Chapter 9—Jessica: Essential trips

Chapter9Chapter 9
March 31, 2020, 6:03 p.m.
Jessica: ESSENTIAL TRIPS

When I don’t answer the call for our FaceTime happy hour, Hanna texts me. “Where the hell are you?”

I raise my phone to thumb in a text. Or more accurately, a call for help. “On the floor. I’ve been trying to call you for fifteen minutes.” Is that all it is? It feels like three days. It’s taken me than long to drag myself away from the glittering glass shards. Antique glass, I’ve discovered, is great for slicing fine little gashes in sensitive skin. My forearms are spotted with tiny wounds. 

“OMW”

And when she races into the house twenty minutes later, I know she left her cocktail on the table and dashed over here. Glad there were no speed traps on the highway. She and Matt live a good half hour from me.

“Hanna! What are you doing here?”

“If this isn’t an essential trip, I don’t know what is. Oh, my god, Jess. What did you do?”

Her face turns green when I lift the bag of ice off my ankle. It isn’t pretty. 

“I fell off the chair getting one of the glasses Colin and I bought on our honeymoon. I feel worse about the glass than I do about my ankle.”

“Oh, not the glasses you bought in that antique shop on Royal? Oh, that’s too bad.”

Lori comes running down the steps when she hears “Tia” Hanna. 

Chiquita!” Hanna scoops up my little darling and swings her around the room. “Did you see what your mommy did?”

“No, she hasn’t.” I cover up my ankle with an afghan. I tiptoed around the best I could to get a plastic bag full of ice and stumble to the couch without Lori knowing anything was amiss. 

I give her a signal that she understands. There are lots of things we don’t talk about in front of Lori: sex, of course, Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, religion, or Mom doing dumb stuff. This is an item filed under that last topic.

Instead, Hanna sits beside me with Lori on her lap and we let Lori tell her about her school work and the other things on her six-year-old mind. 

“And my birthday is coming up. Did you know that?”

“Of course, I did. I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday.”

“Mommy says I can’t have a party. Nobody is allowed to come over. But you’re here. How come?”

Hanna’s gaze slides over to me before she answers. “I was trying to get your mother on the phone but she has been so busy. I wanted to tell her I bought a birthday present for someone I know.”

Lori bites. Her brown eyes grow wide with excitement as she looks around, apparently thinking there’s a wrapped gift somewhere for her. “But Tia Hanna, where is it?”

“Is today your birthday?”

Lori shakes her head.

“It will come in the mail on your birthday. And if it comes early—and it might—you have to promise me not to open it until your actual birthday.”

“Awwww, Tia Hanna. Could I open it the day before?”

Hanna laughs. “No, you cannot. You must wait until your birthday. This is a special year for you.”

“It is?”

“You only turn seven once. You’re nearly grown up at seven.”

A wide grin lights up my little girl’s face, so bright I almost forget the misery I’m hiding under a blanket.

“Can you come over on my birthday?”

“No, chiquita. I don’t think so. If things change and I can, I will be sure to let you know I am coming. I’m sure Mommy has a big day planned for you.”

I had planned a family party on the Saturday before Easter and a party for Lori and her first grade friends on Easter Monday, since it was supposed to be a holiday. Now with social distancing, the family party has been canceled and I can’t have all those children over. Luckily, Lori doesn’t know any of this yet.

So I shrug and say, “It’s a surprise.”

Lori smiles with pleasure. She loves surprises. But it’s going to be tough to figure out a birthday celebration that no one can come to.

“Why don’t you get ready for bed. Maybe Tia Hanna will come up to tuck you in and hear your prayers.”

“Oh yes! Can you?” She stops to grab Hanna’s hands and peer up at her with such joy I can hardly stand it. I had no idea how much my child needed to see a new face. 

“You go and I’ll be right up. I want to tell your mama about my present first. And I want it to remain a secret.”

Lori rushes away and Hanna turns to me. “Do you need to go to the hospital?” 

“No. It’s not that bad.”

Hanna lifts the afghan and grimaces. “It’s awful. Does it hurt?”

“Nothing that a few acetaminophen and a glass of wine won’t fix.”

“Do you want me to get them? Are you sure you don’t want a doctor?”

“No. The hospitals are full of really sick people. I don’t want to go to the hospital.”

Hanna knows where I keep the essentials. Medicine in the locked cupboard and wine in my grandmother’s china closet. Someday I might have china of my own but in the meantime, it makes a mean liquor cabinet. 

She brings two glasses of wine and then goes back for the bottle of pills and a large water bottle. “Will you be able to make it up the stairs?”

“I hadn’t thought about that yet. Probably not. But if you’re putting Lori to bed I won’t have to worry about that until tomorrow. I can sleep here.”

“You take the medicine and I’ll go see mi corazon. I’ll get your pillow and then when I come back, we’ll catch up.”

I love Hanna. What a great friend to have in a crisis. 

