Day 23

Day 23 – Written 11 April, 2020

I’m in my dressing gown on the jetty this morning and there’s such a weight in what Gg called the over-engineered live bait trap,so heavy because of all its brackets and hinges that I can barely pull it up- but what can be in it? a school of mud crabs?- a 3 metre eel? a small shark?- pull, pull and pull and then it hoves out of the water – and something’s in there, something’s darting back and forth, oddly not flashing silver but black– what fish is black?- it’s furry black, wet furry black. Then I see. A rat. I scream like always at the very sight of rats, drop the trap back, run up the jetty as if it’s jumped out of the river and is following me. The 40 steps slow me down, so I get to the front door of the big house and in a dignified way, for I mustn’t make K anxious, and as if it’s utterly expected, I say:
“We’ve caught a rat.”
GG drops the coffee pot which crashes onto the sink and spills his coffee. K jumps up, a whole fried egg on a fork.
“It’ll wait till after breakfast,” I say, trying for a yawn.

On the jetty half an hour later, GG begins to haul up the trap and calls to me, who’s fallen behind and is only half-way down the steps, to go back for gardening gloves, which I’m very happy to do, I’d hang back for anything, and while there, I think to grab an implement, and can only come up with a broom, in case one of us needs to brush the rat off the other. A thought too horrible almost to write down. My phone’s in my pocket, so here’s the video:





It’s a triumph of live bait trap design. it had just the right amount of engineering.

After that, it’s scarcely worth relating that B and F have arrived- they live upriver in an old house and also here, in a grand house with magnificent stonework, and even their jetty is grand. I hardly know them but I want to reach out, so I email:

Just wishing you as comfortable and peaceful an Easter as possible at this terrible time. Please give us a hoy if you run out of anything, or need anything, or if you’d like jetty to jetty drinks one evening.
If it’s any help, we’re picking up an online shopping delivery from Woolies on Tuesday night from a Brooklyn address and could pick up one for you as well.

I’m crossing my fingers about that delivery. I count the number of meals for all of us I can cobble up and there’s five, with vegetables only as a few leaves you could hide under a spoon, and only if GG and I leaven them to K, and eat warrigal greens instead.

Our other worry continues to be winter. We didn’t worry about it because in previous years, we just went to the city when it got too cold here. The front of the house is entirely glass, and a glass wall is pretty but it loses the heat. Now that we’re to be here all winter, we need block out curtains.
I looked up Ikea’s catalogue, and found block out curtains. But another snag – their block out curtains can’t be purchased online, or even delivered. It was early in the morning so I got a real-life person on their customer helpline. I asked if, given the lockdown, they’d relax their rules about customers having to go into the store.
“But imagine,” I said, imagining it myself as I spoke, “ the face of the policeman who stops me and demands my official purpose for leaving home, and all I can offer is that I need new curtains.”
Later I tell GG.
He loves punning. Puns set my teeth on edge, but I love him so I have to tolerate them. Perhaps that’s what love is, warmth and bits of fun and lots of tolerating. I can tell when a pun is coming. He takes a deep breath, savouring the words. He knows he must pause and not spoil the effect. His face muscles move.
“He’d say it was curtains for you.”

Now I ask the real-life person if Ikea will change its policy soon.

He doesn’t know. Of course he doesn’t know, management in Germany are hardly likely to discuss new policies with a surly customer care person. And it’s been less than a week since the NSW government suddenly brought in its lockdown, with 2 days’ notice, the lockdown that made F and S rush away . “Agile” is the word companies like to use. Ikea will have to be agile. But agile takes a while. As I know.

Why am I worrying about surviving and winter, when this virus is killing people all over the world? In New York alone, there are 2000 people dying every day. I ring my friend Shelley, a playwright in New York, to see if she and her husband are safe. I apologise for my tiny worries. Sometime in the night, Shelley sends me an email:

Dear Sue,

So here we are in the time of pandemic. 

I love hearing about you and your family escaping the city for the country. Following you step by step is a privilege and an adventure! These are traumatic times, in the most acute, survival based sense of the word; and while you have been in flight, Alejandro and I have  been in freeze mode here in our New York apartment. Our world has become very small and insular as we can’t physically be in touch with our friends or family or perform most of our daily activities. Could I ever imagine that stepping outside of my home would be fraught with fear of getting or perhaps unknowingly transmitting an invisible and deadly foe? This is however where all of us in the world are now.
My happiest time each day is at 6.30AM  when we go to Central Park, just a ten minute walk away from our westside apartment. 
This is the part of day I call ‘before’—before the morning shift at the hospital throngs our street to get to work in time; before the runners and bikers take to racing against anxiety and boredom; before the delivery trucks descend to bring us food; before Governor Cuomo comes on with the daily count of new COVID hospitalizations and deaths and his wise admonitions for us to keep physically distancing; before I have time to fall into longing for the normalcy of the recent past or hunger to get on with our future. 
‘Before’ is the time of now, only now and step by step now. Photo by Alejandro Fogel
Now we put on our shoes, our masks, our protective glasses, our gloves in that order. Now is how we hit the elevator button with our knuckles instead of our finger tips. Now is the way we look to see if anyone is in the elevator before get in, or wait for however long it takes for an empty one to arrive; and now is the step step step to the Park, presently in its spring glory. 
The Park is the only place in which I forget there even is something called COVID-19. I am focused on seeing which new flower beds have blossomed and wonder how that lone purple tulip infiltrated a profusion of yellow ones. 
Now is the time to say farewell to the last petals of my favorite trees, those magnificent magnolias whose life span is glorious and so brief. 
Today I see that nearly everyone in the park, unlike the early days of our ‘New York Pause’ (our state’s somewhat facetious term for mandatory staying inside except for essential travel or brief exercise), now wears a mask so we can protect each other from the virus. It is very comforting  to see this but also unbearable not to see people’s expressions, which are the most important things we humans read everyday. These masked entities are unreadable to me. Therefore,  of the sentient world,  it is the boisterous dogs in the park that give my emotions a lift. I watch their joy chasing and rolling and jumping and looking lovingly into their people’s eyes. 
It is hard to breathe with our masks on. Alejandro can’t see much as it steams up his glasses and for me, the closeness of the mask and the extra carbon dioxide it brings to my breath make it hard to breathe peacefully. I am so tempted to pull it off and feel the fresh air in my lungs, but that is risky and so I keep it on. The mask makes it feel like the whole of me has not really been outside at all.
By 7:00 we know we should head back and beat the health workers going to the hospital. In their rush, they often bump into pedestrians and we need to avoid that as much as they need to be on time for their shift. It is often said that they are the heroes of this war and I could not agree more.
As we snake through them to get to our apartment, I see 7 or 8 black examination gloves in a scatter pattern on street. They make an arresting configuration of blackness against the gray concrete. Discarded gloves from the last shift? Messages from the future that if we knew the code we could read? To me, they look like the shadows of birds fallen from the sky.
And then we are back in our apartment for another day. Time is no longer what it was. Days drift into each other with little clarity of separation. I can’t concentrate on reading or writing much. I watch a lot of TV mini series, currently ‘Velvet’  from Spain, a fantastic mix of commedia dell’arte and melodrama with wonderfully charismatic actors. I welcome this new sense of time in this new world—it is forgiving of the sloth and scatteredness  that has overtaken me and somehow makes the past 34 days of what I think is best called quarantine seem not so unbearably long. Perhaps I could call this time Limbo, that waiting place between before and after where souls wait to know their fate. So I float in this waiting instead of trying to swim past it, which is impossible in the time of pandemic.




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