I see in THE INQUIRER that Yosemite’s animals are behaving differently since the park closures. They’re coming out of hiding and going ahhh! in the afternoon sun. Ambling is the word the reporter, Susanne Rust, used to describe a bobcat. We have bobcats here, but I’ve never seen one ambling or otherwise. I don’t think visitors to Yosemite see them much, either, and when they do, I bet they aren’t ambling. But ambling may be what more animals are doing across the globe. Moving with confidence now that we humans won’t be bothering them, won’t be driving, won’t be filling the air with muck. Bears have quadrupled, at least the sightings of them have, since Yosemite closed. Ravens dance in empty parking lots while coyotes travel unbothered on paved roads. It’s the life!

 In my yard, foxes are the proof. Foxes and hawks. These are creatures we sometimes see. Well—hawks we always see them, high in the sky or in tree branches. That’s common, but they don’t come to the ground. Not here. Lately, though, we have seen them swoop low over the patio. There is no mistaking them for pigeons or blue jays. These are serious critters on a mission, and I would not argue with one.

To see them outside the window—what a wingspan! They’re so fast, I don’t see the catch, if there is a catch, that’s how fast they are. I will say, though, that whatever animals they don’t grab sure get the message. Afterwards, neither hide nor hair of any creature anywhere appears near that patio. And quiet. You could hear a rainbow.

Then they slink back, continue with the bird feeders and squirrel play. What me worry?

 Until a fox runs through.

We see them around here. Sure. They live here. So do we, but to see one is kind of an event. Hey! Did you see the fox? So pretty with their red coats. We see foxes every day now, and not just on the perimeters of our yard, or a red streak as it heads for parts unknown. Did you see it? Did you see it? Too late. They’re on the patio, too, and like the hawks, send the squirrels and birds and chipmunks into hiding. Between the hawks and the foxes, the regulars are getting a ramped-up education. But they don’t stay away. Someone must blow the all-clear, and they come back.

Sometimes the foxes stick around, stand where they can survey the area, just showing their colors, maybe. Once, two of them met on our front walk right on the other side of our window. They met and seemed to have a conversation, a little kissing, some reconnoitering.  We decided we were looking at mother and child. Ma’s been through some tough times with that tail missing chunks here and there. But, boy, do the two of them look healthy otherwise. Two? We probably see more than two individuals. There are never only two foxes.  Except for that tail, though, who’s to know who?

And then there was the day John and I were walking through the neighborhood. Reduced traffic like everywhere else. Less car exhaust and more beauty. The trees are just gorgeous this year! And the aromas!

The snakes think so, too, and we saw the evidence when right there on the sidewalk were two garter snakes basking in the sun. I have never seen two snakes lying on the pavement side by side like that. They didn’t even move as we walked past. Ambled past. The world was too lovely for them to care about us. We were benign. At least we weren’t driving a car. Maybe that’s what they thought. If we’d gotten any closer, maybe they’d have zipped off. But those snakes—each must have been at least eighteen inches long—just lying there like a couple of pals. Or lovers. Life was good, and they were going ahhh!

Before now, sometimes I’d see snakes. Not often, and they were always going somewhere in a hurry. They don’t stick around to pose. Neither to foxes. Neither do hawks. Used to be.

But everything is on hold now. The animals are coming out. The magnolias keep their blossoms for weeks instead of hours. It’s hard not to love all of this. This part.

So when I go out, I go ahhh! too. Bask in the afternoon sun. I’m not afraid of the foxes or the hawks or the snakes. When the bears show up, maybe I won’t be afraid then, either.

By authorsusanshaw


So yesterday, I had a thought that shows something, I’m not sure what.

I’m in the process of getting my teeth straightened with a product called Invisalign, and my dentist instructed me right from the start that I needed to wear the plastic device at least twenty-two hours a day.

 Well, that’s a lot of hours in the day for wearing anything, but I’ve been pretty good. I take both parts out right before eating, put them in again right after eating, and don’t take a lot of time over meals. The clock ticks and every five minute segment in the au natural state nips at me. Don’t waste time!

This has been going on for a number of weeks, and I’m sure getting tired of it. Snack? Take ’em out. Hot chocolate? Take ’em out. And I’m someone who grazes, eats every two or three hours, just like a baby. I used to, anyway, and sometimes, I’m just hungry. Well . . . Take ’em out, put ’em in. Don’t dawdle.

But yesterday, I got to thinking. Wait. Twenty-two hours isn’t so bad. Not with a twenty-five hour day. Can’t I do math? Twenty-five minus twenty-two is definitely three. It was true when I was four years old, and it is still true. Math doesn’t change with the times, at least not at the level I reached, which, admittedly, was not the highest. However, most of the time, I can add and subtract and keep track of my bank account. I’m not trying to be an architect or engineer, but you never know. These things can come up later, and then I will regret daydreaming in Algebra One.

But I don’t care who you are, twenty-five-minus twenty-two is always three.

 I’m trying to distract you from your main argument. I know what it is. Now. Yesterday, I was in this bubble. Of some kind. Lalaland.

So I thought, as John and I were approaching dinnertime yesterday, that a little appetizer might be nice. A little relaxing time with music playing before we actually had dinner. What would be wrong with that in the middle of living on the moon? I had one more hour of Invisilign-free time than I’d been operating on. Ahhh!

We sat down on the loveseat, my beloved and I, and commenced our no-pressure, private, Invisilign-free feast. I began to tell John of my mistake, that I had three hours instead of two, three hours of freedom that could be used for any ladeda adventure. I could last until after dinner. Wasn’t that great?

