All posts by wssolstice

The Last Patient (Covid Story #10)

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Sophie leaned over the bed, “Ready to go home, Pete?”

The elderly man slowly raised his steady gaze, meeting Sophie’s deep blue eyes head on.

“Couldn’t be more ready,” he said without a trace of emotion.

“Well, let’s get you out of here then.” Sophie retrieved her stethoscope and listened to Pete’s rhythmic breathing.

“Wiggle your toes,” she commanded.

“You mean my once purple toes?” Pete asked as he vigorously followed Sophie’s instructions.

“Good. Now stick out your tongue.”

“You’re an awfully demanding nurse, ya know,” he said in the same dry tone.

“I’ve brought your favorite shirt.” Appearing suddenly in the open doorframe, a snowy white-haired full-figured woman held up a Chicago Bears long-sleeved t-shirt.

“Clara, are you prepared to deal with this cantankerous man?” Sophie said as she wrote on the clipboard.

“No. But I have no choice now do I?” Clara smiled as she walked to the bedside and smoothed back Pete’s thick gray hair. “Besides, I can’t leave him here. You nurses would kill me!”

“Okay, that’s enough. And ironically, you are quite wrong. They tried to kill ME!” A slow smile crept across Pete’s face.

“I think it’s the other way around, dear. They did everything in their power to save you. And, thank God, it worked.” Clara said as she smiled down at Pete.

“Well, Pete, are you ready to go home?” A tall, gangly man strode in, his white coat fluttering in time with the briskness of his walk.

“Dr. Regada, please tell these women to get off my back.”

“I promise to do just that, after I examine you.”

Dr. Regada pulled the curtain around the bed as Clara and Sophie left the room and stood outside the door.

“I’d better make my rounds.” Sophie said to Clara. “Pete will be fine now.”

She patted the older woman’s hand. “He’s a real stinker, but I am going to miss him.”

As she started to leave, Clara took her arm, “Sophie, wait.”

“I wanted to thank you—“

“I’m just doing my—“

“No. You are doing more than your job, and under such difficult circumstances. I’m so glad for you and the other medical staff that Pete is the last one.”

 Clara gave Sophie a tight-lipped smile. “When Pete was so bad, well, you know how it was, all I could do was wait. And for some reason this one thought kept running through my mind.”

Sophie’s interest was piqued. “What was it Clara?”

“I kept thinking I wasn’t going to have that spumoni date ever again.”

Sophie gave her a puzzled look, “Spumoni date?”

Clara laughed, “We had a recurring date, first Friday of the month. We went to our favorite Italian restaurant and had spumoni. Oh, sometimes we had dinner, too, though not always. But we never missed our spumoni nights and most of the time we sat in the same little booth in the corner.”

“Anyway, I realize it’s just a stupid little thing, but I couldn’t keep the image out of my mind, the two of us sitting in our booth eating that wonderful dessert! I think that image was subconsciously planted in my head to keep me from thinking about all the other moments I might not get a chance to share with the old coot. Spumoni, huh? Crazy!”

Sophie tilted her head, smiled, and grasped Clara’s arm with a firm hold, “No, Clara, it’s not crazy. Crazy would be if you didn’t have more spumoni moments with him. Now, go back in there and get that man ready to go home before he starts bellowing loud enough that the noise echoes down the hallway again.”

“Okay, you take care, ya hear?

“Most definitely.”

Sophie walked to the nurse’s station. Her coworker and friend, Marnie, looked up from the computer screen as Sophie approached.

“Did you know that Pete and Clara have a spumoni date every first Friday of the month?” Sophie asked as she laid down her clipboard and stretched her neck.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.  Pete told me. Why?”

“Clara just told me.”

“What’s up, you two?” Another nurse, Beth, walked briskly up to the desk.

“Pete. He and his wife have a spumoni date every— “

“Yeah, Pete told me.”

“Why didn’t I know that?” Sophie asked with a slightly annoyed tone.

“I’m sure he told you. Or, he’s quite a jabberer, maybe he jabbered on about other things to you.” Beth replied.

“You’re right, he did. He told me stories from his days working at the post office and said he still attends retiree breakfasts. He relayed a story he heard there about a fellow mail lady and a cat.”

“And he mentioned that his granddaughter works in some newsroom. Oh, and his other daughter is working from home and slowly going crazy, what with family always under her thumb.”

Beth laughed. “That’s Pete.  He was here a long time. I’m going to miss him. But I’m glad he is going home.”

After a few laughs about their last critical patient in C-Ward, the nurses quieted down as they worked separately, reviewing new patient information, and gathering more supplies. As a welcome change, these new patients arrived with familiar issues of old routine illnesses and injuries such as flu, bronchitis issues, or mending of bones.

The silence allowed the sound of the waiting room TV news. Newscasters announcing the latest catastrophes, crime, and a few random acts of kindness.

“Too bad we don’t know each other’s spumoni stories.”

“What?”

“Well… if we did, maybe we’d realize we’re all a part of the same story and maybe this world wouldn’t seem so cold.”

Marnie laughed. “Like spumoni?”

Sophie’s name came over the loudspeaker with instructions to visit Room 221.

“That’s Emily Bellows. She’s in with some kind of blockage that no one can figure out. Better get going. As my mom would say, making hay while the sun shines or something along that line.”

Marnie laughed, “Ellie would have said that and more. The doctor in her, ya know.”

As Sophie walked to Room 221 she met Clara and Pete coming down the hallway.

“Goodbye, you two. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m glad to see our last C -Ward patient leave.” “You and me, both, Sophie!” Pete hollered. “You and me both!” As he passed, he threw his arm up in a salute. She heard his laughter until the elevator doors shut.

Shorter Brighter Days Ahead (Covid Story #9)

Sun

There are a handful of places my husband and I go nowadays. Grocery store, the drugstore, convenience store (for gas—we venture in on only rare occasions), friends’ backyards, and the occasional winery (outside of course).

Originally—at the beginning, we only ventured as far as our mailbox. Because we didn’t know or understand what the hell was going on, our brains shifted into survivalist mode. In turn, our primitive instincts alerted us to the horrid possibility of viral and veiled threatening air vapors that could very well descend from the sky at any time to claim scared out of our wits bodies.

Those first few weeks were the worst. That first morning? You know the one. The initial time each of us thought “this is really serious.” It’s different timelines for everyone (with the exception of those that believe a crazed lab scientist wanting to wreak havoc on all of mankind created the virus). My own life-as-we-know-it-ending timeline began the morning I told my husband maybe we shouldn’t go out for breakfast. We haven’t been out for breakfast since. We haven’t been out for lunch, dinner, or appetizers either. Instead, much later in the game, we began getting takeout.

Within a few weeks, our youngest daughter traveled back from her newly adopted city bringing her 11-year-old puppy dog. Although furloughed from her job, she didn’t want to leave, but family wanted her home. She lived with our oldest daughter and husband and our other grand-pup for over three months. At the time we all thought things might get back to semi-normal in the coming weeks. We were wrong. 

Eventually, we did what we humans do best, we acclimated. But acclimating during this point in our history translates into something like descending virtual flights of stairs. Some travel further down than others, but all the same, our descent is real. And after a while it’s hard to tell how far we’ve gone. Because we grow used to the place we’ve landed.

After a few months of groping in the suffocating darkness that has enveloped all of us, my husband and I discovered our perimeters. Like newly mobile toddlers, we ventured out. Instead of ordering everything from grocery delivery services, we donned our masks and stepped into the fully lit grocery store. Instead of depending upon mail order companies for shampoos, cleaning supplies, or hand sanitizer, we walked through the automatic doors of our local drugstore and purchased sundry items. We still scrub our hands each time we come home, but we understand how much we need to go—traveling even a short distance— to see people and find that there is a world out there beyond our mailbox.

The first time we visited our daughters we were still in the mailbox only mode. Sensing our anxiety, our kids sat in chairs in their front lawn. Each armed with their own puppy dog, they sat holding homemade signs; hearts carved in red markers—“We can get through this!” written in large block lettering. We remained in our car and shouted to them encouraging memes—“This will be over in no time! We’re okay! Stay safe!”

It wasn’t over in ‘no time.’ But, baby step by baby step we started ascending the flights of stairs slowly out of the dark. By the time our daughter went back to her as she phrases it ‘home,’ we were holding court in each other’s backyards, celebrating the 4th of July in style (eating catered bbq), and playing croquet as we practiced social distancing and creative dining.

We both enjoy time with friends as we sit outside at various wineries and breweries. However, we still won’t eat out, not even on a restaurant patio, but we order takeout and watch TV as our hometown baseball team plays to an empty stadium (with the exception of cardboard cutout people).

Our baby steps have hurled us into this new world with an unavoidable viciousness. The coping mechanisms vary per situation. For example, I have several themed face masks, each worn to match the mood of the day. The bright white flowered mask  is becoming my favorite. I refer to it as “Steel Magnolia.”

More and more each day, my mood is beginning to transcend the original dark cavernous emotion I wore when all this started. With the days shortening and night descending earlier each evening, my anticipation increases – allowing that eventually—perhaps when the daylight wains the soonest, our world will be the brightest again.

A Virtually Impossible Meeting (Covid Story #8)

woman having video call
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Hello, Tessa!

Hey, Allen! How’s it going?

Great! How are you doing?

I’m doing all right. Just a lot going on.

I know. So… is everybody all right? I mean, there?

Yeah. Why?

You, uh… have your face mask on.

Oh, that. Damn. I just came from the store. It’s gotten to the point that I get confused. It’s like—am  I in a… well… friendly environment? OR am I in enemy territory?

Enemy territory?

Yeah, I don’t mean, like, people are in the produce aisle hiding behind fake plants while they’re wearing combat helmets. I just mean, you know, things are crazy!

Yeah, I get it.

Where is everybody? I thought this was a mandatory meeting.

It is. As was the meeting this morning at 10:00 a.m., the meeting at 11:30, then the lunch meeting. Yep, mandatory.

Hey, Allen! Tessa! What’s up?

Not much, Dan. What’s that behind you?

That’s my background, boss. You like it?

What is it? It looks like some kind of ship from outer space.

Yeah, Tessa. It’s a new feature. It’s called Beam Me Up, Scotty. Where is everybody? Hey, I hear Newman wrote an OpEd for the paper. It’s called: Why a Pandemic Now?

What does that mean, exactly?

Well, Allen, I guess he’s pissed. His wedding is on hold, his cruise is on hold, and his sewer backed up costing him a fortune.

What’s his sewer got to do with anything?

