Stony Brook

by Carmen Bugan

At the beginning I loved the quiet. When people began dying by the hundreds and the schools closed, I started counting backwards from fourteen, waiting for symptoms to show up: did I get something while traveling through Penn, on the train back to Long Island, did my husband catch the virus on the flight back from Geneva, did my children…? And on that thought I would stop. What if my children contracted the virus?

We began taking walks around the neighborhood once the warmer weather arrived, counting buds of magnolias, daffodils, and hyacinths. It was so quiet that we took up studying birdsong. My daughter, who is eight, made a google slideshow about the red cardinals. We played the bird calls on the computer next to the open windows and the birds answered from the trees outside. A woodpecker tapped the tree across the garden. Deer families walked through the backyard as if no one was home.

We baked: focaccia, cakes, flatbreads, whole wheat loaves. We roasted all the veggies we could buy and made platters of colors. I made blackberry-blueberry-raspberry-strawberry compote every single week. And soups, lots of soups. We dressed up and went “out for dinner” in the dining room, at the Restaurant Chez Maman. I tried to write. I lectured and preached about the current politics in the kitchen, mostly to clanking pots and pans, while my husband took up residence in our son’s bedroom to take the calls from work. Baby rabbits began appearing in the garden, under the butterfly bush. Blue jays landed on rails by the back door and darted off like mini planes when someone stepped close to the windows. People were dying in the thousands and a field hospital went up nearby. When I drifted to sleep, I saw refrigerated trucks in my mind’s eye.

I never dreaded the word “heroes” so much. Our leaders and our media slapped that word on the foreheads of health care professionals; the burden of caring for Covid patients without protective equipment was public and made emotional with parades, flyby acrobatics, and sirens. My sister is a nurse. She will never abandon her patients. She called: “Will you raise my girls if we both die?” Her husband is also a nurse. Their doctors were writing their wills too. How strange to have to prepare for dying in the summer of your life. But who could have imagined our new lives six months ago?

We put out the hammock, the badminton net, and the soccer goals. On my fiftieth birthday we danced in the living room, my husband, our children, and I. School is over. On summer solstice we replaced the glass doors with the screen ones and hosed ourselves in the backyard to cool off from the heat. Our flights to Italy were canceled: it will be the second year without seeing our family there. I am trying to remember sitting down with them all, over chilled wine, at Gradara, and then the evening plunge into the sea. Sometimes the connection on Zoom or WhatsApp becomes blurry and I have this strange sense that we are losing each other in the ether. Life is on hold, time keeps rushing through the neighborhood gardens.

Published on July 17, 2020