Browsing Tag

short story

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 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

F.I.M.P.

Written by R.F. Gonzalez  

A week after moving into the apartment across from Lilly’s, she knocked on my door and pushed a plate of charred chocolate chip cookies into my hand. She was odd like that. Brilliant and rare. Exotic but toxic.

“Come on in,” I said, sarcastically but with a hint of invitation.  

Lilly’s hair was a pink asymmetrical bob which flared out at every turn of her head. It smelled as fragrant as her name, flicking me in the face as she pushed passed.

She had a pointed nose, her pallid skin yearned for the sun, and her lips were thin and undefined. Later, when I’d known her a while and the dye had washed out, she would bundle her copper hair into a hat as if it was too much of a burden to loosen. Her usual navy cap said NY on the front, the Y impaling the N down the middle.

“Why did you move here?” she said. “It’s a terrible area.”

“I’m too broke to afford anything else, and my friends’ couches are off-limits now.”

“How sad for you,” she said, insincerely.

It was spring and the lockdown had been in place for weeks due to the novel virus. The media had announced that this one would kill us all. Things looked bleak. Standing in the middle of my cramped apartment, Lilly scrutinized my possessions. She said “Sexy” when she saw a replica of the Venus of Willendorf.

“I’m Lee,” I said and extended my hand toward her.

“Lilly,” she said extending hers. She was the first person I’d touched in a week.

“Thanks for the cookies.”

“You look like a cookie guy.”

“Really?”

“No, doofus. I saw your shirt.”

I Heart Cookies, right under the words was a graphic of a halved clotted pig heart. It had bulging veiny eyes and was suffocating.

“Oh, right,” I said, stretching my shirt out and peering at the art. “I appreciate the gesture.”

“I’m being neighborly.”

“Nowadays, neighborly neighbors are outlaws.”

“You going to turn me in?” she said devilishly.

“No chance. Want a beer?”

“Always.”

I handed her a lager and we said “Cheers” simultaneously.

There was a moment of cold silence before I said, “You just barged into my apartment without knowing me – during a pandemic.”

“Men are easy to know.”

“And women aren’t?” I said defensively, before adding, “We could be exposing one another.”

“We aren’t flashers,” she laughed.

“Smart ass.”

“The virus will be gone soon enough,” she said, “and it’s mainly killing old people.” She was wrong, of course. COVID was decimating more than the infirm. Soon, we’d say goodbye to the economy and our way of life.

There was a knock on the door and a small white face peered in.

“Come here, baby,” said Lilly.

The four-year-old girl tiptoed barefoot across the water damaged laminate – a remnant of past calamity.

I said, “Hello,” as she ignored and passed me.

“This is Remi, my daughter.”

“She looks like you.”

Lilly rolled her eyes in contempt and said, “Remi, meet your new sitter.”

“What?” I said, wondering why she’d entrust her child to a stranger.

“I’ll pay you. It’s not every day but I’ll need you when I need you.”

“But we just met.”

“Schools and daycares are closed. Plus, you live across the hall. I can easily find you and hurt you if I have to.”

I laughed but she didn’t. I couldn’t say no. Everyone was isolated and desperate.

***

A week later, while sharing some lagers, I inquired about her work.

“I lease women out to men,” she said flatly.

“Shall we cheer to that?”

“Not everything needs a hurrah.”

“So, you’re a pimp.”

“Nope.”

“Then what are you?”

“Not that.”

“So, you’re a madam?”

“I’m not a damn madam.”

“You’re a fimp,” I said reflexively.  

“What?”

“A female pimp.” There was a short pause before I blurted out, “F-I-M-P – Females In Men’s Professions.” Lilly wasn’t impressed with my taste in jokes.

“Stop labeling,” she said. “I lease bodies.”

“It’s just your job,” I said, head bobbling, as if it was no biggie that she was a sex trafficker. “I’ll call you whatever you want.”

“Never mind. Fimp is fine.”

“So, how’s business?”

Lilly shrugged, “Not terrible so far.”

“Hopefully, it stays that way,” I said feeling like I was rooting for a James Bond villain.

“Is it me or is the end of the world taking ages to end?”

“It’s going slow,” I added, “but don’t sound too enthusiastic. Some of us like to live.”

“We barely exist now.”

“As a society?”

“I meant me.”

“You do more than exist, Lilly.”

“I have nobody and got no future.”

“What about Remi?” I said pointing out the obvious.

“She was an accident and she’ll leave me one day. Were you wanted by your parents?”

“As far as I know, but I’ve never asked. I just assumed.”

“I didn’t even know my parents.”

“At least Remi knows you,” I said, unsure of what else to say.