Nothing, Tessa. He’s just pissed so he’s blaming everything that’s happening on the present situation.

They’re not printing his article, are they?

Yeah, Allen, I guess they are. The paper said they needed a different slant on all the bad news. I don’t think HE meant for the column to be funny, but the editors thought it was a scream.

That’s great. All the shit going on right now and Newman is complaining about his sewer and a cruise he can’t take.

Well, Tessa, you might do the same if—

Hey, you guys! Where is everybody?

Hey, Heather. See you made it back in to work, today.

What are you talking about, Dan?

Well, last night at Vanity Bar and Grill? You were a little… crazy.

Okay everyone. I think we have enough staff to start the meeting. Dan, do you have those numbers—

Hey everybody! How’s it going?

Hello, Sam. We were just getting started.

Hey, sorry. I had a meeting that went a little longer than it should have. Have I missed anything?

Just the fact that Heather is here after—

Dan was about to—Dan? Where did he go? He literally just said something to you, Heather.

I don’t know, Allen, but I think I see little green men going into his spaceship. Maybe he was abducted.

Not funny, Tessa. Okay…  We’ll just move on. Tessa, please report on your findings regarding—

Well, Allen, my most recent report indicates—

Okay, okay, sorry. Wait, I’m not sorry. Jesus! Have you ever been in a conference with that guy Carter? He’s from the Omaha office. He can drone on and on…

Hello Matt. We were just going over Tessa’s report. Tessa? Can you continue?

I don’t have a copy of the agenda. You never sent it to me. Wait, found it! Sorry, I threw it in the Amalgamated Products File – that agenda was lame.

Tessa, for some reason you’ve changed over to mute. No one can hear you. I’m pointing to the mute button, do you understand?

Sorry Allen, I haven’t eaten since this morning with all these meetings. My brain is a little foggy. Can you hear me now? I hear some kind of smacking noises.

Sorry, I was hungry. Dashed over to the cabinet and got some chips. We can eat during this meeting, can’t we Allen. You’re not one of those virtual overlords, are you?

Dan, can you stop making those smacking noises? They’re gross!

Where’s Tessa?

Sorry, I grabbed a protein bar out of the cabinet. Dan’s making me hungry with his chips.

Dan, you’re back. Can we go back to your numbers on the… Cynthia, when did you load in? Is that a cat?

Yes! This is Horatio! Say hi Horatio!

Cynthia, please stop waving the cat’s paw and put him down for a minute.

OMG! Who’s that?

What? What? What?

Did anyone just see that Chat Box text? The one that says it’s time to party?

Wait! Did you see that? Who is that guy?

I don’t know, but what is he wearing?

A mask. A real honest to goodness mask! Like Batman or something! And a cape!

Okay, okay.  Apparently, we’ve been Virtually Bombed. Hey, whoever you are, you need to leave.

I’ve got this, Allen. Just give me a second, dude. I have my mouth full of chips. There… –Hey, fella, I just took your photo. You’re toast. I just happen to have advanced face recognition skills on this baby.

Sorry, Allen, I have to get the door. There’s a package of frozen tilapia from that really good market along the coast and if I don’t get it—

Go ahead, Matt. Get your tilapia.

Dan! I’ve made you a sandwich!

You’re living with your mom?

Yeah, why, Heather?

So, that’s why you left Vanity early. Your mom gave you a curfew!

That’s not why I left early. I had an early morning today. Needed to be at about two dozen meetings starting at 7 am.

Is that someone cutting your hair, Sam?

Yeah, I asked my hairdresser to stop by. Sorry, Allen, I had to grab an appointment with her whenever I could. She’s really popular right now.

Okay. We were discussing Dan’s numbers. And Tessa, you are up after Dan with your report. Heather, are you on another meeting right now?

Umm. Not sure what you mean, Allen.

You have one of those decorative mirrors behind you. I can see your propped up I-Pad.

Oh, that? You’re right. That’s just a meeting for “Marvelous Yummy Gourmet.”

“For what?”

Marvelous Yummy Gourmet! Geez! Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of them? They are only the fastest growing prepared food product distributorships in the whole world! I’m a dealer. I have parties? So, we are having our weekly regional meeting right now and—

Shut it down.

Shut it down? Allen, I can’t just leave my team hanging!

Heather, close your I-Pad now or—Whoever is sitting right by a train right now, can you mute your computer?

Oh, sorry it’s me! I just moved and I live by trtpgbmlkjwzx…

Okay, I can’t understand anything you’re saying. Mute your button, man!

Hey, Allen? I have another meeting in about five minutes. Can we speed this up?

Yeah, me too, Allen.

Allen, my mom thinks you’re cute.

Okay. Let’s reschedule.

Dear Grandma (Covid Story #7)

brown paper envelope on table
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Dear Grandma,

In driving my mom crazy during this crummy time of not-going- anywhere-ever, not doing anything whatsoever——sorry, I already got off track. Anyway, Mom told me I’m watching too many “Babysitter in the House” reruns and eating too much junk food.

So, I said to her ‘what else do you think a 12-year-old stuck in the house all day should do?’

I meant that rhetorically, but she didn’t take it that way. As a punishment, she’s making me write a letter. A letter? Who does that anymore?

Anyway, she really didn’t have to make me write you. I told her that if I HAVE to write a letter I’m writing to my grandma. I’m sorry if it sounded like I was FORCED to write you. I love talking to you and texting you. But well… letters are so lame, don’t you think?

She gave me this huge, long, boring lecture on the importance of letter writing. That it’s a long ago art, no one appreciates the practice anymore. So, I asked her when she wrote a letter last and she told me not to be a smart ass and just write the damn letter. I think I’m getting on her nerves.

How are you doing? It’s great Skyping with you and all. I wish I would have been doing that instead when Mom caught me watching TV (she commented that it was the millionth time).

I heard on the news that Cleveland is doing okay. Are you staying in? I bet you hate it. You love to go places. Just like me, your granddaughter. I guess it runs in the family.

My friend, Staci, came by the other day. She stood in the driveway and I stayed put in our open garage. We talked for over an hour. She said her aunt is doing okay now. Remember? She’s a nurse here at one of the hospitals. She just went back to work.

We started talking about being cooped up in the house all day. Staci is by herself a lot because her mom works all the time. Being a firefighter, she’s always on call, especially nowadays. She misses her but she’s glad that she can watch whatever TV shows she wants when she wants to. I’m glad my mom can work from home, but sometimes I just wish she would go on a long drive and take Mattie.  Little brothers are such a pain!

The entire family is going cray cray over school starting. I’m a little edgy myself. I mean, I would love to see my friends and show off new clothes, but, that’s just stupid. It’s so hard to take all this serious, but it sure looks like we should, right?

This may sound like, what is it you say?—hogwash, to you, but with all this crud going on and all the different opinions about it, it helps me to think about what you would do. You ALWAYS know what to do, Grandma. I’m pretty sure you would say don’t be an idiot. That for now, we have to all just hunker down. That the storm will eventually blow over.

I just heard Dad come in. Mom said we were all going to eat together, even if Dad came home really late. It’s pretty late now, but I’m glad she wants to do that. Besides, I’m helping make nachos, my fave!

And, I want to hear if school officials are any closer to a decision. I know it’s tough on Dad, being a high school principal right now. He’s pulled in all different directions. It’s so embarrassing that MY dad is the principal at MY school, but for now I just feel really bad for him.

Well, take care, Grandma! I’m super hungry and well, I mean…  nachos?!!  Tonight’s meal will rock. So much better than that lame vegetable lasagna Mom made last night. I hope you write me back. I think it would be super cool to get an actual letter in the mail. Maybe Mom was on to something.

Your loving granddaughter,

Paige

The News (Covid Story #6)

camera event live settings
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“Dana! I need the new stats on California fast!”

Dana glanced over at Chad, her usual shrug and sigh followed.

“Hey, girlfriend, don’t be too hard on old Roger. This stuff is getting to be a bit too much for the old chap to handle.” Chad said from his desk, the appropriate length of space away.

“I know. I really try to remember that. It’s just a tad difficult at times.”

Dana opened her desk drawer pulling out a dark chocolate covered nougat candy bar.

“I see you’re stress eating again.” Chad smiled as he tilted his head to one side.

“Yes, asshole, I’m stress eating again.” Dana cocked her head as she smirked. “I ate a whole pint of Chunky Monkey last night.”

“That’s all.” Chad shrugged.

“With half a sleeve of peanut butter moose tracks cookies.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” he said.

“Dana! Where is the quote from that infectious disease specialist? You know, the doctor that…”

It wasn’t hard for Dana to tune out the news producer’s question. She knew where this was going. Certain requests followed an algorithm all their own. For instance:

Where are the—that would be the new cases stats, CDC current guidelines, hospitalization rates, in that order.

Bring the report on—would be ‘the-most-affected- at- the-present-time’ state data on testing sites, various countries’ safety guidelines, or air flow analysis.

Have you seen—that phrase ended with Roger. As the network evening news anchor, Roger is legendary. Chad will say that Roger is about 900 years old with over 800 years of television reporting experience. And that back in the day his reports were directly from God.

Roger’s reporting style was like no other. He had ‘presence’ as the news magazines described his aura. Tall, husky, and built like a freight train, Roger gave off an air of authority with any news story he reported. The action could be across the world, but it was as though Roger swooped down into the nation’s living rooms to speak personally from the center of shag carpets everywhere–microphone in hand, eyes cast directly on the Mr. & Mrs. as they sat spellbound, glued to their spots, senses heightened.

During his career, Roger had reported on countless wars, unforgotten presidential elections, million strong marches and protests, historical earthquakes and hurricanes. But the recent turn of events had taken a toll on him. His swagger diminished, his sharp tone now hazy, made everyone in the newsroom ache with the desire to turn their heads away. They didn’t want to watch. It was like watching a great massive bull slowly succumb to the arrows thrown his way.

Before, when the world wasn’t in hiding, Roger was everywhere. He could be found in his office preparing a broadcast, out among the staff cubicles-standing arms crossed listening to a news story, or in the production control room leaning over the panels like a kid in a pastry shop eyeing the donuts along the opposite wall.

But now, it was as if he decided to make a last stage career switch. He became a magician specializing in disappearing acts. No longer was he in the control room, his office, or even the restroom. He didn’t even patronize The Town Crier, the bar he and everyone else in the media business frequented.

