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A short story
Michael Massee

       The Center for Disease Control and Prevention called it the Coxsackie Virus. The public called it the Peru flu because that’s where the first cases were reported. Kevin Singer, a 13 year old who contracted the disease, called it the Cocksucking Virus, much to the dismay of his parents. The Coxsackie Virus usually only attacked children but this strain seemed to be an equal opportunity disease. As it spread north the number of victims of all ages increased

       The symptoms were the usual high fever and joint pain but with the addition of a nasty rash.  Kevin came home after school, to the Singer household, scratching a red patch on the left side of his neck.  A call to the family doctor confirmed that it was probably Coxsackie and that Kevin should just rest and drink lots of fluids.  Kevins’ mom,  Natalie, asked if the doctor could give them a prescription to fight the infection.  He explained that antibiotics didn’t work on viruses and that Coxsackie was a virus.  One had to just let it run its’ course.

       The public was accustomed to flu season being in the Winter months so when the Peru flu began to pop up here and there in late Spring not many people paid attention.  This was a big mistake.  By June there were over 150,000 cases reported nationwide and the numbers were growing.  While many of the victims suffered only mild symptoms there were reports of patients developing heart and lung problems and even meningitis.  When deaths started happening the government finally began to wake up.  It was a full blown epidemic and, as cases began to appear in Europe and Asia, it was declared a pandemic.  Local communities began to impose curfews and recommended there be no gatherings of more than 50 people.   That was downsized to 20 participants , then to only two and finally to no contact with anyone whatsoever.  Schools were closed (Kevin was elated).  Bars were closed (much to Kevin’s father Ronald’s dismay).    Movie theatres and malls closed.  Museums were shuttered.  Hospitals were jammed with sick people.  Restaurants were closed with only supermarkets, gas stations and drug stores remaining open.  And then the other shoe dropped.

       The President ordered a complete lockdown.  Everyone was ordered to remain in their residence with only qualified emergency workers performing essential duties allowed on the streets.  The quarantine, enforced by the National Guard,  was to take place in 48 hours in order to allow everyone time to load up on supplies and food.  Of course this led to hoarding, fist fights in the toilet paper aisle, empty shelves everywhere and long lines at the liquor store.

       “We’re going up to the cabin,” announced Ronald, to the Singer family whom he had assembled in the living room.  Natalie sat on the chintz-covered couch with her arm around her daughter Allyson, age 16, who was staring at the screen of her I-Phone.  Kevin, with his long skinny legs draped over the velveteen armchair was playing with his Gameboy.  Little Eric, age 6, was on the floor coloring  a large pad with magic markers.  “We will be leaving in a couple of hours so you need to pack some warm clothes and whatever else you want to take.”
       “I’m not going,” Allyson said, never taking her eyes of her cell phone.
       “Excuse me?” responded Ronald.      
“All my friends are here.  I’m old enough to take care of myself and I can look after the apartment while you’re gone.”
       “All of your friends will soon be housebound,”  Ronald explained, “Besides, it seems to me you spend most of your so called ‘time with  friends’ on that damned phone.”      
“She doesn’t want to be separated from Jasper,” piped up Kevin.
       “Shut up, brat!” Allyson hissed.
       “Jasper? Jasper who? inquired Ronald
       “Her boyfriend.”
        “I hate you!” Allyson said throwing one of the pink pillows from the couch at her brother.
       “You never told us you had a boyfriend, Ally,” her mother said, stopping her from throwing another pillow.
       “You’re too young to have a boyfriend,” emphasized her father.
       “And that’s exactly why I never told you,” explained Allyson.
       “Well, boyfriend or not, you are going up to the mountain---we’re all going up to the cabin, tonight.”
       “Why can’t we stay here?” Allyson asked, in a whiny voice, “It’s so much more comfortable.”

       It’s not safe, sweetheart.  Once we’re quarantined we can’t go outside, we can’t go anywhere.  New York City is like the epicenter of this epidemic, the virus is everywhere.  Up at the cabin we will be alone and safe.  We can wander outside, take a swim, jog and hike with little threat of getting sick.
       “And we’ll be bringing Nanna with us,” added Natalie.
       “Oh god no!” Allyson yelped, jumping up from the sofa, “You know what she’s like!”
       “Sweetheart, we can’t leave her in her apartment by herself,” explained her mother, “You know that.  Kiara had to get home to her own family so your grandmother is all alone.”
       Eric sat up and looked around like he had just joined the group.  “Are we bringing Buddy
with us?”
       “Of course, punkin,” assured Natalie.
       “We would have boarded him at the kennels, like we usually do,” explained Ronald, “but they’re closed due to---well, the situation,” replied Ronald.
       “Mom, Nanna can’t come with us—

       Allyson Rebecca Singer!  She is your---” 
       “No, really. Kevin had the virus.  He will give it to her!” Allyson said, with a smile of triumph.
       “The doctor said I’m no longer contagious, so give it up, sister,” Kevin revealed, with a certain amount of glee.
       “That’s correct and all the rest of us have tested negative,” confirmed Ronald,” So that’s why we’re getting out of Dodge tonight before any one of us catches something.”
       “But daddy—”
       “No arguments!  The Singer family is going on early vacation and we will have a good time!”

       The Singer white Acura SUV, packed with cartons of groceries, backpacks, sleeping bags, three children, one dog and two adults headed over to West End Avenue to pick up Nanna.  Ronald  double parked in front of the Westchester apartments and Natalie got out to enter the old pre war building.  After more than a half hour had passed the doorman held open the door to let Natalie exit dragging a rolling suitcase and a tiny white haired woman behind her.  It was Nanna Esther dressed in a Chanel pants suit with a Gucci scarf around her neck.
       “Help!  Someone!  I’m being kidnapped!”
       “Mama, stop!” Natalie pleaded as she and Ronald tried to stuff her into the back seat between Allyson and Kevin.
       “It’s okay, Esther,” Ronald said, attempting to calm her down.  “We’re going on a nice trip up to the cabin.”
       Buddy, stuck in the back rear-facing seat with Eric and the supplies, thinking something was wrong, began barking.
       “What’s that?!” shrieked Esther, “Is there a wild animal in here?”
       “No Nanna,” Kevin explained, patting his grandmothers’ gloved hand, “ That’s Buddy.  You remember Buddy, our dog.”
       “If I get one flea bite---”
       “Buddy doesn’t have  fleas.”
       “I’ve heard that before.”

