoot them with rifles for fun. I cringe whether she’s a mannequin or not a mannequin.
Man-splain to me again, please, how we don’t know if this virus is air-borne or not. We don’t know if the non-symptomed ones pass it on as we walk by them. And the tests to find out if one is positive or negative are where? Maybe in China. Not sure about that.
Man on deck.
All hands on deck. Sew masks for the nurses and mail them quickly.
Man-splain to me again, please, why the United States isn’t ready for a woman president. What was that? Explain again, please. I can’t hear you very well with this bandanna wrapped around my ears.
- - - - -
It is said (on the 7:00 news) that many are baking up storms. To soothe their souls.
Hence, there are no eggs to be found on the somewhat-barren white metal grocery store shelves. There is nothing wrong with the food supply, so they say on the 7:00 news. It’s just that people are buying all the food. Handing their ten dollar bills to the essential grocery store workers-- eyes floating over their masks if they have sewn one by now. Thank you, we say. Seriously, thank you.
It’s not clear why the $12/hour workers have suddenly become essential. We never used to give them the time of day.
It’s possible the hens have given up the ghost. Their ghosts of Easters past when they laid pastel-colored eggs in nests-ful of green plastic ribbon-ish shreds.
What time is it? Is it time for happy hour yet?
OTHER WORDS FROM BANDANNAban·dan·naed [ban-dan-uh d] , adjective
Hospital-bedded in Central Park, NYC.
Who woulda thunk you could bed down in Central Park, NYC, USA.
Who could have predicted?
Not I, say the men in charge. Couldn’t have predicted nuthin.
Henny Penny. The sky is falling.
Or maybe not.
Maybe just drifting to the east/west/north/south.
Shifting while the daffodils daffodil and the buds bud.
Ducks bob on glassy lakes, pop under here and pop up over there.
We are all bobbin’ in the wind.
while we watch Tiger King,
bake eggless flourless soulful loveful cakes,
examine the eyes behind the masks and ask ask ask
Shells on a white sandy beach, glistening in the sun.
By J. Jackson
I am not sheltering in place. I am going to work every day, the same as always. The only thing different is the people that annoy me. Instead of the usual shouting into cellphones on public transport, they are now shouting into cellphones through masks.
You can tell a lot about a person by the way they do or don’t wear their mask. Is the nose out? Is it covering a big beard? Is it a pretty cloth one or just the drab blue one with the white straps? Here’s your chance to make a fashion statement, people! And oh boy, if you watch somebody long enough, they’ll touch the mask to straighten it or scratch an itch or even lift it up to dig their nose. I saw a guy on the light rail with his mask around his neck as he ate a sandwich, then he carefully licked every digit on his hand before replacing the mask on his face. Of course he touched handrails when he got off.
Then there are the people who refuse to don a face covering at all. Unfailingly, these people will get on the bus and cough. Some of them are young people, in their 20’s. Others seem like they’ve just been released from some sort of institution. There is actual fear and loathing in their eyes when they look at masked people, almost as if they don’t know what’s going on. I notice a lot of smokers don’t even have masks around their necks; they’re not worried – they’re invincible!
And did I mention that the buses are on Saturday schedule at this writing (May 8th)? We’re supposed to be distancing. Hah! Every day there are more bodies to avoid and this is because the ride is now free. People are having a field day. Some of them look like they need somewhere to pass the time, since the libraries are closed, too. I’m just grateful that the bus is running. It’s tolerable, except when the one I take daily reaches a major transfer point, where thankfully, I disembark. There are already too many people on board, and at this stop, fifteen more, resembling extras from ‘Night of the Living Dead’, are waiting, trying to get on first. There’s only one way in or out now, unless you’re in a wheelchair. Funny, I haven’t seen anyone in a wheelchair get on the bus since this Shelter in Place order began and prior to this, there was never a day when someone didn’t need the lift. Where are they all? Who cares, right? We’re all concerned about toilet paper and Clorox wipes and feeling lonely.
But don’t complain to me about not being able to get your hair dyed or styled. Don’t kvetch because your fave restaurant is boarded up. I don’t want to hear about how bad you look on a Zoom video or how you can’t get your dog to stop barking. Your kids are bugging you? Don’t bug me with it. Don’t talk about the sports you’re missing or not being able to do this or that. You’re alive. Deal with it. Just get in your car and safely go wherever you want. The people on the streets are wearing masks (some of them), but for some reason, the air coming through your car’s ventilation system or open window is different from what the rest of us breathe. You’re safe. You’re getting food delivered. You’re being paid to work from home. You have a home.
Don’t complain to me about shit.
by Hildy Karsch
The label said “no refills”. And church was online yesterday. She used anyway.
The cabinets had long been emptied of temptation. No more mixing rubbing alcohol with water and a tablespoon of elderberry syrup.
She’d cut the tiny round ones in half before. When the doctor substituted capsules, she’d simply broken them in half, grunting out an evil cackle, provoked as much by the doctor’s idiocy as by her children’s gullibility. We held our breath, the capsule snapped, and the countdown began.
The first 15 minutes amounted to an enervating preshow. Then, it went minute by minute. At any moment, she could erupt, then settle, but not before finishing with a pitiless gaze that her children took as proof the drug had taken hold.
“I told you to take out that garbage a half-hour ago, so why isn’t it gone?”
“I said I’d do it when I finished this chapter and I’m almost done --.”
She snatched the hardback science fiction book from my hands as though she were a sidewalk thief who’d learned to bypass struggle by taking her best and only shot. My mouth dried and the words were somewhere in my throat, but nothing came out. As I stood up, she swept my book behind her back and held it there in sneering defiance.
Our faces had been this close before, and each previous time I’d endured the putrid, rooting-teeth odor and locked eyes with hers as they blazed and darted. She thought I’d cave. Not this time, I told myself. Not one blessed molecule of me was backing down. Even if the alien possessing her had to die.
She softened for an instant. I was winning. This was what I’d been told to do. This was what she needed to see. Defiance every bit as great as hers yet infinitely more assured
She lowered her arms to her sides. I raised one hand, palm upward, never taking my eyes off hers. Give it back, my eyes strained to say. Not. One. Word.
She moved the book toward me, then suddenly slammed it cover-first across my cheek, shattering my glasses and driving the other side of my face into the kitchen tile floor, teeth snapping and ricocheting inside of my blood-filled mouth.
I felt her fingers thrust between my bleeding lips, leaving the bitter taste of something like aspirin.
“That’s what you get for stealing my medicine,” she screamed. “You want it, you can have it. Just wait until your father comes home and I tell him what you’ve done.”
My shoulders were shaking, and my check felt sticky, as though I’d landed in a bowl of jam.
“Dad? Hey, Dad? I’ve seen all of ‘Sponge-Bob’, what can I watch? Dad? Hey, my sandwich! Now you have to make me another one!”
“OK, honey, OK. Here, wipe your mouth on my handkerchief, OK?
“Ew, gross, no way.”
“Or your sleeve, that’s fine. I’ll get you a sandwich, sorry, just give me a minute.”
“I need something to watch. And you can’t fall asleep this time. Is ‘Home Movies’ funny like ‘America’s Funniest Videos’?”
