A woman living alone in Boston during the pandemic brings home a new family member.
I don’t remember my birth mother. I remember a short time with my brothers and sisters in a place with others like us. We were the lost and forgotten souls, looking for someone to love us. One by one, my siblings were taken away to new homes and families. Each time I met a new family looking to adopt, I smiled and put on a show to prove my cuteness until I was finally chosen.
When I was placed with my first foster parents, I danced with excitement because I couldn’t wait to meet my new mom. I wanted to impress her and prove that she’d chosen well when selecting me over my remaining siblings. I bounced from wall to wall in the hallway so she could appreciate my ninja skills. I belted a song of my own design to move my mom with my creative ingenuity. I even pounced on my foster siblings and made sure they understood that I was mom’s favorite and that I deserved all of her attention. I tried so hard to impress my new mommy, but nothing I did made her happy. Instead of smiles and giggles at my adorable antics, she huffed at me and swatted my behind.
A few weeks later, she returned me. By then, all of my siblings were gone, and I was alone. For several nights, I curled into a ball and hummed myself to sleep. That’s the only thing I remembered about my birth mother. She’d cuddled with my siblings and me and hummed to us, making us feel safe and loved. It was a long time before I felt that way again.
When I first met Jeanie, I was the oldest of my age group, and I’d grown accustomed to my home among the lost and unwanted. The compassion in her bright green eyes surprised me, and I tilted my head at the heavy make-up covering her puffy eyelids and nose. Her carefully-crafted, blonde curls bounced above her shoulders with a lively excitement while she grinned at me from across the room. She waved, and I offered a loud greeting that made my playmates cringe.
“She’s perfect,” Jeanie said to one of my caretakers, who responded with a raised eyebrow.
“Her name’s Tina,” he said and handed my new mommy a clipboard of papers to sign.
When Jeanie brought me to her small apartment in Boston, she carried me into the living room and sat me down on the couch. I watched her toss her things onto the coffee table, then she paused as her fingers grazed a framed photograph of her with a handsome man. The young couple in the photo held each other close and beamed at the camera, but Jeanie’s eyes filled with tears as she looked away from the image, laying the frame face down with one hand. Closing her eyes, she shook her head and took a deep breath. When she opened them again, Jeanie offered a grin that was too wide and too stiff.
“Tina, I’m glad that you’re here. You’re exactly what I need right now.”
I didn’t respond. I sat on the couch and stared at her. She tried to give me a tour of my new home, but I wasn’t interested. I knew it was only a matter of time before she returned me, just like my first foster mother, so why bother making nice. Instead, I waited for Jeanie to leave the room for something, then I jumped down from the couch to sit against the corner of the living room. With my back to the wall, I watched Jeanie shuffle around the house.
“Would you like some toys? Look at this fuzzy toy on wheels.” She held up a small ball of fuzz, but I snubbed my nose at it. “What about this one? My niece loved this when she visited a few months ago with my sister. Apparently, two-year-olds and cats love feathers tied to a stick. Go figure.”
My eyes darted after the swinging toy in her hand. I couldn’t fight its mesmerizing hold on me, and I stepped forward. I wanted to touch it, squeeze it, and taste it. It wiggled in the air so much, would it keep wiggling if I put it in my mouth? It wasn’t making any noise; would it squeal if I smashed it? When I reached for the feathery toy, Jeanie tugged it just out of reach, so I stretched and hopped for it. She giggled and crouched on the ground next to me, releasing the toy to me. I hugged it to my chest and rolled around on the carpet, enjoying the crazy texture and over stimulation of my senses.
“Would you like a snack, Tina?”
Jeanie pulled a small pouch from her pocket, and I jumped to my feet at the sound of the wrapper. She smiled at me and offered a few snack pieces. I devoured them and climbed into her lap to demand more. She laughed and took the opportunity to hug me. I stiffened under her embrace, but Jeanie rubbed her hand across my back and whispered calming words. As I settled into her arms, she offered me another snack.
“My, you’re hungry. Why don’t I fix you a proper meal?” Jeanie said after I finished the pouch of snacks. I hopped back down to the carpeted floor and voiced my agreement. She stood and moseyed into the kitchen while I watched from the doorway. When she glanced at me over her shoulder, I realized that my first foster mother never smiled at me like that.
The tell-tale chime of a video call woke me from my short nap, and I stretched across my bed with a big yawn.
“Hi, Anna. It’s good to hear from you. What’s going on?” Mommy said from her makeshift office on the kitchen table.
“I just wanted to check in on my baby sister,” Anna answered. “Are you still working remote?”