       Ronald got onto the West Side Highway and headed for the George Washington Bridge. Once over the bridge and into New Jersey he got on the Garden State Parkway and set out for the Taconic Parkway exit.  Once he got on that it would be a straight shot to upstate New York, the village of North Creek and the cabin. 
       “Where are you taking me?” asked Nanna Esther, looking at the trees rushing by the window.
       “Up to the cabin, mama,” answered Natalie, “Remember when we took you up to North Creek for your birthday?”
       “What cabin? What birthday?” Esther replied,  “Oh, you mean that shack of yours.” Ronald bristled but kept silent.  “And that was your birthday, Natalie, not mine.”
       Natalie almost started to engage in an argument but, having been in ‘no can win’ land so many times before, thought better of it.  The trip ahead was close to four hours long and she needed to keep her sanity.

       Fortunately, at about two hours into the journey, Esther began to fade and was soon snoring softy with her head resting on Allyson’s shoulder.  Earlier, in what seemed like the longest two hours of her young life, Allyson had been interrogated by Nanna Esther about her grades, “Only straight A’s I hope,” her hair, “Who’s your hairdresser these days?  J.C Penny?” her clothes, “You got a bra on underneath that too tight tee shirt?”  And then there were all those stories Allyson  had heard a hundred times or more.  Most of them started with “When I was your age."
       Kevin fared a little better.  Not being of the masculine persuasion, Nanna Esther didn’t really know what topics to cover.  After the standard “How’s school?” followed by “What sports
are you into?” and the ever enlightening “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Esther left Kevin to his Gameboy.
       Eric fared best of all:  out of sight, out of mind.  He snuggled next to Buddy and drew on his pad until it got too dark to tell one marker color from another.

       After one quick s top for some food, and several longer stops to allow Esther to visit the ladies room, they arrived in the town of North Creek.  It was ten o’clock and as they drove through the center of town they could see that everything was shut down and not just because it was getting late.  The epidemic had forced most of the businesses to close and it was evident there was a curfew in place.  The streets were empty.
       Ronald kept driving until they were away from the dark and depressing village.  He continued moving along the highway for about eight miles and then, spotting the hand painted sign with their last name printed under the image of a blue bird, turned onto the dirt road that wound up and around the mountain.  Fir branches brushed the sides of the vehicle as it ascended the narrow lane leading up to the mountain top and the cabin.

       The cabin was constructed by Ronald’s father back in the 1960’s during a period when Arthur Singer, then 20, was experimenting with being a hippie.  The experiment didn’t last long but the cabin did.  It was a cedar shingled mission style bungalow with a wrap-around porch.  The interior consisted of two bedrooms, a bathroom, (which thankfully replaced an outhouse in 1972 ) a large open space that contained the kitchen, dining and living areas and a ladder leading up to a small  sleeping loft.  There was a rustic fireplace against one wall with a large pot-bellied stove, installed in the opening, that was used to heat the cabin.  An electric power line and telephone line were added in 1980.  There was running water provided by a pump attached to the well, a septic tank and, living in the nearby wood shed, a backup generator in case of a power failure.  All in all, it was a more than adequate place to chill out.  This was the vacation home Ronald inherited when Arthur died in 2007 and now it was to become a refuge.

       Ronald drove the SUV onto the patch of gravel that served as a parking spot and turned off the motor.  Allyson and Kevin were out of the car before the engine finished shutting down.  Natalie opened her door and went to help Esther maneuver down from her seat.
       “Why do they make these damn machines so hard to get in and out of?” she groused, as her Ferragamo’s reached the gravel, “I need a stepladder, this thing is so high off the ground!” She and Natalie then slowly wove their way up to the porch using a flash light to light the way.
       “Great!  More steps.  At least at the Westchester I have an elevator.”

       Kevin was helping Ronald unload the car while Eric walked Buddy for his much needed pee break.  Allyson was pacing back and forth staring at the screen on her cell phone.
       “I’ve got no bars.  Oh my god!  My phone isn’t working!---Daddy!”
       “There’s no cell service up here, darling,” Roland replied, toting a freezer chest towards the house, “Remember?  Anyway, help your brother with the groceries.”
       “My life is over!” Allyson cried out, falling to her knees, “What am I going to do?  I’m totally cut off from my friends!  No one will be able to reach me up here!”
       “You mean Jasper won’t,” said Kevin, “You’re such a drama queen.  Get over it and help me carry this stuff up to the cabin.”
       “I hate you!  I hate this whole stupid place!  I hate the whole world!”
       “Allyson, it’s dark and it’s late,” Natalie called from the porch, “Help your brother---now.”
Getting up from the ground, like a wounded soldier rising from a battlefield, Allyson stumbled over to the back of the SUV and picked up the lightest thing she could find, a pillow.

       Inside the cabin Ronald was putting split logs in the stove to start a fire.  The room was cold and damp from being closed up all winter.  Natalie was unpacking the groceries and putting things away.  Esther was in the bathroom.
       “There’s no toilet paper in here and the toilet is flushing green water!”
       “It’s okay, Esther,” Ronald said through the closed door, “That’s the anti-freeze I put in the tank when we shut down for the season.  I’ve turned the water back on so that’ll clear up soon.”
       “And what am I supposed to use to wipe my tush?  The bath mat?”
       “Here, mama,” said Natalie, opening the door a crack and handing Esther a roll of toilet paper.
       “About time.”
       Eric rushed in from outside followed by Buddy.  He was carrying his StarWars sleeping bag and he started to head for the ladder leading up to the sleeping loft. 
       “No way, shrimp!” shouted Kevin, who had just entered lugging the last two grocery bags, “I’m sleeping up there.”
       “Mama said I could.”
       “I don’t care.  That’s where I’m beddin down pardner!” Kevin said, pulling Eric away from the ladder.
       Natalie put down the can of peaches she had pulled out of one of the bags and assumed her referee stance.
       “Kevin, it’s time Eric had a turn being in the loft.  You’ve slept there every summer for the last five years.  Now that he’s old enough to sleep up there safely, be the good older brother I know you are capable of being---"
       “But mom---”
       “No buts.  Case closed.  Eric is in the loft.  Understand?”
       “Yeah, the baby always gets what he wants,” Kevin complained, “So, I suppose I’m going to have to share the bedroom with Allyson.”
       “Well, actually, Nanna Esther needs the bedroom, so you and Ally will sleep out here in the living room.”
       It was at this moment that Allyson staggered into the house.
       “Oh, nooooo!   Not only am I without my cell phone, now I’ll have no privacy and I have to share space with nerd face here,” Allyson  cried, “ it’s not fair!”
       “Allyson Rebeca Singer,” Natalie said, using her ‘watch it!’ voice, “The world is suffering a big crisis, people are dying, there are children who are very sick.  There are families stuck in one room apartments and not allowed to leave so we are very lucky to have this place.  Sacrifices have to be made and having to share space with not only your brother but all of us is very little to ask.  So calm down and help us get ready for bed.”
       Eric took this as his cue and scrambled up the ladder.  He leaned over the edge to receive his sleeping bag from Kevin and saw Buddy standing at the foot of the ladder.
       “That’s right,” Kevin said, smiling, “Your dog won’t be able to sleep with you way up there.  Wouldn’t you rather be down here with him, huh?”
       Eric shook his head.  “I’m going to teach him to climb the ladder.”
       Kevin began to laugh.  “This I want to see.  You know that it’s not possible, right?”
       “It is.  I saw a dog do it on You Tube.  They trained him to pull himself up.”
       “Well, good luck with that.”