“NO! I mean, no, it’s just boring grandma and grandpa stuff. Let’s watch a cartoon. Any cartoon.”
“Can I watch ‘South Park’? You and mom never let me watch ‘South Park’.”
“Sure, that’s fine. Today, that’s OK. You go ahead and get it started. And don’t worry. I’ll tell Mom.”
You sweet, adorable child, I prayed. May you never, ever know.
Note to Self
A poem about going to school in a pandemic
By Elazar Krausz
You are not what this panic is making you think you are.
Four unyielding walls cannot turn you into impotent slush.
They have. But they cannot.
You are not a failure, though you are afraid to be graded one.
But even still, you won’t be. And if you are, you won’t be.
You are not any number.
You are not the sweatshirt you hope they won’t notice
Four days in a row. You are not even what’s inside the sweatshirt.
You may or may not want to be. But you are not.
You cannot be muted. You are not a small box.
You are the sunshine. There behind the walls, behind the muggy sky.
Always. You are the sun.
Scissors, and Other Means of Change
By Cleo Lockhart
The most infuriating part of getting quarantined at the end of my senior year of high school has been missing out on my time to be earth-shatteringly stupid.
I mean, I’ve never been a particularly daring person — I haven’t gone to many parties, and I’ve kept basically the same hairstyle since fourth grade — but I guess part of me was assuming that I could use my last few weeks to let loose the dumb teenager within. Alas. So a few nights ago I figured, dammit, if I’m not gonna be going to any parties, I guess I just have to cut my hair.
11 P.M: I’ve been pacing around my room like an agitated zoo lion for about an hour and I think, I’m going to do it. No, really, I’m going to. The idea has boundless opportunity; my hair is quite long, and thus can have quite a few stupid things done to it. I stop pacing, and I start to consider my options.
11:30 P.M: Well, I can’t make any impulsive decisions before doing my research first, so I watch a pixie cut tutorial three and a half times. The woman in the video has professional haircutting shears, five mirrors, and confidence. I have craft scissors, one mirror, and something to the left of confidence that may be better classified as mania. I feel that I’m starting off quite well, all things considered.
11:45 P.M: I decide I need some backup. I send out a text to a group chat that contains my girlfriend and one of our mutual friends, asking them to convince me not to cut my hair. Their responses are as follows:
Girlfriend (11:46 P.M): DO IT
Mutual Friend (11:46 P.M): DO IT
To which I respond:
Me (11:47 P.M): If y’all get on Zoom right now, I will.
I send them the meeting code before I can change my mind, and soon their faces are watching me from my laptop screen as I puzzle over where to start.
11:55 P.M: I’ve hesitated for too long. My friend says that if this goes on any longer she’ll leave the call, since I’m clearly not really going to do it.
“Oh yeah?” I say. I grab a chunk in my hands and hack it off. Roughly five inches of hair fall to the floor. The two of them stare at me with some shock, some horror.
12:15 A.M: They have both grabbed scissors.
12:30 A.M: I am surrounded by long, brown strands of hair, feeling slightly like an oversized bird in a very gross nest. My neck is exposed for the first time in a decade, and I’m working on framing my face. My friend has cut her bangs. My girlfriend now has a mullet.
1:00 A.M: We end the call looking like a cross between a 90s boy band and a bad of gay pirates, and I’m running my hands though my now very short hair while staring at my face in the mirror, transfixed by the change. Weirdly, I haven’t had the moment of deep regret I was expecting yet. It looks much better than I had anticipated, actually. In fact, I feel more like myself than I have in a while.
So if there’s one thing this quarantine has taught me, it’s that I can be stupid from the comfort of my own home. And, as a matter of fact, it can be quite freeing.
By Jennie MacDonald
It begins at 8 p.m. A single human voice, or a couple, or a group of voices, joined by others, borrowing the cry of a wolf, imitating it, raising a howl of solidarity with the frontline workers, the sufferers, the victims, the dead, those who love them—a vocal lantern lifting into the sky above neighborhoods, pulsing through city corridors, carried in waves and tendrils away from where it began, adding this cacophonic symphony of lament, unity, and defiance to the night.
In our neighborhood, the dogs also join the howl. They don’t know what it’s for, but they’re very good at it, instinctively catching the rhythm and the intensity of this people-generated sound, stopping when their humans stop, ready for a domestic evening and bedtime, a treat if they’re lucky.
One night, a new voice joined in. I heard the howl begin in pockets throughout these tree-lined streets, the threads of it weaving together into a now-familiar sound.
It was late for the American Goldfinch in our garden to be up.
I got my husband. “You’ve got to hear this!”
“What?” he asks.
When the howl finished, the goldfinch in our garden was quiet.
He had been howling, too.
By Daniel Angel Martinez
In our isolation we've become cool cats.
No big deal for house cats to shelter in place.
We are hip to the scene. We know where it's at.
We now have to put on a different hat,
To keep calm and cool, to put on our game face.
In our isolation we've become cool cats.
It's not like we've put out an unwelcome mat
But we've taken some precautions, just in case.
We are hip to the scene. We know where it's at.
While others have the urge to roam, we'll stand pat.
The comforts of home are not hard to embrace.
In our isolation we've become cool cats.
We're not made out to be just another stat.
We'll make like indoor kitties with style and grace.
We are hip to the scene. We know where it's at.
There's a brighter day ahead. We'll drink to that!
Not any type of Corona, not a trace.
In our isolation we've become cool cats.
We are hip to the scene. We know where it's at.
A Love Letter to the Ghost of Denver Past
By Melissa Lucero McCarl
Long before the quarantine, Martine was a champion walker. She approached it with religious fervor, never missing a day even when a devil wind tried to pull her into its vortex, or hail hung from her hair like icicles on a downtrodden Christmas tree. Nowadays everyone and their mother came out to walk – now, when spring had redecorated the yards with flirty colors and there was nothing else to do after binge watching Netflix until everyone’s eyes were bleeding. In this brave new world inundated with dilettante walkers, they seemed to be trapped in a pinball machine, wildly changing course when it became apparent that they might collide. There existed no Miss Manners Guide to a Civil Pandemic. And cabin fever seemed to provoke an overabundance of entitlement in a large swath of the population. Sigh. Today Martine was heading to her beloved neighborhood market. Spinelli’s had been there since she was a kid, filled with exotic European candies and pasta that looked more like art than food. She couldn’t let this last vestige of her childhood become another victim of the wily, invisible virus that was dismantling life throughout the planet. She might not be able to save all of humanity, but by God, she could do her level best to save Spinelli’s even if it meant eating her weight in pasta.
Lately she’d been thinking about how unrecognizable the city was becoming. And the terrible hit the food industry was taking would only make it worse. Landmark restaurants that seemed as certain as the sun were disappearing… for instance, her beloved Racines, which had become a hub for artists and actors in the 1980s because it was the only place that served food late at night. You could pop in at any time day or night and find your tribe. Even Racines would soon be gone and this more than anything made it feel like the end of an era.
