Mona kneels, positions two folded yoga blankets behind her on the bolster, lowers her backside onto them, sighs, and grabs her copy of The Procrastinator’s Guide to Being a Writer. How many of these books can she read? How many times must she hear the plans, the tricks, the determination, and the deep love of reading and writing from childhood that writers on writing have—before it rubs off on her? When pigs fly.
The day outside her French windows shines, alive with sun glancing off of deep green, fluffy, dripping wet trees. Rain in the wrong month of the year, but still as sweet. Global weather change, Los Angeles becoming Seattle. Lifting her spine up, raising her arms, she acknowledges the love of being one story above the world in such a pretty place. Her mind-travel to the past or Paris isn’t working today, though, because NOW is too much with her. Radio, television and internet are beginning to demand that everyone wear a mask against the Corona Virus, her tied scarf is not going to cut it anymore. Employees from the pet store across the way trudge out with large trashcans to be emptied at the bins, and all are wearing masks and gloves. The feeling is that everything is getting worse, not better, and she and Gus are the squirrels who did not gather nuts for the winter. If they do not receive the stimulus checks, they will not be able to pay the rent and some bills in the gap before Gus’s pension. And will he receive his pension, or will it be taken from him? Sorry, the bankers took your money. She acknowledges their good fortune that they might even have the pension when others like them have nothing to look forward to. Except to die because they are over sixty and seventy from a virus of bats in China that somehow knows, like a pack of hungry wolves, how to seek out the weakest in the herd.
Last night, coming to bed after falling asleep on the couch, she found Grayboy curled up on Gus’s abdomen, Gus’s head had fallen in sleep to the side, his right hand resting easy under one of the cat’s paws. It was a thrilling sight to her, an eternal moment, and reason enough for now to stay alive. She relaxes into the bolster, closes her eyes and prepares to go on a flight.
It might be that Mona Lee was losing her mind. Astride her bolster, looking out the French windows, not able to fly away, her gaze turned inward; she wondered what sanity really was, and if she could keep it while people were dying, others working so hard, while she was ordered to be old and lazy. Netflix and Amazon were failing to divert. Spring beauty was everywhere outside. The green of it never failed to raise a wisp of happiness, so she took it in, breathed it in to feel gratitude. Wkwak, wkwak, a great raven, so much larger than any she had ever seen swept the proscenium of her view, whacking his wings on trees, back and forth, with wild purpose of some kind. The raven, the raven, the word raven and the computer that was the brain spewed up speeches, standing before directors being Lady Macbeth. She laughed at herself the actor, the woman, the lover, and all the speeches that still speak in our heads from five centuries ago, from lips that will be as cold as Yorik's soon. Remembering, not remembering she made her own:
The raven himself is hoarse
and croaking the news of
Duncan is not coming
under my entitlements
I will not be queen.
Gone thick night, where
morning steals the thoughts of hell
Is there any purpose left?
Sexed or no sex?
Kill or be killed?
Nature gives no hoot or holler
for woman's milk or gall or
Mother crows are feeding,
Raven the great and sleek
without a collar
and hungry seagulls from the coast.
Mona Lee was back on her bolster after some weeks away suffering from dullness and lethargy, depression, she supposed, not wanting to take a ride outside the French windows of the Sycamore apartment. Trees were spring sprouting at last, softening her view from the second story down into the land of the great super market and the magical store of food for pets. She was ready to ride. Her knees settled with difficulty. It was necessary to raise her behind on another folded blanket to achieve any comfort. Lifting her upper body away from her lower, filling her lungs with fresh-ish air, she gave a quick thought of thanks to an Indian yoga master called Iyengar, closed her eyes, and opened them immediately.
PANDEMIC, she said aloud.
Will she live? Will Gus? He was suffering. He and his pub gene buddies were texting each other photos of the beers they usually shared in the bars of the Farmers market. Like favorite pets. No pub for a pub gene man? This was trauma. In a long line at the super market, a young woman moved quickly away from Mona Lee, assessing her age. She was staying home now. Massive food trucks roared into the lot like great beasts of burden, lowering their heads into the loading dock, groaning, whining, and squealing, their bellies opened up scraped clean with fork lifts and dollies, delivering us humans from evil, saving us the terrible task of wiping our asses with leaves.Praise to the farmers, she said. She revised the thought. Praise be to the small farmers, the families and their employees. As for the corporate ones who sit on their behinds collecting money, raising CEO pay and profiting from the misery of people who do all the WORK for them, may you all die of the virus—pandemic to you, she said. Praise and thanks be to those who pick and sort and wash and organize and make it possible for us all to eat another day. Gratitude to you!
Her knees began to smart, her legs and feet throbbed. Tomorrow, she said, tomorrow I will stay longer, I will meditate. Yes, tomorrow is another day. Maybe.
MONA LEE felt it was wrong of her yesterday to wish corona virus death on CEOs and passive income gluttons. Sort of.
"Humans aren't much," she said to Gus, blocking his view of the television. "We are fragile."
"I wonder if the pot stores are open. Essential to life, " Gus said.
The line at the supermarket stretched around the block again. Gus was wandering about in his underwear having an anxiety attack. Only Grayboy the cat slept like a baby.
Mona mulled: Humans are one bad drought, flood or crop away from extinction. Like a snow leopard, one vole, mole or goat away from non-being. A no-go for the species. The earth has to keep doing us a favor, though, and when it does, we store our grains and freeze our deer and sheep, and then, boy howdy do we go to town, building things, imagining everything, writing our way into massive libraries and constructing shining cities.
"Can't somebody shut him up," Gus screamed.
"Turn him off", Mona yelled back.
"I can't do it," he admitted.
"That's his strength! Turn him off."