       Ronald brought in the last sleeping bags from the car, closed the front door and collapsed in the leather arm chair near the cast iron stove.   The living room was warming up and Natalie went into  Esther’s  bedroom to see if it was getting to a comfortable temperature as well.
       “It’ll do,” Nanna Esther admitted, “ but there is no room in this closet for my clothes.”  She opened the knotty pine door to reveal a space full of sporting equipment, volley balls, fishing rods, waders, yellow slickers, boots, tackle boxes, board games and cartons of comic books.
       “Sorry about that, mama,” Natalie replied, closing the door, I’ll take care of that tomorrow.  We’ll move some of it out into the shed.  It’s too late to do it tonight.  Time for bed.  You must be exhausted.”
       “But I can’t get unpacked---”
       “Tomorrow, mama, in the morning.”
       “Am I supposed to sleep in my clothes?  And I have my beauty regime!”
       “Mama, it’s for just one night.  Get your nightgown out of your suitcase and---"
       “And where do I hang my suit?”
       “You can drape it over the bureau for now,” Natalie responded, trying to remain calm, “Now, you change and then I’ll tuck you in, okay.”
       “If I must.  But I can tell you, this is no way to run a household.”
Natalie bit her tongue so hard it hurt.

       Later that night, after the house grew silent, Natalie and Ronald lay together in the dark of their bedroom.
       “I wish they understood that we’re doing this to keep everyone healthy,” Ronald whispered as he pulled Natalie closer to him.
       “To keep everyone alive!” corrected Natalie, “But, like all young people, they think they’re impervious.  However, there is nothing on this earth strong enough to kill Nanna Esther.”
       “Not true. Her age makes her very vulnerable,” admonished Ronald.
       “I know, I know.  It’s just that sometimes---”
       “So what happened back at her apartment?  You were in there for quite a while.”
       “When I got there she was ready to go.” 
       “She was all packed?” asked Ronald.
       “Oh, she was packed alright---two suitcases, her jewelry case, a Louis Vuitton tote bag and she was sitting on a steamer trunk.”
       Ronald chuckled quietly.
       “It wasn’t funny, Ron.  It took every ounce of energy on my part to force her to narrow everything down to one suitcase.  She was screeching like a wounded bird and I was unpacking and repacking as fast as I could.  I tried to explain to her that we were roughing it, that she wouldn’t need her collection of Herrera high heels or more than one handbag.  ‘Abuse!’ she started yelling, ‘Granny abuse!’----I just hope I can hold it together for the next few days.”
       “Weeks, sweetheart,” Ronald corrected, “Weeks. They don’t know how long this virus is going to be around.”
       “Oh God, give me the strength.”


       Ronald tried to be as quiet as he could while  hooking up the coffee maker and starting to brew his early morning dose of caffeine.  Kevin and Allyson were sleeping the deep sleep known only to teenagers and didn’t stir.  Eric, however, heard the noise in the kitchen and was down the ladder and out the door with Buddy trailing behind.  Back in the bedroom, Natalie had turned over and, covering her head with a pillow, continued to sleep. 
       Ronald had just seated himself in his leather arm chair, to enjoy his first mug of coffee, when, out of the corner of his eye, he spied Nanna Esther exiting the bathroom.  She was wearing a pair of dark blue flannel pajamas covered all over with little white puppies doing puppyish things.
       “Morning, Nanna.  How was your night?”
       “All things considered, lousy.  The bed might as well be made of nails.  And is it always this quiet here?  I could hear my heart beating.”  She made her way over to the coffee and poured herself a mug full.
       “Sorry about the bed,’’ apologized Ronald.
       “You got non-dairy creamer somewhere?”
       “There’s milk in the fridge.”
       “Non-dairy creamer, please.  I’m lactose intolerant.”
       “I’m sorry.  I never knew that about you.”
       “Yes, well I just found that out about myself recently.  Last week, actually.”
       “Oh, you went to the doctor.  Good idea.”
       “No.  My neighbor, Lilian, she diagnosed me.  Her daughter-in-law has the condition and her symptoms are the same as mine.”
Ronald nodded that he understood and, knowing better than to challenge Nanna Esther’s neighbor’s diagnosis, kept silent.
       “So, you got some non-diary creamer?”
       “Sorry, Nanna.”
       “ Sweetener?”
       “I think there is some Sweet and Low in the green sugar bowl.”
       “Oh for god’s sake, are you still using that poison?  I’ve been using Monk Fruit extract.”
       “Monkey fruit?”
       “Monk Fruit!  It’s 300 times sweeter than sugar and calorie free and natural.”
       “Well, no Monk Fruit Extract in our cupboard.  Sorry.”

       Allyson sat in one of the two Kennedy rocking chairs on the cabin porch.  Her father was rocking gently in the other chair and reading a book.
       “I am going to die, literally, if this doesn’t end soon,” she stated, obsessively twisting a strand of her long straight brown hair, “No wi-fi, no television, no cell phone---”
       “There’s the radio and we have a land line---”
       “Which you insist is only for emergencies!”
       “Ally,” Ronald said, putting down his book, “This is a great opportunity for you to explore the world outside of the social media.  Here we are on this beautiful mountain, the pine trees, the pond, the fresh air, the wild life---”
       “The deer flies, the ticks, the mosquitoes---’
       “The snakes,” announced Kevin, clutching a small garter snake in his hand, as he climbed up the porch steps.  He waved it in front of Allyson’s face.
       “Eeow,” she shouted, “Get it away from me!  Daddy, stop him---"
       “Kevin!” Roland admonished but with a slight smile on his face, “Stop it and let the snake go.  Let it go so it can eat those mosquitoes and flies that are annoying your sister.”
       “It’s not funny!  I wish the snake would eat my insect of a brother.”