Martine often fantasized about time traveling back to the Denver haunts that shaped her: the old Cooper movie theatre on Colorado Boulevard that looked like a giant tub of popcorn… when a movie theatre’s lobby felt as grand and luxe as the Taj Mahal to her 10 year old eyes. And down the road was the infamous Celebrity Sports Center with its kaleidoscopic water slides visible from the street, drawing adolescents near and far to pretend to play Skee Ball while checking each other out. The old Elitch’s with its Versailles- like gardens - the perfume of flowers competing with the smell of funnel cakes, all mixing with the sweat of hyper children and pheromones run amuck.
Today as she approached Spinelli’s she noticed an old crow of a man arduously shuffling down the street with a bag of groceries hanging from his walker. She immediately left the sidewalk and switched to the street to grant him safe passage.
“I’m glad to see you know what 6 feet means!” he yelled at her. “Most of these sons-of-bitches don’t even bother to move for me!”
“Of course! That um, sucks.” She felt lame. She didn’t have a good response for this man who was obviously frail, alone and probably scared out of his mind. His vulnerability was palpable and she felt sad and impotent. She couldn’t do the one thing her instincts prompted her to do…hug him. Funny how human contact had become as outdated as the rest of old Denver.
By Anne McWhite
“I know, I hear you all, but I think this time we might prevail.” Micro tried to calm the growing host of his anxious compatriots clamoring for opportunities to excel at their job. These things take time and you all know how difficult it can be, finding the right combinations that would allow their cause to be advanced.
We learn from the past, slow and steady, step by step processing our findings and moving on developing the expertise to complete our mission. That was always the groups stated goal, completing their mission. Mind-numbing exhausting trials conceived following a slew of partial failures which represented the very bane of their efforts. There could be no room for just giving up. They were the leaders; the best and brightest of them all. Once the knowledge was available, the others could be trained with deadly precision—an army of soldiers ready for combat. His troops, so willing to commit to the goals set forth; they were united.
Micro never took anything for granted. In his line of business, there was little room for repeating mistakes, only building cell by cell upon the advancements made. Burrowing deeper with greater precision brought forth possibilities leaving Micro cautiously optimistic about the success that so long eluded his many attempts at conquest. He knew he was not the first nor would he be the last in a long line of leaders, but they were inching closer and closer.
Long ago, invasion was a simple concept at the most cellular level, but earth kept rebounding in the most spectacular way. They were always one step ahead of the game before Micro realized he was one step behind. Now, the tables were turning. Now, at last, his willingness to change, alter his delivery route, to confound this place called earth—well it was paying off.
Those scientists on earth were a dedicated group; applying all their talents to combating the assault his troops brought forth. Shelter in place, wear your mask: simple but effective tools. Sage advice, but how to undermine the experts? All micro needed was one wild card, one trojan horse who could exponentially set the chaos in motion needed to complete the mission. Earth was long overdue for a deep cleaning. A gift from the gods, this trojan horse, Donald Trump. Anger, ignorance, poverty, resentment all culminating in hasty choices even violent confrontations. With the united efforts of his team coupled with some rogue human agents: this could be the outcome his team had worked for since earth made its first debut. Wipe the slate clean and begin at the very beginning.
The Day I Became Provost
By Ray Merenstein
StrengthsFinder. Myers Briggs. DISC. Do I really need another personality profile test or leadership assessment to determine what I should be doing? There I was in March 2020, sitting in a coffee shop. I don’t recall which one. Maybe a bustling one in Five Points, or the contemporary-furniture laden shop in the Highlands. Or was it the retro one on Broadway? It certainly wasn’t a chain, for I do my best work surrounded by the small business chatter of Macbook pros, familiar faces, uniquely named specialty lattes, and an occasional Cards Against Humanity game heard from the back room.
Then the inundation began. Stay at Home. Watch this virtual choir. Support the Food Bank. Film a Tik Tok. Make sourdough starter. Little did I know how many musical parodies would fill my Facebook Feed, nor did I realize how many classic Super Bowls and World Series I would re-watch. Messages arrived from the CDC, the Mayor, the Governor – and Dr. Tony Fauci.
Cancelled sports events and postponed theater musicals were one thing. But was I ready for every square foot of my house and yard to become a college campus? First came the temporary online learning around Spring Break, but then came the letter from my daughter’s University President:
“…to protect your health and safety we have made the difficult decision to extend the virtual learning period through the end of the spring semester. Additionally, all on-campus events are canceled through the end of the semester. All students who have not already returned home should be making arrangements to do so. We are determining a plan for students with belongings in residence halls to retrieve them sometime after April 5. More details will be shared as soon as possible. Do not return to campus now.”
And from my son’s college president:
“We want to stress that there is no need to panic, but the strong possibility of increasing cases of COVID-19 both around the world and here means that now is the time to begin contingency planning and to think about ways to minimize exposure, transmission, and risk.”
Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens. Was it time to get lost in the lyrics of positivity? Will we get a housing or tuition credit? Will the professors switch to pass/fail rather than grades? How do we get their belongings from on campus housing? But then my brain started thinking like a Provost. Is our internet capability enough to handle online learning for two college students, a middle schooler, a consultant and a volunteer board president? Will our kitchen become a school cafeteria? Do we just put out a buffet or will the students cook on their own? Are we super privileged and should require community service hours of our students? Who gets priority of the dining room table (after all, it expands)?
I oversaw the physical plant. I purchased an umbrella for our patio so people could work outside. I fixed a leaky faucet in the shared bathroom. I bought extra yoga mats. I reached the point where I was ready, with my wife, to post office hours.
I know it’s retro but press the fast forward button.
Virtual commencements? Check. Housing refunds? Check. Belongings packed, shipped or stored? Triple Check. The semester is done. The Day I Became Provost used every one of my leadership skills and strengths, but now, just before Father’s Day, I’m ready to just be one thing, and one thing only. Just let me be Dad.
By Anne Myers
Before I left for Egypt on March 3, I knew there was trouble brewing. But I did my homework, checked for travel advisories, downplayed the pandemic proclamation by the World Health Organization and ran away from the danger. The price I paid for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure? Two little weeks in quarantine after I returned home. This didn’t seem too bad. I was able to rest, sort through my pictures, watch the news only infrequently, all from the safety of my quarantine cocoon. Two weeks later, like a hungry butterfly, I emerged – ready to dine out, get my hair cut, shop! But the world had gone silent. Nowhere to go, no-one to see, no-one with whom to share my shiny clean straight-from-quarantine health.
At about the same time, I heard someone new in my brain. Since my retirement, I had been ridding myself of the old guys in my head: the judgers, the criticizers, the voices haranguing me about being “just a stupid woman”. But this voice was new. He had a British accent, of all things. He used a pleasant tone at first: “Good morning! I see you haven’t read the Wall Street Journal today. Do you intend to continue paying an outlandish price for a newspaper you read only once a week?” “I just don’t have time”, I said to myself, checking the latest puppy post on Instagram. “Really?” he replied. “And if you don’t have time now in the midst of a pandemic, when might this occur?”
He began following me around the house. One day he whispered: “Haven’t you noticed that the baseboards require painting?” “But I’ve never painted anything in my life!” I said. “Well, you certainly have time to learn now, don’t you?” he snapped.