On most days, staff could predict with uncanny accuracy, the exact time the producer would begin his search for Roger. This could go on forever. At which point staff began predicting when the producer would start stretching his tie away from his neck as he looked for Roger. Betting would become involved, dollars flying, Chad running the betting table. It all ended as the exasperated producer in desperation began yelling “Roger!” traipsing through cubicle rows or opening and shutting hallway doors.

Miraculously, Roger would come out of whatever shadows he found to gamely sit behind the anchor desk and report the evening’s news. His coverage wasn’t always bad. Sometimes his old swagger would reappear, his mouth would move in tangent with the teleprompter, and his eyes would focus on his viewers as he reported the numbers once again.

But for the most part, Roger’s voice would shake; his hands would tremble as he held them together on the anchor desk. The producer would stand in the control room, either shaking his head or burrowing it in his hands.

As Dana scanned her virtual files for the report her phone vibrated. A photo of a man with stubby gray hair and deep blue eyes resembling Dana’s appeared on her screen.

“Dad? How’s Mom?” Dana asked as she stopped scanning.

“Well, I had to call an ambulance. She couldn’t catch her breath and her pulse was racing.”

Elbow resting on her desk, Dana planted her forehead into her palm. For a moment her words were clogged in the middle of her throat, unable to reach the surface.

“Dana? It’ll be all right, honey.” Her dad was saying into the phone.

“I’m coming over. You can’t be alone right now.”

“No. That is the last thing you are going to do. And it’s the last thing your mom would want you to do. She would want you to keep doing your job. You know how proud she is of that job of yours.”

“I don’t care about that right now. There’s nothing here that’s more important than you two.”

“No. You’re right; there is nothing more important than family and being together. But for now that can’t happen. I have to stay here. Alone. That’s the rules. I might be… toxic.”

“If anyone isn’t toxic, it’s you Dad. But okay. You will let me know if anything happens… one way or the other?”

“Of course, I will.”

She stared at her phone as the two sharp beeps sounded signaling the end of the call. After a few minutes she hit the text button:

-Dad just called. Mom’s in the hospital.-

After a few moments as Dana waited, clenching her phone and staring at the screen, the three small dots appeared. Then:

-Babe, I’m so sorry. I want to be there so bad. Just to hold you.-

At the end of the text the red heart symbol displayed.

-I know. I will let you know if I hear any news.-

She plopped her phone down on her desk and sighed as her eyes became moist. She wiped away at them and sat still, taking deep breaths, and focusing her eyes on the always hectic scene before her.

Dana didn’t leave the newsroom. If she couldn’t be with her family she wanted to be there. This room was the one place that knew. Moment after moment a newsroom knows. Being there was right next to being constantly aware. She started looking for the virtual report again.

At nine p.m. Dana gathered her metro card and purse to head out the door. Earlier, Chad had tried to convince her to go with him to meet his husband for a late downtown restaurant dinner.  After she told him she wasn’t really up to dinner, he tried without luck to get her to go home with him. He said that he would call Sam and explain. They could sit on the couch and watch a housewives’ reality show or something. Although his invitation was kind, Dana didn’t want to disrupt their evening. She said she would be fine. Besides, she told Chad, her dad had called telling her that her mom was stable, no change.

So, Dana donned her face mask and headed toward the station floor’s elevator. As she walked down the hall, a shadow moved across the corridor. Startled, she drew in her breath and clutched her bag.

“I’m sorry about your mom, Dana. Have you heard anything?” A voice said.  As Dana recovered, she crept toward the voice. Roger stood in front of the newsroom door, arms folded, his sports jacket thrown over his shoulder, a black and silver mask across his mouth and nose.

News spreads fast in a newsroom, Dana thought to herself smiling for the first time in hours at her little pun. She looked up at Roger and answered.

“My dad called earlier. He said she was holding her own. Thanks for asking.” She smiled at him realizing that over her five years in this job Roger barely spoke to her outside of demands for data or details on news items.

“Well, please know that your mom is in my thoughts. I’m hoping she will be out of that hospital soon.” Roger sighed as the elevator doors opened and he gestured for Dana to go in first.

As the doors slammed shut he said, “As it turns out, I had a late phone conference with L.A. I’m usually home by now, with a Manhattan in hand, anticipating a good night sleep. Since all this stuff started though, it’s been a little harder to convince myself to go home.” He looked down at the elevator floor. “My wife died a few years ago. That was hard. But, back then I could go see people if I started feeling… you know. I could enjoy a drink with friends. Now this—it’s… well…”

“I know.” Dana volunteered. “My boyfriend, Clay, he’s stuck in Germany—he’s a colonel in the Army. It would be nice to have him home.”

“So…” Roger said as the elevator doors opened to the lobby and outside. “Did you know the Town Crier installed those Plexiglas dividers? At the bar? Anyway, would… never mind…”

Dana stood silent for only a nanosecond as she observed Roger. His shirt, usually crisp and smooth as glass, sported wrinkles and ink stains. His always fastidiously groomed hair stuck out in random places. He had on reading glasses which he never wore, giving off a deer in headlights impression.

Dana shot him a half smile. “Roger, I can’t think of a better thing to do right now than to sit at a bar with a Plexiglas divider.”

——————————————————————

“So, do you think these things will stay after all this is over? I mean, I’m sure they might come in handy in certain circumstances.” Roger said. Divided by the glass, the two sat at the bar. Dana had no trouble hearing Roger’s deep baritone anchorman’s voice.

“Like when you’re on a date and the guy you’re with is a total creep?” Dana laughed.

“Or just to get away from a rowdy bar group?” Roger offered.

“Or you are at the bar when it’s crowded and a rude drunk spills his drink. The red Jägermeister hits the Plexiglas and not your brand new white dress?” Dana countered.

They both laughed as they sipped their drinks, Roger’s a Manhattan, Dana’s a Whiskey Sour.

Roger raised his glass saying, “A toast.”

Darla picked her glass up in confused preparation.

“To twenty years as an anchor for a top network news show!” Roger said as they clanked their glasses together.

Darla lowered her glass and added, “And I’m sure there will be many more years.”

“Nope.” Roger took a swig of his drink. “I handed in my retirement paperwork a month ago. Today was my last day.”

Darla shook her head trying to justify the words Roger spoke. “Wait. You just said your last day was today?”

“Yep.” Roger’s knee hit the Plexiglas as he turned toward her. “I’m done. About time, right?”

“No.” Darla said in a sharp tone. “It’s not time. Now is the worst time. How can you do that? Why, you’re the voice of reason during this particular time in history.”

Roger chuckled. “The voice of reason,” he repeated as if to himself. He smiled at her, “It’s not that I’m headed out to pasture.”

“What?” Dana asked.

“Headed out to pasture? It means, done, dried up, old. You are a young whippersnapper.”

“Young what?”

“Oh my god.” He turned again hitting his knee on the hard plastic. “I’ve got things to do still. But, it’s time to pass the torch.”

“I do know what that means.” Dana said as she sipped her second drink. “It’s just that I’m not sure our newsroom can withstand any changes given the immediate circumstances.”

“What newsroom can? But isn’t that what the news is? Reporting change?”

“You know what I mean. Sometimes I feel as if no one is listening.” Dana shrugged.

Roger moved closer to the glass. “Oh, but child, you’re wrong. People do listen. Sometimes they just don’t want to hear the truth. So, they spin their own version or listen to skewed voices of those behind anchor desks willing to give them what they prefer to hear. Now, more than ever, we all need the truth.”

 “So, now is when you decide to give up?” Dana glared at him, shaking her head.

“I’m not giving up. And I’m not leaving the news.” Roger shrugs “I’m just pivoting a bit. And you? What are your aspirations? Are you planning on a career here?”

“I don’t think so. At first, the fast pace mesmerized me, the gathering of important information, the ability to reach so many people at one time for a single worthy purpose. But now, especially now, that purpose seems flat. No one seems to care anymore.”

“Ah, but you’re wrong. People care. They are just a little misbegotten. It’s our job to steer them to port. To help them sort the chaff from the wheat.”

“There ya go again. I have no idea what you are talking about.” She took another swallow of her drink and banged her glass down on the bar.

“It’s in the Bible. Actually, the verse goes, ‘In the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.’ Matthew 13:30. For me, it helps to explain separating the false from the truth.”

“I went to Sunday School,” Dana declared in a defiant tone of voice.

Roger laughed. “Just promise me you will keep that fresh view. And don’t give up on the news media. Stick with it.”

Dana considered his words then said, “I don’t know that I have the stamina needed to stick with it.”

He then did something she will remember the rest of her life. He placed his hand on the Plexiglas. Dana hesitated a moment, smiled, then placed her hand on the other side of the glass over his.

As he leaned closer he said, “I believe you do. Just never let lies fog the gathering of facts. Research and research again. Don’t get caught up in anything just because it’s easier to follow. Always search for the truth, report it, and the rest will take care of itself.”

With that Roger sighed, took out his wallet and laid cash down on the bar. “I have to go. It’s way past my bedtime. You take care of yourself. Your mom will be fine. We’re all going to be fine.”

Dana watched him amble out the door and walk out of sight. She ordered one more drink as she sat and reflected on their talk. As she sipped the last of her drink her phone vibrated.

————————————————————–

“Tonight’s news begins with a story of breakthrough technology that will revolutionize the medical field.” Dana spoke into the camera with ease, excited to report the exhilarating news to her over five million viewers.

When the broadcast ended the producer walked up to the desk. “Good job tonight, Dana.”

“Thank you. Well, I have a date with a good looking man and his darling children. Have to go.” She got up from the desk, putting on her shoes under her seat.

The producer slapped the desk, smiling. “Tell Clay hello. And give those two little girls an enormous hug from their Uncle Chad, okay?”

“You got it.”

Dana picked up her purse. Her phone vibrated displaying a photo of an attractive elderly woman, a bright smile on her face.

“Mom, how’s it going? Are you and dad packed for your trip?”

“We are! And excited! It will be an entire day and a half of travel to get to Australia, but well worth it! Your dad is practicing his embarrassing Aussie accent, right now.”

“It’s not embarrassing! I’m getting good!” Karla could hear her father’s voice in the background.

“Well, keep me posted! I’m off to dinner.”

“Give the girls big kisses for me! We’ll be calling and texting.”

As Dana hung up the phone she walked down the hallway toward the elevator glancing in particular at one of the photos lining the wall. She patted the photo as was her habit each night upon leaving.

Roger stared down at her from his elevated spot. He died a few years back, but his image remains a huge legacy at the network. She thought of the conversation they had years before, at the Town Crier. Recalling his words, she smiled; he wasn’t giving up, and he wasn’t leaving the news. ‘I’m just pivoting a bit’, he had said.