“It’s not a high bar when all you have to do is show up.”

“So, set it higher.”

“This is it for me.”

I had no answer. A part of me wanted to save her but she didn’t want saving, at least not from me. Her life was set in ruins. Mine was not.

***

Lilly explained that she’d fallen into fimping after befriending two sister hookers. One day she found herself scheduling for them and taking her cut, then short leasing her apartment for a few hours a day when the sisters became homeless. It beat minimum wage, she said, but from what I could see she barely made ends meet anyway. I wondered if by barely making it, if by avoiding the glut of money that often follows the exploitation of damaged girls, Lilly wasn’t somehow appeasing her guilt – the guilt of living for nothing. She survived as an ascetic sex trafficker throughout the pandemic.

“I only take what I need,” she said.

“But why not do something else?”

“If I don’t, someone worse will do it anyway,” she said, almost heroically, as if she was somehow saving the girls she fimped out.

We opened two lagers and cheered awkwardly to that. Ours was a friendship founded on warped attraction and necessity. Several times a week, she’d send Remi across the hall to my place when I was off work. My heart bled for the girl. I feared the type of sexuality that she’d unleash on the world after being witness to countless post-coital men in suits coming out of her mom’s apartment on the days I wasn’t around.

***

Summer arrived and Lilly phoned me to meet at the tiny communal pool. She was one hundred and twenty pounds with eyes a tapestry of yellows and greens. On the outside, there was no way to tell she’d birthed Remi. Inside, though, she was a cauldron of bones, hurt, and resentment.

“Pool is closed,” I said as I approached the gate. The water was green algae and neglect.

“I’d like to see our weak management come say something,” she said, again with her cattish smile. I was getting used to her doing this. It was her war face, and she showed it often.

Nobody said anything. The neighbors stared down at us from the balconies. It seemed that everyone had picked up smoking since the lockdown began. After a quick swim, I toweled off and reclined in a beach chair as Lilly and Remi waded in the murky water.

***

Lilly was fair with her workers but she could be as ruthless as any over-empowered misogynist.

“Scabby bitch!” she said to a girl in the hall just after our swim. I was already in my apartment, dry and sipping black coffee. I sprinted to my peephole. The view came into focus right as Lilly smacked a scantily dressed, spotty blonde across the cheek.

“Never again, Abby,” she said.

“Uh-huh,” quaked the girl. The skin around her eyes sagged from tears and abuse. A constellation of scabs was splattered around her shoulder and ribs, probably from severe acne. She shuffled off cradling her jaw.

Lilly shouted at my door, “Get out here, turd. I know you’re listening.”

I stepped out, face flushed, as the girl reached the exit. I said, “What happened?”

“Abby is pregnant. Again.”

“Damn.”

She then said “So am I” with such force that the echoes in the hall flatlined for a split second before resonating through the hallways, hallways which acted as the connective yet congealed arteries of our building.

“Is it mine?” I joked.

Lilly said nothing. The next time I saw her she’d already gotten rid of it.

***

I had watched Remi all week. She’d been sick with flu or COVID. There were no hospitals that would admit anyone who looked less than half dead. We all ate off-brand chicken soup and drank sports drinks. That’s all we could get our hands on. Store shelves were bare because of the mass hording all over the nation.

Lilly walked into my place looking brittle from the wintry rain. She glanced at Remi who knew better than to approach her mom at that moment, so she turned back to the Rainbow Brite rerun blaring on the television.

“Sorry, Lee,” Lilly said. “Can’t pay you today. It’s a wasteland out there.”

“This one’s on me.”

She went red. “I don’t need pity.”

“I want to help.”

“I don’t need that either,” she said, stone-faced.

Instead of throwing me out, she gripped my hand, led me into the next room and pointed toward my rumpled bed.

“We shouldn’t,” I said.

“Undress now,” she said sternly.

I couldn’t deny her. She needed me when she needed me.

She reached for some Cuervo by the nightstand and said, “Drink.”

Anxiety made me shudder, but the tequila began to warm everything else – except my heart.

“We don’t need to do this.”

“I need the money,” she said.  

“I can’t pay you,” I said, appalled at what she was suggesting.

“No, idiot. Scabby bet me a fifty to screw my dorky sitter.”

“Scabby?”

“My girl, Scabby Abby. Keep up, get it up, and put it in, Lee.”

***

“It’s not yours,” Lilly said, as I glared at a pregnancy test on her table.

“Sorry,” I said, unsure why I was apologizing.

“You’re home free,” she said with a sweep of her hand, just before lighting a cigarette. Every move she made in the bedroom and life was plastic and cosmic.