       Kevin and Eric had adapted to their enforced vacation very quickly.  They became avid hikers and had explored the woods all the way down to the highway and around the other side of the mountain.  When the water in the pond became warm enough they dived in and spent long afternoons swimming and pretending they were dolphins or submarines.  They were getting tanned in spots that usually never saw the light of day.  Not so Allyson.  She moped around the cabin.  When asked to do a chore she did so reluctantly and with an attitude. She wrote long sad letters on her computer, which she couldn’t send because there was no wi-fi, and cried at the drop of a hat.
       “Ally, you really need to snap out of this,” Ronald said, picking up the book he had put down, “Why don’t you find a book to read.  There are so many in the bookcase in the house.  I’m sure you could find one that would interest you.”
       “Right.  There’s ‘Cat in A Hat ‘ and ‘Goodnight Moon,’ and The Betty Crocker Cookbook.”
       “Come on, you know there are other more interesting books then that to choose from.  I saw a couple of Stephen King novels and I believe there’s even a Daniele Steele.”
       “Oh, pleeeeeze!  That’s old lady crap.”
       “Well, it is,” she stated, “I’d rather read anything else, even a chemistry textbook, than one of those books with that long-haired dude on the cover.  What’s his name---Fido?”
       “You mean Fabio?” Ronald answered, suppressing a smile, “I understand, honey, but you know there are other titles in there worth checking out.  This one for instance,” he said, holding up the volume he’d been reading, “An Anthology of Edgar Allen Poe, his poems and stories.  You’d like it, very sad and depressing.  Just your cup of tea.”
       “Don’t make fun of me, daddy,” Allyson replied, her chin starting to tremble.
       “I’m sorry, sweetheart.  It’s just that I’m kind of confused.  We’ve been coming up here for two weeks every summer and I thought you had a great time.”
       “That was different.  When I was just a little kid it was okay and even last year, at least I could go into town and over to a friend’s house where there was wi-fi and where my cell phone worked.  But here---I’m a prisoner.  Yes, I know, we have to stay in isolation so we don’t get sick but if we were back in the apartment we could watch Netflix and I could talk to my friends---“
Ronald watched as the tears started to fall.  He patted his knee and, reaching up to take Allyson’s arm, pulled her onto his lap.  “I’m so sorry, sweetheart.  I can see how hard this is for you.  Tell you what;  how about you go inside and use the land line to call one of your friends.”
       “Yes.  I should have done that earlier.  I just didn’t want the phone unavailable if the office needed to reach me but no one is going to call.  All we’re getting are robocalls, anyway.
       “Oh, I won’t hog the phone!  I promise.  Thank you, thank you, thank you daddy!” she exclaimed rushing into the cabin, letting the screen door slam behind her.
       “I am so glad I’m not a girl,” Kevin announced, as he let the garter snake go and watched it slip speedily away through the grass. 


       Natalie was washing the breakfast dishes when Esther came out of her room holding up a pair of granny panties.  “Okay I’m down to my last pair of undies.  How does one get their clothes laundered around here or do I have to take my dirty clothes down to the pond and beat them on the rocks?”
       “This I would pay to see, mom,” Natalie replied, “but just put them in the hamper in the bath room along with our laundry.  I planned to collect  your stuff this morning, anyway.”
       “So where do you do the laundry?”
       “We have an old top loader out in the shed.  It still works fine but we only have cold water.  There’s no hot water piped out there.”
       “You got a dryer as well?”
       “That lucky we’re not.  There are a couple of clothes lines behind the shed.”
       “So my intimates are going to be waving in the wind for all to see.”
       “Along with everybody else’s underwear.”
       “Well, just don’t use any bleach and I only use the kind of Downy with no fragrance.”
       “Aye, aye, captain,” Natalie answered, as she struggled with the large pile of laundry she pulled from the bathroom hamper, “Bring your clothes and follow me.”
       “What?  Where?”
       “You asked me where we do the laundry and I’m going to show you.  Also it’s about time you pitched in and helped out for a change.  You can help me do the wash.”
       “Wait a minute!  You dragged me up here.  I didn’t ask to be invited to this Motel 6.  You made me your guest!”
       “You are not a guest, mama, you are a member of this family.  And part of being in a family is to help said family. So grab you dirty undies and whatever else needs washing and follow me,” said Natalie as she backed out through the door and struggled down the porch stairs.
       “Well, someone sure got out on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”

       The shed was shingled, like the cabin, and had large double doors that opened to a space big enough to house the emergency generator, a lawn mower that converted to a snow blower, a stationary tub and the washing machine.  Natalie dumped the dirty laundry on the cement floor and started separating the dark colors and the lights.  Esther, trying to find a clean area on the dusty floor, gave up and dropped her clothes next to Natalie’s pile.
       “I’m dividing everything into darks and lights so just add your stuff to the appropriate pile,” Natalie instructed, as she turned on the cold water to fill the machine.
       “You plan to wash my clothes with your dirty things?”
       “Mama, we don’t have cooties.  The boy’s shorts won’t mind spinning around in soapy water with your pajamas.”
       “I’m not wasting detergent and water doing four loads instead of two,” Natalie explained, “You want clean underpants?  Put them in the correct pile.”
       “Well, aren’t we the bossy one,” Esther said, reluctantly dropping her laundry on top  of the appropriate mound.

       Later, as they stood around waiting to add softener to the last load in the washer, Esther noticed the boxes of comic books that Natalie had moved out of the closet in her room.  They were tucked away in a corner behind the lawn mower.
       “So, what’s with all of these comic books of your kid’s?  Why are you saving them?”
       “Well, first of all, they don’t belong to the kid’s.  They’re Ronald’s.  He’s been collecting them since he was ten.  Secondly, some of them are worth a lot of money.”
       Esther reached into a box, resting on top of the others. and pulled out one of the comics. “Wait a minute.  This one is dated last year. You mean to tell me he’s still collecting these babies?  He doesn’t read them, I hope.”
       “Yes, he reads them.  He says he finds comfort in them after a stressful day at work.  And nowadays they‘re called ‘graphic novels’.  See how different they are,” Natalie explained, showing Esther one of the old comic books, it’s worn pages and faded cover enclosed in a protective plastic envelope, “The newer ones are printed on better paper and the art is really quite impressive.”
       “So I see,” replied Esther, holding up an illustration of a very voluptuous Amazonian female, “Very impressive.”
       “Anyway, they make him happy and anything that makes anyone happy, especially these days, is okay with me.  What makes you happy, mama?”
       “Well, it certainly isn’t busty ladies in armor.  Listen, darling, you know I am never one to criticize but it would be remiss of me not to say that I find a man in his forties reading comic books to be  a very immature individual.  He is not setting a good example for his children.”
       Once again Natalie found herself full of rage with nowhere to put it.  It was time to hang up the laundry and, maybe hang her mother by the neck until dead, but of course that would never do.  “Mama, Roland is a wonderful father and is a great example for Kevin and Eric and even Allyson.  He is certainly a better father than the man who pretended to care about you and me.”
       “Don’t you start!”
       “Alright, I won’t but, from now on, I want you to show some respect for my husband and the father of your grandchildren.  Do you understand?
       “My, you are in a bad mood today!”
       “You have no idea.  Now, grab that bag of clothes pins and follow me.”