Roger went on to write a bestseller; a scathing account of the condition of broadcasting, social media content, and a cry to humankind that if we ignore truth and justice, the world will not be able to ignore the chaos and madness manifested as a result.

His book, along with ethical leadership and monumental strides toward education and cultural cultivation resulted in a societal shift in attitude towards the credibility of news reporting. Dana reaped the benefits of the chaff separated from the wheat.  She worked her way up the news ladder from investigative reporting to production, then on to a significant series investigating the criminal justice system.

For the last ten years she has occupied the news anchor spot delivering eventful stories from catastrophic weather to consequential Supreme Court decisions.

But for now, it was time to head out into the darkness. Darkness that enfolded her for only a brief while as she anticipated the glow inside the restaurant while dining with her husband and family among the many restaurant patrons. The day was over, and she reported it as good.

Felix and the Cat (Covid Story #5)

photo of tabby cat
Photo by Just a Couple Photos on Pexels.com

I used to think there was something inherently wrong with cats. My argument involved the fact that they creep up on you, or slowly slink by as they rub their sides across your legs. And when they sit and stare up at you, I believed it was a sure sign that they would like to pounce on you, much like their Tigris species descendants.

I’m a mail carrier. I drive one of those white box trucks with the red, white and blue insignia on the sides. Nowadays, I have a mail route that Alexander the Great would have been proud to call his own. Yeah, it’s that big. Consequently, I work pretty long hours. With everyone on the home delivery band wagon nowadays, my route can take me past sunset. That can get pretty annoying. But most particularly it can get annoying when a stray animal darts in front of the truck.

You know where this is going. I had a crazy, suicidal cat on my mail route. This feline is what they call a a tabby cat. Its color is striking, but perhaps because of its agility (for lack of a better word) this cat resembles a smallish Bengal tiger. Orange and black stripes run parallel down the sides. But its best feature is its eyes. They’re copper. I know this because the damn thing stares at me after racing across the street in front of my truck. Its look is brutal. It’s as if it’s beaming a challenge —next time, lady—next time.

A large portion of my route is within a tree lined, older but generally kept up neighborhood. This area holds multi-aged, multi-incomed, and generally friendly residents. The streets are urban-community narrow and perpetually crowded with cars that are parked along the sides. To navigate the streets takes Mario-Cart prowess. The only added frustration would be an object darting in front of your vehicle. Hence, the cat.

And for that matter, isn’t it dogs that chase vehicles?

There was no question in my mind that this cat wasn’t constantly on the lookout for me and my mail truck. I could sense its gearing up for attack as I began my drive through its territory. Most of the time, I was ready. I would drive very slowly down the street, my eyes darting right and left. If I was lucky that day I could breathe a sigh of relief as I turned and headed at a right angle down a more mail-friendly road. Those are the good delivery days.

But on this particular evening I was done in. I yawned as I tried to focus. Suddenly, a dark shape careened in front of the truck, a pair of iridescent eyes staring straight at me. As I slammed my foot down on the brake, the cat calmly lowered its feline shaped body down on the asphalt directly in front of my truck. Then it began licking its fur.

I forced myself out of the truck and onto the hard pavement. As I rounded the corner of the truck to the front I began yelling. Not expletives. As a mail person I maintain a distinct dignified decorum. But I yelled nevertheless. It didn’t matter. The cat was gone. I’m sure I posed a solid Instagram worthy picture as I knelt down in the middle of the street looking for the cat underneath my vehicle. It was of no use. I got back in and finished my route.

Due to a lighter load the next day I was able to deliver on the challenging cat road at midday. Because of the time of day and cooler weather, there were several masked residents outside; sitting in lawn chairs, watering their flowers, or simply waiting for their mail. I took this opportunity to ask if anyone knew anything about an orange and black striped cat in the neighborhood. I asked from the respectable distance, of course. No one knew anything of the demon cat. Of course, there were people that had cats; they had tabby cats, calico cats, Persian, but not MY cat.

This line of questioning did allow me the opportunity to converse with the neighbors. As a mail carrier I don’t get that chance very often. Many of us are captives of our trucks, delivering to the boxes waiting for us at the side of the roads, and we are on a very tight schedule.  And that doesn’t include the time we spend delivering packages to residents’ front doors.

Up until a few months ago, my mail recipients weren’t home to receive packages. But now, with so many people working from home or sadly, unemployed, my residents are home. It’s still the same. I’m usually not able to converse with the package recipients. Leaving their parcels at their front door is safer. And actually this isn’t a change—with carriers long routes now, we can’t indulge in much chit-chat. If we did, we’d be delivering mail all night long. I do have to say that for the most part, I’m fortunate in that I don’t have a large constituency of packages to deliver. Some of my carrier friends are inundated with packages. Guess it depends on the neighborhood.

But there’s this one older guy, Felix Halton at 814 that receives packages all… the… time. Most of the time, Felix waits at the door for his parcel. I believe he sees me as I approach in my truck.  His most distinguishing feature has to be his beautiful shoulder length white hair. Sometimes his hair is up in a ponytail trailing down the back of his neck. Felix is a tall guy, about six-three, and wiry thin. He looks like he’s been through the ringer, his features rugged and dark from too much sun.

It just so happens that the same day the damn cat decided to lounge in front of my mail truck I had a 25 pound, five foot long package for Felix. As usual, approaching his door I see Felix in the door frame, leaning against the door, a red bandanna across his lower face. He resembled a forlorn aged bandit. One of those sneering outcast characters you might see in an old spaghetti western.

“Looks like you have a situation on your hands,” Felix said from the doorway.

“You must mean the cat that likes to play chicken with my truck?” I laughed as I placed the package on the porch.

Now, Felix doesn’t like small talk. I know this as a course of the way things go. Most of the time I gently lay down his package and he waits for me to walk away before he picks it up.

So, I was a bit surprised at his remark. but he was done.  He just smiled at my question, not bothering to answer, and walked back in his house shutting the door behind him.

My route takes on a film-feed not unlike a shady neighborhood version of Rear Window . The family in the two story creamy yellow house has five children. The mom perpetually looks haggard. 

The bungalow on the end of my first block is home to four “Generation S’rs” (per up-to-date social media). The occupants run out to cars day and night, doesn’t matter the time, headed to jobs or a happy hour. A quiet elderly couple occupies the brick federal style house at 810. No matter the time of day that I load mail into their box, their little yippy dog waits outside to greet me.

Out of all of my residents, it’s Felix that puzzles me the most. His packages vary in shape and size, coming from all over the world. And he receives tons of mail. Not only ads or promotional stuff like a lot of mail nowadays, but envelopes with actual handwriting on them. Don’t see a lot of that these days. Especially now, everyone is Skyping or Zooming or Facetiming. Old fashioned letter writing has become obsolete. Kind of like me.

I just left a twenty-two year-old marriage. Harry, my ex decided the grass was greener on the other side of the cul-de-sac. Seriously. He literally told me that he was in love with our neighbor, at the end of our circle block.

So, most days I run solo. Harry and I have a fantastic daughter but she moved into her own apartment a year ago. Running around with a group of good friends helped me pass time, that and this job. But now my time with friends and even my daughter are limited. We might get together the social distance way—outside on patios or under trees in park settings—but there are a lot more nights at home now, with a bowl of popcorn and subscription channels as I binge watch the newest British detective series or follow house flippers.

That’s after I get off work though. There can be a lot of long work days, stretching way into the later evening hours.

On one such day the sun started disappearing over the horizon as I began the final part of my route. I had a lot of package deliveries and a not anticipated break in my schedule earlier, making the day even longer.

As I inched down ‘cat street’ my combat companion made a beeline for the truck. Slamming on the brakes, once again, tires screeching, the dominant smell of rubber permeating the air, I clinched the steering wheel in wary anticipation. I must have hit him, I was sure of it. But there he was, his copper eyes staring at me from the side of the road. Before I could get out of the truck to throttle his sneering, sleek composure, he had vanished.

Still shaken, I got back into the vehicle and, in an attempt to collect myself, I grabbed a package: Felix Halton. The name cascaded across the label. I grabbed the parcel and headed for Felix’s front porch. As I rounded the corner of his sidewalk a voice called, “I’m around back.”

I decided to follow the voice and walked around to the back of Felix’s house. There he sat on an old orange and white webbed lawn chair, his long legs crossed at the ankles. For quite some time, I hadn’t seen him without the bandana face mask. He was drinking a bottle of beer, his face relaxed. A smile, hidden for all this time, stamped on his face.

I sat his package down on the patio, smiled, and started to leave. It was then that I glanced into his back window. Aided by several lit lamps inside I could make out the interior of his house. It looked warm and inviting. But what caught my eye was a drum set situated in the middle of the room. Inscribed on the bass drum were the words: The Basic Essence.

Back in the 1970’s and 80’s The Basic Essence rock band was the epitome of the music world. They won Grammies, performed in capacity filled arenas, and sold millions of records. But the 1990’s weren’t kind. Because of grunge, alternative, and country’s explosion, there wasn’t room for their brand of music. Their lead singer tried to make a solo go of it, but he tanked. The other members slowly advanced into obscurity.

Felix Halston’s stage name was Hal and that basically was the only name he was known by. There was no question that the man sitting in the frayed lawn chair was Hal.

I turned around. “You’re Hal.” My brilliant skills honed through dozens of hours of British detective shows did not go unmerited. 

“That’s right. I was Hal.” He shrugged and smiled. “And now I am Felix Halston once again.”

Felix took a swig of his beer, then said, “I’m that stereotypical person that haunts all those news stories, books, and movies. The person that dropped out of society, never to be heard from again. The guy that leaves his billion-dollar CEO wrecking ball of a job to repair old boats on some seashore. The woman that makes a bundle on Hampton Place Housewives that chucks it all for a server job in New Mexico. That’s me. Only I play drums.” He nodded toward the drum set on the other side of the window.

I shrugged and tried to comment in a wise sage kind of way, “Sometimes that’s what it takes. Dropping out of society.”

“I suppose you’re right, my dear. I dropped out a lot of years ago, but now, it’s pretty easy to hide. Isolation is the new ‘under the radar.’ Not crazy about the times we’re living in, but for a fella like me, it’s not that hard to get used to.”

I gave a half-smile, “I get it. I’m not one to complain either. Right now I don’t mind the alone time. It’s curative. Well, it’s been nice. This conversation.”

As I waved a goodbye a sudden movement against my legs caused me to jump.