There were no laws scary enough to protect the baby in Lilly’s belly from the wrath of her life’s habits. She would smoke it into deformity one calloused puff at a time. How Remi had made it, I had no clue.

“Whose is it?”

“It’s the plumber’s.”

“Isn’t Remi’s dad a plumber?”

“This is a different plumber.”

“You have a thing for plumbers?”

“Don’t be smug, Lee,” Lilly snapped. “I’m knocked up but I ain’t dumb. I know what I did.”

I almost apologized again but the flash of hurt in her eyes shut me up.

***

She told me she’d terminated the second pregnancy as we stood on the roof of our five-story building, while leaning against a gray railing pocked with rust. The usual shredded street litter had been replaced by crushed masks and vinyl gloves. I hated the neighborhood. I hated New York. It was apocalyptic. You could wear a mask and hood and easily loot a store. Thanks to pandemic mandates, we were in the throes of a robbery renaissance. It was dawn and, for a second, I wanted to die right there, with the sun, with the earth, with humanity.

“Have you seen Planet of the Apes?” Lilly said. “It should have been called Planet of the Prick.”

I laughed before saying, “Why?”

“C’mon. It’s about a hairy-chested dude who invades an ape planet. He spends his time cheating the system and trying to kiss ape women who think he’s damn ugly.”

“That’s one interpretation.”

“My point, is that men are cheaters even when they imagine other worlds.

“We aren’t all like that.”

“Here,” she said while gesturing elegantly toward her bedroom window, “all men are created equal. Even you, Lee.”

“I’m not like them.”

“All men pay, one way or another.”

“That’s abysmal.”

“So is sex,” she said, “and love.” There was an early morning fog creeping through the city which made her words seem mystical.

“My heart is sprouting thorns as we speak,” I said to avoid further exposing Lilly’s frayed spirit.

***

  Lilly was pregnant again months later. Nonessential services that had been suspended were temporarily restored but the media was already telling us to brace for a second wave that would kill us even more than the last. The quarantine would soon be doubly enforced.

“I’m a regular here,” she said flatly, as she filled out the intake paperwork at the clinic. “This is my Cheers.”

“I watched that show as a kid,” I said, before asking her again, jokingly, “You sure this one isn’t mine?”

She stopped writing and looked dead into my eyes, “No chance, you self-righteous ape.”

They wheeled her out in a chair an hour later. She’d waited too many weeks and couldn’t take the pills. Remi asked what was wrong with her mom but I ignored her. She would need to get used to life’s indifferences anyway.

I helped Lilly into my junker, strapped Remi in, and then plopped myself down behind the wheel. I glanced at them before starting the engine. I was friends with a fiend, and I was raising a girl who would probably burn the world down. But I didn’t care. This was my place for now.

***

“Lee,” said Lilly. “Stay for a while.”

“Okay,” I said, and I did.

“I just want to be erased sometimes.”

“The pandemic is wrecking everything anyway. We’ll all be gone soon at this rate.”

“Not fast enough.”

“It could be worse. You could suddenly wake up on a planet where apes rule and pricks are heroes.”

“I wake up to that every day,” she said before looking daggers at me and adding, “Prick.”

We both laughed for a moment before I said, “Cheers,” and held up my mug.

“Cheers,” Lilly said with her usual cattish smile.

The charge of her pain was too much for my heart to wrap around. Friends is all we’d ever be. We continued like this for several more months until one day I crossed the hall and they were gone. Lilly had talked about moving to Florida where they’d recently announced that they would reopen despite the virus – no more lockdowns or quarantines. Herd immunity was their solution. The nation held its breath in anticipation of the geriatric body count. Mobile morgues were already en route.


R.F. Gonzalez was born in Nicaragua. After living in Europe and Central America, he moved to the United States where he works as a writing instructor, investor, and writer. He has written several short stories and two books, an anti-love story and an anthropology text. His work can be viewed at https://www.rfgonzalez.com/.

2021 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

A Yoga Teacher’s Journey

Written by Sanaz Busink

Due to COVID 19 we are now in lockdown and we have decided to close our yoga studio doors until further notice, however, most of our classes will be transitioning to an online platform.

Stay home and be kind.

Namaste”

This was the email I got one dark cold winter morning from the studio where I had been happily teaching yoga. My bottom lip drew away from my motionless top lip, as I stood there, reading, and rereading the words on my computer screen.

“transitioning to an on-line platform, on-line platform, onnn-linnnne platforrrrrmmmmmm.”

These tiny words on the screen tumbled and turned in my head like a cat watching a front-loading washing machine. Terrified, fascinated, and yet hopeful to be able to play with whatever is in there once the cycle is over and the door opens.