But as soon as I opened my mouth, after the guess what?—the bubble burst. The imp who lives on my shoulder laughed right out loud.

What? Twenty-five hours in the day? You get three hours of freedom? On what planet do you live?

So I’m losing my mind. I’m going to be committed.

On the other hand, maybe a twenty-five hour day is what we need. Either that or a slower beat, a slower clock. And thou beside me in the wilderness.

As I said, I’m not sure what all this shows about me, but I’m opting for the twenty-five hour day.  Try it. Who’s to know when you live on the moon?

By authorsusanshaw


 There’s an old Peanuts cartoon in which Charlie Brown is playing in the sandbox with other children. Fine. Snoopy is portraying a World War I flying ace. Fine. All normal. Everything is as it should be.

 But . . .

“Curse you, Red Baron!” shouts the dog in his cartoon panel, and he flies over Charlie Brown in the next one, knocking him completely over.

Charlie Brown says from the middle of his daze, “I never know what’s going on.”

Me, too. My whole life seems to be reacting to something coming in from left field. True, it’s never been the Red Baron or Snoopy, but it’s only a matter of time.

What do you do if you are Charlie Brown the way I so often am? Well, first you have to realize that Charlie Brown is a loveable character. So are you, whichever version of humanity you take on, and so am I.

In my loveable, flute-player persona, who is only a little younger than my writer identity, I’m getting out that flute and working on hard music, finding different approaches to things like Rodrigo’s Concierto Pastoral. The score appears to represent the randomness of paint being flung on manuscript paper, but, no, there is logic. Knowing the logic makes the notes more playable, and these days, finding that logic is a good use of brain power. All-encompassing. Nothing outside those notes exists during that time. A form of meditation, you might say. Also, I like playing the flute and conquering musical dares.  I’ve never played the Rodrigo so well.

After talking with a fellow flute-player, whose husband, I noticed, took their cat for a walk the last time we played flute duets, we decided we should figure out how to play duets across the airways. Our systems are not exactly compatible, but we’ve figured out that if I can install a WhatsApp on my iPad, we might be in business.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure that out yesterday. No go so far. As always, with computer stuff, I reached a point of no return. So I left that monster and returned to my novel in progress, attempting not to growl too loud or too long. That might upset my fictional girl.

And she bites.


Afterwards, I attempted to procure certain flute duets online with the idea that I will at some point slay the WhatsApp dragon and play these pieces with my friend. Same thing. Grr! Everybody else knows how to do these things, but it makes me feel like I’m back in junior high after a missed week of classes. Or daydreaming. Algebra? Oh, well. I did not distinguish myself in that classroom, not with that window to stare through. All that freedom outside.


Not a great student.

Me, though, who always scored so high in the California Achievement Tests. Remember them? Do they even have them anymore? I used to score so high, way up in the clouds, which is where I figured everybody scored, but which no doubt dumbfounded my teachers who must have thought my intelligence was at least somewhat marginal. At least I could dress myself.

Dreamers can have that affect.

But I read. I read everything that wasn’t nailed down, and some things that were. Somehow, I picked up whatever the California folks thought was important. Not that it gave me straight A’s. And I played the flute. And the piano. And dodgeball. Got through junior high. Even college. Had kids. Man! Think of that!

I still dreamed, though. Once a dreamer, always a dreamer, I guess. Probably, some dreamers can figure out the installation of WhatsApp and the procurement of online sheet music.

John helped me with the sheet music. Now I have some Telemann duets—for some reason we printed out the same ones in two different formats. Anybody need some Telemann flute duets?  I told one of our sons about my issue with the app.

“Can you help me with that?” I asked.

He’s an engineer and knows everything.

“That’s easy,” he said, so I’m questioning where he got those genes.

It’s easy? Good. I’m glad. We’ll get to it sometime.

The app is still not installed, and my friend and I have not yet played our flute duets. The cats and husbands in both houses are safe for now. But I think that’s only temporary.

By authorsusanshaw


 I’ve been reflecting on so many things lately. How things used to be, how things should be, what I’d like things to be. All out the window. Nothing is the same, so much no longer matters. It’s all about being healthy and safe and strong. Crossing the street to be away from another person. Waving at that person. What used to be rude is no longer rude. Stay away!

Yesterday, on our walk around the neighborhood, John and I were almost home, almost to our street and talking, wondering where a certain property line was, a line where a homeowner, perhaps the husband of the girl who used to know our daughter, was working on something next to his house. Why not? The shut-down has a lot of people working on put-off tasks.

Speculating, wondering, not that it mattered much. Chatter as we marched along towards the steps that would take us to our street. Companionable.

Wet, wooden steps—we’ve had a lot of rain lately, and even on our walk, the sky had been spitting at us. So? What’s a little rain? We had to get out of the house, walk, feel the optimism of fresh air and bird calls. Inhale the scent of new leaves and flowers.

Chatter, chatter—

John fell.

I saw him tip over, and I knew he could do nothing but fall. There was nothing to grab, and he was going, going. He was too far ahead for me to catch, but he’s bigger than I am. I couldn’t have helped. Maybe I would have made it worse. He went down on those wooden steps, me shouting, John! John! And he’s down, scrunched between the steps and a utility pole, his hat and phone partway down the bank to the street. I’m kneeling next to him. John!

And then there’s this man. The homeowner from across the street.

“Are you all right?”

Can John get up? He has a trick knee. He’s not sure. I’m behind him. I can’t do anything except push. What would that do?

I ask the man if he can help. He’s there. Strong-looking. He’s there, but he hesitates.