       “Xawolf is not a word, Nanna,” said Eric, sitting across from her at a folding card table.  On the other two sides of the table were Kevin and Allyson. 
       “That’s right Nanna,” agreed Ally, who was  growing very tired of this round of Scrabble.
       “It most certainly is too a word,” Esther insisted, “It’s a rare breed of wolf found only in the Ukraine.  Look it up!”
       “I just did, Nanna,” Kevin replied, “It’s not in the dictionary.”
       “That doesn’t mean a thing.  If you had an encyclopedia up here in this wilderness---”
       “If we had wi-fi,” said Allyson, wistfully, “ we could ask Siri.”

       It had been raining heavily the last four days and the family had been unable to go anywhere outside without getting drenched.  The only excitement had been a big, noisy electrical storm that lit up the sky one evening and created a blackout that lasted for five hours.  Candles and the generator kept the house cozy but, now, four days later, cabin fever had set in.  To pass the time, they had baked cookies, played Canasta, lost millions at Monopoly, discovered who killed Coronel Mustard in the library with a candlestick and even, in a moment of sheer desperation, travelled through Candyland.
       Allyson, as could have been predicted, spent several hours a day on the phone.  At first she was put off by the size and weight of the landline receiver and the lack of privacy.  But then she discovered that the cord to the telephone was long enough for her to drag it from its place on the side table, by her father’s leather arm chair, into the bathroom.  Once there, she could shut the door and, by speaking softly, achieve a modicum of privacy.  Of course, leave it to Kevin and his super-sonic hearing to decode what Ally was saying through the bathroom door.
       “She’s talking to Jasper,” he whispered.
       “Get away from the door, Kevin!” barked Ronald.

       Natalie had also used the telephone to call several of her friends back in the city and to find out how they were coping with the lockdown.  The news was not good.

       “I love my four kids but a month of trying to keep them entertained while stuck in this apartment is going to send me to Belleview.”

       “My super market is no longer delivering orders to customers.  They can’t keep up with the demand.  What do we do now?

       “You remember that I told you that my daughter has five roommates?  They’re living in a one bedroom apartment and she said they are no longer speaking to each other.”

       “Auntie Lois died yesterday.  Now we’re all terrified that we’ll be next.”

       “Thank heavens for the internet and Netflix!  What would we do without them?”

       Natalie didn’t share this last conversation with Allyson.

       Ronald sat on the porch and watched the rain pour off the roof and flood the front yard.  He could barely hear the voices of the Scrabble players arguing over the spelling of the word ‘speach’ and that was one reason he was sitting alone in the rocker.  He’d reached the point where he couldn’t bear listening to the incessant chatter, the sniping and whining and complaining.  He missed the office, the challenge of his work, the routine.  He longed for happy hour at Bar None, his local watering hole, and the subway ride home.  Who could have guessed you would miss the NYC rat race.
       Natalie came out onto the porch, closing the door behind her.  She pulled the other rocking chair closer to Ronald and seated herself down beside him.”
       “Are you alright, darling?”
       “Yes, sure.”
       “I don’t believe it, for a moment,” Natalie said, placing her hand on his, “I know you ,Mr. Singer.  What’s going on?”
       After a long pause, Ronald spoke slowly and softly.  “I feel guilty.”
       “Guilty? About what?”
       “Actually, I’m guilty twice over.  Once, for dragging all of you up here, away from civilization to what I thought would be Eden revisited.”
       “You got us to somewhere safe,” Natalie reminded him, “You were protecting your family.”
       “Yes, but, at the same time,  I was thinking that I was going to skip down memory lane and we’d all go back to the good old days.  Instead, we’re in a sort of prison, a prison in paradise.  And the irony of it all is that I also feel guilty that I’ve deserted the city, that there are all those people  jammed together down there, struggling and suffering and dying, while we’re sitting up here away from it all.”
       Natalie reached up and gently touched Ronald’s face.  “Ronald Singer, you did the right thing.  It would have been just plain wicked to put us all in harm’s way when we had this alternative option available.  You are taking care of five lives---six when you count Nanna Esther.  If you were back in the city and you randomly picked six strangers to help there wouldn’t really be anything you could do, right?  And you’d probably get sick yourself and maybe even die, god forbid.”
       “No, I understand that.  I’d probably be pretty useless.  No need for a tax lawyer during a pandemic but I see how miserable Allyson is.  And your mom is suffering---”
       “Nanna Esther has been suffering since the day she was born.  She thrives on suffering.  And  Allyson is a typical 16 year old teenager who is going through withdrawal from her cell phone addiction.  Believe me, as soon as this crisis has passed, she’ll be back in the city glued to her I-Phone.  But, for now, she has to interact with other human beings face to face, not electronically.  And that’s a good thing, right?”
       “I suppose---”
       “And as long as Kevin has batteries for his Gameboy he’ll be happy.  And have you looked at the drawings Eric has been dashing off by the dozens?  Great big splashes of color.  It’s obvious he’s thriving up here.”
       “And you?” Ronald asked, “Are you thriving?”
       “You know what?---I have spent more time with you this last month than I have in the last ten years.  I’ve got you 24/7, no phone interruptions, no conferences with clients, no late nights at the office, no off and away on a business trip---just you and me.”
       “And Ally and Kevin and Eric---and your mom.”
       “Well, yes, but it’s great being with them as well.  Admittedly, Mama pushes some of my
 buttons but that we’re all together and that we’re safe is what’s most important.  Yes, I am thriving, my sweet man.”
       And, like in one of those hokey moments on the Hallmark Network, the rain stopped and, in the distance, a rainbow began to assemble itself.