I have always been referred to, as, adaptable and fluid like water…, until March of 2020 when the coronavirus took over the whole world by surprise and my yoga career went from… in-person hugs, smelling coffee breath good morning’s, and fresh oat porridge smell lingering on clothes.

The symphony of inhales and exhales and spontaneous sighs during class, the tastes of lavender tea and dark chocolate shared after practice, and the beautiful, open, sacred yoga studio becoming an online 2-dimensional space.

A vast intangible place and space where energy hits a whirlpool of buzzing noises and cloud storage spaces of chaos zooming in and out.

In the years and months before this devastating virus introduced itself to humankind, I had a habit of spoiling my students. By bringing in little warm face cloths to class, covered in immune-boosting essential oils, handing them out on a silver tray at the end of our practice.

I hugged some of them upon arrival with a smile, as if I was offering to take-off their pain and suffering as a good host would offer to hang her guests’ heavy coat.

So, my world crumbled when I had to transition from teaching yoga in an intimate warm studio space and move into a cold flat world behind a tiny screen.

That is when I realized that I am being tested, the water in me has hit a dam, and if I do not make the right choices I will either turn into a ditch, a swamp, or simply a stagnant body of water and eventually rot, dry and die.

I am mostly talking about my drive to teach yoga, my passion for helping my students find their own unique rhythmic breath.

And in helping them angulate their spine with organic movements, poetic arm and leg explorations.

To give guidance and let them tap into their own intuition and their body’s intelligence during a yoga practice on their mat and off their mat in life.

I help my clients find their path to self-discovery, self-love, and self-healing through guided meditation and yoga, the union of body, breath, mind, soul, and spirit.

Meanwhile, teaching intuitive functional yoga online appeared to be vastly different and difficult for the fluid me. I had to find a way to save myself first, before holding space and offering a helping hand to others.

My first attempt in teaching yoga online failed miserably., The studio internet was weak, so the video would cut in and out, the room was not equipped with proper bright light so it was hard for my students to see me., I could not play music for them as the sound waves appeared weak and muffled on their end, my voice was too soft; I had to basically shout.

I developed a sore throat for the first four months of teaching yoga online which I found out later was the result of my speaking in a higher tone than I had ever used in the last 45 years of my life.

I had to adapt., I needed to take time to investigate and to rethink my steps forward., Creativity became my ally, the world slowing down, and quieting, became a guide. Nature migrating back home as seasons changed from winter to spring and long walks instead of short drives became my daily meditation.

I remembered that as a kid I used to mind read for fun. I used to be able to sit in my room and visualize my best friend in her room and write down what she was thinking about or even doing at that moment. The next day I would ask her about her previous day, and she would confirm that I had time-traveled and mind-read.

So, what’s different now? I asked myself one day as I sat in meditation, crying.

I did not want to read anyone’s mind or sit and meditate on what they are doing at that moment, but I needed to send and spread out my energetic webbing and connect with my students through a little stamp size window on my computer screen. I needed to feel their pain, their sorrow, their joy, and their presence.

But this time just by looking through the computer at their slice of life…corner of the room, or their ceiling fan in their living room, or only getting a glimpse of their knees moving like windshield wipers; at times at their curious cat or mischievous dog checking out the little camera on their computer.

Reciting poems in class changed to prayers. Prayers for one another, and for the entire world.

I eventually picked up on my students’ frequency and let them lead me again while I taught in an empty studio.

Practicing beside a breathing sapphire green plant, a wooden statue of the Buddha and a brass singing bowl that has not been rung for a while. As I teach in this almost empty studio, I hear my own voice echo back against the bare white walls, standing tall in tree pose, keeping me company.

All these years as a yoga teacher I have been teaching people based on their energetic frequencies that they come to class with. They have been leading me and not the other way around.

I realized that I am adaptable, but it takes a bit of time, momentum, and recentering.

I found that I actually don’t like forced change in my stable life, and I resist it with all my body and mind.

I discovered that if I let my heart lead me, then I always find the best path to where I am going.

All I have to do, is, JUST SHOW UP!

I realized that I am actually, a hugger.

I like that extra bit of connection, that extra moment of squeeze you give a loved one to let them know that you care for them and that they are special to you.

I adapted.

I adapted to the ‘voluntold’ universal change. At least I never signed up for this change. I had been happy with the way things were, but with time, the unnormal became the new normal. And we all adapted.

As I have adapted to change in my yogic world, and I feel pride in myself and my students.

There have been few changes in my personal life during this time, and I have learned that having the love of my life work from home and spending every moment of the day with him has been a blessing and I love every minute of it.

The universal slowing down and the fewer hours spent window shopping or spending time and money in local shops and restaurants has opened more space for my practice, for writing, reading, and painting.

