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2021 Art Pandemic Tuisku "Snow" Curtis-Kolu

Leafy Veins

Art and Text by Tuisku “Snow” Curtis-Kolu

Up close leaves are strange wee things, aren’t they? Their extreme colours, their nutrient carrying veins – every point connected and separated. Nature makes patterns that the strengths of human innovation may never quite master without a fuller appreciation and reflection on the nuances of our world. 

Nature Series 3: Leafy Veins (acrylic paint on paper – Scotland, 2020)

Artist, Master of Law, Familiar Stranger. Snow believes couches are the beds of the busy and the ground is a welcoming cushion. She sometimes struggles to explain what she’s seeing or thinking, so she creates. Snow has a love for oil painting, but flirts with a wide variety of mediums. 

“I connect through colour – I helps me feel present. I hope it helps you to feel something unexpected.”

2021 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

Requiem for a Home

Written by Julian Matthews

It was my daily routine. I liked my coffee hot. Put the water to boil in the kettle first.

Then take the seven pills in the pillbox that Jenna had filled for the week. Today was Friday.

One for my heart, two for my pressure, two for the arthritis and the last two to keep me sane. 

I have to take the last two or Jenna said she would send me to a home. I surely didn’t want to go to a home, I would rather be on my own.

Was she coming today?

The calendar said Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I had crossed out Thursday, so today must be Friday.

Oh, I still have some cake in the fridge. That lemon drizzle butter cake Jenna got from the new cake shop run by that former stewardess in the township. She has the touch. Her cakes are fresh and not too sweet, not too dry and not too moist. Just right.

I liked it so, because it reminded me of mum’s. Her sugee and chocolate cake were not up to par yet but the lemon drizzle butter cake was perfect. Pricey but worth it.

I’ll just pop it in the microwave. Jenna taught me how to use it. Press here, then here. Forty seconds and it would be just right.  

Did I put the water to boil? Let me check. Oh, yes, I did.

I once left the gas stove on overnight. And the next morning, though it smelt funny, I lit it anyway. Jenna was so mad. She’d wanted to get rid of that cooker for years.

The doctor said I had 40 percent burns. I thought he must be Einstein to calculate percentages on a person’s skin so accurately. Especially, skin as wrinkly and spotty as mine. 

I liked the word spotty like as if I were a leopard, camouflaged in the trees, ready to pounce on prey. Better leopard than cougar, I suppose. I am just too old to be a cougar.

I wonder if they are all cougars at the home that Jenna keeps talking about. I am sure the men are all lechers. Maybe even lepers. Eww, lecherous lepers. This leopard will show them.

Jenna threatened to send me there again after the incident. I surely didn’t want to go to a home. I would rather be on my own.

There was no need for skin grafts but I singed my eyebrows for good. They never grew back. I never really liked having to pluck them regularly anyway. One less weight to carry to my grave.

After I was discharged, Jenna took my Royal gas cooker away and replaced it with an electric stove. I could still use my whistling kettle though. And there it goes!

Did I say, I liked my coffee hot? I do. The lemon drizzle butter cake is nice and warm now.

The soft sunlight streaming in at this time of the day is so lovely on the balcony. I need my Vitamin D, said Jenna. She moved my cane chair there so I could get some sun every morning. As if my wrinkles needed any more sun to get the creases out. 

Once I told her sitting so long in the sun made my crow’s feet as dark as the bird’s. Jenna laughed. She called them laugh lines, not crow’s feet. She was still sweet that way. 

“Oh, amah, you still can make me laugh at your age!”

“At my age? Of course, I can. I tickled your tiny feet and made you giggle on the first day you were born, chellam! September 10th, 1965. A day before my birthday. So you’re always one day ahead of me.”

She smiled. I needed to remind Jenna of my ability to remember dates, so she wouldn’t think I was slipping. It was a little game we played. She didn’t know I had all the dates marked out on a calendar and chose which date to drop in conversation — a birth date or an anniversary or the date of James’ death. I would repeat a particular date over and over again, walking in circles around the bedroom, the night before or sometimes, when my head hurt, I would cheat like I did in school and scribble it with a ballpoint pen in my palm. Jenna never found out when I peeked. 

It was Jenna’s idea to move me to this condo on the 12th floor. I had to give up the house after the third robbery. There was nothing to take really that last time — so I gave the two robbers a piece of my mind and kicked one of them in the shin. The angry one knocked me to the ground. When I came to, I called Jenna.

