“I’ll take it!” she says smoothing her skirt, meaning all of it: the dispensations of season, the failures of faith and even the fear crashing through the pores. She sips her first cup of coffee as if it were a usual day in a usual spring when it was anything but.
The body bags, faux and real, pile up — some in the basements of overwhelmed funeral homes, yesterday on the steps of City Halls all over the country, overseen by a sober enactor wearing the black robes of the Grim Reaper, holding the scythe at this side, a symbol we all understand.
The refrigerator trucks on Long Island and Manhattan may be fewer now, but the peripatetic Reaper still makes his rounds. You want to read The Plague, you don’t want to read The Plague. You want to know how many the Black Death killed. You don’t want to know how many.
What you really want is to sink into a silence so vast it encompasses all, not just the tectonic plates of our Republic colliding, shattering, heaving up obstructive mountain ranges that dwarf the Rockies, but also galaxies minding their own sparkling business and tree toads calling out the melodies of spring, impervious to our need.
She smooths her skirt, examining her calves, shaved at last, as sure a sign of spring as any.
The TV goes on. The TV goes off. Sometimes the mere introduction of the pundits is enough to make her click and run. Outdoors offers its usual blessings — sun drops vigorous in their social bunching, ferns already unfurled and waving, Solomon’s Seal arching in the shade and dimpling the shadows with their delicate white bells.
But it, the outdoors, offers risk as well. That fucking 20-something female jogger you swore you would yell at or trip but did neither this morning. Even at just 4 1/2 feet away, the jogger didn’t notice your hot glare and how could she, head downturned, scrolling at her phone with one finger, earbuds in. Need I say more?
The morning sun offers its own rewards, especially after a dank and dreary March and a freezing April, months when the weather seemed determined to conspire with the catastrophes of contagion.
She glances heavenward at the rust colored leaves of the 250 year old beech. How lovely the contrast with the maple! As if Nature planned it for her pleasure. Nature planned what? Surely a virulent virus is within Nature’s purview as well? If only the ancient beech could speak to her in a way she could understand — more deeply, that is, than the beauty on offer for any and all to see.
The stories pile up with the bodies. Children’s blood pressure tanking, their little bodies on the verge of heart failure. Fathers dying alone. Sisters, cousins, wives grieving somewhere else.
“There’s no wishing our way out of this one,” she thinks, but what the powers that be do collides so violently with reality it might as well be wishing. “We wish it was over. We wish it was safe to ride on busses and trains again.We wish putting bacon on your plate didn’t require human sacrifice.” So much wishing! It’s nearly a surprise that they don’t attend press briefings wearing pink boas and rainbow glitter.
How is it that wishing gains the traction and force of an avalanche, the weight of an anvil?
If only we were six, she couldn’t help but snicker, watching the cliff fall out from under Wile E. Coyote, knowing he’d spring back to life in the next frame to find yet another way for his idiocy to get him killed. How contained that idiocy was! So without the power to harm a single hair on a single head of a single child mesmerized and laughing in front of the screen. Unlike now, when idiocy lurks and thieves and coalesces and twists itself into tornadic destructive power.
Spring reminds us of the uses of patience, the thrall of cycles, of elements whose duration outlasts our simple, narrow lives. Like that exalted beech tree, here before Emancipation, here during the Spanish flu and the Great Depression and Vietnam — stalwart, soaking up sunlight, season in and season out.
Is that second, necessary cup of coffee ready at last? When she stands, she steps into her own shadow. Inside, a stay-at-home husband discusses pressure. How to ramp it up, how to release it, how to apply its force to productivity. Who knew engineers spoke in such a sexy jargon?
Lessons are all around, she thinks, as the dog looks at her with his liquid eyes of need, wanting her to yet again fling treats around the backyard and command, “Find it!”
The prompt from Thursday class teacher was the following poem.