And the social distancing has not bothered me one bit as I have always walked through life being mindful of others and taking good care of my mental and physical health.

The big self-discovery was that I love to be loved by people I care for, and these people are my beloved students, my dear family, and friends. I discovered the way I used to show love was by making them something or buying them something and now there is no need for that.

I find that I show my love through kind words and true eye to eye connections and smiles., Through listening and allowing space for silence from behind a breathing mask at and two meters apart…


Sanaz Busink is a Canadian artist living her dream in Penticton BC with her husband, their two rescue dogs and their cat, Han Solo. Her days are filled teaching yoga and meditation, writing poetry and prose, painting, pottery, and embracing nature.

2021 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

Excerpt from Anarchist, Republican… Assassin

Written by Jeff Rasley 

I retired two years before the lockdown, when I hit sixty-eight. Sherry – that’s my wife – and I had a lot of plans for traveling and things we wanted to do in retirement, but then she died in 2019, less than a year into it. The cancer came fast and furious. Sherry was dead less than two months after the diagnosis.

I was finally getting back on my feet, trying to resume some semblance of a social life a year after Sherry’s death. Then, the pandemic struck. My life came to a screeching halt again, just after I was starting to get out and see old friends and make new ones at the coffee shop and bar where I used to hang out.

Sitting home alone during the lockdown, I started feeling irrationally irritable and had terrible mood swings. One day, I threw the toaster down on the kitchen floor and then stomped on it. I was furious, because two pieces of toast burned. I probably set the timer on for too long, but I didn’t care whether it was my fault or the toaster’s. I just wanted to smash the damn thing. A couple days later, I went outside through the front door and then went around back to survey the condition of the backyard lawn. I thought the backdoor into the screened-in porch was unlocked, but it wasn’t. Ordinarily, that would have been mildly irritating. I would have grunted and then walked back around the house to the front door. But I was so upset I started pulling on the handle of the screen door as hard as I could. When I couldn’t break the lock, I drove my fist through the screen and unlocked the door. I didn’t fix the screen.

I sat in front of the TV hour after hour watching the news about how Trump was fucking up the government’s response to the spreading coronavirus infection. Why didn’t he invoke the federal government’s power under the Defense Production Act as soon as the virus hit Washington State in January? All the experts knew how fast-spreading and dangerous this virus could be. But he ignored the CDC’s advice and downplayed the risk to the nation’s health. Not until mid-April, when it was way too late, did Trump finally use some of the government’s power under the DPA, and even then it’s a half-assed measure. There wasn’t enough testing. There weren’t enough ventilators, not enough PPE, not enough swabs. What the hell was he thinking?

The number of infections kept rising. By the end of March the US led the world in infections and deaths caused by the virus. What does Trump do? He refuses to wear a mask. He’s not going to look like a weakling. Testing? Overrated. It increases the number of infections. Why doesn’t the country have enough PPE and ventilators? Obama’s fault. The President is in charge, but if there’s any failure, it’s the fault of governors and mayors.

He kept repeating his mantra, “The situation is under control.” Pence’s team will whip the virus. If they don’t, well, Jared’s team will. This virus isn’t as bad as the flu. America always wins. Those people wearing masks are doing it to spite me, Donald J. Trump, the greatest President in history. “The situation is under control.”

But the deaths kept mounting. It surpassed annual deaths from auto accidents, 34,000. It surpassed US deaths in the Vietnam War, 58,000. It surpassed the total deaths of US soldiers in World War I, 116,500, and it kept going up. World War II deaths, here we come! Spanish Flu deaths, hah! We’ll beat you too. America will be Number One with Donald J. Trump, the greatest President in history, leading us!

What the fuck!? This is the United States of America! We’re supposed to have the best healthcare in the world, the best of everything. Yeah, Trump made America great again. We’re Number One in coronavirus infections and deaths.

I was getting angrier and angrier about how badly Trump was handling the pandemic. And lonelier and lonelier locked down at home with no one to talk to.

After spending all day switching back and forth among the cable news networks on TV, I’d turn off the television and get on my laptop and rant on Twitter about what an idiot the President is. That was my lockdown life. That’s all there was to it.

When Trump started puffing hydroxychloroquine as a cure, I was sure he, or Jared and Ivanka, owned stock in a company that makes the drug. Why not? He’s tried to sell every product under the sun with his Trump brand. And then, he mused on national TV about sticking a UV light down your gullet and drinking Clorox as a cure. Presidents aren’t supposed to muse about hair-brain schemes that will get some numbskull killed when he burns his throat with a tanning lamp or poisons himself with laundry bleach.