Then he reaches forward, his maroon sleeve pulled over his hand, and we remember. The virus. How could we forget?

“No, no,” John and I are both saying. “We don’t want to make you sick.”

“I’m more worried about you than me,” he says.

And John figures out how to backtrack onto a step, how to get up. I retrieve his hat and phone which I drop again before he picks it up, himself. Takes his hat.

We thank the man. It occurs to me to ask if he is the husband of the girl we used to know, but I can’t think about extending this moment. Later!

John makes it the rest of the way to the street, I skirt the steps to the same level, and we again thank the Good Samaritan before heading on up the street.

“What happened?” I ask.

“I slipped. I put one foot down on the top step, and I slipped.”

“We aren’t using those steps again,” I proclaim. “I never liked them.”

We go up the hill. I’m crying. He’s passive.

He could have hit his head on that pole, broken his leg, his arm, his neck. He’s fine.

“How come,” I ask, “you’re the one who fell, and I’m the one crying?”

“I’m wondering that, myself.”

But we’re okay. Shaken but okay.

The man across the street—we gave him a good scare. He’ll know us when he sees again, that’s for sure. Maybe we’ll ask him if he’s the husband or that former acquaintance.

So—reflections on this and on that. The past and the future don’t change the now, the new, the just-experienced. I can reflect all I want, but when I see my husband go down like that and a stranger come forward, being there, just being there, that’s what matters.

I thank the hero in the maroon shirt.

By authorsusanshaw



This morning, the plan was to go to Wegman’s, buy a few things we needed and also to shop for the community cupboard where supplies were dwindling. It was the first time I’d been food-shopping since what’s basically a lock-down on the whole area, and I couldn’t wait to get out of that store once I walked in.

In normal times—do we remember normal times? And what was that?—I wouldn’t have thought anything of the crowd. In a normal time, on a damp Saturday morning, this place of business would not have felt crowded or strange or scary. I would have been in and out, indiscriminately putting my hands anywhere—do I like these grapes or those? Let me get the yogurt carton behind this one.

But today, too many people! Everyone else, entering and leaving, used the hand sanitizers at the front of the store, but I kept my winter gloves on the whole time while undercurrents of the threat growled at me.

Everyone was trying, you could see that, to keep the safe distances, but that virus, I couldn’t get away from its ugly threat. No matter where we went, someone had just been there, and I felt the fullness of tiny, invisible murderers in the air. How do you dodge invisible murderers?

“We should have groceries delivered from now on,” I said. “I don’t want to do this again.”

We persevered, got the groceries—milk and yogurt and grapes and cat litter and cat food for us. Then, for total strangers, or maybe not so total—how do you know?—rice and peanut butter (limit two) and pasta and and and for whoever needed what we chose. Granola bars, cans of pork and beans (limit two), crackers. We waited behind the red line, then the yellow line, before reaching the noble cashier.

I kept my winter gloves on the whole time and considered burning them when we got home. And my coat. And shoes. Over-reacting? But that grim bug out there, and me with no useful flyswatter. I hated this place.

We left, loaded our donations in boxes ready for them in the trunk of the car, pulled through the lot in time to see someone’s eight-pack of toilet paper just lying on the wet pavement. I opened my window.

“Sir! Sir! Your toilet paper!”

I don’t know. Could have been paper towels.

And the man, who’d been going blithely on his way, not registering my shout until he realized his cart was missing this particular piece of gold, turned around, gave us a sheepish look, and returned to his treasure.

Time was getting short. The food for the community pantry was being collected curbside for a mere hour, and only fifteen minutes of that time remained. We arrived at the site, saw a man standing beside a pick-up truck parked on the grass. He lit up when he saw us.

“Thank you so much!” he said.

We popped the trunk, and he took our donation.

“Seen much action this morning?” John asked.

“You’re only my second,” he answered. “I think it’s the rain,” and I thought, hunger doesn’t go away in the rain.

Wouldn’t that be great if it did?

“Thank you so much,” he said again. “Thank you so much.”

You could hear the gratitude in his heart, see it on his face.

We drove away.

“We did our good deed for the day,” said John.

We did. Our little drop in the bucket. I wish we had at least quadrupled it. Next time.

But next time, also, we may order the whole thing delivered before we make our donation.

Thank you so much!

By authorsusanshaw



This email exchange started the day:

Indie Bro:

Social Distancing: Coronavirus memory #1.

“Ponce, get out of the garden!”

Ottawa Sis:

I could hear it!


I remember that!

O. Sis:

We would all laughhhh!

This exchange went on for hours. Here and there. Back and forth.

  O. Sis:



  Allee alee in free!

  Indie Bro:

  I do that ten times!

  PA Bro, apparently just tuning in:

  Three step mickey!



  Indie Bro:

  Heavens to Murgatroyd!


  Dollars to doughnuts!

  PA Bro:

  Red light, green light!

  Indie Bro:

  Miss Nabors.

Five of us siblings from all over the place shooting little, pointed darts at each other, making each other laugh across the miles. What a lift to the day!

This stuff doesn’t make sense to you? Who is Ponce? Who is talking? Who is Miss Nabors?

Well, I’ll tell ya. Ponce was the neighbors’ dog. And Mr. P.—that’s who was shouting, not talking. How many times did we hear that? We couldn’t see the drama. This family lived on the other side of a tall hedge, but the hedge wasn’t soundproof. And apparently, Ponce was a slow learner. Or he liked the garden. Or the yelling. But we five would be on the other side of the green divide, doing normal, everyday, low-key kinds of things like playing catch or falling out of trees or climbing down the side of the house, and suddenly: Ponce! Get out of the garden! Pause. Stare. Laugh.