“C’m here, Gilda.” Felix said as he slapped his hands on his lap.

The orange and black striped cat sprang into his lap, meowing a soft purr in contentment as he or I guess she settled down, then stared at me with sleepy content copper eyes.

“You know this animal?” I asked.

“You mean Gilda? Yeah, she’s been coming around for about four months now. I’m not sure if her owner had to move or what.” The ‘what’ stayed unexplained. “She looked through this window at me one morning so I started feeding her and leaving cream outside. At night she’ll wander over, sit in my lap for a spell, then leave. I’m not sure where she goes. It’s her business, I guess.”

———————-

That was a year ago today. I’m still delivering mail. Most of my customers are still on the same route. The cars are still parked all over the street and the two story house with the bunch of kids is still a creamy yellow color. And Felix is still at 814.

Gilda still comes to visit. And so do I. After that night, Felix left a note in the mailbox that said he enjoyed our visit and anytime I felt like having a beer on the patio, six feet apart, he would welcome my company. About two nights after that note, as I was considering which detective series to start watching, I changed into my jeans and a t-shirt, and drove to Felix’s house.

We now have a routine. I’ll text, if he doesn’t answer I know he just doesn’t want company that night, and some nights he will text and I will do the same. But most times after a green light, I find myself on Felix’s patio, drinking a beer, celebrating life, and exchanging cat stories while we both sit with cats in our laps.

You see, the surprise was not only that Gilda was a female, but that she was a pregnant female. Her litter is a part of the neighborhood now. The five kids in the two story have a golden brown kitty, the elderly couple—a brown and white male named Alexander that actually does get along well with yippy dog. Three of Gilda’s kittens went to the Gen S kids. But I got the best of the litter—Cleo.

Gilda no longer runs in front of my mail truck. She wouldn’t dream of stirring up the guardian of her precious baby. And for now, Felix and I are kindred spirits in a world full of kindred spirits.

We’re all just now coming back out of our houses and into a new world. We’re finding that people we love and know have been there all along, maybe with a beer and a chat—perhaps leaving us with a sense of relief, a flicker of a thought that we are a little less vulnerable.

All kinds of threatening situations stare us down, exposing our frailties. But we can stare back. And refuse to run; realizing that these situations can oftentimes become a source for something good.

A Curb-Side Story (Covid Story #4)

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Lily leaned on the counter while she waited for an order, rubbing one foot with the other, then trading off. Dressed in the required black slacks topped with a black polo, the ‘Pièce de Résistance’ logo and her name Lily stitched across the left pocket, her demeanor resembled that of a slouching, sleek cat. Her black and white face mask completed her ensemble.

“Your guy’s outside,” her friend and coworker Becca remarked.

“He’s not my guy,” Lily retorted as she stood straighter, using her pen to scratch the scalp of her short cropped hair.

“Uh, yeah, he is,” Becca cocked her head, aiming her hidden gum smacking mouth at Lily. Lily knew there was a sideways grin hiding behind Becca’s face mask.

Lily shrugged. “Just because he comes around a lot means nothing, except that he likes the food.”

“He comes here every other day. AND, he asks for Lily.” Becca spoke her name with the same deference afforded when eating a mouth full of soggy French fries.

The restaurant’s ordering app came alive as it rang a notification.

“It’s your guy! Jonathan Evans. Oh, and take a look-see. He’s asking for Lily.” Becca raised one eyebrow as she stared at Lily.

In less than an hour Lily grabbed Jonathan’s order and ran outside.

“Here ya go.” She handed the order to him through the car window. Although he wore a navy colored face mask, his bright blue eyes gave away his smile underneath the mask.

“Thank you, Lily.” Jonathan took the bag and placed it on the passenger seat. “Are you having a decent day?”

“It’s going pretty well so far. How about you?”

“Not too bad.” Jonathan toyed with the sack, folding and unfolding the top.

“Do you live around here?” he asked.

A few cars pulled in behind Jonathan’s car.

“Uh, yes. A few miles away,” Lily said as she planted one foot on the other, making no attempt to leave.

‘I’m sorry, I don’t mean to pry. It’s just that I only recently moved here and don’t know many people.”

“No, that’s okay. I enjoy chatting with you, anyway.”

“I’m glad. It’s just that I’ve been here a few times, and I didn’t want to come across as a perv or something. I would like to explain—”

Becca came out the back door, holding four to-go bags in her clasped together arms. “Lily, I’m getting bombed. Can you take the order out to the blue Chevy?”

The rest of the day went like that, busy. To which Lily was glad. Before she knew it, the crew had worked an hour overtime. It was almost midnight when she got home, took a shower, and went to bed.

The next day Becca found her the minute she walked into the restaurant.

As she tied her black apron on Becca apologized for interrupting her parking lot date with Jonathan.

“It’s all right, Becca. I needed to help.”

“Yeah, but I hate getting in the way of a budding romance.’ Becca tilted her head.

“It’s not a budding romance and who says budding romance anymore anyway.” Lily countered.

“Okay, hot romcom, then?”

As Lily started to say something in her defense, her phone vibrated.

“Sorry, I have to look,” she said.

“Hey, kid, don’t worry about it.” Becca said with a half-shrug.

Minutes later, Lily came back from the call, swiping away the wetness in her eyes.

“I have to go. It was the hospital. My aunt just died.”

The heavy hospital doors were even harder to push than usual as Lily entered the building. She had been in this place one other time, the day her aunt was admitted. Because of her aunt’s condition upon arrival, Lily, as the only living relative, arranged her admittance. But, because of current hospital regulations, she wasn’t allowed to visit and her aunt’s stay had stretched into over a month. 

Although Lily needed the work, she couldn’t go back to her job for fourteen days after her aunt’s admittance to the hospital. Eventually, her boss allowed her to go back when it was evident that she was ‘un-communicable’- as the new employee handbook read. As a good employee, he needed her and she was glad to be back at work again. Besides the money, it gave her something to focus on.

In less than an hour, Lily struggled with the heavy doors again as she left. In her hand, a bag with her aunt’s personal belongings that came with her to the hospital.  As she drove back to her apartment, her stomach lurched and her head started pounding. Relieved as she turned into her complex, she longed for her couch and her old crocheted blanket.

About an hour later, as she lay under her blanket on the couch, hair washed and stomach relieved of its misery, she opened a box. In it were photographs of her parents, a withered dollar bill, and a children’s book.

At the age of five, Lily’s parents died in a car accident. On their way home from a night out, a distracted driver, reaching for a hamburger in a fast food sack, swung into the other lane, just for a second, and hit her parents’ car head on.

At the time, Lily was at home with the babysitter. Her aunt arrived and only as her aunt could, she told her what had happened and that Lily was going to come live with her.

Now, as she half lay–half sat on the couch, Lily kept looking through the contents of the box. She held the dollar bill for a moment, remembering how carefully her dad had placed it in her hand right before he and her mom left for their dinner date that night.

“Here ya go, Sassafrass.” Her dad smiled, calling her by his nickname for her. “It’s Mom’s turn to be my date tonight. Tomorrow is our date day. We’ll get ice cream. Then, we’ll go to the dollar store, like we always do. You pick out your treasure and I’ll pick out mine.” Her dad then showed her his dollar as he stuffed it in his shirt pocket.

“Casey, I really need you tonight.” Lily next lifted the children’s book out of the box. The hardbound cover displayed an illustration of a small brown-haired boy. In jeans and a bright yellow t-shirt, he stood with his arms crossed, his head held high.

Lying there, Lily remembered her aunt giving her the book during those first days after her parents’ death.  

As she sat beside Lily on her bed in her new bedroom, her aunt had told her, “Here, Lily. You’re always talking about Casey. I don’t know who Casey is, but I came across this book at the bookstore during my lunch one day and knew I had to get it for you.”

From that day on, when Lily couldn’t fall asleep, her aunt read her the book.

Her earliest memories always  included Casey. As an only child, she had very few playmates. Casey became her constant companion. He would tell her that he would always be there for her. She could tell him everything and he would understand.

Lily’s aunt would explain Casey’s existence by saying he must have been Lily’s imaginary friend. That imaginary friends are very real. They help with growing and coping, all that stuff that needs sorted out. ‘Why,’ she said. ‘It’s quite all right to have an imaginary friend.’ Then her aunt confessed that she had one growing up and she was very glad that she did.

As Lily grew older, she started making friends and slowly came out of the grief of losing her parents. She left Casey behind. Only once in a while, when her best friend Edith moved, or later, when her first boyfriend broke up with her, she recalled Casey and knew that he would always be there for her, if only as a sweet memory and a heartfelt connection to her girlhood. She would remember and somehow, that comforted her.

Lily gently put the book back in the box, closed her eyes, and finally allowed herself to drift off to a not-sound sleep.

Several days later Lily was back to work. Everyone was very nice, but that just made it all the more awkward.

Everyone but Becca. Becca had visited her after her aunt died, knocking on her door and holding a bottle of wine. They had sat on the roof terrace of Lily’s apartment, six feet apart, drinking the wine and not saying much of anything. Just what Lily needed at the time.

Apparently, Lily’s ‘guy’ had been by for his usual takeout order, Becca told her. She said that he was disappointed when Becca brought his order out and asked after Lily.

A few days after Lily started back to work, the usual order came in: Jonathan Edwards—-Braised Short Ribs/Mashed Potatoes/Grilled Vegetables/Roll with butter—Request server – Lily

Lily’s stomach tightened as she read the order. Becca made an off-hand joke as Lily grabbed a takeout order under the hot lamp and smiled at her as she backed out the exit door with the order.

A half hour later, Lily grabbed Jonathan’s order and headed to his car.

“You’re back!” Jonathan took off his sunglasses as he spoke through his mask.

“Yep! I am back,” Lily handed his order through his window as she shrugged. She wasn’t sure he could see her smile behind the mask but hoped her enthusiasm was apparent.

“I want to explain something to you,” Jonathan said.

Oh, boy, here goes, Lily thought. He’s going to reveal that he is weird after all by rambling some demented crazy talk. Or, he’ll tell me he’s moving on, relocating, and can’t order from here anymore. I hope I’m wrong, but be prepared for anything.

“When I was small, about four years old, we lived here according to my parents.” Jonathan began looking down, toying with his sunglasses, his voice low. “We had to move for my dad’s job right before I turned five years old.”

He looked up and continued, “As an army brat, we moved a lot. My mom loved flower gardens and always had one in each of the yards we had. For some reason, I always wanted her to put lilies in her flower beds.”

