Are there more birds? the man thought. Or is there more time to notice them?
The birds sing all morning demanding his attention but nothing more. But he has so much to give. He sets up bird feeders even though his yard is filled with fruit trees and berries. He shoos away neighborhood cats and worries about the nests on stormy nights. He has so much time now.
The woman is new to Maine She arrived in the last few days before COVID-19 pandemic. She bid her daughter goodbye as the movers unloaded her last box into the small bungalow. A tiny house before tiny houses were a thing. She chose Portland because it was smaller. She was tired of being invisible in a large crowd.
She walks her dog and remembers different times. She remembers other cities, other sidewalks. She remembers the dense fog of summers in San Francisco. She remembers the sweltering heat of New York City.
It must be easy being young now, she thinks, envious of their ease with social networks. Her nephews befriend gamers in other countries while never knowing their real names and never seeing their faces. They must never be lonely. Of course, she knows it’s not that simple.
The man decided he is not returning to his job when this is over. For the first time in years, his body has found peace. The tending of the garden is so much more rewarding than the tending of the business. For decades he had invested his time in his career, honed his presentation skills, developed his teams. He always joked that they were going to have to drag him away with his fingernails clawing his mahogany desk.
On zoom, he tells his son that the 100 days of quarantine helped him break his addiction to work. He notices a subtle eyeroll and knows that he pushed his son too hard all these years. His granddaughter is climbing all over his son like a jungle gym. Alerts chirp away on son’s phone. “Sounds great Dad. Got to sign off. My phone is blowing up.”
The sun is burning off the dew. He grabs his gardening gloves and clippers and heads out to the yard.
The woman passes a cape with lovely gardens filled with fruit trees. A mourning dove coos lets out its long plaintive call and she remembers her small window box in her Nob Hill apartment and how she tended the rosemary and lavender she planted there. The shrubbery seems alive with small birds.
She remembers her younger self, outgoing and confident. She sees a man tending his shrubbery. “Lovely gardens.” She calls loudly. Her dog barks a greeting as well.
The leaves of the bushes explode with started birds.
“Mind the birds!” he calls out gruffly as he turns to the woman.
Her dog is pulling hard at his leash. The woman’s face is flushed and he regrets his harshness. Being alone is a habit too.
“I’m sorry.” He says as he walks over to her.
They stand twelve feet apart for good measure.
About this piece:
“Social Distancing” was first published in the “Paul Bunyan Wears A Face Mask” anthology, an Imperative Press publication. On Monday, May 24, 2021 masks will no longer be required in Maine and occupancy limits will be removed. It’s a milestone we have been waiting for thanks to high vaccination rates in Maine. For many, the covid pandemic changes us in surprising ways. We found ways to connect even though we were physically distanced. Wishing good health to you and your love ones.