Miss Nabors? You don’t want to know. But her name evokes—hm! It evokes.

And we played Three Step Mickey. We played Relievo. We played Red Light, Green Light. Hours of those games with kids in the whole neighborhood. George and Shawn and Buddy and Tom and whoever else showed up. Didn’t you do that, too? Baseball in the yard, and the tree was first base. Hit the boxwood, and you’re out. We hit the boxwood. We were out. Did you have a rule like that?

But this exchange, from which we are so far missing our oldest sib, PA sis—where is she?— probably climbing a mountain, chopping wood, or feeding the hungry, but she’ll join in—is only good within the five of us. You hadda be there.

Mom’s in here, too, Mom, who didn’t know about it at all until I read the so-far exchange over the phone to her. Now she knows, and laughs, too, and maybe keeps checking. The five of us and her, we make this circle, we make this group hug across the miles. Exclusive and inclusive. How can we not love each other in the ways that only we can? Precious and exquisite and oh, my gosh!

Gentle humor, sly humor, secret humor—I haven’t included it all. You can’t get the meanings or the people. What does, Hi, I’m Andy M. mean to you? But do you have an Andy M. or a secret passcode or a phrase that’s all about your important duo, or, as in our case, quintet?

Without the lockdowns, without the virus, we wouldn’t have had this exchange. We’d still love each other, sure, but we wouldn’t have had this exchange, and this exchange is dear.  

Do this. Send out a telling phrase to those people who just get you the way no others can. Answer the reply with another silly thought. Silly, dynamic. Lift every one up. Time is precious, these people are precious. Retighten those ties that bind and have that group hug, that group laugh. Your exchange will be a keeper. It will lighten your day, your week, your life.

Do it!

Allee allee in free!

By authorsusanshaw

The Corona Papers


FaceTiming with Janet and Morgan starts another day. Morgan again offers us ice cream from her plastic parlor. No better kind across the miles. A pair of panda pajamas, including an eared hood, on the little girl. Big girl and little girl grin at us through the miles. We laugh.

Then there’s a fox.

That’s here. We’ve been seeing foxes lately, running across our patio and up the hill toward the plateau. Chasing away squirrels and birds who gather under our birdfeeders. I’m sure the fox doesn’t want to actually chase them. They should stand still for his pleasure, but they have other ideas. And they are fast.

So far, we haven’t seen any breakfasts get caught, but this morning, the fox hangs around long enough for us to show Janet and Morgan.

“See, Morgan, see? He’s by that tree. Turning his head.”

Looking around and looking around.  Beautiful creature with thick, orange fur. You almost want to pet him, but, after all, he is a fox. With teeth.

He poses for us for a few minutes, then treks back through the forsythia until we can’t see him. Healthy-looking guy. Glad our cat stays indoors. He would, now, regardless.

But the fox leaves, we finish talking to the big girl and the little girl so they can have breakfast. We move on to perusing the newspaper, at least as much as we can bear, check email.

“Your old boyfriend has a birthday today,” John tells me. FaceBook.

I never knew about that birthday. Didn’t know the guy long enough, but I find myself thinking of him, guessing his age, and wondering about the intervening years. Is he all right? At least he’s got a birthday.

“Walk?” I ask. “It’s going to rain later.”

First, give the cat his shot—he’s diabetic—and then depart to walk through the neighborhood.

Descending from our driveway, we encounter one of the plateau’s inhabitants with her children. Stroller, scooter, and the third child just joyfully running. All of them look joyful, in fact. Well, maybe the mom looks tired. The baby looks pensive. A lot to take in.

John and I take the opposite side of the street—germs!—but say hello. It’s no joke pushing that stroller up the hill, but that’s where they live.

“Happy children,” I comment.

“That’s why we’re outside,” says the mom—push-push! “They’re not happy inside.”

While she’s firming up her biceps and lung capacity. And will need a cup of tea when she gets up there. Later, they’ll have to go outside again to be happy, but that’s later.

They go up, we go down, round the corner and stop at the school parking lot where the informational sign tells us of an upcoming talent show. Or would be upcoming, that was the intention, except the date passed after the building was shut down, and nobody changed the sign. Who would do that? All that talent and no show! Later, gator!

Three cars grace the lot. No people, but they are probably already in the adjacent nature center.

“Not as many as in the last few days,” I comment.

“It’s earlier,” says John. “Plus it’s not so nice out.”


Not that the weather kept us inside, or that family we passed, either, although we’re getting the walk in while we can. It’s supposed to rain a lot in the next few days, and it just seems a good idea to be out in the fresh air at least a little bit every day no matter what’s coming out of the sky. At least it’s not Dr. Seuss’s Oobleck, that green gunk.

I may go out in the rain, anyway, later in the week. We have umbrellas, and probably, we both could survive a drenching if we are too proud to carry them. We’ll see how we feel then.

John waits for my up-down-up-down on the concrete steps. I feel a little bad, making him wait in the cool air. Even he is wearing a winter hat today, so it isn’t just me feeling the cold, and standing still in it probably isn’t so great for him. Gloves and hats for both of us. But up-down-up-down. Gotta do my steps even if he can’t do his after a wrecked quadriceps tendon slowed him down years ago.


Done that.

We walk on and pass over the culvert by the nature center. Fresh mud tells us that it rained hard enough in the last day for the creek to rise over the banks. Sometimes, the road floods, too, and barricades are erected against this. Sometimes, people just drive through the water. Sometimes, sometimes.

