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Life in the Time of Corona

Cardinal Experience

Rachel Reese

As a writer of Americana literature, Rachel Reeses’s stories are centered around characters with distinct voices, stories for which something or someone has something to say. When not taking dictation from her characters, you might find Rachel speaking in their voices at open mic venues, performing among companionable poets and other prose-ists in the Florida Panhandle and the South.

    COVID-19, a mysterious and particularly virulent form of coronavirus, has dropped into our world without warning. Few are prepared, and many are vulnerable to ill-effects that coping with quarantine has on our collective psyche.

    Telecommunication platforms lure us to keep in touch. Corporate CEO’s and celebrities send emails and videos saying they care, insisting ‘we are all in this together.’ Radio talk shows, broadcast news, and up-to-the-minute mortality counters add to the virtual noise.

    I am 65 years old and considered part of COVID-19’s ‘at-risk’ population. That means if the virus attacks, I am likely to suffer a long, miserable and messy end, squeezed to death by my own lungs. Like a throttled IV, this puts a pinch in my creative juices.

    I decide to throw self-quarantine caution to the wind, grab a kitchen timer and head to the small floating deck amid the trees in my backyard to contemplate. But, en route, I am caught off-guard by an injured cardinal, a young female, flapping across the pebbled ground on the steam of an injured wing.

    In our household, my husband is the go-to guy in the Creature Disposal Department – garden snakes, creepy-crawlers lurking in dark places, and possum squatters under the back patio all fall under Paul’s jurisdiction. My role is to quietly fade into the background. Unfortunately, I am home alone, and this wounded bird at my feet unnerves me.

    Where is my husband when I need him?

    I’d like to state for the record I’m not totally useless in a creature crisis. After his cataract surgery, Paul was given strict instructions to refrain from bending over and to avoid sudden movements. Still, when a cockroach the size of a small dog -- whom I am certain was aware of the situation -- skittered across my foot, I instinctively turned to my husband.

    But a glance at his eyepatch and the array of post-cataract drops and lotions caught me up short. So, in a split-second decision, I neutralized the threat with the bottom of my sandal and a resounding Whack! Jaw agape – my husband’s, not the cockroach’s—he said, “Wow, what a turn on!”

    Meanwhile, anxiety waxing in my backyard, I give the grounded interloper a wide berth, scuttle up the platform, settle in and close my eyes. Peace is elusive. This cardinal, for whom on a daily basis I throw out seeds and replenish the bird laver with filtered water, continues flapping in the near distance. I am further distracted by other turmoil from the surroundings: the yard-to-yard yap of neighboring dogs, a jay that nosedives dangerously close to my face, and the grinding bearings of an ancient air conditioner.

    I am at a loss as to how to tune it all out.

    I take a deep breath and, though I am an infrequent petitioner to any deity, go straight to the top. I ask The Source to return tranquility to my space, giving thanks in advance, a hedge against my celestial transience. Then, I wait. And in a manner more casual than I would expect from a divine being, The Source responds with, “Get up and do something about it yourself!”

    Once again, it is up to me, but hell’s bells, I am not about to touch that cardinal. God knows -- or so my grandmother told me – birds carry germs harmful to humans, like COVID-19’s cousin, avian influenza. Still, I figure there’s wiggle room with this cosmic commandment.

    So, I stand, and from a not-particularly-social-distance, channel energy through my hands to the distressed redwing below, then wave in the directions of the chatty canines, and enjoin the sound of that lone A/C unit on this torpid morning to cease. Then, I return to my chair, set the timer for eighteen minutes, and close my eyes.

    For a brief moment, perhaps mere seconds, all is quiet.

    And there, in the midst of clattery urban nature, I know I can loosen the grip that constraints have on my creativity, even if said nature turns up the volume -- which it does. Still, my mind meanders in directions it wants to go, though I don’t recall exactly where. But amid the wanderings, I experience gleanings of more interesting—more joyful—places in this empyrean atlas. Then, a wondrous thing happens. I start to cry. Not a blubbering outpouring; rather, a gentle stream, which washes away my anxiety.

    When the timer rings, I offer a closing prayer, and open my eyes.

    The cardinal has flown away.

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