I climbed from bed and peered around my open door to find that my toys were not where I’d left them.
“Yeah,” Mommy said. “We’re a small marketing firm, so they’re letting everyone work from home for now. I don’t know how long this pandemic is going to have everything else shut down, but at least I still have a job.”
Before my nap, I’d placed my toys in very particular spots along the hallway. Mommy must have moved them again. I yelled at her from my room and plopped down on the carpet in protest.
“Is that Tina that I hear?”
“Ugh, yes,” Mommy said. I practically heard her eyes rolling. “I’m in the kitchen, Tina!”
“I can’t believe you adopted...”
“I know, I know,” Mommy threw her hands into the air. “But I’m in love with her.”
I snuck around the corner and spotted the shadows stretching across the hallway. My ninja skills far outmatched the dark figures, so I knew that I could outmaneuver them. My eyes darted over the long space as I hunkered into the carpet and belly-crawled down the stairs.
“She sounds worse than most toddlers that I know.”
“Oh, she’s absolutely crazy. She almost killed me last night on the stairs when I stepped on one of her toys. I slipped and fell flat on my face. For a moment, I thought ‘this is how I die.’”
Anna’s laughter bellowed through the laptop speakers, and I pounced over the last step of the stairs to scramble across the carpeted floor of the living room. I splayed my body against the corner wall and scanned the room for pursuers.
“I’m glad you survived,” Anna said.
“Me too. Tina met everyone from work Monday when she interrupted our conference call by sticking her nose against the camera and yelling into it.”
Crouching in the tall grass, I spotted a samurai warrior dashing through Carpet Valley. He brandished his sword and lunged for me. I dodged his wild swing and danced around him with a taunting squeal.
“She sounds like a handful.”
I sped toward a wall and leaped off it, flipping in the air like the super ninja that I am. Then I darted for Mount Couch with the samurai in hot pursuit.
“Good,” Anna said. “That’s exactly what you need right now. With Boston shut down, you’re basically quarantined to your apartment all by yourself. I worry about you.”
“Thanks, but I’m doing okay now.”
I scaled the steep cliffs, pulling myself along one precarious foothold at a time. As I reached the precipice, I flung my arm over the edge and grabbed a large rock, but my weight dislodged the boulder, and we both tumbled back to the ground.
“After Tim left, you were...”
“I needed to be alone then,” Mommy said. “I needed time to recover.”
“Of course you did. He was such a bastard leaving the way he did. You were engaged, for crying out loud, and in one day, he decides that he doesn’t love you anymore. What a piece of...”
Again, my ninja skills saved me from certain death as I managed to snag a handhold and dodged the samurai’s blade. I knocked him from the mountain with a kick and watched him fall to his death.
“It’s over, Anna. I don’t want to relive it. I spent the first month of our break up sobbing into my pillow and retracing every moment of our relationship to pinpoint where it all went wrong. I don’t want to do that anymore. It was just terrible timing that the moment I was ready to get back out into the world, Boston went into lockdown.”
“Is that why you adopted Tina?”
When I reached the summit again, I found a helicopter hovering above, so I hunkered away from the spinning blades and wild wind they created. I spotted a rope dangling from the aircraft and knew that it was my only route of escape.
“Yeah, Tim and I had talked about it before, and I realized that I didn’t want to give up on that dream just because he’s not in it anymore.”
“Good for you,” Anna said.
I dashed across the mountain top, zigzagging to disorient the pilot, then I lunged for the dangling rope, twisting in mid-air, high above Carpet Valley. I grazed the lifeline, only to have it slip from my grasp, and I tumbled down to Earth.
“How’s the family?” Mommy asked. “According to the news, COVID is really causing problems in New York.”
“Well, your niece is fine, but my husband has recently taken an interest in politics.”
Landing hard on my feet amongst the tall grass, I shook off the fall and darted back up Mount Couch for another escape attempt.
“Is he protesting?” When Anna nodded, Mommy threw her hands into the air. “Didn’t he refuse to go to work for fear of catching COVID?”
“He feels that their mission is important enough to risk spreading the virus. While I’m not going to march in the streets with him, I’m supporting his dedication to the cause.”
“Spiritually and financially.”
“Of course,” Anna said, and both sisters giggled.
At the top of Mount Couch, I coiled for another wild leap at the dangling rope. I had to time my jump just right or risk another fall to my Carpet Valley. I needed to summon all of my ninja skills to pull off this death-defying feat.
“What is she doing back there?” Anna asked, pointing to the doorway between the kitchen and living room. “I keep getting flashes of her running across the open door.”