Sometimes, it’s so muddy on this overpass that I take my life in my hands and walk on the road instead. Time the interval between spurts of cars. Jog or walk fast for those few feet and then get right back onto that sidewalk. Phew!

So much traffic. It never ceases.


Lately, you can look in either direction and not see a single car. Still good to be careful, I guess. You could forget. Cars? What are cars?

But we don’t walk in the street this morning. Could have. Could have done handsprings and played hopscotch or just pretended to swim breaststroke over the blacktop. So quiet out here.

Then we cross to the other side, still looking both ways because that’s the habit, and cars do come. The habit hasn’t been rendered foolish. A car here, a car there. Where’s anyone going?

And back around Obsession Gulch. Not that I see obsessed people or yards that make me think that’s really who lives here. We go on.

“We haven’t seen the goose lawn ornaments for a while.”

“I don’t remember if they were here or not the last time.”

Big creatures. And they weren’t always in the same places. Somebody had fun changing things up. We had fun observing the movement. Close your eyes, and the geese run until you open them—freeze!

“You’d notice.”

When we get to that yard, the geese aren’t there. Of course, we don’t know if the same people are even living here. All we ever knew about them were their geese. No geese.

Going on and on.

“Look at the daffodils.”

“Look at the flowering bush.”

We pass houses where people we used to know lived. Do they still?

Birds sing, squirrels run as if there is nothing different in the world. Normalcy among the wildlife. Or is it? Do the birds wonder why so many people wander through their terrain lately?

We talk. We muse.

“That money we might be getting from the senate bill,” I say, “we should help someone with it. If we get it. If they pass that.”

And we talk about the waitresses we know at a local place. But how will we find them? Maybe there’s a way.

First, let’s see if there is that money. We could help, anyway, of course . . .

“You know,” I say, gesturing to the sky, “the worst part isn’t the lock-down or that we can’t see our kids or Mom or anybody. That’s bad. And it’s bad that we don’t know how long this is going to be. But the worst part is the threat. I feel like someone’s thrown a huge, gigantic snowball right at us. And the aim is good.”


What can we do?

Focusing on the hour we’re in, the half-day. Working at my desk, reading, practicing music, calling people. John finds things to do in the yard or with his music, practicing or timing scores, cooking—yay! A man who cooks! And he calls friends and family, too.

There’s plenty to do, and we’re not bored. And sometimes, I don’t remember, am not thinking about that snowball.

Not as many people out as the last few days, but there are a couple of joggers, a dog-walker. Us. The lady in the mail truck. All say hello. Wave.

As we make the last leg, we see an old friend of our daughter’s. We don’t know her any more, but we know who she is, coming back, maybe from her jog. We don’t know her, and we aren’t near enough to say hello, but I’m glad we can see her moving around, looking healthy. Next time, maybe we’ll get close enough to shout, to wave. How are things? Fine, just fine.

Up the hill we go, wishing for things and wishing for things.

At least there was that fox.

By authorsusanshaw



                So today, first thing in the morning, John and I were FaceTiming with Janet, and John told her we weren’t allowed to leave our homes. News to me. So starting today, we will be in trouble if we leave our cozy abode to do anything beyond food-shopping, drug-buying, or doctor-visiting. Our Pennsylvania county is one of those our governor has deemed particularly poor in the coronavirus situation. It’s for our own good.  

                “No walks?” I asked. “Nothing past the mailbox? Will we be fined if we go down the street?”

                Plus I’d been planning to use the outdoor steps at Roberts School just to use steps—those from ranch houses have to find steps where they may—but I guessed those plans were in the same cocked hat as everything else. Why should I get to use steps?

                Well, walks are okay with the governor, it turns out. Something called outdoor activity is fine. Not sure exactly why, but there are a lot of dogs that need walking. Not that we have a dog. But maybe that’s why. Otherwise, maybe we’d all have ropes twined around our houses and stare out like abandoned pets from our baleful windows. So there is freedom here. We can still at least walk. Don’t get in the car, though! You’ll get eaten!

                There’s no going to Justin’s, though to get that box full of music stuff that belonged to Marion before she died. I will call him later and say, hold that box for me. I’m coming, just not today. Always eager to see someone else’s flute music and paraphernalia. Like reading someone else’s diary. See what’s out there I have overlooked. Did she have the Bozza? How did she mark the Mozart? Did she have a decent stand or metronome? What he gives me will make me think of him and her. Just her wide smile!

                Not going there today. Not tomorrow. At least two weeks. Three? Do I hear four?

                Because, who knows, I could grab that box from his front porch—already the plan in these coronavirus times—get it home, and some microbe from his house could live long enough to get me. Or I could leave some trace on his porch that will get him when he wants to get his mail. And then we could pass them on to—you know. Like a long line of crocheted stitches.

                So that’s on hold. It’s a niggling little thing and why should I mind about that when also on hold is seeing my mother in New Jersey or Janet or her brothers. Well, they’re all we got, and we still want them. Always what is precious is being in the same room with one of them, getting hugs. Virtual hugs are better than nothing, and little Morgan, during FaceTime this morning, served us ice cream from her little plastic ice cream parlor. Yum yum! we said, all enthusiastic, and pretended to eat. But really? This is how life is now.

                It just is.

                Hey. If Anne Frank’s family could live in the Secret Annex for all that time, we can do this. This is nothing.

                Under the new confinement, we went about our business, me doing yoga and John reorganizing that corner beyond the china cabinet. Cleaning bathroom floors and doing laundry, both of us.