       “Ronald!” Natalie whispered, as she shook his shoulder, “There’s someone outside!”  It was close to midnight and she was awakened by the sound of footsteps outside their bedroom window.  It was a very warm night and the window was open to let in some cool air.
       “Wha?” Ronald asked, still half asleep, “Prob jus a deer.”
       “No, no!  I heard footsteps.”
Ronald threw back the covers and stepped out on the cold floor.  He fumbled in the dark for his robe.  “Iss jus some animal, a racoon maybe, trampin round in the bushes.” Suddenly, as he approached the window, a scream, a very loud high-pitched scream, cut through the darkness.
        “That’s Nanna!” Natalie shouted, “It’s coming from her room!”  She leapt out of the bed and met Ronald at the door where they tried to get through the opening at the same time.  After a comic routine, worthy of Abbott and Costello, they hurried over to Esther’s bedroom door which was closed.  Ronald reached for the doorknob.
       “Be careful, Ronnie!” Natalie said, handing him her bedroom slipper, “Take this, just in case.”
       Ronald looked at the terrycloth scuffy.  “Well, whatever is in there, I guess I could beat it to death with this.”  He slowly turned the knob and, raising the slipper,  stepped into the room.  In the darkness he could see a figure standing next to Nanna’s bed.  Esther was still in bed but defending herself with something in her hand.  It was too dark to make out what was going on.
       “Stay right there, whoever you are!” ordered Ronald, “Natalie, turn on the overhead light.”
       Later on, they would laugh about the scene that was revealed.  Standing over Nanna Esther, dressed in denim shorts, a black Nirvana tee shirt, a Yankee baseball cap, and  shouldering a camo backpack, was a young man of teenage years.  Nanna was attempting to fend  him off with one of her fluffy boudoir slippers.
       “Runs in the family, I guess,” said Ronald, pointing to Esther’s pink shoe, “And who are you, young man?”
       “JASPER!” Allyson gasped, as she peeked through the open door, “What are you doing in here?” Kevin and Eric stuck their heads around their sister’s back  to see what was happening.
       “Before we go any further,” Ronald said, handing Natalie’s slipper back to her, “I’m going to ask you, Jasper, right?, to step away from the bed.  You need to keep away from Nanna, from all of us.”
       “Ally, your friend here may be infected with the virus or at least carrying it.  We have to be very careful.”
       Jasper, who had been standing in silent embarrassment, finally spoke up.  “I am so sorry,  Mr. Singer.  I didn’t mean to frighten you mother.”
       “Mother-in-law,” corrected Ronald.
       “Right, yes. I thought this was where Ally was sleeping and I saw that the window was open so I kinda moved the screen away and climbed in.  I’m so sorry.”
       “Call the police, Natalie!” Esther commanded, “ He was going to kill me!’
       “No, oh no!” Jasper pleaded, “I just wanted to see Ally.”
       “Let’s move this out of Nanna’s room, “ Ronald suggested, “Everyone into the living room, except you Jasper.  You come with me out onto the porch.”
       With the whole family watching through the windows, Jasper stood on the grass and faced Mr. Singer who remained standing at the top of the porch steps.  The porch light lit a half circle around them.
       “How did you get here?”
       “I took the train to North Creek.”
       “The trains are still running?”
       “Yessir.  There weren’t many people on it.  I caught the eight o’clock express.”
       “How did you know where we were?”
Jasper looked down at the ground and hesitated.  Finally, catching a glimpse of Allyson in the window he answered.
       “Ally sent me the address in a letter.  She gave me directions.  She said that cell phones didn’t work so good up here so that maybe my GPS wouldn’t be any help.  I hitched a ride from the station with some dude and then I walked up this mountain and here I am.”
       “Yes, you are, and I hope you have a round trip ticket because I need you to turn around and head back to wherever you came from.”
       “Gee, Mr. Singer, there’s no train until tomorrow afternoon.  I was hoping I could stay here tonight.”
       Ronald looked at Jasper and tried to remember what it was like to be so gaga over a girl that you would travel to the ends of the earth to be with her.
       “Jasper, I’m sure my daughter is very honored that you made this journey.  I am sort of impressed myself but, at the same time, you have done a very foolish and dangerous thing.  I don’t know how you got away from your parents and out of the quarantine and why you weren’t stopped at the train station---”
       “They weren’t stopping people leaving, only people coming into the city.”
       “Whatever.  The important thing is that you could be carrying the virus, in fact you probably are, and I can’t have you exposing it to my family.  So I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”
       “But, where can I go?”  He suddenly looked like the little kid he really was even though he was wearing a teenager’s skin on the outside. 
       Ronald was about to step down the stairs and lead Jasper off the property when he heard Natalie’s voice behind him.  He turned and saw her standing in the doorway holding one of the extra sleeping bags in her arms.
       “May I make a suggestion?”

       Jasper, exhausted from his adventure, slept on the porch in a bright blue sleeping bag.  He was turned onto his left side and facing one of the front windows.  On the other side of the glass, was Allyson, sitting in one of the dining room chairs and gazing lovingly at her sleeping prince.
       Back in their bed, Ronald and Natalie quietly discussed the situation.
       “He can’t stay here.” Ronald was adamant.
       “I know, I know, but it seems cruel to send him back after he came all this way.”
       “Natalie, don’t go getting all romantic.  This is a matter of life and death.”
       “Yes, and sending him back could mean his death.  Last week you told me you were feeling guilty that you weren’t helping people down in the city.  Well, here’s your chance.”
       “Oh, you’re good!  Hanging me up by my own words.”
       “But it’s true, we can work something out.  We can set some rules. He can continue to sleep on the porch.  I’ll wash all his clothes and stuff, decontaminate his backpack.”
       “Natalie, be realistic.  He and Allyson?  They’d never be able to keep their hands off of each other!”
       “Please, Ronnie, just think about it.”
       “We’ll talk about it in the morning.  But, I’m telling you right now, he’s not staying.”


       Esther wouldn’t leave her room.  “No way!” she exclaimed, through her closed door, “As long as that killer is out there I’m in here where it’s safe.”
       “Mama, he’s been with us for two days and he hasn’t shown any symptoms,” Natalie explained,  “Everyone is okay, including you.”
       “The radio said that the virus loves the elderly and the very young .  I’m not taking any chances.”
       Nanna Esther had been out of her room to go to the bathroom and had raided the kitchen late at night so this self-isolation was actually rather useless.
       Kevin joined his mother at the door.  “Nanna, you better come out.  We’re having bread pudding for lunch today.  I know you love your bread pudding.”
       “With raisins?”
       “I believe so.”
       “Of course.” 
       “Vanilla sauce?”
       Kevin looked at his mother.  Natalie shook her head, “ We didn’t have any vanilla extract, Nanna.  Sorry.”
       The door slowly began to open.  Esther peered through the narrow slot.
       “Is ‘Typhoid Marty’ in the house?”
       “You mean Jasper?” Natalie asked, “He’s still relegated to the porch so it’s safe for you to come out now.”
       The door opened all the way and Nanna Esther entered the living room wearing her pale pink Lululemon sweats.  Her hair was covered with one of her Versace scarves as she had been complaining all week that she was in desperate need of a visit to her hair salon.  “Mr. Andre is the only one who knows how to cut my hair.”