She was so mad. She took me to the clinic nearby and got the stitches done. We didn’t even bother filing a police report. They are pretty useless and never do anything these days anyway. Jenna’s solution was a guarded condo in a gated community.  I consented because I didn’t want to go to a home. I would rather be on my own. 

Did I switch off the electric stove? I am sure I did. Oh, why bother? It cuts off automatically anyway.

I usually switch off the main plugs only at night. Saves electricity. I read somewhere that if you leave the plugs on it would raise your electricity bill by 15 percent. Someone did the math. I make sure I switch off everything before bedtime — the stove, the TV, the radio, the hot water shower and I double-lock the doors. 

Wait. Did I switch off the microwave just now? I will check later. Jenna isn’t coming today, is she?

I am sure she isn’t. It’s Wednesday anyway.

The sun this time of the day on the balcony is just nice, not too hot, not too glaring. Gregory Peck would be along soon.  I knotted my hair and straightened my housecoat. 

They didn’t allow pets in this apartment. No dogs. No cats. I had to give up Lucky to the shelter at PAWS. Jenna assured me he would be cared for and they would find him a new home. I felt at 12, Lucky was almost my age and half blind and deaf, and no one would adopt an old mongrel. But Jenna said they cull the dogs at the SPCA these days — so we went with PAWS. 

I do hear the occasional bark sometimes at night on my block.  A resident either two floors above or below me had broken the rules and smuggled in a Shih Tzu or maybe a Fox Terrier, based on the cute bark. 

People need companions in their old age. 

Ah, here comes Gregory Peck swooping down majestically landing on the banister. He coos and I coo coo back. I am sure he understands every word I say.

He looks so regal with his mix of pristine white and posh grey feathers and the rich, striking purple band around his neck. I feed him the expensive brown Basmati rice that Jenna buys for me. Oh, she would be so mad if she knew. Sometimes, I feed him the Gardenia butterscotch bread she buys me. She always wondered how I finished those so quickly. 

“Coo, coo, Mr Peck. How are we today? Breaking little hearts on the terraces, are we?” and I broke him a little piece of the lemon drizzle butter cake.

“Coo, coo,” he replies as if to say: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Wait. Was that a Gregory Peck or a Clark Gable quote? Maybe it was Bogart.

Oh, I’ll just Google it up on the laptop computer Jenna got me. Thank god they invented Google so we never need forget anything these days. Jenna said an Indian chap is the CEO now. Those Indian men are bloody smart now. They weren’t very smart in my time.  Especially not my James. I don’t want Jenna to catch me forgetting again.

She doesn’t know about Gregory Peck yet. None of the residents like the pigeons nesting on the balconies and ledges of this condo. They shit everywhere and mess up the aircon compressors. Poor birdies. Where else would they go? 

Gregory Peck keeps me company. I am not allowed to go out these last few weeks because of the pandemic. Apparently at 90, I am vulnerable. Jenna even bought me a box of masks. I tried one on. I look like Batman. Or Zorro. Or all those doctors and nurses after surgery when James died. 

Gregory Peck cocked his head and gave me the eyeball. “Coo, coo, are you tearing up, again?” He never lets me come close enough to pet him. “Ok, I am not having any of this. Pull yourself together, sweetheart.  I’m off, ” and he took off. 

The wailing ambulance going by scared him. I wonder who could be in it today. So many go by each day.

I miss James, my sweet acha. He would never send me to a home. We always lived on our own and took care of ourselves, even after Jenna left. 

Wait. Did I turn off the gas stove? I better check. Jenna would be so mad. 


Julian Matthews is a former journalist and trainer finding new ways to express himself in the pandemic through poetry, short stories and creative non-fiction. He was recently published in Nine Cloud Journal, Poor Yorick Journal, Second Chance Lit, Poetry and Covid, and Unmasked: Reflections on Virus-time (curated by Shamini Flint). He is based in Malaysia. 

2021 Art Pandemic Tuisku "Snow" Curtis-Kolu

Sunset in the Hills

Art and Text by Tuisku “Snow” Curtis-Kolu

I watched the sun paint the hills, every moment in its descent brought forward new strokes of colour, new crooks and shapes. The air was fresh with candour and the slight wind accentuated the silence. Shadows provided new hiding spots in the absence of trees. The calm of sunset obstructs your mind from the cold night. 