Lunch and a call from niece Heather to tell us that she would be taking care of whatever Mom needs—she’d just taken her some rye bread and had been in the house with her, so Mom actually saw someone in person. Smiles exchanged. Yeah, Heather!

                Because I can’t go to New Jersey now, and that just stinks. Mom’s okay, but yeah. Suck it up, girl!

                After lunch, John went outside to talk with our neighbor who was working in his yard. The two men talked at a safe distance. They’re doing all right, we’re doing all right. The wife just had a birthday, and today they’re working in the yard. Getting rid of the scraggly hedge between our two properties.  So okay. I guess they like us all right. They’ll see us more clearly, at any rate. No secrets here!

                John and I took that walk. I ran up and down those outside stairs at the school. So I got to do that. We took note of all the cars in the parking lot, enabling all kind of folks to hike in the nature center on the other side. Wait. Those people drove there. Isn’t that one of the new taboos? Well, maybe they hadn’t heard yet. Or maybe they thought, they can’t mean this.

John and I went on, me with my stair-exercised legs, and took the route of Obsession Gulch, named years ago by Justin for the fanaticism of the neighborhood for their weed-free lawns. That’s why those people live there, and we live here. As John has said to lawnsprayers who have approached us, “We like our moss.” And leaves. And huge trees. As long as they don’t fall down on us. When trees fall, or even just branches, I can want to trade it all for concrete in a New York minute.

                John and I walked and talked—a beautiful afternoon—said hello to people we’d never seen before. Joggers, walkers, people just out. Half-way through our walk, the reality of it all, as it will do here and there, hit me, and one of the biggies surfaced.

                “I can’t protect them,” I said. “I can’t get in the way of harm.”

                “They’re grown-ups,” John said.

                “I know. But it’s part of me. I always protected them. They stayed in the yard until they were eighteen. They never rode a bike past the green mailbox so I could always see them. I can’t do anything now.”

                “They’re fine,” he says. “They’re fine. Because you protected them.”

                “And you.”

                Yeah, yeah, yeah. Kids grow up, but maybe their parents don’t. How much I want to hold them!


                This isolation can get to you, knowing you can’t see people, can’t hug people, you already don’t see enough. But we’re doing the best we can.

                Back at home, I called Mom. I call her every day. My older sister calls her twice a day, and our other three siblings call when they can. Now, probably every day, too.

                “Dale, the plumber who has fixed my toilets,” she tells me, “called me this morning. He told me he was going out and did I need anything? Wine, I said. I’m running low,” because Mom is allowed one glass a day.

Cabernet, she prefers. One glass of wine with dinner. Not that she has to, she tells me. Water can be just as fine.

“Your plumber called to check on you and is getting you wine?”


“I love your town,” I say to her, not for the first time.

Then she shouted, “Come in!”

And it was Dale with her wine.

I love Dale.

By authorsusanshaw

Part 7

September 5, 2016, part B

A brief history of a ladder and a driveway

            That driveway. It didn’t used to be lumpy and gravelly. It was, and then it wasn’t, and then it was again. At first, it was gravelly and losing pieces of blacktop. In retrospect, I like it that way. Never fix anything!

Here’s what happens. It’s a lovely September day. We’ve been out running errands, nothing of huge importance, but just enjoying the time together. John, me, and all that good feeling. Wasn’t life grand!

We arrive home, and John says, “I’ll get the ladder and blow leaves off the roof before coming in.”


Perky me.

You know what’s coming. The dusk before the dawn. The pride before the fall. The innocence before the disaster. Maybe all at once.

It’s a flat roof, ten feet from the ground. John’s done this dozens of times. Sometime I stay to hold the ladder, sometimes I don’t. It’s never necessary. Mostly, I’m the cheering section. Nine parts that, one part the nervous lady who says, “You be careful.”

People don’t listen.

You say and you say, and people don’t listen.

Dad fell off a ladder once while trying to exterminate a nest of hornets high in a tree. But that was Dad. A long time before. Dad. My mom watched him fall, heard him say goodbye to her on the way down. She screamed. Bang!

            Broken wrist, broken leg, compressed fracture of the vertebrae. He had to get all his pants altered, but at least he survived. Two inches he lost in that instant.

I’m not much thinking of that. John and I have had such a good afternoon. There’s no reason that can’t continue. Whipped cream. That’s our life. Whipped cream and strawberries.

I go inside to check phone messages—nothing urgent, just the next reasonable thing to do after you’ve been out. And that’s what I’m doing when—


            The aluminum ladder.

John’s dropped it, that’s all. It’s okay. Just a ladder hitting the driveway before the set-up, and I can certainly continue listening to messages.

Except that was a loud clang!


            Is that John’s voice?

            I feel: run!

But I’ve so often been given the business when I’ve sprinted to a wrong sound, I don’t run. Cool it, Sue. There’s nothing wrong. Don’t run and look foolish. He just dropped the ladder before propping it against the house.

I exit the front door. I’m not on the run, but I do exit, and there’s John standing in a half-crouch beside the ladder which is flat on the ground. The leaf-blower is down, too. I run.

“I fell.”

Blood streams from the bridge of John’s nose. It’s where his glasses cut him, where the ladder hit him when it landed on him. I circle back into the house and grab the phone, punch in 9-1-1 as I u-turn and come out during the ring.

“You aren’t calling 9-1-1,” says John.

“I certainly am.”

The man can’t move. Can’t straighten up. I certainly am.

The lady on the other end says, “Can he sit down?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s okay if he can’t.”

“He can’t.”