I made a half-hearted effort to clean out my bookcase. By now, I had named my new “friend”: The Professor of Pandemic Performance. As I dusted the small collection of French novels left over from my college days, the Professor piped up again: “Now would be a perfect time to read something in French. You could keep your dictionary by your side and brush up your vocabulary.” I shook my head and nibbled on a potato chip. “Really? Potato chips?” he snarled. “If you can’t get fit during a pandemic, when will you ever be thin again?”
I took a break and did a little Facebook scrolling. My friends were baking bread from scratch, making beautiful quilts, setting new fitness records and making masks for EVERYONE. This gave the Professor more momentum somehow: “And what will you have to show when the pandemic is over?” He was shouting now and even my third glass of wine did not silence him. His complaints grew more frequent and more sarcastic: “Oh look! Your closet is even messier than it was last week. I thought this was on your to-do list but obviously I was mistaken.”
I began to complain to my friends. One said I was feeding him too much. “Huh?” But then I stopped spending time on Facebook and Instagram. He became subdued, even polite sometimes. Finally, another friend said: “For heaven’s sake, Anne, it’s a pandemic. If you can get through a day without shouting at your husband, you’ve succeeded. Stop listening to him!” I did. And as suddenly as he had appeared, he was gone.
Sheltering in Place
By Meerees P.
My life is complicated at the moment but coming home with a horrible Migraine to my new home in Colorado was quite a painful experience.
Maybe it is the altitude, maybe it is the new house, maybe it is husband allergies or grass at the beginning of March.
No one asked where I was traveling only if I went to or transited through any Eastern countries, which I didn’t.
No one had any suspicion that COVID 19 can come with its swords and shield and invade the healthy blood cells, moving from one blood vessel to the next. Many claims it attacks the weakest organs first and in my case that was the brain.
Today there still is no antibodies test and no one knows for sure if it was COVID but a hint to my troubled and a bit hysterical soul is the fact the Urgent Care I did seek then, have been closed two weeks after my visit and still is today.
Good deeds never go unrewarded and neither do bad ones. So, in my nightmares I bear the biggest sin of spreading all the three strains A, B & C to my new State. At least we all now know that; it should have been stated, if one has any of the symptoms and not just if one has all five combined symptoms that should have kept us strictly quarantined and Sheltering in place.
If it was me, I am decisive that my future plan is on guaranteeing for the rest of my life just to save face.
PS this is partially fiction.
By Pat Palmer
I am sheltering in place with 954 of my friends. I have joined a Knit Along where we all get pieces of the pattern for the Elder Throw (afghan). Thru Facebook we share our progress and our problems. The designer sends out another piece of the pattern every fortnight (headquartered in England). It’s been fascinating. I made a knitting error, posted it on our Facebook page and got the solution from a women in Glouceshire England. Everyone is at a different part of the project but we’re all in this together!
The Time of Howling
By Georgianne Rollman
We’re an old retired couple, so the biggest change in our routine comes at 8:00 each evening when we stop whatever we’re doing and step outside to howl. I was a shy howler at first. Now I do it loudly and proudly, with many of the neighborhood dogs joining in. I wave to people who have lived across the street for years and whose names I don’t know. Sometimes we gather in widely separated groups to talk politics or compare notes on working from home. More often, howling is over in a few minutes and we all return to our hunkered down lives. But it has created a new sense of community on our block. Howling is cathartic.
We live between three little stair-step girls, two on one side and one on the other. The sisters are five and seven, their friend fits right in the space between them. Four months ago they would have hugged each other every time they met. Now they keep their distance, but that doesn’t stop them from laughing and playing games. The youngest likes to wear a wolf costume when she howls. In the evening light, she is a radiant wolf!
The golden light reminds me of a magical time in my own youth. It was the summer of 1963, just after sixth grade, a time of great innocence before we learned to be exclusive. We gathered in the golden light before dusk, every kid in the neighborhood, to play kick-the-can. We ran and hid and played with joyful abandon until the streetlights came on and our mothers started to call us home.
We met for maybe a week or two, more likely a few days, but in my mind our game lasted the whole summer: the Time of Kick-the-Can. It would be several months before our innocence was shattered by an assassin’s bullet.
For my parents, the world order was divided into pre- and post-war. For me, there was “before” and “after” President Kennedy was shot. For most of us, nine-eleven was the moment our world changed. Now it’s covid-19.
I’m sitting in my front yard pulling weeds when the six-year-old from next door comes to chat. Her mask hangs from one ear and she eyes the sidewalk between us before she sits down.
“I think that’s about right,” she says. “Two squares.”
I ask how home schooling is going and she answers, “Awesome!” Then, nodding toward our other neighbors’ house, “We’re meeting before howling time tonight to run up the street!”
So begins the most recent addition to our nightly ritual: three little girls, one whose wolf tail swings back and forth behind her, running to the end of the block, howling at the top of their lungs and jumping with joy at the sheer freedom.
Watching from my porch, I think, ‘They’ll always remember this,’ and it occurs to me that this is their kick-the-can moment. They’ll look back on it with nostalgia, with love and gratitude, as a golden time of great innocence. Maybe they won’t think of it as “the Pandemic of 2020,” but instead as “the Time of Howling.”
I’m struck with a sudden joy that pierces my heart and brings tears to my eyes. I wave goodnight and for a fleeting moment I feel young again and I’m grateful.
Covid-19; A Mom’s Journey
By Stacey Rosenbaum, hard working mom to 3 (mostly great)
curious and demanding kids
We’re together now,
Sharing more time than we should.
They won’t stop eating!
This is not normal.
I ordered food from the store --
I won’t go inside.
They keep on eating.
I ordered more food for them.
$200 a week!
Who picked out my food?
The “fresh” produce is rotten.
You subbed out … tofu?
Where is my wine glass?
It is noon somewhere. Red? White?
Does not agree with my nerves.
My house is a mess.
Today, I cried tears
Enough to clean the kitchen.
Damned distance learning!
Where once there was joy,
Small lungs push out piercing screams,
“You’re not my teacher!”
I am no teacher.
Though I’ve a masters degree
It means nothing now.
My life has become
Small as the kitchen table
Where I eat and “teach.”
We all pretend to work hard.
Is it lunch time yet?
I’m surfing online,
Shopping for some connection
To my old self.
There is a small box
That we got from Amazon.
It is underwear.
Another small box
That we got from Amazon.
It’s for the printer.
This time, a big box
And yes, it’s from Amazon.
A quilt for the bed.
Oh look! A letter!
No, it’s an Amazon flat.
Seeds for my garden.
A crowd of boxes
Fills up my living room now.
I wish they were people.
The leftover box
With bent flaps and crushed corners
Revived as a toy.
“It’s empty,” I said.
“No, it’s not,” he said smiling.
“It’s full of love!”
From darkness to joy:
My son gifted me a box.
Inside was a hug.
I Don’t Feel Well
By Cathy Schwartz
Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I have not been feeling well for a while now. Very recently, I started to feel a little better, as if some sort of fog had lifted. But I’m just not sure I trust it. I have heard that this virus can be very unpredictable and I am bracing myself for it to return with a vengeance. I am terrified that if it does, I may not survive.
