April 12, 2020, 3 p.m.
Dan: April showers
“Sorry, Rex. Not yet.”
I feel the same way my dog does. We gotta get out of this house. I’ve already had Easter brunch with my family in New Jersey, thanks to a Zoom conference. It took more than an hour. And, while my younger sibs and parents feasted on Eggs Benedict and mimosas, I had cereal. And beer in my coffee mug.
Weekdays run smoothly. I get up take care of Rex and go to work for the rest of my waking day. Sometimes I play a video game before nodding off.
Weekends are another matter altogether since this lockdown began. I live within walking distance of the baseball stadium and the place is empty. There’s not a single sport on TV. Not a bar open to meet with my friends from work or school. Nothing is going on and I’m supposed to be staying home anyway.
Yup. I’m whining. Like Rex, I want to go outside. I want to see people in the flesh. Share a few laughs, and toss caution to the wind.
Now, though, even the weather has stopped cooperating. It hasn’t even been warm enough to hang out on that deck I boast about so often.
This morning, I woke to a drenching downpour, so bad I let Rex out in the back yard and ran for his old brown towel so I could dry him off as soon as he got tired of the rain. He was at the back door before I returned to the kitchen.
We’ve waited all day for the rain to stop. For a minute, the sun came out and I changed into less smelly clothes. By the time I was downstairs, thunder announced yet another storm.
I drop onto the couch and Rex climbs up beside me. I reach for the TV remote but instead pick up the newspaper which arrived this morning soaking wet but now is dry and crinkly.
After checking out my story, I turn to Jessica’s. She and Rashima have been working together on restaurant and bar stories. They’ve done stories on GrubHub and the other delivery services and kept up with the restaurants trying to keep afloat by offering take-out.
My own kitchen trash can is filled with containers from the local places I would normally go to after work.
Today, the paper is filled with pandemic stories. And, as usual, one of Jessica’s is featured on the front page with a big pic and one of “those” headlines, “Spirits for a pandemic.”
One of the local distilleries has stopped whiskey production so it can make alcohol for hand sanitizer. And not a minute too soon. I haven’t had a bottle of hand sanitizer—or bleach or Lysol—since sometime in early March. Nobody can find it anywhere.
I read every word of Jessica’s article. I stop to admire the quotes and her nice turns of phrase. There are even good photos from one of the paper’s best, Ed Gunter.
After reading the “jump” on page 14, I turn back and look at the front layout again. She’s a good reporter. Still a little wet behind the ears, as my grandmother used to say, but I have to say I like her style.
Rex whimpers and pushes his head under my hand. I scratch his warm, soft fur absent-mindedly because I’m still completely focused on the up and coming reporter for our paper.
“You’re missing her too, huh, boy?” He looks up at me with those big brown eyes and his tail thumps against the couch cushion.
The truth is, since Jessica started working with Rashima, we haven’t had any work reason to call. I kind of miss our daily chats.
It’s worse than that. I’ve been looking forward to walking the dog because it means I might run into Jessica taking Lori to the park. It’s only happened twice but I hoped today would be one of those pretty spring days when the streets are full of people walking their dogs, getting in their steps or just getting out of the house.
Yesterday was like that. I had a boatload of phone calls to make and couldn’t get out with Rex as much as I wanted. I’m sure I missed my chance of seeing Jessica.
What would be the harm in calling? Just a friendly call.
Lightning flashes through the house. Not a good time to turn on the TV.
I pick up the phone and take a deep breath. What should I say? I’m never at a loss for words, but, damn, I haven’t a clue what to say to her. When in doubt, put on my reporter voice and plan a conversation just as if we’re talking for the first time.
I dial up my contacts, my hands as shaky as fifteen-year-old me calling Mary Jo What-was-her-name. I’ve called plenty of girls since, even a few women. None like Jessica though. I pause before click on her name and try out how our conversation would go:
“Just wanted to see how you were doing. How’s Lori?”
Rex stares at me as if I’m talking to him.
“Sorry, boy. Didn’t mean to disturb you.” I scratch behind his ear and he lies back down.