       Lunch was set out on the dining room table.  Allyson sat, facing the window, so she could watch Jasper, in one of the porch rockers, eating a grilled cheese sandwich.  Eric, in the chair across from Ally, was drawing on his pad while pausing to sip a spoonful of tomato soup.  Kevin helped Nanna Esther get seated and then sat down next to her.  Natalie joined them at the table after serving up more sandwiches and soup.
       “Campbell’s and Velveeta for lunch, again,” sighed Esther.
       “I’m afraid the cupboard is a little bare.  It’s the best I could do until Ronald gets back.”
       “Oh, is he making a grocery run to Stewart’s?”
       “Yes, he should be back soon.”
       “I wish I had known,” Esther said, “ I have a few things I really need.”
       “Oh, what do you need?” asked Natalie, “I’ll put it on the list for next time.”
       “Well, I need an avocado for the bags under my eyes and I’ve run out of my Russian Imperial Amber shampoo.”
       “Stewart’s will probably have an avocado or two but I don’t think they carry that brand of shampoo.”
       “Well, I certainly can’t use that dollar store stuff that you like.  I might as well pour motor oil on my hair!”
       This conversation would have escalated into a very heated discussion if it hadn’t been for Ronald’s return from the grocery store at that very moment.  Everyone, except for Nanna Esther, left the table and assembled on the porch to begin the decontamination process.  Jasper moved off to the side in order to be out of the way.  Ronald, still wearing his face mask and rubber gloves, started emptying the back of the SUV and bringing the plastic bags up to the porch.  After setting them all down he walked back to the shed and began to strip off all of his clothes.  He tossed everything in the washer, added detergent and bleach and set the dial at ‘large’.  After starting the machine, he walked back to the house, up the steps, passed the members of his family, who had turned away in order to give him some privacy and strode through the living room on his way to the shower.  Esther tisked her displeasure.  “Show off!”
       Back on the porch, Natalie was cleaning off the tops of the bags with sanitizing wipes while Allyson and Kevin began removing the cans and packages from inside the bags and wiping them down as well.  Eric carried the fruits and vegetables into the kitchen and dumped them carefully into the sink where they would eventually be washed.
       This was a routine they had developed when they realized they were going to be sequestered at the cabin for quite a while.  At first it seemed like overkill but as the radio continued to broadcast the number of individuals infected, and the percentages of deaths happening, they knew they had to take extraordinary measures.
       By the time Ronald had finished his shower and gotten dressed, the pantry and refrigerator were restocked and Natalie was washing the fruit and vegetables.  He joined her at the sink and filled her in on life in the village.
       “I wasn’t able to get everything on the list.  Some of the shelves were pretty bare.  Almost all the shops along the street are closed.  Joe, the manager at Stewart’s, said he had to stop delivery service because Larry, the young kid he usually hired, was sick.  The Health Center is in overwhelm, no test kits, they’re running out of masks and respirators.  Not good.  So, how was your morning?’
       Natalie glanced over her shoulder at Nanna Esther and the kids enjoying their bread pudding.  “It was okay.  Nanna was her usual acerbic self.  As you can see we finally got her out of her room.  Actually, the bread pudding got her out of her room.”
       “And what about Jasper?”
       “He’s still staying outside,’’ Natalie answered, “He wandered around the yard and I guess he took a walk in the woods.  I gave him lunch.”
       “One more week outside, just to be safe.  Then we’ll figure out what to do with Romeo.”

       That evening everyone was gathered in the living room, except for Allyson who was standing at the screen door conversing with Jasper.  He was observing the six foot rule by staying down at the bottom of the porch steps even though he was aching to be much closer.
       Eric was squatting on the floor with his pad and markers.  Roland was seated comfortably in his leather chair and deep into the dark world of Edgar Alan Poe.  Kevin’s thumbs were dancing around on his Gameboy and Natalie and Esther were facing off with a game of Gin.  Natalie had just laid her cards down and issued a triumphal “Gin.”
       “No!  You cheated!” Esther announced, in a rage.
       “Mama, I did not cheat.  I won fair and square.”
       “No one wins twice in a row.  You had to have cheated.”
       Mama, I do not cheat.  For heaven’s sake, it’s only a game.”
       While things were heating up at the card table, Jasper had slowly climbed the porch stairs.  He stood on the other side of the screen door and stared at Allyson with a look that one only sees on the face of someone who is truly in the throes of first love.  Ally turned away and walked over to her father.
       “Daddy, can I go out on the porch with Jasper?  I’ll be really careful.  We won’t touch or anything.”
       Roland looked up from his book.  He saw all the longing in his daughter’s eyes and was very moved and tempted, but---“Honey, it’s not a good idea---”
       “Please? It must be safe by---” Ally stopped and a curious look crossed her face,  “What are those red spots?”
       “Red spots?  Where?” asked Natalie, getting up from the table.
       “There,” answered Allyson, pointing.

       The drive to the North Creek Health Center took only a few minutes.  But, after explaining how understaffed and overwhelmed  they were, the doctor recommended they head over to the Moses Ludington Hospital in Ticonderoga.  “It’s about an hour’s drive and they have a better handle on the problem.”
       Ronald hurried and got Natalie into the car.  She sat in the back seat  holding on tightly to Eric.  He was very pale which made the rash on his bare legs stand out even more.  Natalie could feel the fever radiating in waves off his body.
       “It itches, momma,” Eric said, trying to free his arms in order to scratch his legs.
       “I know, darling.  Try not to touch it.  When we get to the hospital I’m sure they’ll put something on your skin to stop the itching.”
       “My head hurts,” he said, leaning on her shoulder.
       “I bet it does,” Ronald added, from the front seat, “Just hold on.  We’ll be there soon.”

       By the time they pulled into the hospital parking lot, Eric was hallucinating.  He kept talking about the wolves that were howling in the windows of the buildings.  “They want to be let out.  They’re friends of Buddy’s.  Let them out!”
       A nurse dressed in protective clothing from head to toe, and wearing a respirator, picked up Eric and carried him quickly into one of the three white tents set up in the parking lot.  Natalie tried to follow but was stopped by a security officer.
       “I’m his mother!”
       “I’m sorry, ma’am.  You can’t go in there.  They’ll take good care of him and someone will come out to talk to you soon.”
       That was when Natalie finally fell apart.  Ronald pulled her into his arms and she began sobbing against his chest.

       Nanna Esther stood behind the porch screen door peering out into the dark.  She was holding onto a cast-iron frying pan with both hands.  Kevin was looking over her shoulder.  Allyson sat in her dad’s leather chair and wept.
       “Nanna, Jasper’s gone,” Kevin said, hoping to disarm his grandmother, “I don’t think he’ll be coming back.”  This elicited a wail of anguish from Ally.
       “I’m not taking any chances,” Esther replied, “If that little murderer shows up I’m ready.”
       “Nanna, the radio says that this virus can take up to two weeks before a person shows any symptoms.”
       “Listen, that little Nazi brought the germs into this house that infected your brother---”
       “We don’t know that for sure.  Eric could have picked it up from touching something that came from the grocery store.  You remember, we weren’t as careful with that first visit to Stewart’s as we are now.”
       “Kevin Marshall Singer,  may I remind you that the killer entered this house through the window in my room!  The virus was probably on his backpack or on his shoes. Oh, lord, I’ve been standing in his---I’m probably going to be the next victim to be sick.  Oh, my god, it’s like Agatha Christie’s ‘Ten Little Indians’---and then there were none!”
       Without a warning, Allyson leapt up from her chair, headed for the front door and, shoving Kevin and Nanna Esther aside, rushed onto the porch and down the stairs into the night.
       “Ally, where are you going?” Kevin shouted after her, “It’s pitch black out there!”
       “You come back here, young lady!” Esther commanded. “Right now!”
       “I’m going to get a flashlight,” Kevin said, turning back into the living room, “and follow her.  She’s going to get lost out there in the woods! “
       Coming from far away in the inky black darkness was the faint sound of Allyson’s voice:  “Jasper!  Jasper!  Where are you?   Kevin came sailing out of the cabin, wearing a jacket and carrying a sweater and a flashlight.  He flew down the steps and ran off into black void.  “Allyson!---Allyson!---Allyson!
       Nanna Esther stood alone on the porch, the overhead light giving her a ghost-like appearance.  “Kevin!  Allyson!” she shouted, “Don’t leave me here, by myself!  Please!  The killer will come back and---touch me!