Mommy peeked around the corner at me, and I froze. “Tina, get off the couch and leave the balloon alone. What exactly do you think you’re going to do with that balloon string if you ever catch it?”
I threw myself onto the carpeted floor in dramatic defeat as Aunt Anna giggled from the video call in the kitchen.
“Were you able to finish up that virtual booth project?” Heather asked my Mommy from the laptop in the kitchen. Mommy sat across the table with paper strewn everywhere and nodded.
“Yes, I finished it yesterday right before the power went out.”
I smiled when my gaze settled on the rocket ship in the living room. The man with the mask delivered it yesterday, along with some bowls for Mommy’s kitchen. I eyed the empty spacecraft and pranced across the carpet to peer inside.
“Was that from the riots? Did they take down a transformer or something?”
“No, nothing like that,” Mommy answered. “The power company said it was just a glitch or something. They had it back up and running within a couple of hours.”
The gizmos and gadgets inside the marvelous vehicle blinked like a galaxy of stars. As the best astronaut of my generation, I climbed inside and readied for lift-off.
“How close are you to the protestors? They’re not giving you any trouble, are they?”
“They’re a few blocks away. I can hear them sometimes chanting during the day, but mostly the problems are at night when the protests turn to riots.”
When the engines exploded to life, the spaceship shuttered and roared across the skies and into the heavens. I clung to the seat for dear life, but the harness holding me in place broke.
“Maybe you should consider leaving the city for a few days, maybe a week or so,” Heather said. “You can stay with us. We have an extra bedroom, and we’re an hour from the city, so we should be out of harm’s way.”
Mommy bit her lip as she considered the offer, then she shook her head. “Thanks, you’re a good friend for offering, but Tina and I are going to ride it out here. Other than the fire down the block, it hasn’t been that bad.”
The rough ride through the Earth’s atmosphere jolted me from my seat and flung me across the ship. I splayed from one end to the other and yowled at the dangers of space travel.
“There was a fire? Did the rioters start it?”
“I don’t think so,” Mommy answered. “The news is reporting that it was an electrical issue. Luckily, no one was hurt.”
“That’s good at least,” Heather said.
When we broke through the atmosphere, gravity lost its hold on my body, and I floated through the air. I flailed at the odd sensation and tried to regain control of my senses and adapt to the new environment.
“I worry about you all alone in the city. Well, alone but for Tina, of course.”
“Of course,” Mommy smiled at her friend. “Trust me, she keeps me on my toes.”
With the grace of an experienced astronaut, I kicked against the far wall to propel myself across the spaceship and toward the button on the console that would engage artificial gravity.
“She’s perfect for you. I’m so glad you have her in your life.”
“Right? I can’t even remember my life before it was all about Tina.”
“That’s how it is,” Heather said. “You open your home and your heart to a new family member, and it changes you forever.”
I rejoiced as my feet touched the ground, and gravity pulled against me once again. I peered out the window and watched my spacecraft zoom by Jupiter and Saturn. I squealed with delight at the mesmerizing view.
“How many do you have now?”
“Too many,” Heather said with a smile. “They’re like potato chips. You can’t have just one. You get one, then everyone convinces you that they need a sibling. It’s downhill from there.”
Mommy laughed at her friend and shook her head. “No way, just the one for me. I’m taking a hard stance on that.”
I didn’t see the space pirates before they slammed into me, but I felt the impact as my ship careened off course. I jumped up and swung my spacecraft around to return fire.
“We’ll see.” Heather shrugged. “How do you like working from home? I’ve heard rumors that they might make it permanent.”
Mommy glanced around the chaos of her makeshift office. “It’s okay. I just feel a little disorganized. If they make it permanent, I’ll need to rearrange my apartment, so I can have a dedicated office.”
The pirates’ missiles tore into the hull and ripped away my ship’s armor. I screamed at them and blasted back, but their shield was too strong.
“Yeah, I know what you mean. School is starting soon, and it looks like they’re going virtual, so I have to figure out how to manage my kids and my job at the same time. I’m just really grateful that our company is working with us on all this.”
“Right?” Mommy said. “I feel terrible for those that aren’t that fortunate.”
“It’s a bad situation when you have to choose between paying bills and staying healthy. I hope they can get this pandemic under control soon.”
With no other recourse, I gathered my astronaut courage and donned my deep-space battle armor. With my weapon of choice, I opened the hatch and leaped into the blackness of space.
“The latest news report doesn’t look promising. Every day, cities like Boston and New York are breaking records with the number of cases reported.”