And she tells me to get a cloth and dab his face. I bring out the cloth. John grabs it from me and wipes his face.

“No!” That’s me.

Because he’s so cut, there are pieces of scraped flesh sticking out, and he does that. I take away the cloth, and a policewoman arrives.

“What year is it?” she asks him.

Who cares?

“You ask the hard questions,” he says.

“John! Don’t make jokes.”

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

John—he fell off the ladder and hurt himself so badly. He got to his feet, sort of, somehow, but now he can’t move at all. Just stands in that half-crouch until the ambulance arrives.

The ambulance crew takes him away, and I push the ladder to the side so I can follow in the car. Afterwards, I pull the ladder to the curb. Take that!

            Almost laughable that later, our neighbor across the street asks if he can have it to build a scaffolding so he can do work on his house. Sure! Why shouldn’t everybody fall?

John loses almost two inches with a compressed fracture of the vertebrae. He can’t walk for a week, and misses several for work.

All because we’ve recently repaved the driveway. Smooth, now, and no longer rutted, so when John climbs the ladder and is just stepping off onto the roof with a leaf-blower in his hand, the ladder, which no longer meets any resistance, slips right out from under him.

The driveway needs repaving again.



By authorsusanshaw

Part 6

September 5, 2016

The walls of our family room tremble in fear of death rattles while the Phillies experience a similar thing on the screen across the room. We are home after a day’s round-trip to upstate New York for the first birthday party of Pete and Ariel’s son, and we are really shot.

The phone rings. It’s Joseph.

John picks up the phone and talks to him for a while. The question is asked: what are we doing tomorrow?

This is transmitted to me through John.

“We’re taking a walk,” I transmit back, “if we’re not dead.”

John repeats what I say, adding, “You can see she’s not at her most bubbly.”

Bubbly? I’m lucky I can talk.

So the four of them will come over in the morning. John and I can actually walk across the room by then. Before they arrive, John vacuums and I do laundry and we do a few things so babies won’t find too much dirt or cat hair to eat.

“Just an hour and a half,” says John to persuade. “Maybe two hours.”

“Okay. Sure. We’ll be dead, but okay.”

And they come. Brendan gives us hugs and Gary gives us hugs, and so do their parents. Gary takes a nap and we all have lunch except Gary who’s sleeping, and Brendan plays with toy cars and Legos and tries not to use the bathroom which makes the grown-ups nervous. Too bad we’re made to pee. Too bad we can’t just program those functions like a computer. Later. Later. After I’m done with the Legos.

Then then the foursome leaves, and we are so tired.

John goes to the sunroom to check on the stray to see if he is still outside of it, and I try watching the Phillies. Nah. A Woody Allen movie. Nah.

Pathetic. Not the movie or the game. Well, maybe.  But I’m the pathetic thing sitting in some dark hole while outside, the sun is shining, and I’m tired and don’t want this, want this, want this, so I wander around, find John in the sunroom attempting a crossword without the help of the stray.

“The Phils are losing. Can’t we root for the Cubs this year?”

I come back to the TV and stand in the doorway while somebody throws or hits or bites the ball, I don’t know which, because it’s all pathetic and stupid and sorry, and John comes in.

He says, “Let’s walk.”

We don’t care where we go, just that we go. So, on foot, we take off on the driveway and turn left down the hill. It’s always a left turn. We could turn right, but that would only take us up the hill where it gets the steepest. Just watch a car trying to pass our house during a snowstorm.

We snub the hill and take a left, descending and descending past where someone leveled a house on the other side and let the woods take over. A gazebo sprang up in the middle, and fairy tales infuse the place now. Oberon. Titania. Puck. It doesn’t work without Puck.

I have John’s hand. We let go, and his arm comes around my waist.

“People will talk,” he says.

“I sleep with you.” I point out. “Every night.”

We pass two houses of new people we haven’t met yet, and circle around the school that faces onto a busy road.


“Something died,” says John.

Ugh! Bad!

“I hope it wasn’t anybody I knew.”

On past the stink, we’re even with a sign inviting Pokemon devotees to enter the nature center and enjoy a S’mores event sometime soon. We could enter here, but we don’t. I never do, not anymore, although John sometimes does when he’s solo. I’m glad for the nature center’s open space, but I gave up walking in it years ago. It’s about dogs.

Dogs tend to think I’m great and jump on me. If only I loved dogs! If only people used leashes! If only—well, I don’t, they don’t, and I can’t change either thing. But I accept. See? I can accept things. This one became a no-brainer. Don’t go there.

The nature center is my forest of genies and cauldrons and flames and shadows. Rubies and diamonds await the daring and darling and valorous. I’m not brave. Daring, maybe, possibly darling, but not brave. Maybe once.

Which walk shall we take? We don’t decide until inertia has us past the dogleg. Not to decide is to decide. True. Pay attention!

Well, it doesn’t matter so much. This one thing may not be a matter of life or death.

We’ve passed the nature center, crossed the culvert where the creek sometimes rises over the road and blocks traffic—now that’s exciting!—and we’re walking, walking, loving the feel of the air, the feeling of motion, on our way to a township park which offers tennis courts and swings and a playing field where softball is played. Sometimes it’s soccer.

“Cricket,” John tells me. “It’s cricket.”

For me, cricket means an insect, but okay, I know it’s also a game with balls. Cricket. But the word always evokes an insect to me. Sometimes, they come into the house. Good luck catching them!

Nothing much going on peoplewise in the neighborhood leading to the park, but we see evidence of new pipes where yards and not the street were dug up.