“Years later, Dad left active duty, retired. They moved back to this town because they loved it here. Right now, I’m living in a townhouse not too far from them, working from home. I’m an attorney, but for now, working remotely isn’t a problem. I visit my parents often, outside of course, allowable distance apart and all that. I get their groceries for them, putting them on their doorstep. Generally, I’m here for them for the time being.”

Lily smiled, not knowing where this was going. All the same, she still felt a tug at her heart as she listened to his story.

Jonathan sighed, then continued, “Anyway, as we sat outside one day, I said something about Mom’s garden and pointedly about the lilies, laughing about how weird it was that I liked them so much.”

“At that point my mom said, “Don’t you know? It’s not that you like lilies. It’s because you had a childhood friend named Lily. You used to adore her. You two were inseparable and you were heartbroken when we had to move. You would say to me, ‘I told her I would always be there for her.’ But you were very young, and in time forgot about your friendship, all that is, except for the name.”

His story puzzled Lily. She didn’t recall a childhood friend named Jonathan. She became disappointed and sad, thinking he had the wrong person. “Jonathan, I’m sorry, but I didn’t have a childhood friend named Jonathan.”

Jonathan peered out the car window at her. Lily could see herself reflected in his eyes as she stood on the other side of the window.

Jonathan explained, “Lily, when I became an attorney, my mom told me I should go by my first name, Jonathan. It sounded more professional. My full name is Jonathan Casey Edwards.  I’m Casey. And I’ll always be here for you.”

A Day in the C19 Life (Covid Story #3)

Wine Computer Blog

Morning hon! How’s ur day? 

For this 1st nanosecond of the day? A blank slate. I suppose ur n ur office.

Yep! I’ll c u around noon.

 K.  When u come up from downstairs, bring more toilet paper from r stash.

We still have some?

 Yeah, but don’t tell any1.

Kids up yet?

Yes, they’re eating breakfast. They start class conferences soon. Thn I’m going n2 my office and catch up.

K, c u l8r.

—————————————————————————————————-

To: Charlotte Osgood

From: Health and Wellness, Blathers, Inc.

Subject: Covid 19 – New Protocol

Dear Associate,

In order to foster goodwill among our associates, we are requiring a mental wellness check every afternoon. To comply with this check, we ask that you email our corporate Health and Wellness division on a daily basis at 3 pm at this address, completing the following descriptive statements: (all statements involve the current time and date of your response)

  1. Your general health
  2. Your stress level from 0 to 10 – 10 being most stressed
  3. Your cheerfulness level from 0 to 10 – 10 being most cheerful
  4. Your temperature
  5. Number of contacts with other people – both in person and in virtual format
  6. Your current satisfaction involving your capability to cope – from 0 to 10 – 0 being desperation
  7. Your current satisfaction regarding ability to process work from 0 to 10 – 10 being highest satisfaction 

Your Health and Wellness Team at Blathers, Inc. believe in our associates and understand that during these unprecedented times it is even more imperative that we reach out to each of you to let you know that your company cares. We understand that you are facing discomforting situations daily. We believe these daily stress checks will help to alleviate some of your anxiety.

We are there for you!

Your Health and Wellness Family from Blathers, Inc.

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You have a new instant message!

“Hi! Want to get together 2nite?”

“Sounds gr8! Susan! I’ll have to let u know though. Hubby is teleconferencing w/his buddies. They’re doing some kind of fantasy baseball thing. I knew he would find a way around the sports void going on right now! Anyway, we’re getting pizza for dinner, but not sure what time.

“K. I have my wine ready. It’s going to be nice outside so we can sit on our patios!”

“Yeah, I’m n! And so convenient! U can sit on yours and I can sit on mine!”

—————————————————————————————————

“Charlotte, how are you today?”

“Oh, Roger. Sorry, I didn’t see you pop up.”

“Yeah, that’s the problem with virtual conferencing. Having your company passcode helps. I’m sorry, I thought you were online. I needed to talk to you about our promotion for the new product.”

“I am online. I just have to get use to you popping up on my computer at random times.”

“As you are aware, Charlotte, only between the hours of nine and five. The rest of the day is all yours. Now about that promotion. We need a report asap…”

————————————————————————————————–

Mom, since I can’t come n while ur working, can u tell me where the fig cookies r?”

 They’re n the pantry, 3rd shelf, bk behind the peanut butter.

Thanks, Mom.

Mom, Sam won’t quit burping. I’m replaying pt of  Mrs. Compton’s algebra lesson and he keeps interrupting! It’s annoying!

Sam, stop burping. Ur bothering ur sister.

She 8 all the fig cookies. I’m just paying her bk.

Well, stop.

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Hon, why rnt u n the kitchen? Lunch? Remember?

My boss just gave me a deadline for this report I’m doing. I can’t eat.

I can bring something n 2 u.

No, thanks. I know u mean well, but u would start talking and time would get away. Just b sure the kids rnt killing each other and I’ll b grateful.

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Hey, babe, I think I hear the doorbell. The grocery delivery guy must b here. I’m under the gun right now. Can u get the groceries off the stoop?

Sorry, hon. No can do. I’m n the middle of a conference call w/my team.

K. I’ll ask the kids. They don’t put them up n the right plc so I’ll just ask them 2 leave them on the counter. Ice cream the exception, of course.

Sam, I want u and ur sister to get the groceries off the porch. Put the ice cream n the freezer and refrigerated stuff away. I’ll do the rest l8r.

 K, Mom.

 ————————————————————————————————

Charlotte, do you have that report yet?

Just about done, Roger. It should be heading your way in about 10 minutes.

————————————————————————————————-

Hon, did the kids put the groceries up? U must not have ordered much. I can’t recognize any new stuff n the pantry.

Where r the kids? They were told to put them on the counter, except for the cold stuff.

—————————————————————————————————

That report, Charlotte. I need it now! The teleconference is getting ready to start.

On its way, Roger!

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Kids r confined to their rooms. Don’t ask.

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Here’s your report, Roger. Let me know if you have any questions.

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Hey, neighbor! Do you have any tp?

Hi, Edith! I don’t see you, just your empty chair.

Sorry. I forgot I had my phone on. I’m over here at the virtual assistant – Emily. Cecil just had it delivered and I thought I was talking to you from it. Anyway, do you have any toilet paper? If I could only borrow two rolls I promise I will pay you back. Hopefully tomorrow. There’s a rumor on the city’s awareness post saying the general store is expecting a shipment tomorrow.

 Sure. I’ll have the kids set some on the porch.

Thanks! You’re a life saver.

 ————————————————————————————————–

Babe, why can’t the kids lv their rooms? I need them to do something. I told Edith they wld set a couple of toilet paper rolls on the porch for her to pk up.

Crap! I didn’t…

 Just a min. Edith’s txting me.

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Charlotte, there’s a bunch of what looks like melted ice cream…

 Mom,  I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. My video gme went a little lnger than I thought.

Can I come out of my room now? I need to go to the bathroom.

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Charlotte, Callaway loved your report . But I need you to take that wellness quiz that Health and Wellness sent out. It was due about twenty minutes ago. Charlotte?

—————————————————————————————————-

Hon?

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 Neighbor?

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 Mom?

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Heyy, Ssusan!!! I decideed to haave that virrtual happpy our a little litttle lots sooner thaen wee planned. Anytm u wanntt join            I’m here.

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 911 – what’s your emergency?

I’m not sure. I’m at the park and there’s this lady sitting in the grass. She has a computer and is downing a bottle of wine while mumbling to herself. Something about reports, baseball, and ice cream…

Shudder House (Covid Story #2)

 

Shudder House

Audrey Harrison stood at the large picture window. Coffee mug in hand, she focused on the small brick path meandering from the parking lot and stopping right beyond her apartment. Window open, the fresh morning sun escaped in to the bright, cheery room. Only a screen came between her and the fresh air.

“Your visitors come today, don’t they?” Janet asked as she walked in with a tray holding Audrey’s breakfast. “And by the way, may I say that you look smashingly gorgeous!”

“Oh, I know. I do!” Audrey laughed as she tugged at the bottom hem of her graphic tee. The words ‘I’m Unflappable’ spelled out across the front of the shirt in large block lettering spoke volumes about the wearer’s personality.

“I love your skinny jeans, too!” Janet remarked as she sat the tray on the small table in front of Audrey’s wing chair.

“You’re just full of it today.” Audrey grinned. “At eighty-five years old I can spot a load of baloney when I hear it.”

As she sat down she glanced at the photo sitting next to the breakfast tray.  “How is Mavis doing?”

Mavis lived across the hall from Audrey. A few weeks earlier Mavis was admitted into a ‘dedicated unit’ in another area of the complex. Over the last few months dedicated unit had become a popular term bounced around the care center.

Janet glanced down at her blouse as she brushed away an imaginary spot. “She’s… doing okay.” Janet looked up, smiling. “I brought that jam you like. You probably should get busy eating. Your son and granddaughter will be here soon, ya know.”

After Janet left, Audrey munched on her toast spread with strawberry jam as she looked out her window. Her clear blue eyes rested momentarily on the large brick edifice emblazoned with gold letters announcing “Shady Oak Senior Living.” Shady Oak’s vast complex included other apartment buildings identical to Audrey’s; maintenance provided housing, skilled nursing facilities, and a recreational center.  ‘All the comforts of home, without the obligations’ the glossy Shady Oak brochure touted to its prospective residents.

Audrey’s eyes rested on the row of maintenance provided homes located across the street. As part of the complex, these homes were available to those fifty-five and older. She focused on one house in particular; the house directly across from her apartment.  

Audrey often peered over at the house across the street accented with bright orange shutters. Despite having been recently sold, she hardly witnessed any outside movement. She realized that was the norm now. Hardly anyone ventured out, not even to the mailbox. But that house carried a different vibe for Audrey, whose imagination was the brunt of jokes in her senior community and with her small family. Audrey referred to the house as ‘the shudder house.” She also had a sharp sense of humor.

Audrey got up from her chair and once again walked over to the window. At any moment now her visitors would walk up the sidewalk; Dean, her son, laughing as he carried his lawn chair, Charlotte, her granddaughter beside him. Charlotte was tall and reed thin, like her mother, with the distinct difference being her copper-red hair, inherited from her father. Every Sunday—weather permitting—her son and granddaughter made their way to Audrey’s window. They would tell tales, laugh, and enjoy the sun together.

While she waited, her eyes caught sudden movement. Across the street, a figure dressed in black was striding through the lawn of the shudder house making their way to the back. Audrey strained into the screen as she focused her eyes on the house.