Nature Series 2: Sunset in the Hills (oil pastels on paper- Scotland 2020)

Artist, Master of Law, Familiar Stranger. Snow believes couches are the beds of the busy and the ground is a welcoming cushion. She sometimes struggles to explain what she’s seeing or thinking, so she creates. Snow has a love for oil painting, but flirts with a wide variety of mediums. 

“I connect through colour – I helps me feel present. I hope it helps you to feel something unexpected.”

2021 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

A Package For Escape

Written by Marie Petrarch

At the slightest twitch the seat of Eleanor’s desk chair wobbles and leans left. God damn it. She shifts her body, determined to reclaim the sweet spot in the center she found minutes before. The chair creaks loudly, protesting her weight, as she moves from left to right and front to back. Frustration builds with each gyration. She moves faster and faster in a spastic chair dance until suddenly, she admits defeat. Her chair leans left, her arms hang limp at her sides and her head is tilted back. She stares at the water stain on her ceiling. It’s shaped like the state of Texas and she envisions where Houston would be.

This sucks. Eleanor has been working from home for a month now. Her chair has been broken for a year, but it never mattered since she spent so little time in it. It seemed like an unnecessary expense to replace it. That was before. Now she spends hours of every day in that god forsaken chair, and it’s one of the many things scratching at her sanity. As is her too small apartment, her loud and amorous neighbors, and her lack of real human interaction.

Her cell phone chimes with a reminder that she has a virtual meeting in five minutes. Before, when people were able to congregate in conference rooms and sit within inches of each other, she thought of meetings as a major impediment to a productive day. But now, meetings are the feature of her days. She looks forward to seeing the familiar faces and hearing their voices, even those of her coworkers she doesn’t like.

She stands up to stretch and refill her water glass before having to settle in for the meeting. Her outfit is the clothing equivalent of the mullet. Business on the top and a [slumber] party down below. On the short walk to the kitchen she passes the large, thin, rectangular box that was delivered three days ago. Before, she would have ripped it right open the moment it came, but now you’re supposed to leave packages untouched for a few days in case it’s been contaminated with the novel virus that’s shut down the world.  I’ll open it tomorrow, she decides. Tomorrow is Saturday. It will give me something to do for five minutes.

#

Saturday morning Eleanor sleeps in and then lingers in bed. There’s no good reason not to. Netflix will be there no matter what time she gets up. She stares out the window next to her bed. The light coming through is dim and grey. Rain drops cover the glass beyond the sheer curtains. The only sounds are the occasional footsteps from above. Eleanor ponders how she’ll spend her time today. I should exercise. Maybe yoga. Then I should clean. If it stops raining, I’ll put on my mask, and go for a walk.

Before, she would have gone to the gym then shopping, and met up with friends for dinner and drinks. Maybe they would have gone to a club and danced the night away. Maybe she would have met someone and not gone home alone. But that was before, and now she is very much alone. A point hammered home by the thumping of the wall that starts just behind her head.

“Aaarrgghhh!” Feeling aggravated and jealous, Eleanor gets out of bed and shuffles towards the bathroom. Loud moans join the thumps just as she sits on the toilet. She pops back up and closes the door, but it’s not enough. Eleanor’s apartment is filled with an erotic techno beat overlayed with soprano chanting of the Lord’s name.

On her way to the kitchen, Eleanor spots the quarantined package and changes course to her desk for a scissor. After slicing open the tape, she sprays disinfectant all over the box and scissor and then washes her hands. Pulling back the now damp cardboard flaps of the box she reaches inside and pulls out the bubble-wrapped contents before spraying the bubble wrap with disinfectant. She decides to let that dry for a few minutes while she washes her hands again and puts on the kettle for tea. Meanwhile, the beat of the lover’s song has slowed to it’s sultry, breathy, still loud, bridge.

Sipping her tea, Eleanor sits on the floor. She sets her tea aside and carefully unwinds the bubble-wrap to reveal a framed print of Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”. A card is attached.

Dear Eleanor,

         Remember when we saw this painting in Madrid last summer? How mesmerized we were? I thought it would add some color to your life during this dull and scary time.

Love, Grandma

Eleanor laughs. Only her grandmother would think to send such a bizarre yet erotic and disturbing painting to her granddaughter.

