If I were at my office, I’d be complaining about central air. I’d be piling on sweaters, and crossing my ankles to retain heat. At the end of day, I’d breathe in hot air and soak up Vitamin D to lift my frozen mood all the while lamenting that summers are spent cooped up in a frozen alternate world.
Instead I’m home sweating bullets in this summer’s second back-to-back heat wave. Moving as little as possible to generate the least amount of body heat. Retreating to my bedroom throughout the day lamenting this old house lacks central air.
Time had stopped but new wrinkles swallowed Norma’s face. In the back of the kitchen cabinet, she found a lemonade pitcher she received many years ago.
The world had come to a standstill. Fear and death lurked in everywhere forcing peoples to hunker down and shun visitors. Nevertheless, acceptance and peace washed over Norma. She took advantage of the unexpected slow down and revisited old memories through pictures and writings. She thanked and discarded clothes, and eliminated unused items. A decluttered home surely would attract auspicious energy.
She washed the dusty pitcher and filled with homemade iced tea. It gleamed.
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!
Tiger lilies peeked above the white fence. They added a splash of orange to an otherwise green backdrop. The purple irises had withered at the start of summer and left long, waxy leaves in their stead. Closer to the ground, yellow lilies nodded with the evening breeze, thin leaves waved along. Petunias released their sweet scent in hopes of attracting cardinals and sparrows before their slumber. They in turn filled the air with song. Squirrels chased one another up the soapberry tree as they retreated to their homes. The garden maintained equilibrium in a world of pandemics and civic unrest.
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.
Emma heard the thud, like a gob of silly putty had been dropped. Then she felt it. The silly putty fell onto her left foot. It rolled off. The silly putty that is, except that somehow that gob had tiny legs and a long tail. It scurried out of sight. Clatter ensued. Cutting board kerplunked, artichoke leaves flew, knife narrowly missed her foot, but above all, Emma’s shrill bounced off the kitchen walls. Stay-at-home orders were meant for humans, not rodents, she fumed as she scrubbed every inch of her body in the hottest shower that her body could tolerate.
As a child, her head danced in faraway lands. Lands filled with milk and honey, filtered sounds of mandolins, and the sweet fragrance of jasmines. The exotic lands unfolded in treasured stories and filled her fantasies. Today, she faces a new reality. No need to travel outside your front steps, for the world bands together and faces an unknown terror; a virus that doesn’t distinguish cultures or regions. We suffer the same, whether our streets are filled with colorful vendors, or swaying palm trees, or plain old johnny pumps. The new reality chilled her bones. She ached for new fantasies.
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.
I pushed forward, head bent, focused on my shoelaces. Just that morning my aunt had taught me how to tie them. I felt accomplished, almost grown up. I didn’t want to hold her hand on our way to the supermarket, but she insisted. The Lower East Side was no place for unattended children. She held her son’s hand, too.
We turned the corner. A gust of wind snatched our breaths. I felt one foot leave the ground then the next. I was airborne, unable to breathe. She pulled me close. I shook her grip and latched onto the stop sign.