For now, I am happy to report I feel much less congested and my vision is clear. I no longer feel feverish. It is so much easier to breathe. But, again, I am worried. If the virus wreaks any more havoc, I fear I am done for. I just don’t think I can take any more than I already have…..I am in pretty sad shape. Yet, I feel like I could be healed, like I might be on the mend, if I could just keep the virus at bay. Or maybe there is a way the virus could change or adapt so that we could both survive in harmony together? Perhaps some symbiotic relationship that could be mutually beneficial? I don’t know whether that is possible, but I am hopeful.
P.S. --I apologize if “virus” is not the politically correct terminology to use to describe humans. All I know is that as humans have continued to multiply and infect larger portions of my surface area, I feel less and less like myself.
P.P.S. -- I do not mean to imply that humanity is some kind of “sickness” or “plague.” I very well could be misdiagnosing the cause of my symptoms. My chronic illness may have nothing what-so-ever to do with human behavior. What I do know is that I don’t feel well.
Musings of an Extroverted Introvert
By Cathy Schwartz
When stay-at-home orders were instituted, I was a tad worried it might put a cramp in my busy lifestyle, but public health and safety must come first!
Quarantine Day 1: Hey, this is nice…..I feel like I’m playing hooky.
Day 2: It’s great to stay in lounge-wear all day. I’m getting so much work done without all the wasted time gabbing around the coffee-maker at the office.
Day 7: Wow! That board meeting was completely painless. I miss seeing my colleagues in person, but I certainly don’t miss that commute downtown and the struggle to find parking.
Day 18: It’s becoming clear which of my friends are extroverts: the ones going crazy with cabin-fever. They call me in hopes that I will commiserate with them. They seem to be under the impression that I too am an extrovert. I doubt they believe me when I tell them that I’m quite content at home.
Day 21: I used to think I suffered from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Since everything is cancelled, I’m not missing a thing. In fact, I feel a profound sense of relief that my schedule has been forcibly freed.
Day 23: My friends consider me their social coordinator. Because many are really struggling with isolation, I decide to organize some virtual gatherings to keep them entertained.
Day 38: The virtual game nights and happy hours have been fun, but lately I have been feeling like I need a break from even minimal human interaction. I used to always have a full calendar, but now that I have paused, I’ve discovered that the source of my energy is quiet solitude. I now realize how draining being constantly on-the-go was for me. I love being able to log on and “see” people for a short while, but it’s always a relief when I log off and return to my cocoon.
Day 45: The days are beginning to blur together. I feel like I am living inside the movie “Groundhog Day” where I repeat the same day over and over again. Each new day brings some variation, yet each day is much like the day before. I wonder…..what do I need to do to break free of this loop? But then I remember: I like being caught in this loop! I absolutely adore it.
Day 48: I am proud to say that I change out of my day-time pajamas into my night-time pajamas almost every single evening!
Day 51: I am beginning to worry that I like this isolation so much that I may become a recluse once this pandemic is over. Did you know that you can tour the Louvre on line?!
Day 53: As a long-time lover of live music, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I actually prefer virtual concerts. I have a perfect front-row view, there is no line at the bar, no one steps on my feet or spills their drink on my new shoes. There are no obnoxious concert-goers drunkenly shouting over the music. I could really get used to this!
Day 57: I used to think going to the movies was fun. But at home, I can pause the movie or rewind if I miss key dialogue. The snacks are way more affordable and there is never a line for the restroom.
Day 63: Don’t get me wrong, I dearly miss seeing my friends and family in person, and I miss hugs most of all. But for now, the occasional video chat is good enough for this extroverted introvert.
Fortress of Self-Isolation
By Doug Schwartz
Superman has his Fortress of Solitude. Batman has his Bat Cave. Dad has the spare bedroom.
The spare bedroom is to where all the useless things migrate. It’s crowded and not well air conditioned. In this room, beyond the sheet-covered mound of items for the pandemic-postponed garage sale, is Dad’s desk. As the temperature rises, so does Dad’s envy of Superman’s super chill man-cave.
Dad’s greatest fear is that the boxes will shift and wedge against the door, completely shutting him off from the rest of the world. This fear stems from the room picking up bad habits from its distant cousin—the junk drawer.
Despite the rumors, Dad does not hide in here from the rest of the family. True, May is Mental Awareness Month, but Dad is well aware how mental his family has become under lockdown.
Pre-lockdown, his son was athletic and socially active. On weekends, he spent hours with friends at the rollerskating rink. Post-lockdown, his son plays online games with friends…all…night…long. His schedule has flipped to the point he might be slightly more nocturnal than vampires. Like a raccoon, he sneaks through the dark house, rummages through the fridge, and eats midnight lunches. Mom and Dad encourage him to get outside during the day for exercise and fresh air. Despite the murder hornets, their son is more afraid of Corona zombies shambling about the neighborhood, waiting to cough on unsuspecting people.
Their daughter is more physically present, yet still antisocial. On the 2020 census, they claimed the corner of the sofa as her primary residence. Surely, by now she must have watched all of YouTube and reached to the bottom of Instagram. All Daddy-Daughter conversations are alike. Dad says something witty. She removes her earbuds to say, “Huh?” Dad repeats himself, only to realize he wasn’t witty at all. His daughter smiles, nods, and plugs in her earbuds once more. She’s Daddy’s little Insta-graham cracker. Talking with her drives him crackers.
His wife’s antisocial behavior is more understandable. Her job is talking on Zoom all day, putting out fires. If you were a firefighter, would you want to roast s’mores at the end of the day?
Only one source of conversation remains—the cat. Dad pets her and agrees that the lack of interaction with the other family members is unfortunate. He argues with the cat that despite being able to see a small amount of space at the bottom of the dish, she still has plenty of food.
Feeling lonely and neglected, Dad stores himself in the spare bedroom—his Fortress of Self-Solitude. In his fortress, Dad is not alone. He sends friends messages to ask how they are doing and to tell them he is thinking of them. He dreams up new friends to write stories about and shares their adventures with others willing to read them. He digitally paints. He explores. He invents. He ponders. He learns new things. He does all this and more, until…
The WiFi went out and the natives got restless. Dad is the center of attention. The family coaxes the hero out of this fortress. He helps his family discover other ways to pass the time together, like playing games or baking cookies. Dad reminds his family, the WiFi outage, like the pandemic, will eventually pass. It is just as important to spend time by yourself as it is to spend time together.