We “seem” like something, Mona said out loud. Humans. Like a great piece of work. Like we might have a creator even greater than we are. We look so terribly hard and smart for this architect of the fish/foul and beast/human. What we find is one void, and beyond some lumps of rock, more void, and some whirlpools so black no light can escape. In what we find, we discover our ending. It will be cold and black and full of metals. We soldier on. Like a herd of nomads, we destroy a camp sight, cut down its trees, dirty the river beside it, and move on. There must be another oasis.
"That's a nasty question," the president said. "And you are fake."
"I wish he would get the virus," Mona said.
"If I have any advice," she said, "from my advanced old age, it is —to frolic. All animals frolic.
To frolic is to really live."
Who is Woman (when the estrogen goes?
Boy in line at the superstore gives eye to the young girl clerk, takes her sweet time scanning his items, sparks fly eye to eye so hot she must lower hers, the lashes long with a life of their own like insects moving in the grass. He sighs, takes the receipt, hands out a compliment whispered, she, with a shiver smile, behaves like her momma taught her.
You enjoy the moment unreasonably. You want to pat them on the back for an unconscious exchange of sex behind the eyes that surged blood downward raising a mighty good feeling up. You smile for the ocean you used to swim in, the sea of looks and quiet yearnings with strangers you never intend to know. The one in France, intense, a street artist, eyes of pure gold, Moroccan; you take your sweet time scanning his items. He hands you a card, points at the address, says, çe soir. You behave like your momma taught you. The sci-fi writer though, he looks across the way in the Librairie Flaubert, scans your literary items, accuses you by your accent of being Swiss. In the eyes, he has the proper distance and approach, a French man behaving like his momma taught him, so the American woman comes to his bed, an affair the ended with his running along side the train at the Gare de L'est, calling "Stay wiss me." Finally, you marry and behave, or you don’t. Have children or you don’t. It does not matter, for in the beginning of the end, you feel the ocean evaporating, a fish thrown out gasping for your element, the sea is shrinking. You do things to your face, ask your doctor for the replacement hormones, but, at un certain âge, they begin to deny your coverage, and that is at the same age men are getting their Viagra free. You don’t really care; the losses of friends and family have grown larger than the regret of estrogen fuel and heat. Death is the main man eyeing you now, in the mirror, in the hall. The young girl scans your items: hair color, aspirin, vitamins and fiber. You smile at her and look after the boy, retreating, slowly, backwards, his eye on the prize.
The Yellow Ball
Mona Lee looked out the bedroom window. It was morning. It was Christmas Morning. No feeling for the holiday anywhere in her heart, mind, brain. (How to describe the empty feeling?) She did not trust heart—heart was thrown around like crap candy, too sentimental for her. Mind, that was like something you must mind, watch, take care of, or it goes nutty. Brain was more like it, but folded masses of messy matter did not explain critical emotion in the human animal. They said the brain was like a computer—they said, blah blah—she was so tired of hearing the brain was like a computer. If so, hers was three sandwiches short of a picnic, two bricks lacking a full load or a few cards shy of a full deck. She revised the old saw. If a brain were a computer, hers would be a few gigabytes short of a mother board. Like that. Maybe.
Gus was sleeping next door in the “snore bed.” She could hear him snoring. There was some time left, then, to herself, before the Mona that is not all Mona, but is too much of Gus, would start the day.
She had been in bed all day Christmas Eve day, Gus bringing her ginger ale and soup, with the radio on, hearing the carols and bits of the old stories: shepherds watching their flocks by night, come, oh Israel upon a midnight clear, joy and good tidings to you. As a child and as a younger adult, even more recently, those songs had had the power to arouse feeling in her heart, mind, brain, being?
Being, bam, yes, being was a better word, because it entailed all of the human processes in a bundle. So, starting from the beginning: Christmas was dead in her being. Her stomach had been cramping, her heart was a stone, much of her family dead, and her sister Addie's children surrounded her, two grandchildren—life went on for her—but Mona Lee's life was nearly over, even if it dragged its sore feet from her mid-seventies into her eighties. What had made her Mona Lee was being young enough to move again, to change, to fall in love again with life. What it was that had made Mona Lee Mona Lee was sliding out of not just her body's ability to move, but from her stony heart, her mind, her being.
Mona looked out. Most of her world-watching took place in the front of the apartment, peering out of the tall French windows.The ordinary sized bedroom window looked out to the back of the next street over, to the rears of large duplexes with Mediterranean bulk and handsomeness, where trees of all kinds lined their backsides and made a very pleasant view. Lowering her eyes she saw four attached garages, mottled roofs, huge telephone poll and wires stretching hither and yon, from next door to across the way. (How did the phone company keep those wire messes straight?)
A bright object sat in the corner of the garage below her. She leaned out. Grayboy jumped up beside her and hogged the window. Look, Mona said to the cat, moving him aside; look, it's a bright yellow ball. She sang a song that came into her brain, like a yellow rubber ball. No, wrong, that song was like a red rubber ball. This one was yellow to beat the band, as shiny as the submarine. “We all live in a yellow....”
She had seen soccer balls on top of the garage roof, kicked there by neighbor kids, but never a pretty round shiny yellow ball. No writing on it, just round, smooth and the color of a smiley imogee. Her mood lifted. Her being rose. Why? She could not explain this lilt, the kind that once had happened when she heard the Hallelujah Chorus. In ever changing life, there will always be another sign, that you are alive, that you can enjoy, that you can go on. The sun, a lemon, a child's rubber ball. Explain that, brain.
Gus shambled out of the snore room on his two bad knees. “How are you, today, baby?” She could see the wish in his eyes: I hope I don't have to bring her soup again.
“Better,” she answered, laughing.
She kept the discovery of the bright yellow ball to herself.