“Because that’s where the pipes already were.” John knows this stuff. Where was I when this information was handed out?

“But what about that big tree? Did they cut up the roots of that tree to replace the pipes? Will it withstand that?”

“Maybe they avoided the roots. But that’s an old tree, and I just don’t think they’d detour around it.”

Good luck, tree!

I am glad they aren’t my yards that got dug up, but maybe it’s better than digging up the street. Some other homes along the way have new driveways with cones protecting them from happenstance drivers. One such driveway belongs to a couple we know, and John says it looks more like a sealing job than a completely new driveway. I don’t know how to tell the difference, but I think it likely that this couple is on top of things in a way that we never are and have their driveway resealed every couple of years and will never have to replace it like we will, having carelessly allowed some too-heavy fuel truck to park on ours and smush things around on a soggy day. This is so us. I just don’t know why. We weren’t driving the truck.

Next year for that project. Maybe. We can live with gravel.

Around we go and down a side street to the park. The last time I was here, goats, secured for the season behind electric fences, grazed in the wooded area. It’s somebody’s idea of green control, but I don’t like the idea of electric fences, especially since the powers that be stuck them in the middle of a path. It’s where we make our loop before emerging like cocooned butterflies—surprise!

There are two fences, the outer one probably to protect those clumsies who will walk through the woods anyway because, well, because. Nobody says we can’t, and it’s the route we like.

On the field, no cricket, no softball, in play, but a father-son duo attempts a kite-flying experiment. There isn’t much of a wind, but it is a beautiful day. Flying a kite without wind on a beautiful day is a good idea even if mostly what you’re doing is running and getting grass stains on your knees and the kite. It’s a good idea even with the flirting of tree branches and ponds where geese and mallards glide.

They’re making memories.

Remember the day we took the kite to the park? Remember how we fell into the pond? Remember remember remember?

You can’t waste a good prop like that. They have to fall into the drink.

“Can I have a turn, Dad?” asks the kid.

“Let me try again first.”

So he’s still a kid, too, being a kid, wanting his turn, why not? Exhilaration and joy and wonderful air the day before Labor Day.


Labor Day Weekend!


A fragile, scary bit of threaded-together time. We need to survive another few hours before the danger is past. The real reason we need this walk.

But we’re safe. Nothing bad happened this time, not so far, and that father-son duo is making a golden memory. It’s good to feel their aura.

Even if it is Labor Day.

It’s okay.

We’ll just low-key it, John and me, breathe-blow, breathe-blow, and make it to a regular Tuesday where you have breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and maybe read the comics. Not even a flat tire to mar the day. It’s hard to get a flat tire on a walk.

Little kids play on the swings ahead.

“I think that’s a pair of grandparents with them,” I say.

“Where are the actual parents?”

“Escaping,” I answer. “They sneaked through the back door when no one was looking. Having a second honeymoon while someone’s parents are loving this chance. Maybe. They seem all right with it. What are they going to do? Refuse?”

“No goats,” John says, on to the next thing. We aren’t concerned with these grandparents or their kids’ motives.

I don’t see the goats, either. The last time I was here, I’d seen maybe half a dozen, browns, whites. Just eating. What else? Should they be square-dancing?

Goats don’t blend in much. If they’re here, you see them. Goats. Unless I’m wrong about that. Maybe they blend in for privacy. A quiet reunion at a far corner with all the aunts and uncles. Look! A new baby!

We take the path through the woods in the few inches the fences haven’t stolen, but it doesn’t matter if we touch it. The outer fence is cut open half-way through our trek, and the inner one has been manipulated so it would be an easy crawl to get inside. Or out. No goats. Did they escape? Did someone help them? Did they finish their servitude and go back to mama for some real home cookin’?

“The electricity has to be off,” says John, “and it was only for the inner fence, anyway.”

This is a fact for which I’m glad since I’ve already run up against the outer fence. No frying. So far. Even though it is Labor Day Weekend.

I’m sorry for the no-goats part even if they only eat and ignore me and don’t ask my name. Sue, I’d tell them. Sue. You can call me Sue.

Out through the woods and into open sunlight. So bright! It’s a beautiful day with a slight breeze. I wonder if the father-son duo got the kite into the blue beyond. Wouldn’t that be cool?

I’m feeling not so dead, not dead at all, and what a great day to be outside!

But we still have to get home. It will be another twenty minute with steady walking.

That’s the beauty and the curse of walks. Sometimes you just want to be done, but home is still where you left it, and you have to walk that much more to get there. Good. It’s what you want, or did.

I’ll take this house, now, I sometimes think. If I don’t have to walk the rest of the way and can just sit down and be here, I’ll belong to this family now.

Today, though, I’m okay with just walking and walking in the warming sun, in the breeze that John likes best in the shade. So do I. Lovely, lovely. Make this forever!

We return past the nature center and over the culvert that isn’t flooding.

Ew! I’d forgotten about that that smell.

“Don’t scavengers take care of things before they stink like that?”

John doesn’t know. Clearly, it didn’t happen this time.

That dead thing is still there, still dead, I hope it’s dead. Whatever it is, it’s not following us like a homeless dog. Nature will take care of it, I hope, before the Pokemon/S’mores festival.

We’ve made it to the foot of our hill. It’s not just our hill, but it is ours. We’ve been here almost the longest of anyone. Maybe we’re the historians of the hill. A hill with trees and a place where a house used to be, where ours remains, fronted by a lumpy, gravelly, unsuave driveway.

We’re not holding hands. John’s arm isn’t around my waist.

Not so you can see.

By authorsusanshaw