“Mom!” a burly, man with a copper-red beard approached carrying a red fabric folded chair under his arm. Charlotte walked beside him with a deliberate stride, her long hair tied into a pony tail. As she came up to the window she exclaimed, “Grams! How are you?”  

Audrey stretched out her arms from the other side of the screen. Charlotte folded out her own blue fabric “Southwest State” embellished chair and plopped into it, then grinned at her grandmother.

Audrey couldn’t help but appreciate Charlotte’s bright mood. Only a few months ago, her granddaughter had been in a much darker place. Her emergence from that place was pivotal for both her and Dean.

Settling in her own chair, she remembered the scene she had just witnessed.

“Did you happen to see a figure dressed in black walking down the street as you drove in?” Audrey asked as she ran her fingers through her short gray hair in an effort to appear nonchalant.

Dean and Charlotte shook their heads, saying ‘no’ in unison.

“He had a mask on.” Audrey said.

Charlotte chuckled. “Grams, everybody has a mask on right now.”

 “He was headed toward the backyard of that house, the shudder house, the one that recently sold.”  Audrey pointed to the house.

“That’s strange.” Dean said as he reached into the fast food sack, retrieving breakfast sandwiches. “Maybe he’s a grass trimmer or something.” He handed a sandwich to Charlotte.

“Dad, I don’t believe lawn care staff usually dress in black.” Charlotte peeled back the fast food paper with only two fingers, avoiding most of the wrapping as she tossed it in the paper bag. She applied hand sanitizer, handed it over to her dad, then asked, “What did you have for breakfast, Grandma?”

“Let’s see,” Audrey tried to forget the image of the man as she described her morning meal.

Over the next several hours the three of them laughed and talked. They discussed the recent events—both the tragic and the absurd. They talked about recent favorite TV shows and virtual concerts they enjoyed. All three followed their closest major league baseball team giving them the additional discussion topic of recent adjustments to the game.

Stories of Charlotte as a child were always a favorite subject. But the task would grow difficult as Dean and Audrey tried to avoid mention of Charlotte’s mother. The stories they picked were safe ones about Dean and Charlotte’s fishing trips or errands they would run to the lumber store. Dean worked in construction, having built most of the new homes in the area under his company’s name, Harrison Construction.

Later that night as Audrey lay in bed, her thoughts centered on her granddaughter. A year prior, Charlotte had been a straight A student attending the state university. She enjoyed school and college life, got along well with her dorm roommates, studied hard, and participated in several campus activities. Her goal was to become an attorney specializing in environmental law.

Six months ago her dad made the trip to the college town Charlotte lived in with the purpose of making her bail. Accused of shoplifting a luxury end handbag by slipping it under her coat, she found herself in the women’s cell of the county jail.

Dean brought her home, and after a week of repressed emotions on both sides, he forced her to accompany him at work. She helped out on one of his building crews; fetching needed supplies, ordering and delivering lunches, carrying scaffolding pieces as required. Once in a while glimpses of the young woman she had been emerged; bubbly, funny, and self-composed. She still had hard days, but they became fewer as time progressed.

A familiar heavy wave came over Audrey as she thought back to the day Charlotte’s life changed forever. Through moist eyes she glanced out the dark window. Sidewalk lights illuminated the darkness allowing her to peer into the outside night. The ability to watch the darkness gave her comfort. The shadowy view allowed feelings of connection to the world, a world she now only knew through a screen.

She suddenly set up as her eyes focused on the side of the house across the street. Again, a dark form came into view. This time, the figure was dragging something across the lawn. The object appeared to be a filled trash bag, evidently heavy. As Audrey watched, headlights came into view, then stopped in front of the house. A different dark figure got out of the vehicle and proceeded to help the form dragging the object. The two figures lugged the object to the car, opened the trunk and lifted it into the opening, then shut the lid. Not losing a beat, they got into the car and sped off.

“Damn!” Audrey said. “License plate!” She squinted, trying to make out the plate, but she was too late. “A red, two-door, late model compact car.” She muttered to herself.

Although difficult, she hurried to her door. When she opened it to run out, she remembered. There were explicit instructions requiring residents stay in their room, not leaving under any circumstances, with the exception of an extreme emergency. Extreme emergencies were then defined in detail. Witnessing a crime was not one of them.

“Damn!” She said again, as she rushed to the phone. She hit favorites, then the center’s number and waited for an answer.

“Shady Oak Senior Living. How can I help you?”

“What are Shady Oak’s new rules for residents reporting a crime?” Audrey asked.

“I’m not sure what you mean?” the voice replied.

“Well, I believe I just witnessed a murder.”

——————-

The young, attentive police officer stood on the other side of her door as he talked to Audrey. Through his face mask he said, “Ma’am, we woke the homeowners out of a sound sleep. With everything going on, they didn’t want us in their house. And even if you did see someone dragging a trash bag in the middle of the night, it isn’t illegal.”

“Just the same, it was very suspicious.” Audrey said. “Did you check the windows for fingerprints, survey the back yard? Are you going to stake-out the place, at least for a few nights? Are you sure the homeowners are okay?” She sensed a grin behind his mask.  She knew she sounded like a wannabe Jessica Fletcher.

Audrey glanced down the hall at the open doors. She was sure everyone was up and enjoying this break from their isolated routine. The center’s director, having been called in, stood with the night manager. The director looked put out by the whole thing, what with having quite a bit on her plate over the last few months.

The officer explained, “We don’t have the manpower for a stake-out. Besides, with no evidence, there is no justification.”

After the police left and the commotion subsided, Audrey went back to bed. It was a long time before she fell asleep.

——————-

“Audrey! It’s not like you to sleep until noon!” Janet had opened the door with her security key and stood at the end of Audrey’s bed, breakfast tray in hand.

“I didn’t get much sleep last night. Besides, it’s only eight o’clock.” Audrey sat up, brushing the hair out of her eyes.

“I guess you caused quite a commotion,” Janet remarked.

“They tell me they couldn’t find any evidence of a crime.” Audrey shook her head. ”But it did happen.”

“Then you need to keep watching,” Janet shrugged. “They say criminals return to the scene.”

Audrey thought about Janet’s remark as she ate her breakfast. I guess I might as well. As I read that new book I got from the library I can keep an eye on the house.

After breakfast she called Dean to tell him about her night. He acted concerned, but behind his voice Audrey could tell that stress was weighing heavily on him. Current construction slowdown forced him into laying off some of his crew. It was a good thing Charlotte wasn’t part of the budget, he wasn’t paying her a dime.

When she glanced up from her book to check the time, she was surprised to see it was past noon. Janet brought grilled ham and cheese accompanied by a small bowl of potato salad. A delectable piece of three layer chocolate cake sat next to her glass of iced tea. As she ate the sandwich, Charlotte appeared in Audrey’s window, her blue chair under her arm.

“Grams. I thought I’d stop by during my lunch break. I hear you had an interesting night.” She said as she sat down and retrieved a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from her brown sack.

“I guess I was seeing things, as far as everyone’s concerned,” Audrey said with a grin.

“I can’t imagine that. You’re sharper than anybody I know. Now… that is.” She gave Audrey a half smile.  “Why can’t Dad talk about Mom?”

Audrey sat straighter in the chair. “I don’t know, dear. I’m sure he misses her. But I believe he thinks that in talking about her to you, it will… well, make you sad.”

“Of course it will make me sad.” Charlotte rolled her eyes. “But it’s better than acting like she never existed at all.”

“I’ll talk to your father.” Audrey wasn’t going to enjoy the conversation, but he needed to know how Charlotte felt.

“Thanks, Gram. Are you going to eat that piece of cake?” Charlotte pointed to the cake through the screen.

Later that evening Audrey kept her promise to Charlotte. She called her son.

“I didn’t realize,” Dean said. “I should have talked to her. It’s just hard. I know it’s been nearly a year, but… It’s still fresh in my mind, Mom.”

“I’m sure it is. Julie had a lot of problems. We’ll never know what was really going on with her.” Audrey picked at her blue robe as she talked to avoid grasping her hands too tightly together.

 “She just took off! Left me, her daughter. Who does that? Only a damn note, if that’s what you call it. Dean’s voice was brittle. “Dean, I’m sorry. I love you and Charlotte. I just need some time away.”

Audrey felt the pain as if it was yesterday. Her mind returned to that night. Sitting in her wing chair, Mavis sitting in the other during those days when people could be together. They planned on watching “Funny Girl” on TV. The news was just about over. Settled in with their bowls of popcorn, they watched as Julie’s face flashed on the screen.

“A hometown woman’s body was found hundreds of miles away in what appears to be a hit and run—-” The bowl of popcorn slid from Audrey’s lap as she stared at the screen. “Detectives at the scene told our reporter evidence of tire tracks and witness statements indicate a four-door gray sedan with an out-of-state license plate may have been involved. Preliminary reports state that Julie Harrison may have been jogging. A suspect is in custody… ”

——————-

A few days later, her work day over, Charlotte visited her grandmother again. While the sun set, they chatted. She sat eating vegetable fried rice takeout. Audrey, in a tee with their baseball team logo imprinted on the front, sat eating her dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes. Equal time team ball cap on her head, Charlotte watched her computer screen game. Audrey watched the game on the TV. Dean was working on the construction business budget at home and not in a great mood according to Charlotte.

Not long after the game was over, Charlotte picked up her chair to leave.

“Seems odd, no one in the seats,” she remarked.

“Perhaps it’s better that way, taking into consideration the way they played.” Audrey snarked.

As she got up to wave goodbye to her granddaughter, movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. A figure, once again dressed in black, trailed to the back of the shudder house.

“Charlotte!” Audrey couldn’t get the words out of her mouth fast enough. “There!” She pointed. “They’re back! The… whoever that is!”

Before Audrey could react, Charlotte took off running toward the house. “No! Don’t go over there!” Audrey’s mind flashed back in time to the bowl of popcorn, the TV screen, the announcer.

This time instead of calling the desk, Audrey called 911. She screamed into the phone that her granddaughter had taken off running to catch the dark-clad figure. She told the dispatcher to hurry, please hurry!

Desperate to run over to her door, open it, run down the hall, and to the outside, she stood planted in her spot, a helpless feeling overwhelming her. After what seemed like forever, she heard sirens, then came the flashing lights. The officers tore out of their cars with their flashlights aimed toward the back of the house. Then the lights disappeared.