by Michael Sindler
Microscopic menace meandering on the wind
Hanging in droplets of life’s sweet breath
Invisible sentinels posted by the door
Ready to pounce and possess
Even the most benevolent visitors –
Mail, meal, or grocery deliverers
Are now suspect
All attempts to touch are forsaken –
Seen as tantamount to suicidal
We wait out elevators until solo passage is possible
And yet, once safely ensconced
One cannot escape the lingering passenger – Despair
Knowing many will not escape: scathed survivors – scattered ash
One cannot escape the flame of fury
The jowl-burning bile of disgust
Anger towards those who propagate and propel death
Through willful-ignorance-born and bigotry-led disobedience
None are immune and few are innocent
But care and compassion and the desire to hold on
To help and hold together
Are what we have left
Hold these jewels dear
We are within walls
But love for all must radiate globally
We are in instead of out
But are all in it together
There is more than menace dancing on the wind
There is also Hope
And Hope can find a home wherever it is blown
And wherever it lands
Let Hope land on your tongue and dissolve
Rushing towards you heart
Let yourself breathe Hope into your lungs
Let it cover you head to toe
Let it be your food, your garb, your elixir
Let Hope be your strength
Listen to it tell when it tells you to stay safe
When it tells you to keep others safe
Then – Spread Hope
(The opposite of disease)
In whatever way you can
Use your gifts-
Your art, your will and enthusiasm
Abide in the shelter of Hope with all humanity
Until the doors reopen
By Samantha Smith
I’ve been wearing and re-wearing a blue flannel shirt that I recently picked up at a consignment shop. Before this shirt, Marie Kondo didn’t really speak to me and when she did, she may as well have been speaking Japanese. Does it bring me joy? What the hell does that mean? I impatiently evaluated a grey stretchy skirt in a hurried attempt to organize my closet one pre-pandemic Saturday afternoon. Well, it fits, I reasoned, and it goes with most of my shirts so I guess that’s kind of like joy. And so the depressingly utilitarian skirt, annoying to wear (but so versatile!) got to stay.
But now, Marie Kondo speaks to me in English and she’s talking about my blue flannel shirt – cozy, comforting, optimistic. Cloaked in blue, I pretend I’m heading out of town. Tonight, we’ll all be together, around a campfire, smoke seeping into our clothes as embers crackle in the darkness. We’ll weave stories, send bourbon-infused laughter into the night air, sit close together. When the fire dies, we’ll crawl into tents and sleep deeply, faces cold but bodies toasty. Morning will greet us with the scent of sun-baked pine needles, coffee brewing on a campstove, cold lakes and dirt roads awaiting our explorations.
We all know this is just fantasy (you don’t actually sleep “deeply” in a tent after you’ve cleared your twenties) but I’ve always been good at pretending that there would be better than here, that then would be better than now. And it’s easier to pretend than to admit that today will actually be spent just like yesterday: inside, panicky and trapped, cycling between avoiding and devouring the news.
As the day warms, I shed my trusty blue flannel in favor of a tank top. Bright enough to mimic the late-morning sky over the mesa, it reminds me to notice the brilliant blue of my baby’s eyes. Cuddled in my lap, nursing, she looks at me and I notice for the first time that they actually have a hint of grey. If you’d asked me to describe them before, I would have said “shimmery” or “bright”, like sunlight dancing with water. But that’s not really true, I can see that now that I’m paying attention. Now, I see that they’re actually the color of a storm, but flecked with golden hints of sunlight. I find myself surprised, embarrassed even, that I’ve never before known their true color, or noticed that their grey is bounded by a dark blue that matches the ocean where it meets the horizon.
In my lap, her little body is warm. Her fingers curl around mine. Tiny feet kick rhythmically against the chair as we snuggle. In the other room, my three-year-old hums softly to herself as she makes up new words to a familiar song, dresses her stuffed animals, starts a puzzle. Soon she will grow impatient, red-hot anger rising as she tries to force unmatched pieces together. Soon the baby will get restless, start to squirm, insist on movement. But in this small moment, there is stillness.
Settled in my ugly but comfortable chair in the corner of the room, trusty blue flannel off to the side, I gaze at the mountain outside, insistent on turning optimistically green even though more snow is surely coming. A cool breeze comes through the window, refreshing and soft on my face. The rocking chair gently taps against the wall. Birds sing to each other across the deserted street. Just outside, a bright blue, wide-open southwestern sky issues a gentle invitation to breathe.
And I accept.
Elliot’s New Normal
By Kay Taylor
Usually they’d both be gone by now. He’d be carrying the big black case, the one in which he puts the shiny noisemaker. I don’t mind the noise as much as my sister, Betty, does. When he plays that thing she howls like crazy. Kay would be gone by now too. I’m not sure where she goes. Sometimes she returns in a couple of hours with bags of groceries and if I’m lucky I get a biscuit.
But now they’re both still here, hanging around. They eat their morning food much later than usual. That makes my walk later. While I itch to go out, they’re taking their sweet time, just eating and talking while the radio is tuned to music they call jazz. I’m ready to stretch my legs and smell some fresh urine in the bushes. The odor wakes up my senses kind of like Vince says his 6am coffee does for him.
Nowadays when we go for walks they put these clothes over their noses and mouths. They look funny wearing those things. The walks have changed too since they started staying home. Whenever someone comes near us whether or not they have a dog, they turn quickly and rush Betty and me out into the street or even to the other side of the street. I miss the long pauses when they used to stop and chat with the neighbors. That would give me and Betty a chance to roll in the cool grass and rub our noses in the dirt.We might even find a leftover piece of pizza and gobble it down before they had the chance to stop us. Now they hurry us down the street. We never get a chance to linger around other dogs and smell the delicious aroma of their butts. Smelling my sister’s rear end at home just isn’t that exciting. Rushing home without talking to others, my owners seem to be afraid of other people now.
Back home again after the walk I make a made dash to jump up in my favorite chair, an aging orange leather lounger. Damn! Kay beats me to it again. And darn it, she clicks some button on the black box and that gigantic talking screen is on again. Now I’m stuck on the rug, who knows for how long. Every so often I get hopeful when she rises to go to the kitchen to get something to eat. Each time I hope to be able to sneak onto my chair before she returns. Darn, she left those pointy metal things and a ball of string on the seat again! It’s not safe for me to go up there now.
Yesterday I scored big when they went outside to play in the dirt with some seeds and they left the basement door open. It was my chance to sneak downstairs and find a nice pair of leather boots to munch on. Lo and Behold! I hit the motherlode down there - A huge cardboard box filled with little packages of food. I ripped into the individually wrapped foil packages and devoured 12 chocolate filled treats, these were a thousand times tastier than my biscuits. I was in heaven. Suddenly I heard their footsteps on the tiled kitchen floor upstairs. I bounded up the steps. Reaching the top step I slowly ambled to the corner where I curled up into a ball. And Betty wasn’t the wiser. While she was still snoozing upstairs, I was gorging myself in the basement. My tummy was happy. Did they really think I would last from dinner (4pm) until bedtime when Betty and I get our biscuits and baby carrots? Since they’re here practically all the time, we don’t get little treats like we used to when they’d return home. Now they probably don’t feel guilty - they don’t miss us or feel the need to reward us like before.
But there are some good things about having them around a lot more. Our water bowl hardly ever goes dry - they refill it often and we get a lot more belly rubs. But I notice that sometimes during one of those delightful tickling sessions Vince will hold his nose and turn away from me for a minute. Then he’ll turn to Kay and say something and she’ll nod in agreement. Could it have something to do with my longer shag these days? Come to think of it, it’s been a while since I went to the house of the lady with the short scissors.