       Ronald had gathered the family in the cabin’s living room.  Kevin sat on the couch with Nanna Esther.  Allyson slumped in a chair at the dining room table.  She was scratching a heart, with her fingernail, in the surface of the old pine tabletop.
       “So, your mom will be staying at the motel where she can be near to the Hospital.”
       “How’s Eric doing?” Kevin asked, squeezing Nanna’s hand.
       “He’s been in there almost four days.  He must be getting better,” Esther added hopefully.
       “He’s in an induced coma and they’re using a ventilator to keep him breathing.  The maddening thing is that we can’t be with him, we can’t even see him.  We get updates from the hospital staff but they’re so eff’n busy---”
       “But he will get better, right?” asked Allyson.
       “Of course he will,” admonished Nanna Esther, “What a silly question!
       ”The doctor said his chances are fifty, fifty.  Evidently this treatment with the ventilator, which breathes for him, is very invasive.  It can sometimes lead to dependence on the machine to the point that they can’t come off it.  And it can damage the lungs and---” Roland stopped to take a quick wipe at his eyes.
       “Well, that does it,” Esther announced, pulling herself up from the couch, “I’m out of here.”
       “What?  What’s going on Nanna?” asked Kevin, following her into her bedroom.
       “I’ve going to pack.  Tell your dad to warm up the car.
       “Why are you leaving?  It’s not safe for you to leave.”
       “Well, it sure as hell isn’t safe for me to stay here.  I need to get to the train station.”

       Ronald had stepped into the doorway.  Kevin moved aside to let him into the room.
       “Esther, Kevin’s right.  It’s too dangerous for you to go back to the city.”
       “Who said anything about going to New York?” Esther replied, “I’m going to catch the first train to Canada.” She took some of her clothes out of the closet and threw them on the bed.
       Ronald couldn’t help but smile.  “The virus is in Canada, Nanna, the virus is worldwide.”
       “I know that!  Don’t lecture me!  I just want to get away from this bucolic backwater.  It’s boring and stultifying and---and deadly!”
       “Do you have a schedule of trains going to Canada?  Where are you planning to go, Toronto, Montreal?”
       “I’ll telephone the station,” she answered as she began folding a blouse, “If you had wi-fi, like any normal person, I could go on line.  I mean, to not even have a TV!  This is the 21st century for god’s sake.”
       “I’m sorry, Nanna.  You’re absolutely right,” Ronald said, with sincerity, “Please stay.  We need you.  I need you.”
       Esther continued to fold her clothes and place them in her suitcase but Ronald and Kevin could see her face beginning to crumble.  She turned away from them so that they wouldn’t see the tears starting to appear on her cheeks.  “My poor little Eric.”
       “Please don’t go, Nanna,” Kevin said softly, “You need to be here when Eric comes home.””
       “It should have been me,” Esther admitted.
       “Don’t say that, Nanna,” Kevin said, putting his arms around her.
       “It shouldn’t have been Eric but it could have been any of us,” Ronald insisted, “This is nobody’s fault.  It’s a terrible disease over which we have no control.”
       “Nanna,” Allyson called out from the living room, “The trains stopped running several days ago.  Jasper caught the last train going into Manhattan---”
       “Don’t mention that murderer’s name again!” Esther yelled back at Ally, “Well, since there are no trains, and I’m not going to endanger my health by boarding a Greyhound Bus, it seems I’m here for the duration.”
       “Yay!” exclaimed Kevin, giving his grandmother a hug.
       “Careful!  I break easily,” she said sharply but Kevin could tell she enjoyed the affection, “If I stay, however, there are going to have to be some changes made.”
       “And what may those changes be?” Ronald asked, apprehensively.
       “Well, first of all, you are getting a big flat screen television.”


       The phrase that became a catch word during the Peru Flu pandemic was ‘when things get back to normal.’  It would be wonderful to think that’s what happened but, as we all know, that was not possible.  There was no normalcy; the economy was in tatters, many small businesses never recovered, the entertainment industry was struggling to get back on it’s feet, the infrastructure of whole communities was damaged, often beyond repair, married couples filed for divorce, having discovered their incompatibility, while being trapped in their apartment, during the  lockdown and unemployment was at an all-time high.
       On the plus side, however, was the way the internet kept people connected and how schools and businesses quickly moved into the virtual world.  There were on-line classes and grocery shopping by computer.  One could tour a museum or watch a dance concert. But, at the same time, there were thousands of poverty level families who didn’t have access to wi-fi and computers.   
       And then there were the deaths and the effect this had on families in the aftermath of the pandemic.  Over 100,000 deaths occurred in the United States during the six month run of the virus.  This meant that thousands of families lost someone to the flu.  Almost everyone knew a friend or relative who perished.  The country was still in mourning.

       It was summer on the Singer mountain when the family returned for their annual vacation.  Ronald had made sure that, over the winter, cable and wi-fi had been installed.  One needed to be connected to the rest of the world.  Nanna Esther had opted to remain in the comfort of her apartment at the Westchester.  “I’m too old to rough it.”  Natalie was relieved, but kept that to herself.  Allyson had found a new love, Aaron, a sweet young man who played the guitar and wrote songs about her.  He was invited to join them at the cabin when he finished summer school.  Kevin had a crush on his science teacher which, of course, was unrequited, so he had started writing sci-fi stories about aliens in love with humans.
       After dinner, on their first night back in the cabin, Ronald gathered everyone in the living room.  A fire was crackling in the pot-bellied stove and, in a tree close to the house, an owl warned his prey that he was on the hunt.
“I wish I could think of something to say that would make the pain go away, but, words are useless.  Driving up here I kept thinking of him in the back-back with Buddy, and him drawing up a storm.”  Upon hearing his name, Buddy lifted his head, looked around, and not finding what he was looking for, lowered it onto his paws.
       “Anyway, your mom and I kept trying to come up with something---”he said, his voice trembling a bit, “so we decided to do this.”  He picked up a flat package wrapped in brown paper and began to unwrap it.  “If you’d help me, Natalie, please.”
       The two of them lifted the framed drawing and set it on the mantle above the fireplace.
       Everyone looked on in silence.  Finally, Ronald spoke.
       “Thank you, Eric.”


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