But there was Trump on the tube again claiming victory over the virus. The jobs report was better than expected, so that proves the Trump-Pence team is winning. Hooray! The economy is already recovering. The CARES Act is working. He says America is coming back greater than ever. And by the way, Donald J. Trump has done more for African-Americans than any US president. Lincoln? All he did was free the slaves. Donald J. Trump gave ‘em all jobs.

I turned off the TV and opened Twitter. What did I find? All these Trumpers are praising the President. “The situation is under control.” He’s saving us from the virus! He’s saving our jobs and the economy! Don’t believe those traitors in the media and that Dr. Fauci, who says things are getting worse. God chose Donald J. Trump for this moment. He has it under control.

Winter has passed and it’s spring, but I am cycling farther and farther down and I can’t stop it. Trump’s lies and crazy talk haven’t stopped. When the demonstrations started in Minneapolis after George Floyd was killed by that cop, something snapped in me and I really lost control.

I was losing track of what time it is. I mean, like, what year is it? Is Lyndon Johnson the President? I can hear my dad yelling to turn off the boob tube. But I can’t turn it off.

The talking heads on CNN are talking about the Kerner Commission Report. They keep saying the findings of the Kerner Report are still true today. It must be 1967? They say there are two Americas, one black and the other white. Black America is ripped off every which way, income, housing, job opportunity, education; the system is rigged against you, if you’re black. You can’t trust the police. They aren’t there to protect and serve, if you’re black. All these images of police beating or killing unarmed black people scroll across my TV set; there’s Rodney King, Malice Wayne Green, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor …

Sitting alone every day staring at my TV watching the street clashes between protesters and cops, and then shops going up in flames, stores and cop cars vandalized, looters busting out windows and jumping out of stores with stolen goods. I’m losing my grounding in the present. This must be 1968. I was an anarchist revolutionary then, but I’m an establishment Republican, if this is 2020. But what year is it? Who am I?

There he is on TV again! That big orange clown figure with that bloated face and ridiculous hair. He’s babbling about MAGA loves black people.

That’s it. I know what I have to do. I’m no longer a retired businessman and country-club Republican. I am nineteen years old, a militant, an anarchist.

I pack the car. I put my twelve-gauge bolt-action shotgun in the trunk. I don’t know how long it takes. I don’t know how many times I stop. I arrive in Washington D.C. What’s the date? June first, 2020? No, it’s 1968.

I smell tear gas in the air. It draws me toward the White House. I walk in that direction. I’m dressed in black with a black bandana covering my face. There are lots of demonstrators around the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. Some are yelling at cops in Lafayette Square across from the White House. People are shouting, chanting, screaming. Cops with shields and batons are lined up confronting the protesters.

Then it happens. It’s around six thirty. Secret Service agents, military police, Park Police, National Guardsmen, and Arlington County Police all in riot gear advance on the demonstrators in Lafayette Square. A Black Hawk helicopter swoops out of the sky and hovers fifteen feet above ground blasting gusts of wind that snap tree limbs and send volleys of dust and broken glass-like shrapnel tearing through the crowd of protesters. People are screaming and running for cover in panic and confusion.

There wasn’t any violent activity going on, just chanting and singing, people waving signs. But the forces of The Man are advancing. They shoot smoke canisters. They’re pushing the crowd of people with their shields. Protesters trip over each other trying to back away. People on the ground are beaten with batons. Heads, elbows, and knees are bleeding in the street. Cops shoot pepper balls. Horses charge defenseless demonstrators and trample them underfoot. Everyone is forced out of the park into H Street. A few protesters throw water bottles, but no one fights back. The pigs keep advancing and beating helpless protesters holding up their arms to shield their heads from baton blows.

I jog around past the melee on H Street, south past the White House grounds skirting the fence along the west and south lawns, and then toward the statue of Andrew Jackson on horseback. Lafayette Square is deserted now. I run through the little park. I sneak across H Street. I’m at the opposite end of the street from where the security forces are still attacking, pushing, and pummeling the protesters. I hide behind a large oak tree on the southeast corner of St. John’s Church’s grounds.

I have a clear view of The Man as he walks up to the parish house of St. John’s Church. There’s a group of men with the Evil One. I know I should recognize them from TV. Is that little Billy Barr? No matter. My mind is buzzing too much to get a clear signal. Two blond women are in the group. One is The Daughter. Then, He steps away from the group. He’s carrying a book. Yes! It’s The Bible. He’s standing there holding The Book upside down. The final signal!