Do it, Danny. Call her up. I press that last four and exhale.
“Hey Dan.” She sounds light and breezy, as if she’s in the middle of doing something fun. Not the tense, guarded Jessica I’m used to.
That’s a good start. Now what do I say?
April 12, 3:15 p.m.
Jessica: Puzzles and promises
“I’m not kidding, Lori. I expect you to pick up those toys.”
“No, I don’t want to. I’m tired.”
She’s tired. I’ve been up since six a.m. It’s Easter Sunday, a big holiday for our family. Normally, we sleep in a little after the Mass that ends late on Saturday but then go to my parents for breakfast. Everybody gets together for dinner and the Easter egg hunt.
Not this year. I couldn’t even find eggs to dye. The Easter basket waiting for Lori this morning looked a little sad without them.
Not that she noticed. The bunny’s ears disappeared right away and we’ve both plundered the bowl of jelly beans.
Feeling a little blue on this rainy, raw non-holiday, I look for something to keep my mind off what I was missing. What a good day to clean out the kitchen cabinets. When I finally get through, the pots and pans are neatly stacked. Expired cans have been expunged from the pantry and refrigerator. The bread drawer has been re-lined with fresh paper. To me, the place is as sparkling as it ever was when this was my grandmother’s kitchen. Back when it always looked like it does right now.
When I finally look at the clock over the sink, I realize I have been at this all day long. Without a single thought about my daughter. What kind of mother am I? And what is she up to?
Wiping my hands, I go looking for her. My heart stop before I pushed open the swinging kitchen door all the way. Lego blocks are strewn in piles from underneath the dining room table to the front door. Red and green, square and oblong, big and little and teeny. Yesterday we spent an hour sorting them as we practiced counting and going over colors and shapes.
There are assorted other toys, too. Even a puzzle had been dumped on the floor.
“Hi, Mommy.” Dressed as usual in a leotard and tutu, Lori looks up at me from the sofa where she has been reading “The Cat in the Hat” to that old stuffed dog.
I know then I will have to be patient and gentle even as I needed to be firm about cleaning up the disaster area the downstairs had become.
“Hi Sweetie. I see you’ve been busy.”
“Yup. I took out the Legos and played a game. And then I needed your help for the puzzle but I couldn’t find you so I’ve been waiting for you. Now I’m reading to Doggie-Woggie.”
“After you finish your book, it’s time to put things away.”
“No, I don’t want to.” The whine crept into her voice awfully fast.
“Just the Legos. We’ll work on the puzzle later.” She crosses her arms with a pout. So I turn on my Mom voice. “I’m not kidding, Lori.”
While she goes on about how tired she is—wow, that’s a surprise, considering the mess she’s made—the phone rings.
Thinking it might be Mom, I reach for it from my back jeans pocket.
But it isn’t. It’s…Dan. On a weekend.
When I see who is calling, I have to calm my voice down. My tone with Lori had gotten a little tense. I’ve developed a very stern Mom voice, just like my own mother’s. Usually, it works.
“You start cleaning up. When I get off this call, I’ll help you.”
“Ohhh, allll right,” she says in that long, drawn out voice kids use so well. She throws the stuffed toy aside and stares at me with a frown.
I turn around so she knows I’m ignoring her antics.
I know I’ve got it easy. Lori has cooperated better than I could ever have expected. She likes her schoolwork and has enjoyed the brief online lessons Mrs. Gambino[ Nellie’s comments.See email] has been offering.
How easy I really didn’t know until I started working with Rashima last week. She’s working around her children’s schedules. Three of them sharing one computer. She’s resorted to writing stories on her phone a few times.
Rashima and I both went to the same college. She was a few years ahead of me but we had a couple of professors in common.
We connect in fits and spurts as she often has to hang up to chase after the baby, still in diapers, or help Jamari or BreAsia with their lessons. Oh, yes, her husband is home, too. He’s working in the laundry room, far from all the noise. He’s a manager who spends most of his time in meetings and phone calls.
When I asked her how she manages in the best of times, she told me about her great babysitter and her mother—both of whom have underlying illnesses that have kept them behind closed doors until the virus is gone.