The only wall space big enough to hang it is above her bed. The frame is ornate with a gold finish. Just her grandmother’s style. She sprays the frame with disinfectant, washes her hands, and fetches a hammer and nail from the tool set in her closet. The bridge of the background music has transitioned to the outro and it seems her neighbors are gearing up for a dramatic end. The ecstatic moans and rhythmic pounding of the wall drown out Eleanor’s knuckle tapping for a stud. Finding a good spot, she positions the nail and gently taps it in place. After two quick bangs, the nail is ready and she hangs the picture.

Standing on her unmade bed, she steps back to admire it. Despite it vibrating against the wall, she becomes fascinated, just as she was when she saw the original in Madrid. The painting is composed of three panels each with an astounding amount of detail. The colors trap you and then your brain starts to unravel the puzzle before you. The first panel of Adam, Eve, and Jesus Christ is easy enough, but it’s the middle panel that intrigues and confuses. As bizarre as the scene is, the overarching feeling is joy. I miss joy. She imagines herself a libertine in the Garden, frolicing, dancing, and fucking like the people in the painting. Like my neighbors, she thinks, whose love making has reached a crescendo.

She glances at the third panel and remembers her grandmother pointing out the “knife dick” wedged between the two ears and saying how that panel must be about the evil of using sex as a weapon. Eleanor agreed, and still does, but doesn’t want to dwell there. She looks back to the middle panel and again imagines herself in the Garden riding a mythical creature and eating strange berries or climbing a phallic tower and drinking the liquid from it’s fountain. 

The neighbors must be racing towards their climax because the frame starts dancing frantically against the wall. It looks like it might jump right off it’s nail. Eleanor grabs the frame to steady it. Being so close to the art, her eyes zero in on a cluster of young women all draped in garland and watching the spree around them. Eleanor is visualizing herself amongst them when the frame starts to vibrate with an intensity beyond the neighbor’s doing. She tightens her grip, confused as to what’s causing the violent shaking. She can feel the vibrations through her hands, moving up her arms. When the protective glass of the frame morphs to a wavy puddle, Eleanor’s confusion becomes fear. Frightened, she lets go and backs away from the frame, stumbling and getting twisted in her bedding. The frame is still vibrating even though her neighbor’s have gone quiet. Eleanor stares at the picture in disbelief. The people inside the middle panel seem to be moving. Faint sounds of gleeful revelry are coming from beyond the wavy puddle. A light, shining through the frame, grows in intensity, and spills over Eleanor’s bed. It beckons her. On shaky legs, Eleanor gets up and slowly moves towards it. She raises a tentative hand to the puddle and as soon as her fingertips make contact, Eleanor is sucked through the frame. She lands on her back with a thud and is shrouded in light. She can’t see anything at first, but when her eyes adjust, she sees the girls from the painting leaning over her. 

“Eleanor, we’re so happy you could join us,” says one. “Don’t be scared,” says another. All of them reach down and help her stand. The girls encircle Eleanor and she stares at them in amazement.

“Welcome to the Garden, Eleanor,” says the one who first welcomed her. “We need to get these clothes off you. No one wears clothes in the Garden.”

Eleanor can’t find the words to answer. She is in awe of what surrounds her. Looking beyond the girls she sees naked people cavorting all over the most beautiful garden imaginable. The painting doesn’t do it justice. 

“Here, let us help.” Four pairs of hands reach for Eleanor’s pajamas, startling her. She steps out of reach holding up her hands in defense.

“That’s ok. I’ll…I’ll do it.”  Eleanor is nervous and confused. Her body is shaking, her heart is racing, and her breaths are short. Am I dreaming or have the long weeks of isolation caused a mental break? This can’t actually be happening.

The girls wait patiently while Eleanor sorts through her thoughts. This must be a dream. She pinches herself and it feels real enough. The girls look at her expectantly.  Well, when in Rome, I guess. She slowly undresses, leaving her pajamas on the ground.

“Now, that’s better,” says the one who seems to be the leader. “My name is Natasha. This is Rachel, Beth, and June.” She points to her companions who nod and smile in greeting.

“Hello,” answers Eleanor nervously. She fidgets, not knowing what to do with her arms. She folds them across her chest, and then switches to having one arm across her chest while the other protects her modesty below, and then switches back again until finally letting them fall at her sides. She is a riot of emotions – nervous, confused, shy, scared, curious.

“You need to relax,” explains Natasha. “This is a very special place. Try to enjoy it.”