——————-

Epilogue

“At long last our town has the opportunity to come together for this special ceremony.” The town’s police captain stated from the podium to the crowded auditorium.

“This town… this world, has been through devastation not seen for generations. But we’ve come out on the other side. During this unprecedented crisis, there were heroes on every corner, in every situation, and at every juncture.

We are honoring five such heroes tonight. It is my pleasure to announce the recipients of the first award, Charlotte and her grandmother Audrey Harrison. Through their joint efforts, our department apprehended two of the most dangerous criminals our town has ever encountered. Through Audrey Harrison’s persistence and perseverance, the actions of the criminals became known. By bravely following the movements of one of the perpetrators, Charlotte Harrison assisted in their capture. The town would like to show their appreciation by—

Audrey sat next to Charlotte in the front row, Dean beside her. She turned to find Janet sitting with Mavis in the back row. They smiled in her direction.  As the captain detailed out the night’s events to the audience, Audrey ran a film version of her own inside her head:

The night Charlotte disappeared around the corner of the house, she came upon the black-clad figure taking off her knit hat and pulling an elastic hair tie off her blonde ponytail. She pulled the patio door open while she loosened her thick hair. Before Charlotte realized what she was doing, she followed the woman into the house. As Charlotte watched, the blonde figure walked into a bedroom and began speaking to a man sitting on a bed. A lifeless body was lying on the floor, in a puddle of blood, a gun steps away.

Down the hall from the bedroom, Charlotte dialed 911, texted her situation and address, then turned her phone on record.

“We have to be careful. Some nosy old person at that old people’s home across the street must have seen us the other night.” Vern said.

“No. I have to be careful.” The blonde said. “You won’t have to worry about anything.”

The blonde drew out her own gun from her jean pocket and aimed it at the man while she kicked the other gun under the bed.

Panic stricken, Charlotte turned to run toward the kitchen and outside, ready to direct the authorities when they arrived. But, she didn’t see the centerpiece vase of flowers on the table. The vase fell as she accidentally hit the table in her haste.

The man and woman turned toward the noise, looked at each other and ran towards her. The woman got to her first. She brought her gun forward and pointed it at Charlotte.

But she hadn’t noticed the absence of the centerpiece vase, which came crashing down on her head. The gun spilled toward the floor as Charlotte said, “Lady, you should have made better life choices.”

Before the man could react, the back door opened. “This is the police. Each of you raise your hands and stay where you are.”

As the captain narrated the incident, Audrey continued her thoughts about that night. She remembered detectives explaining to her and Charlotte that the blonde assumed the name Tracy; the tall man, Vern. Together they became a ’55-plus’ couple named the Bakersons. Their real names were Chrissy Lowell and Carson Taylor. Chrissy and Carson were wanted in connection with a bogus IRS phone scam. They bilked a few million dollars from hundreds of unsuspecting and vulnerable people. After the FBI began tracing their movements they vanished. The couple’s faces and profiles began appearing in every police station in the area.  They were elusive until they showed up as Tracy and Vern buying the house across the street.

The couple had one goal in mind; to launder their money through a local ex-felon, Lars Compton. In the meantime, they would be under the radar in Audrey’s senior community.

The Bakersons bought the house online. Taking advantage of the occurring crisis, they claimed that their age of 65+ impeded the experience of an in-person transaction. As a result of Audrey’s initial call, the police talked to the couple through semi-closed doors, only seeing a partial headshot of ‘Vern.’ Not in the designated age bracket of 55+, Vern used the present global situation to their advantage. They claimed they were staying in and would prefer not to be in close contact with anyone, as instructed.

On that particular night, the couple had set their plan in motion. The car Audrey saw was a rental. The bag was stuffed with millions of dollars of cash, along with several assault rifles. Lars made the deal with them using his ‘influential connections.’ His connections requested the guns and ammunition as a ‘bonus’ for his trouble. Because it took some convincing by Audrey that she really had witnessed suspicious activity, a lot of time elapsed before the living center staff made the call to the police. By the time the police arrived the couple had transferred the black bag to Lars and returned to the shudder house.

The night of the second call and subsequent capture began with Lars going to the house. The deal secured, it was time for Lars to hand over the laundered cash. However, he kept more than his part. As Carson counted the money, he slowly realized Lars ‘indiscretion.’ Muttering something along the lines of having to piss, Carson walked to the bedroom, opened the bed stand drawer and drew out a gun. Lars followed him, rightfully suspicious. And as things like that go: Lars explained his situation/Carson didn’t buy it/Lars lunged/Carson fired.

Meanwhile, Chrissy had plans of her own. She told Carson she was going for takeout. That he could handle the transaction, she trusted him. But he shouldn’t have trusted her. Once in the car she changed into her black pants, turtleneck, hoodie, and ball cap. Carson wasn’t the only person with a gun. She planned on killing him once Lars left and she was back inside the house, taking the money for herself.

All that changed once Audrey saw her, and Charlotte walk into the house.

——————-

As the captain completed his story, he asked the award recipients to step forward. Audrey and Charlotte accepted their tokens of appreciation; gold bracelets embossed with the police department logo and the inscription, “Together we conquer our enemies.”

Later, as Charlotte, Dean, and Audrey sat with their friends at a table at their favorite local restaurant, Dean held high his stein of beer in a toast to Charlotte and Audrey.

Mavis addressed Charlotte asking, “So, what are your plans, now that the world has opened back up again?”

“I’m going back to school.” Charlotte replied. “I plan on getting that law degree. But I also plan on coming home during the summer to help my dad. And to see Grams. This time from anywhere we damn well feel like going.”

Audrey stood up and hugged her granddaughter, her tee emblazoned with the words ‘Seize the Day! It’s A Crime Not To!’  Raising her glass once again she said, “I’d also like to make a toast. To us. To the world. To being together, again.”

A Normal Morning (A Covid Story)

Grocery cart

Zeroing in on the task before her, Ellie drew in her breath, opened her car door and swinging her 80-year-old legs around, planted her feet on the concrete.

“There,” she thought to herself. “The first step.”

At 8:00 a.m. the parking lot spaces closest to the storefront filled quickly as shoppers made their way to the front doors labeled “Seniors Only – 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m”.  Armed with lists, shielded faces set in poker face mode, these proactive beings stood waiting. Battle lines drawn, the doors open, allowing the shoppers to spring into action. Each grabs a grocery cart as they follow their plan of attack.

Her cart before her, grocery list in hand, Ellie steers toward the fruits and vegetables, aiming for the green peppers. She spies an opening and checks her perimeter. Seeing only free space in front of her as well as around the peppers, she makes her move. As she grabs the vegetable of choice (having made her selection as she drew near) she discovers another shopper staring at their list and headed in her direction. Swiftly and deftly tossing the vegetables in the cart, she steers away from the shelves, doing a ‘180’ in the middle of the aisle as the other shopper glances up. A smile creases her mask as she moves toward her next target.

Halfway through, Ellie takes a breath while she glances around at her fellow store patrons. With purposeful stride, most of the masked souls focus solely on their goal, no lingering over the canned goods or yogurt, no requests for the attending staff. Only determined and artful cart maneuvers meet her eyes as she looks around.  

A small, rail-thin woman stops, allowing the appropriate number of feet between her’s and Ellie’s cart, “Excuse me, do you know where I might find pesto?”

Ellie smiles, “I believe pesto is with the pasta. Try two aisles that direction.” She points to her left.

“Your hair is beautiful,” the woman says. “It’s so white.”

“Thank you,” Ellie replies as she touches her short bob. “It needs trimmed, but, well… you know.”

The woman laughs, “Boy, do I? Do you see this mess?” She points to her head. “The only saving grace is the fact that everybody needs a haircut right now, right?”

Ellie scans the store then looks back at the woman, “Yep. As it stands, we are all in this together.”

“I venture to say, at our age, that both of us have been through tough times before. We’ll win this war, too.”

“I hope you’re right. If everyone were on the same side, we just might win—this war, as you call it.”

The woman’s mask moves, indicating a smile beneath it, “We’re tough old birds. With us on the right side of this, doing our best to beat it, we have a fighting chance. Well, it was very nice talking with you—mask to mask, that is. Beats Facetime!”

“Same here. Take care and stay safe.”

“Plan on it. I’m going directly home. I only go out every two weeks right now—to do this.” She gestures toward her cart.

As Ellie moves on toward the dairy section, she turns around to wave at her new friend. Focused on her task, the woman doesn’t notice. Glad for the opportunity to conduct an actual conversation with a stranger, Ellie has to fight the urge to turn her cart around, find her friend, and suggest that they have coffee sometime in the store. A what-used-to-be normal reasonable request.

Ellie reasons to herself, “I’m at the grocery store. I’m shopping. When I go outside the sun will be shining and the weather pleasant. I’ll get in my car and drive home with my groceries. A normal day.” Then, for a brief moment, her thoughts darken, “Only the day isn’t normal. THIS isn’t normal.”

With a shrug, she starts moving again, “But this is what is. It just… is.”

Finished with her shopping, Ellie wheels the cart to her car, unloads her groceries, falls into the driver’s seat and pulls away.

At home, after unloading the groceries, wiping each item down with spray bleach, and putting them away, she wipes the counter and washes her hands as she sings the alphabet song.

Her cell phone rings at the same time a photo pops up on the screen. The picture is of a nice-looking young woman with shiny red hair, blue eyes, a soft smile. “Sophie,” Ellie says into the phone, “Are you already at work?”

“Yep, came in about three hours ago. Did you go to the store yet, Mom?”

“I did. I’ve followed protocol. Wiped everything down, put up the groceries and now I plan on relaxing with a cup of coffee. How has your morning gone?”

“We lost another patient.” Pause.

“But two were discharged yesterday. I’m glad your home. I don’t like you going to the store.”

“I realize that. But it’s nice every once in a while to see people face-to-face, or mask-to-mask I guess I should say. With your dad gone, it can be rather quiet around this place. Besides, I do use delivery services and I limit myself to going out only once or twice a month.”

“I know I can trust you to do what’s best. Hey, I have to get back to work. They’re admitting more patients.”

“Okay.  Be—” Sophie hung up.

As Ellie puts her cell phone down on the side table, she glances at the photo resting there. She smiles as her eyes light on the women, both suited up in scrubs, arms around each other’s shoulders. The older woman wears a stethoscope around her neck. She is the taller of the two and sports short platinum white hair. The other woman is smiling brightly, her red hair held back in a ponytail. Inscribed below the photo, etched in gold, are the words: Because you were a doctor, I became a nurse. Love you mom, Sophie.