Hanna-readoutShe stays with me until nearly midnight. It feels surprisingly good to be in the company of another adult, someone who understands what’s going on and can share how we both feel safe and blessed but worried and distraught—all at the same time. She’s still worried about her grandfather but he’s been having a wonderful time. He sneaks out to take walks or putter in his little patch of garden on pretty days. Hanna thinks he’s enjoying breaking the rules a little bit, even if he keeps his mask on his face and stays away from other residents. He listens to his collection of classical music CDs and watches old movies. And Hanna and her mother call him every day. Hanna didn’t do that before the stay-at-home order but now that she can’t visit she feels compelled to make those calls.

There’s a feeling both of us share that we could lose one of our aging loved ones and not even be able to see them one last time or even go to their funerals. Dan and I have written stories about it and it’s seems like a sad and terrible thing. I know I have to call Mom and Dad at lunchtime and make sure Lori talks to them, too.

When at last Hanna gets up to go, I hate to see her leave. 

“Kiss Matt for me,” I offer. 

“I’m sorry but all my kisses for Matt are from me. You’ll have to kiss him yourself when you see him.” She smiles and bends down to kiss me on the top of my head, like a small child. 

“Now go to bed,” she says. “Or go to sleep, I guess. Call me if you need me. I’ll keep my phone close to me at all times.”

The house is quiet after she gently shuts the door. I listen for the storm door to click shut.

With my ankle throbbing, I’m not in any mood to sleep. I turn on Stephen Colbert—who is also in a similar lockdown—and let his silliness lull me to sleep.

It’s past midnight when something in the house wakes me. I wonder for a moment why I’m still on the couch until my aching ankle reminds me. I reach to turn out the light and settle back on my pillow. 

The darkness closes in, making me feel lonelier than I’ve felt in a long time. I miss Colin. I miss his kisses and his soft caresses. I miss the smell of mint on his breath. He always had a package of Altoids in his pocket. They were the only candy he ate. I miss the fresh air he brought in when he came home from a bike ride. We lived near a state park and he loved riding his bike along its paths. I miss his laugh and the way we would sit late into the night making plans that now will never happen. 

Tears slip from the corners of my eyes. I’m ashamed to be feeling sorry for myself. I wipe the dampness away and try to plan something nice for Lori’s birthday. Instead, my thoughts turn into questions. How could he let me raise our sweet daughter all alone? Why doesn’t he want to be a part of her life? Why isn’t he here to celebrate our child turning seven? 

I sniffle as sleep comes. All these years without him and still there’s an ache when I’m feeling especially blue. I’m not angry anymore. Mostly I’m resigned and even indifferent to his very existence. But tonight, I feel the loneliness from those early days.  I’m glad when the feelings slip away. Thoughts become hazy and fade. 

I feel the gentle stroke of a hand on my arm and I think of Colin. I must be dreaming but the touch is so real. In my drowsiness, I murmur to Colin. “Hi, babe. That feels nice.”

It isn’t Colin who answers, though. It’s the dear high voice of a little girl who has wrapped her small body around mine. “You were crying, Mommy.”

I turn over, ignoring the sparks of pain shooting through my ankle, to take my daughter in my arms. “I guess I was feeling sad. Maybe I had a bad dream. Thank you for coming to make me feel better.”

“Do you feel better?” 

“I do. Thank you.”

“Oh good.” She nestles under my chin and falls right back to sleep in that amazing way of children. 

I can’t sleep though. I marvel at the treasure I hold in my arms. How could I ever be lonely with Lori by my side? How could Colin give this up? My baby will always be a reminder of the love we shared, now so long ago. What she’s become since is all mine. And I’m so proud and grateful to have her here with me. 

We may have only each other for a few more weeks, or even longer. It’s hard to say how long it will be before the virus begins to die out. 

I vow then and there not to be lonely ever again. Plenty of people—and certainly plenty of advertisements—are saying, “we’re in this together.”

It is a tough time for lots of people. But for Lori and me this isn’t so bad. We have lots of time to spend together. Thanks to her teacher, she still has school work and now even online class time. I have a job and a co-worker I’m beginning to like. The flower he’s tending, his defense of me in front of Claire, the sound of concern in his voice when I called him by mistake tonight. I’m starting to think Claire steered me wrong when she told me to watch out for him. The person I may need to watch out for is my editor. 

Next Monday: CHAPTER 10—Dan: SECRETS
Coming this Wednesday, the next audio chapter, Chapter 8— JESSICA: IN CASE OF EMERGENCY

Dan and Jessica’s story needs your ideas.

Every Monday I’ll post a new chapter until Dan and Jessica find love, lose it and, we hope, find their happily-ever-after. Do you have an idea, torn from your own pandemic stay-at-home saga, that might help them?

If you have a suggestion for what happens next, send it along with your name and hometown to whathappensnext.19@gmail.com. (Copy and paste the address, please.) Together we can write a great story to remember the lockdown of 2020.

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