“How about we go for a swim,” suggests Rachel.

“Great idea! I’ll lead the way.” Natasha grabs Eleanor’s hand and the other girls follow behind.

Eleanor doesn’t know which way to look. There is so much to take in, her senses are overwhelmed. The lush lawn feels like velvet under her feet. The air is warm and smells strongly of honeysuckle with undertones of human sweat. The colors of everything, from the birds and fruits to the strange vessels people are in and spilling out of, are so intense they have a life unto themselves.  The sounds are a medley of birdsong, laughter, joy, moans, growls, sighs, and gasps. People are doing strange, random things like carrying humongous fish or standing on their heads while other people are lounging in a sated stupor. 

When they reach the water’s edge the girls walk right in while Eleanor dips a single toe. A message of pleasure is sent directly to her brain. She walks in up to her waist and glides her hands through the water. It feels like caressing the finest silk. She moves in further, and when the water hits her breasts an intense jolt of pleasure moves through her body. She can feel tension leaving her every muscle until she feels she must resemble a boiled noodle.  The happiest fucking noodle there ever was.  She starts to laugh and so do the girls.

“See, I told you this place is special. You can be completely free here, untethered to any responsibility, and free of judgement. Just embrace it and enjoy.”  With that Natasha swims away, and the other girls follow.

Eleanor stays where she is, closes her eyes, and floats on her back. This is amazing. Every time the water washes over her nipples she gets another shock of pleasure.

“Hello.”  Her eyes fly open at the sound of a male voice so close to her ear.  She stands up, and looks into the face of a beautiful man.  “I’m Jared. What’s your name?”

“Eleanor,” she answers shyly.

”It’s nice to meet you, Eleanor.  Welcome to the Garden.”

“Thank you.”

“Can I interest you in a berry?”

Common sense tells her no, that she shouldn’t accept a strange fruit from a strange, naked man, but common sense seems out of place in the Garden. If I’ve lost my mind, I might as well enjoy it.

“Sure, why not?”

He holds out a large, purple berry. It’s bumpy like a blackberry, but a hundred times bigger. She takes a small bite and her mouth fills with it’s luscious flavor.  “Hmmmm, that’s delicious.”

“Have some more.”  She takes a larger bite, and chews while smiling at Jared. The more she chews, the more his beauty grows. These berries must be some kind of aphrodisiac.

Jared releases the berry to the water. “Can I kiss you, Eleanor?”

Without hesitation she answers, “Yes, please.” She surprises herself with her reply, but doesn’t stop Jared when he gently takes her face in his hands, and joins his lips to hers. He tastes like the berry, and she reaches her arms around him pulling him closer. Her hands explore his back and pull his hair, both slick from the magical waters. He wraps an arm around her waist and fondles her breast. Their kiss grows more passionate and their hands more curious. Pleasure is all there is until a giant bubble carrying lovers and floating on the water bumps into Eleanor. She’s knocked off balance and falls beneath the surface. She’s immediately sucked down deeper, but before she can panic, she lands on her back with a bounce on her tousled bed.

Naked, dripping wet, and breathing rapidly, she pushes up on her hands and looks around her tiny apartment. Bubble wrap and the cardboard box litter the floor next to her teacup and disinfectant spray. Sun shines through her sheer curtains, and the raindrops on her window have dried. She looks down at her glistening skin dampening the sheets. Loud, joyful laughter starts deep in her belly and fills the air. She looks behind her at the “Garden of Earthly Delights” hanging slightly askew, but still, almost coy. She collapses flat on her bed laughing, reminding herself to call and thank her grandmother.


Marie Petrarch is an emerging writer from Long Island, NY. She gave up a career in fashion to stay home with her three kids, and started writing to preserve her intelligence and mental health. She is currently writing her first novel.

2021 Margaret Price Pandemic Pandemic Staff Contributors Poetry

With the Band

Written by Margaret Price

One bar, or two, or maybe even three.
You sit and beat on barstools keeping time
To jazz or blues or even bad Bad Company
Drink beer and smile to say: “I’m here. I’m fine.”

“My boyfriend’s there. The drummer with the band.”
That charm you use to keep lost souls at bay.
Most times it works, but still will they demand
Concession that the world still spins their way?

Unwelcome? Yes! And almost never meant.
Be gracious, girl, it’s just a compliment.


Margaret Price is a mother, lawyer, and occasional scribbler.