Now they’re in the basement. “Elliott!” They yell upstairs. Uh, oh. From the accusing sound of their voices, I think they know what I did the other day. I’m in for it now.
Honestly, I can’t decide if I like them being home all day in my house. But really, do I have a choice?
Little Squash Library
By Karen Thurow
I am the sole inventor of the little squash library™, and it’s going to be huge. If anyone else tries to use the words little and library in the same sentence, I will litigate to the fullest extent of the law. Here’s the story of my success.
In the fashion of the season, we just had a commencement ceremony in our backyard. Afterward, my nest was supposed to empty. I’ve been raising kids since 1988. They were always a little neglected. This spring I planned to take time off work to be a school savvy mom. My last 2 kids were in art school, so we had huge wonderful events coming up. The book release party, the senior art shows, friends’ recitals, and lots of socializing. It would be great! With the lockdown I missed my last chance at child rearing. They’re grown, but not really cultivated.
The teens were planning to get shitty jobs for corporate masters like they did last summer. They would learn discipline, responsibility, and the value of work. Then sometime in summer or fall, they were going to leave for college, travel, and work! Now my grads’ plans have all been cancelled, and my empty nest has 3 young adults in it.
Here’s what they’re doing so far. One of the grads has a huge portfolio of paintings, many from the one senior show that happened before the lockdown. A few people want to buy them, so he’s working on a website to make that happen. Another kid is writing a horror novel that’s 80% done, and also plugging her previous book. The weird thing is, the most practical thing they can do right now, the backup plan to the crappy jobs they thought they’d get, is to the art they were born to do.
While they’re here, they’ve been coaching me: The stuttering bird is a flicker. The catcalling one is a starling. Use the app to zoom, not the browser. The first person in this story seems cheesy.
Watching them, I’ve been doing more of what I’m drawn to. Birdwatching is awesome. Dishwashing is not, so I’ve given it up. Planting vegetables has been really fucking fun. Hauling dirt is not, so the younger folks are doing it. I love squash so much I’ve planted too many and will open the Little Squash Library. Motto: Take a squash, don’t leave any squash. Seriously, eat this squash. The painter can make an awesome sign for my library. With the pressure of exams and college apps behind them, they are perfectly fine taking on most of the chores so I can join the fun.
I’m not an empty nester now, but it turns out I’m not raising kids. I’m living with young adults whose skills are complementary to mine, and who are teaching me by example to give up the burden of my perceived responsibilities and be an authentic human.
The Macedonian pepper seeds I planted were in their pots for about 4 weeks before they came up I was worrying about them but they were just growing in their own time. I had patty pan squash seeds from 2011 in the ground for 2 weeks and had given up on them, then bam! These giant seedlings appear overnight. And there I was raising these kids so hard, with this sort of furrowed brow, trying to will them into adulthood, and now, without me trying, there are whole actual people living in my house.
I would never be cool enough to have roommates like these.
Parents’ Night In, Quarantine Edition
By Megan Vos
During our first week of social distancing, my husband suggested we cook dinner together on Saturday night while our daughters, ages 5 and 8, watched a movie. Pre-quarantine, we got a sitter about once a month, but obviously, we needed a different tactic for connection under the circumstances. Because our kitchen/ living room/ dining area are open, we cooked with the movie Despicable Me about 15 feet away from us, while the girls shushed us if our voices were above a whisper. Our meal was delicious, but I wouldn’t say it was relaxing; eating chicken with shallots in tarragon sauce while listening to the unintelligible babble of minions didn’t necessarily translate to a break from our new quarantine life.
The following weekend, we set the girls up in the makeshift office, using my husband’s computer monitor as a TV screen. We changed the Disney Pandora station, poured a glass of wine, and started making paella. We chatted and chopped, sautéed and stirred. Despite being home together nonstop, my husband and I had had very few uninterrupted conversations over the previous 17 days. I piled the art supplies on one end of the table, scrubbed off some glitter glue, set the passably clean half of the table and lit the candles. The recipe was slightly more involved than we anticipated, however, and as our 75 minute deadline (the length of the girls’ movie) neared, our dinner was not ready.
We turned the oven back on, and the plastic covering the electric temperature control came off (it’s worth mentioning that our oven is a cheap electric relic from the eighties). My husband grabbed the super glue to fix it, and promptly glued two of his fingers together, and another finger to the oven. I sprang into action, found the nail polish remover and started dabbing it onto the finger that was stuck to the oven. If you’re wondering how I knew to do this… well, let’s just say that this wasn’t the first time my husband has glued his fingers together, although it is the first time he has glued them to a 425 degree appliance. Once he was freed from the oven, I poured some nail polish remover into a glass bowl, and he sat down at the table to soak his remaining fingers. At this moment, the girls’ movie ended, and the cat jumped up on the table, his tail precariously close to the candlestick. While visions of a felled candle landing in the flammable nail polish remover, thus igniting the cat, flashed through our minds, we shooed the cat away, my husband pried his fingers apart, and the paella reached an internal temperature that wasn’t going to poison us. Seriously, wouldn’t it be awful to die of salmonella while quarantining to stop the spread of Coronavirus!?
I find myself constantly adjusting my standards during this time. Only one child has a meltdown on a hike? Wild success. I manage not to yell when I’m frustrated with one of the girls, and instead give a weak smile before going into a different room to text my mom a thousand “crying” emojis? Total victory. That night, we ate our dinner, put our kids to bed late, changed from sweats into pajamas (often, the distinction is blurred), and fell into bed exhausted, as we have every night since March. But the paella was delicious, the nail polish remover effective, and we had seventy-five minutes of adult conversation, even if that conversation revolved partly around our relief that we didn’t burn our house down. I’m calling it a win.
Two at Once
By Daniel Weinshenker
There’s a laugh that’s not really a laugh. You know what I’m talking about, right? When someone laughs but you can hear the cry in it?
My ex-wife’s grandfather, who became my grandfather, was in the war. At the base in Washington State, where he was stationed before he went to Japan, there was a booth. They recorded audio records, for soldiers to record letters to send home to their families. He sent them back to his wife, who was pregnant. And he was gone so long that eventually she gave birth to a son, my wife’s father, and one of the records/letters home was to him.
I found these records a few years ago. Nobody could get them to play. I sent them to an audio restoration place and a few weeks later got them back with some files. The letter to his son, whom he had never met, was the one I keep playing in my head. And not the whole letter, but just this part, where he introduces himself to his son … and chuckles. The chuckle gets me. It’s how something can be two things at once, how something can be happy-go-lucky and terrifying all at once. I feel I can hear that. I can hear a man who, in the 40s in that voice that sounds just like Cary Grant or another actor of the day … in a tone that feels like, “Well, would you look at that!” is also wondering if he’ll ever see his wife or newborn son. If he’s even going to live at all.
Staying at home feels quaint for some of us. People are baking bread, painting, being creative. And I wonder what I’ll remember about how I don’t hear Colorado Boulevard anymore from my porch. How the silence itself is so, well, nice, but why the silence … isn’t. I wonder what my daughter will remember about the wolves. How there was a time we’d become dangerous to each other, and we howled and howled every night to say thank you, and I’m sorry, and I want to live–all at once.