I aim and pull the trigger. What? Nothing happened. Could it be? I shoot the bolt. There’s no shell in the chamber. Some demon must have stolen my ammunition. The gun isn’t loaded. I scrounge through my pockets. No cartridges there. Oh yeah, now I remember. We only fight with handheld weapons. So that’s what this is. It’s not a gun. It’s a club.

I let out a war cry and run toward The Man holding The Book. Before he can turn to see death approaching, something happens to me. I’m flying. No, I’m falling. Did something hit me? I didn’t see it.


Jeff Rasley is a retired lawyer and long-time social activist. He is a director of 6 nonprofit organizations and has taught classes on community development at Butler and Marian Universities. Anarchist, Republican… Assassin is his 11th book.

2021 Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

Dear Mr. Corona

Written by Neelam Epstein Mukherjee

It was the morning of April 15th when I first saw Mr. Corona. His body was a particularly ugly shade of green with sharp spikes sticking out of his head. But unlike regular monsters, he was small and had an almost kind face. I was playing with John in our front yard with a toy water gun. We were running around gleefully, spraying water on each other, and creating quite a ruckus. It was Wednesday morning but these days we no longer have school, and the rules at home were different. We had to do our regular school assignments at home, but the schedule was more lenient.

“John, did you see? I saw him. I saw him!” I yelled, jumping up and down.

“Who? What are you talking about? And come back here. Don’t go out on the streets. Mom will not like it.” John replied with the usual haughtiness of an elder brother, given the task of keeping an eye out for the younger sibling.

 “It was Mr. Corona. I saw him coming out from Mr. Radley’s house. I need to tell mom. She must take care of Mr. Radley.”

Mom always takes care of people. Even though we were all at home, mom still went to work every day to fight Mr. Corona. When Mr. Corona did not like someone, they ended up with a boo-boo in the hospital. Mom then helped them to treat their boo-boos so that they could get better. 

I would often ask mom “Why can’t their moms take care of them? Are their moms not special like you?”

Mom would laugh and pat my head and say “They are, baby girl. All moms are special, but God has chosen a few of us to take care of people when their moms can’t be there.”

“So, you just kiss their boo-boo and they get better?”

My mom would shake her head and reply, “No sweetie, Mr. Corona does not like people to hug or kiss.”

 “I don’t like Mr. Corona, he sounds mean.” I would pout. “And he also closed my school.”

Right now, though, I was jumping up and down excitedly.

“Don’t talk nonsense, Bella, I told you it’s a virus. You can’t see it.” John gave me an irritated look.

“You don’t know anything; I am going inside to tell mom.” I said adamantly and dashed to our living room.

Mom was making stir fry, my favorite dish, when I walked into the kitchen.

“Mom, I saw Mr. Corona at Mr. Radley’s house. He did not look too scary.”

 My mom laughed and flopped my hair.

 “Did you tell him anything?”

“No mom, he was too far away. I wanted to tell him something important.”

My mom thought about it for a moment,

“Umm, why don’t you write him a letter? Then, maybe we can ask Fairy T to deliver it to him.”

“Yes, that’s a good idea mom! I will write him a letter.”

Once in my room, I made sure that the doors were securely shut so that no one, especially John, could disrupt my critical mission. I brought out all my poster supplies — boards, sharpies, sparkly pens, and my most precious possession — my crayon box of 72 colors, which dad gave me on my last birthday. Finally, convinced that I had all the needed supplies and everything was secure and safe, I started writing:

Dear Mr. Corona,

I am Annabelle. But my family and friends call me Bella. I am in the third grade and my teacher, Miss Honey, says that I am her favorite student. I am a good girl, Mr. Corona, so, I hope you will listen to my request. I know you are in a bad mood and unhappy with the world. So, you are punishing everyone by giving them boo-boos. But I have been very good this year. Even without classes, I completed all my homework, which mom and dad gave me.

I have a request Mr. Corona. My birthday is in 2 weeks and I always have lots of fun with my friends at school, and grandma at her house. Can you please leave so that my school can open, and I can also go visit my grannie? I promise I will  behave well throughout the year and will not even argue with John. Please, Mr. Corona! Please don’t make me spend my birthday by myself.

Love,

Annabelle.

To complete the letter, I drew a smiley face and a rainbow at the end. I also wrote Mr. Corona in sparkly green to match the color of his body.

I woke up feeling excited the next morning. I could hear mom getting ready for work. I rushed to her room and showed her my letter. My mom smiled as she read it.

“That’s a very pretty letter, Bella. I am sure Mr. Corona will consider it. Why don’t we keep it underneath your bed tonight, so Fairy T can take it and deliver it to him? Does that sound good?”

I gave her a big nod and said,“Yes, mom that’s good. Then I can tell John too and he will be sorry that he ever made fun of my idea.”