“Hi Jessica. Called to tell you how good your story is,” Dan says.
Wow. I don’t expect that. But I’ll never tell him that, or how glad I am he’s calling.
“Thanks. It was supposed to be me helping Rashima but her little boy got sick and while he was throwing up I made the phone calls. I wanted to go to the distillery. It’s not too far from my house.” I want to take back that last sentence the minute I say it. I still haven’t mentioned to Dan where I live.
“You haven’t been there? It’s a fun tour. The whiskey tasting is even better. They have these great rye-infused truffles. We should go, you know, when we can.”
I don’t know what to say.
Is he asking me out?
Do I want to go out with him?
Do I even want to be friends with him?
Yes, a voice yells at me from the back of my brain.
“Oh, that might be an idea.” It’s non-committal but I hope encouraging.
“It might be?”
“Well, it’s a good idea, the tour, that is.” Oh hell. I’m stumbling here. I take a deep breath and find my way to a dining room chair, away from Lori’s hearing.
Dan, ever the journalist, digs a little deeper. “Just not with me.”
“I didn’t mean that.” I’m still not saying yes. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I don’t want to say yes to any man.
“All right.” He hears my “no” and the upbeat tone in his voice has faded away. It makes me a little sadder.
“What have you been doing on this rainy Sunday?” It’s a lame question but I don’t want him to hang up. Lori’s singing to herself in the living room and ignoring my request and putting together bits of her puzzle. It’s fine for the moment, it give me a little time to talk with another grown-up. With this particular grown-up.
“Not much. I checked in with my family in Jersey. But other than that, not much. I can’t even take Rex for a walk.”
“Easter has always been a big holiday for our family.” I missed breakfast with Mom and Dad—didn’t even mention it to Lori. “The weather is supposed to clear up later.” A thunderclap begs to differ.
“I hope so. Both of us are getting a little touch of cabin fever. How’s Lori?”
“She’s bored. I got tied up doing some housework and she’s been on her own. She’d love to get out. I can’t even get her to watch her videos. ‘They’re so booooor-ing,’ she says.”
“Poor kid. This has got to be tough on children. They don’t even understand what’s going on. This was vacation when it started—kind of like a week of snow days—but without the snow to play in. They can’t even see their friends.”
“Oh yeah. There was that story in yesterday’s paper about why playdates are a bad idea. Lori got asked to a couple and I almost let her go and then realized I might be asking for trouble.”
“Maybe if the weather improves before the sun goes down, we could meet at the park. I promise to practice social distancing.”
I want to say yes. It would be nice to get out. And I’d like to get to know Dan better. I’ve got a smile on my face, I suddenly realize. “Okay,” I say. “Call me if the sun comes out.”
“All right.” The cheeriness in his voice is back. “Can I talk to Lori?”
You know a guy is really nice when he wants to talk to your child. “Lori? Mr. Dan wants to talk to you.”
Lori jumps up, a gleam in her eye. “Really?”
She delicately takes my cell phone—I rarely let her talk on the phone, except to her grandparents.
“Hi, Mr. Dan.”
I can hear him laugh but not what he says.
She nods and I whisper to her to say yes, that he can’t hear her nodding.
“Yes. I will.” She looks up at me and giggles. “Okay. I will. I promise.”
She hands me back the phone. There was no goodbye from Lori—or even a chance for me to say goodbye but the call has ended.
“What did Mr. Dan say?”
“Nothing much.” Whatever he said it has been enough for her to be picking up the red legos, though only the red ones, and putting them in their box. “Can we walk to the park later?”
I can’t help smiling at the idea Dan has found an ally. I start picking up the other colors.
“If it stops raining, sure. I’d love to take you.”
Next Monday: CHAPTER 12—Dan: APRIL SHOWERS
Coming on Wednesday, the next audio chapter, Chapter 11— Dan: APRIL SHOWERS
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 for3 what happens next, send it along with your name and hometown to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Copy and paste the address, please.) Or comment below.
Together we can write a great story to remember the lockdown of 2020.
Ⓒ2020 MARY K. TILGHMAN