Understorey Magazine is sharing your stories of the COVID-19 pandemic. Are you staying home? Working extra hours? Unable to work at all? Are you caring for others or do you need care yourself? What worries you the most? What do you hope for?
4 June 2020: Submissions to this series are now closed. Please enjoy the 30-plus stories written by women from across Canada and published during the “stay at home” period of March-May 2020. Together, these stories chronicle how routines, priorities, values, and expectations shifted during this unique time in our collective history.
One is my mother. Her smile a Siamese cat’s —
her ears sharp and tail proud as she blinks a wise-eyed stare.
One is a dead poet I love. His appearance wakes me
inside the dream I’m dreaming. I panic that he has died,
but in my sleep, he lives again.
Who is here and who has gone?
The abandoned shells of crabs are numinous
and litter the beach.
The smallest cormorant dreams
the soft salty flesh of crab. The beach sends ominous signs to my waking self.
One is a friend who died at sixteen, our lives briefly linked.
I walk though these dreams. Are they my own?
In a mask I walk. In a hand-sewn burgundy mask.
People who have died catch this terrible cough.
to the waking world,
the dog on me breathes his shuddering sigh,
while the dog of my dreams
Small the changes we made
to the yard from last
spring to this. Shrubs
mainly, a path, a deck.
But we must have changed
the northwest passage
around the house for today
the strong wind, soothing
as it was for a time
in its familiarity as I sat
with the horror of news,
ultimately crushed the curve
taken by a flock of American
tree sparrows against my window.
One after one they fell. I rose,
made myself look at each one,
the whole works. Dead dead dead
dying dead. Look what I’ve done.
After Nora Ephron’s “What I’ll miss, what I won’t miss”
What I Don’t Miss
What I Do Miss
New book smell
Specialty tea stores
The family cat
The universe has a peculiar reaction to our sincere desires.
— Mary Ruefle, “Someone Reading a Book”
Sincere desire: to call
today the worst birthday
but I don’t care.
The cat is all now you know
how it feels. House finches
swing on the feeder,
chuffed to see me
behind glass. My sincere desire
is to record a teaching video.
I am pale but I explain
the field of cultural production
to an empty room:
My COVID-19 adventure began on March 13th around 3:30 in the afternoon. I was standing in a grocery store loading a weekend’s worth of groceries onto a conveyor belt. Then there was a “ding” from the pocket of a woman ahead of me.
As she whipped out her phone and began reading, more dings came one after the other, then in unison, from people all over this grocery store. Looking around, everyone had their faces glued to a device. Then came the “oh nos” and the “oh my gods” and the “what am I going to dos?” from an entire store full of parents who just found out March break will last at least three weeks because of the coronavirus.
I’m a social, organized, life-long learner. This has always served me well and particularly does so now.
For example, I belong to a Bridge Club. It’s a retirement plan to keep my brain active. The also allows my husband and me to interact with humans now that our work colleagues are out of our lives. Clearly, sitting at a card table touching the same equipment is not currently appropriate, yet I have not lost contact with this aspect of my life.
I’ve embraced playing bridge online. I’m not talking about the solitary game people play against three robots. I’m referring to real people, in real time. I can play bridge with strangers from around the world or, preferably, with friends whom I know and enjoy. We can continue our companionship even though we’re not in the same physical space. I learned the software quickly and just finished posting instructions, with screens shots, on our club’s Facebook site to help others. We’re all “seniors” and some find it difficult to adapt.
Shut indoors in the middle of a pandemic / you would think it would be quiet / but my two young children are yelling over nothing/the phone is ringing with relatives / updates from the school board / conference calls I can’t bear to pay attention to/outside—a siren, then two / emails and voicemails with urgent missives / the manufactured hysteria surrounding both deadlines and tasks roars in my ears / I long to reply with … Really? Is this REALLY important? What’s going to happen if I don’t do this by 5pm? What? NOTHING. That’s what / but instead my keys plink in soothing staccato tones / I promise results
I’ve been writing,
reflecting in my journal
and thinking just what you asked:
Why does this
feel different from the
isolated state we live in?
The closest I’ve come to it is a
feeling that’s like those
wire-framed screen covers
people put on food in the summer to
keep the flies off.
Little Covie (may I call you that?)
doing what you’ve done since
the beginning — begetting and begetting
in biblical proportion, as though
there were no tomorrow, surviving
as we wear you to the mall.
I call Aminah, a refugee, to ask has she all
urgent instructions in Arabic? “This virus
is everywhere, in every language!”
She is aghast that I don’t see
and rushes off to What’s App
Mom and Dad in Baghdad.
and in these times,
I focus on the birds, the chirps, the helicopter thrum of wings
the gossip high in the bare branches
trees waiting for pips to become a blush of early green
at dawn they branch like the lobes of lungs
and crocus tips sharp-tongued make faces through the leaden leaves
and in these times,
each day is brighter, the tint in the sky is turning a more assured blue
and the moon still sasses me early in the morning
“what a beauty I am!” and then fades into breakfast