My Mom patted my back and said, “Ok Bella, I must leave now. You be a good girl for dad today, ok.” She left, kissing me goodbye.

That night, right after I had my dinner, I put my letter in a big envelope that I took from dad’s office. I wrote “To Mr. Corona” and put it under my bed. Next morning, to my relief, it was gone. I was happy that it was in the safe hands of Fairy T, and Mr. Corona would get it soon.

Two weeks later my birthday came but I still did not hear anything back from Mr. Corona. My school was still closed. I was still not allowed to visit any of my friends or grannie.

We were all sitting to eat breakfast on Sunday. Mom had taken the day off to celebrate my birthday and made us a big breakfast. We had a whole lot of different dishes and my favorite blueberry pancakes.

“Wow Jenny. This is quite a spread.” My dad said sitting down at the table.

 “I think we all needed a good hearty family breakfast to start off Bella’s birthday.” Mom said, with a big smile.

 She was about to sit down where her phone rang.

“What, when, where are they taking her? Yes ok, I will be there, but I don’t think they are allowing any visitors.”

 I could see from her face that she was worried and turned to dad and said in a very serious voice,

 “That was James. They think mom may have caught it. She has all the symptoms and was having breathing difficulty in the morning. They hospitalized her just now. She is in the ICU.”

Mom left, hardly touching the huge breakfast she had prepared. I was fuming inside at Mr. Corona. How could he do this? He not only did not leave but now had made my most favorite person sick.

My birthday turned out to be more of a nightmare. Mom had rushed to meet the doctors at grannie’s hospital. John had shut himself off in his room with his Playstation in some online game party. I was left with dad who tried hard to cheer me up. But even my new Frozen doll set failed to interest me.

Finally, I heard mom’s car in the driveway and rushed to greet her. My mom smiled and said,

“I know you did not have a good birthday dear, but I got something special for you.” She said, shutting the car door.

“What? Mom?”

She brought out a letter.

“Grannie gave it to Uncle Jammy.” She said handing it to me.

 I took the letter and my eyes almost bulged out of its sockets.

“But mom, it says Mr. Corona.”

“I know.” She smiled.

“Maybe Mr. Corona gave it to grannie. I am just the messenger. You can read and tell me what he wrote.”

I could not contain my excitement and excused myself to go to my room to read the letter by myself. The letter was written on a hospital letterhead and seemed to be written in haste. But nevertheless, I started reading it.

Dear Bella,

This is Mr. Corona. Thank you for writing to me. I liked your pink paper and the pretty green color; I am happy you did not hate me because I look different. I apologize that your school is closed, and you have not seen your friends in a long time. I am sorry you are always stuck at home and now your grannie is sick on your birthday and you can’t visit her house like you do every year. I know the world is in chaos and, it’s especially hard for children like you. But I came here as a reminder to this world to slow down and set its priorities straight. Human greed one day will lead to its own destruction; and me and this pandemic are no different. Fortunately, kids like you will always have the power to change that. You are a good girl, Bella, and I know one day you will become a great woman. Just remember that you have all the tools within yourself to fight any evil. Selfishness landed us where we are now and if we keep on thinking just about ourselves, we will never win this battle. So, plant that tree and wear that mask but as an amazing lady once said, “do it in a way that makes others want to join you rather than fight you.” As you grow old, you will come across all types of people, some like you and some very different. Don’t be afraid. Remember that we are more similar than we realize, there is more that unites us than what divides us. If you disagree with someone, try to express your views with respect. Be humble, be respectful but don’t be afraid to use your voice if you see something wrong. Unfortunately, Bella I can’t tell you when I will be gone from this world, all I know is I will go when people stop being selfish and start working together. Till then, you must be patient and take care of your parents and brother.

Sadly yours,

Mr. Corona

P.S. I met your grandmother in the hospital. I think she will be ok but if not, she wanted me to tell you that you are the bravest girl she knows and nothing in her life has made her happier than to be your grannie. She loves you dearly Bella!

At that moment I heard a knock on the door and my mom peeped in.

“Oh, sweet girl, are you ok?”

I had not realized when my eyes teared up, but I felt that my face was wet now. My mom put me on her lap and kissed my forehead, and we stayed like that for a while. “How do you feel dear?”

Wiping my tears, I could only come up with one word “Hopeful.” Then I added, “Mom, I think we are going to be ok.”

At that, my mom hugged me even tighter and said, “I needed to hear that today baby girl; you have no idea how badly I needed to hear that today.”


Dr. Neelam Epstein Mukherjee works in cancer research but her parents and wife, Camela, inspire her to continue writing. “Dear Mr. Corona” focuses on the pandemic from a child’s perspective.