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Life in the Time of Corona

COVID 19 Sidewalk Chalk 4-16-2020

Ethan McGuire

By day, Ethan McGuire is a healthcare information technology professional. By night, he is a writer, whose writing has been published by The Dark Sire Literary Magazine, Better Than Starbucks Poetry Magazine, Vita Brevis Press, and others. He currently lives in the Florida Panhandle with his wife, dog, and cat.

On an unusually brisk April morning, unusually cold for the Florida Panhandle at fifty degrees, I watched as the rising sun illuminated the sidewalk beneath my feet on their way to work.

    My feet were on their way to my hospital shift, despite my body’s unwillingness and my own protest against comfortable but ugly green shoes. The gray and beige sidewalk at my feet ran parallel to both the highway and the front of the hospital, and this fact, for some reason, had placed me into a groggy-headed trance. I was under the spell of this trance until I saw a stretch of sidewalk where a local hospice company had attempted to cheer us all up by writing on the walk with chalk of assorted colors. Opening up the graffitied ground segment was a properly colored rainbow, and at the end of the segment were two yellow and orange suns. The middle of one sun read, “You are someone’s sunshine,” the other, “Making Days Brighter.”

    In between the rainbow and the sun, between each sidewalk joint, someone had written an uplifting or encouraging message:

    “The world needs you,” “Life is tough but so are you,” “Heroes Work Here!” “Pensacola Loves You,” “Keep smiling,” “Shine like the stars,” “Hold your head up,” “Escambia’s thankful for you,” “You Rock!,” “You save lives,” “Always by your side,” “You change lives,” “You make a difference,” “Stop HERE + Smile,” “Thank You,” “You are strong,” “Heroes This Way ↑,” “Stop, Smile, & Be Proud,” “We appreciate You,” “You are incredible,” “Thank you, HERO!”

    In addition to the messages, a few of the more artistic people in the group had added crudely drawn pictures to their words: a white and yellow pelican dancing with “LOCAL” emblazoned across its breast, a pattern of hopscotch squares containing hospital department names, a smudgy green and blue globe with stick people lined up across it, and certain thanks to specific nurses and doctors outlined in various handwritten but stylish fonts.

    I grinned widely, showing my morning teeth beneath a disposable surgical face mask, which I was using because it was the only mask available to me at the time. Then I noticed a block of sidewalk that wormed its way into my mind and would not leave for the rest of the day, a place where dirty streaks of chalk lay scattered in some sort of explosion motif, as if someone had taken the multi-colored dust at the bottom of the chalk box, dumped it in one pile, and sprayed a whole bottle of water at the pile, transforming it into mud. I wondered what the smear might have previously said. Had it ever been any shape? Any words? Had it perhaps read:

    “Why? My aunt has coronavirus. She languishes in your hospital even now, but your staff will not let me in to visit her, will not allow me into her room to comfort her, will not permit me to see for myself that she is indeed receiving the proper care, even though she raised me as her own daughter after my parents died when I was a kid. Why?”

    If I could have found the phantom author of these complaints, could I have explained to her our precautions, or our doubts and fears?

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