I made bacon. Not burnt, not limp — crispy bacon with the right amount of salty fat.
Long before my sister succumbed to cancer, my insides had died. Grief manifested itself in bland meals. I tried, but everything came out wrong. Even a simple cup of coffee tasted too strong or too weak, never full bodied. My immediate family suffered, too. They lost not only their beloved aunt but their mother’s home cooked meals too.
After three long years, food finally tastes like love. Maybe it’s the quarantine time or simply that time heals all wounds. Either way, I made bacon.
Our house sits close enough to Manhattan to watch the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks. Well, most times we don’t see them but it’s good to know that we could find a suitable spot to watch. It’s an advantage to live close to the city. We can observe its goings on from a safe distance. Sometimes, we witness atrocities, such as smoldering ashes months after the 9/11 attacks. Other times, we’re too close for comfort, such as the high COVID-19 mortality rate. But I digress. Today I will focus on the manmade beauty of the island of Manhattan. Happy Independence Day!
Mama Robin patiently sits over her eggs. She keeps them warm and safe from the unpredictable May weather. On warm days, she searches for food and returns promptly to continue her watch. On cool, breezy days, Papa Robin brings dinner. Sometimes he gives her a break and sits over the eggs. The pair works together, a sight both sweet and remarkable. At the arrival of June, I hear tweets. A few days later, fuzzy heads pop out, beaks wide open. Mama Robin flies in with worm in tow. Papa Robin remains nearby looking out for the safety of his household.
Thelma ripped pages of wasted time. Motion after motion with legal terms, such as memorialize custodial rights. The contained words had caused panic and pain, small gains and large losses, but mostly pain to the child at the center of it all. The child just wanted to freely love both parents, but they remained on high alert. One misstep, he had threatened, and he’d take legal custody. Thelma couldn’t let her guard down. Yet, it all amounted to nothing more than years of a pissing match. Hours, weeks, and years of investigating, defending, and accusing contained in a large bin.
Mami didn’t understand his words, but the doctor’s look of resignation said it all. She broke down. Dad asked next steps, but the doctor repeated, “We’ve done all we can do.” It was now in God’s hands. They tucked Andy into the stroller and left wrapped in grief. Their two-year-old boy was to never get better. That’s when the home remedies started pouring: a statue of Santa Lucia, patron saint of the blind, rosary draped around it, botanica candle lit day and night, a salve made of snake oil. “This will make his legs strong,” claimed Ester. “He will walk.”
“Come to me,” I beckoned, arms outstretched. Mami held Andy upright while Dad jiggled his legs to get him to walk. He was two, and I seven. Mami gently loosened her grip and for a moment, he stood by himself. A look of confusion, though, crossed his face, and he crumpled like an accordion folding into itself.
“His nails,” Mami screamed. They had turned a violet blue. He had stopped breathing.
Dad ran out the apartment to hail a taxicab. Mami wrapped Andy in blankets and followed Dad. By the time she got outside, he had started to breathe again.
Each case of congenital rubella syndrome manifested differently. Most fetuses aborted spontaneously. Then there were the approximate 20,000 viable births. Listen to me carefully; each pandemic must be taken seriously. In the wake of the 1964 pandemic, my brother was born with a hole in the left ventricular. He underwent immediate open heart surgery. By age two, he had undergone three heart operations, was confirmed as legally blind, and classified mentally retarded due to lack of oxygen to the brain. The aftermath of the pandemic left my parents with two growing girls, one severely sick son, and a baby on the way.
I was too young to understand the gravity, but in 1964 the world experienced the Rubella pandemic. A mild rash accompanied with a high fever that ran its course within a few days. My little sister and I both got the virus. We probably picked it up at the World’s Fair. Back then there was not a mandatory quarantine like today. Just warnings for pregnant women to stay away from infected people.
My parents gave each other furtive looks each time Radio WADO made the announcement.
My brother, born that October, was one of the 20,000 babies born with congenital rubella syndrome.
The woman fell asleep curled into a fetal position, covers tucked tight. At dawn, she felt the covers lift, and a body glide closely to hers. Without turning, she uttered, “Mari, is that you?” Silence ensued, but her heart leapt with recognition. “I didn’t know,” she said, “that I could communicate with my mind.” Her sister’s presence began to pull away. “Don’t go,” she said, “stay with me.” Mari slid under the covers and flung her left leg over the woman’s, same as when they were little girls. “I love you so much,” said the woman then woke up, sobbing.
Jenny waited at the intersection. She made a mental note to call the daycare. Baby had been unusually clingy at drop off.
Traffic cleared and she proceeded to make the left turn. Midway a van appeared — a boxy van aiming to beat the red signal.
The van clipped her Honda.
Grandmother appeared and pulled Jenny out the spinning car. They watched the Honda bang into an idling Buick then into a fence.
Jenny lifted her head. Grandmother vanished. She stared at the fence; its crisscross pattern zoomed in and out. She was back in the totaled Honda, unhurt.