By Tracy Wohlgenant
I watch our enormous black and brown Siamese cat walk to the middle of the garden, near the shade plants, next to the hostas. I watch him mindfully adjust his haunch, sit, tilt his head back and yowl, like a baby being strangled mid-sob, like an old woman mourning the death of her first grandchild, I listen to him scream out loud. Our next door neighbor politely closes her open window.
I’ve been gnawing on a bone for weeks: my fear, my anxiety. On Saturday I walked through forests of bristlecone pines and spruce, the scent of a Catholic church, all that resin and myrrh. I released my grasp on the bone, dropped it from my mouth like a distracted terrier. The grass was Irish in the meadow. If I were a mule deer — which I once was — I would be napping right about now, cradled in that fresh cool green. Hawks glided overhead in loping circles, silent, their red tailfethers flashing in the blue sky. We crossed a stream and the sound was suddenly my childhood, walking through streams, eating a popsicle, turning my mouth cherry red.
Our house smells like chocolate chip cookies, like meringue, like pavlovas and berries, like fig cookies. My teenager is a budding pastry chef and, as a result, (as Shakira once said), my hips don’t lie. The pandmeic smells like a home surrounded with love, with animals, with a dog eating a pig’s ear, it smells like my husband’s moods, which are erratic and crazy-making. I would like to lock him away with his moods and see how he likes it. I walk away from it all and stand in City Park, watching goslings and their parents, watching Spring drape herself like a sexy debutante, over the loveseat that is the city. The trees are budding by the minute and my allergies are violent. Every time I sneeze, a tree gets his blooms. I was happy to see my friends this weekend, the piñon pines, with their wide stance, hearty light-green needles, standing there in front of me, emanating wisdom, kindness, saying, “Oh, hi, darlin” like an old lover, and that sweet cedary scent. I want to bottle the piñon and annoint my wrists, my temples, my ankles, the backs of my knees with its perfume. I want to run slowly across a high-desert meadow toward a piñon that’s running in slow-motion toward me, we run and leap towards each other, the tree, the woman, we run, our arms and branches outstretched, we run until we meet in a strong embrace, and we are free, we are finally where we should be, we are as one.
Clouds Will Walk Through Me
By Tracy Wohlgenant
If I were sliced from head to foot, lengthwise, you’d see that my
subcutaneous tissue is actually English chintz wallpaper. Big drowsy pink roses against a pale blue background. My head is full of stars, winking white-yellow in the dark. A comet might pass through, if you’re lucky. Ten fat cats have taken roost in my heart, they are shorthair cats, heavy, fur of orange or brown or Siamese. Their litter box is down below, near the right ankle. It’s an area everyone avoids. Like the plague. Ah, the plague. Speaking of which…my liver has become a fat buddha, his big belly sticking unapologetically out, his small hands holding shot glasses of tequila. He is always giggling, even when he shouldn’t be. And this angers the lungs, my lungs which are two whooping cranes, married cranes, who stand opposite each other, staring into each other’s eyes. They raise and lower their glorious black and white plumage, their wings tremble at the tips. A big blue whale sits in my pelvis, his sad eye looking up at the stars, he whispers, “remember me”. My knees are jelly beans, the kind that you think might taste good, but don’t. One very beautiful jellybean is flavored “dishwater”. They are tricky.
My brother is dying of a glioblastoma. And now I have hope and despair dancing in the very center of my heart, a charming couple, they’ve known each other forever, the man in a tux, the woman in a beauitful white gown. They’re the ones on top of wedding cakes, the ones on tv reality shows. They spend half a year in Buenos Aires practicing the tango. They live in my heart now and every time my phone rings, I think of my brother and the duo starts dancing. I am like a music box and when you lift the lid, the guilty, frantic jolt of the dancers begin. My brother is dying and my fingers are broom ends, trying to sweep up every memory, every messy part of being alive, everything on our kitchen floor. My brother is dying and the marching band in my ears won’t stop playing, the bass trombones like to really blast it. I thumb through old baby photos of my brothers and me — we are Irish triplets, born a year or two apart. We three are always together, in our tree house, making snowmen. My brother is dying and there’s a plague and too many miles between us. My tears are like southwestern walking rain, moving fast across the high desert, dark, bruised rain clouds walking upright through sage and piñon. Water dries fast in the high desert, so the tall, vertical clouds will walk through me again…and again…and again.
Pandemic Diary: March
By Tracy Wohlgenant
My dad is 89-years old. He is the steadiest hand I know, and I say that metaphorically because he has Parkinson’s so his hands tremble. My dad is so sweet and kind and logical and lives with my mom in their own house, thank God. He walks slowly out the door, his slippers scuff along the front walk. He wants to give my daughter his Safeway Monopoly tickets to see if we can save twenty cents on a can of beans. He walks toward us and we yell, “Don’t come out!” My daughter yells, “Grandpa! Stop!” He stops. He lifts his head and smiles. He tries to bend down to put the little tickets on the front walk and the wind whips the pieces of paper out of his hand. He almost falls trying to catch them. My mother says, “Dick! Leave them!” The tickets whip around the ground at his feet. He is so lost and my heart is falling out of me like someone who suddenly drops a 10-pound bag of sugar. It just goes HUMPH.
“Honey, can you get me a shallot?” my mom says through the screen. “Sure,” I say. I balloon with dread. Going to the grocery store has become one of the most frightening things. Last week she asked for daffodils. I wave to my mom as I walk backwards down the walk. She makes a “hug” gesture. “Big hugs.” she says. “Big big hugs.” I sit in my car with my hands over my face and weep. And we’ve only just begun. Hugs.
I dream very vividly about the Devil. His toenails grow quickly out of his toes— long, narrow nails and shiny black. I wake up in a sweat.
I text my mom. “How are you?” “We’re fine,” she texts back. Smile emoji.
My parents were exposed ten days ago while watching a movie with their best friends. They sat next to Mike and he sneezed and sneezed. My parents were so worried about Mike’s “cold”. They didn’t shake his hand or hug him as they normally would. And then everything happened so fast, Mike at Swedish, Mike in the ICU, Mike is dead. My mom calls Mike’s wife, Nancy, and says, “when people come to town for the service they can stay in our house.” Oh, Mom. Mom, no one is coming to town. No one will stay in your house. My mom talks to Nancy through her screen door. “We were so lucky to spend our lives with Mike.” They cry with each other, “How lucky we were” they say over and over, six feet apart.
Our cat, Big Lou, is sick. He won’t eat. His little old man hips are poking up in back. He reminds me of my eastern Montana relatives, the old cowboys, their skinny stick legs and Levis pulled up high, belted onto what, we’ll never know. “It’s a miracle” my aunts say, “how those pants stay up.” Old men, my uncles, my great uncles, wandering around the yellow grass, poking at fencing, looking at the dome of blue overhead. Our cat is going to the vet today - I will hand him over to a technician in the parking lot. I will wear a mask, she will wear a mask. Big Lou used to stay with my parents when we’d go out of town — nestle in between them at night on his back, savoring love. I text my mom about Big Lou and she sends me twenty cat emojis with tears springing out their eyes.