“Which makes sense,” Heather said. “Big cities like that have the highest population density. It’s hard to slow down an outbreak when we all live so close.”
I knew my battle armor was stronger than their shields, so I jettisoned into the pirate ship and tore their craft apart. I used my weapon for ripping their shield away and tearing the doors from their hinges.
“I’ve resorted to never going outside and having everything delivered,” Mommy said. “Home delivery options have definitely improved since the quarantine, so that’s a plus.”
“The next few months are definitely going to be interesting,” Heather said.
“Speaking of interesting, what is Tina up to? That sounds like ripping cardboard.”
Mommy stuck her head through the kitchen doorway and gasped. “Tina! Spit that out, right now.”
I clambered away from the cardboard box, and Mommy chased me around the living room. When she caught me, she stuck her fingers in my mouth to remove the cardboard remains of my triumph over the space pirates.
I lifted my head from the armchair as Mommy plopped onto the couch with a heartbroken expression. She held the cellphone to her ear and stared at the ground as she spoke with Grandma. I listened to the one-sided conversation and watched my mommy fret.
“Mom, I don’t understand,” she said. “How long has this been going on?”
Mommy ran a hand through her hair. “When did you speak with the doctor?”
“And she said it’s cancer? It couldn’t be anything else?”
“She has to be wrong. You need a second opinion.” Mommy threw a hand into the air. “We can find you a better doctor. Denver isn’t known for having the best hospitals.”
Tears welled in my mommy’s eyes as she rested her hand against her forehead and hunched her back. She rocked back and forth and shook her head against the phone.
She lifted her head and blinked back the tears. “Fine. What’s the prognosis?”
Her hand snapped to her mouth as she squelched an anguished cry. “No, no. There has to be something they can do.”
Mommy laid back against the couch cushions and stared at the ceiling while holding the phone to her ear. Tears slipped free and crawled across her face, but Mommy took deep breaths to stay calm. I stood from my warm spot on the armchair and dropped into Mommy’s lap.
“Okay, this is good. The doctor has some ideas on a plan. Let me know when she’s finalized the treatment plan.”
Mommy stroked my hair absentmindedly while she spoke to Grandma.
“How do you feel about this?”
“Mom, you’re half-way across the country living alone with your dog. I’m allowed to worry, especially now.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll talk to you later. I love you, Mom.”
Mommy set her cellphone on the coffee table then covered her face as she sobbed. She curled into a ball around me and cried into a pillow. I snuggled against her chest and listened to her heartbeat. Then I hummed a warm, loving song until we fell asleep.
The birds danced and played outside the patio door, and I watched them delight in their freedom. I wanted to chase and snatch at them. I wanted to dance and sing along with them. I really wanted to be wild and free on the patio, but Mommy refused to let me play outside today. Instead, I stared out the glass patio door and enjoyed the warmth of the sunbeam on my face.
Mommy paced across the living room with her cell phone in hand. She held it out in front of her as she spoke with Anna on the speakerphone.
“Anna, I’m telling you. This isn’t a good idea.”
“Why not? I’m allowed to visit my dying mother,” Aunt Anna said through the speaker.
“She’s not dying. Quit saying that.”
When a bird flew close to the window, I lurched forward and banged on the glass until the bird dashed away. Plopping back onto the tile floor of the kitchen, I realized that I was hungry.
“Be realistic, Jeanie. Mom’s in trouble.”
“You’re right, she is,” Mommy said. “So don’t make it worse by visiting her.”
I trotted to Mommy’s side and tugged on her dress. She patted the top of my head.
“We’re not going to spread the virus. None of my family is sick.”
“You can spread the virus without showing any signs, and Mom is vulnerable to it right now. Especially after she starts chemo.”
“We’ll wear masks. We’re not going to get her sick.”
I pressed against her legs, and she ran her hand across the top of my head.
“What is wrong with you? She is exactly who we’re supposed to be protecting from COVID, and you want to put her at risk?”
“I want to see my mother, Jeanie. What if she dies, and I don’t get to see her one last time.”
“What if you visit her, and she catches COVID? You could literally kill her, Anna.”
I voiced my hunger, and Mommy shushed me. I kept begging until she slipped me an open snack pouch without setting the phone down.
“Shut up. That’s a horrible thing to say,” Anna said.
“And risking her life is a horrible thing to do.”
I scarfed down the snacks then dashed to the couch to throw myself onto the pillows. I frowned when my stomach turned sour, and I sat up with a hesitant expression.
“Look,” Mommy ran her hand through her hair. “We can teach Mom how to video call. We can call her every day if we want. That would be so much safer than physically visiting her. Please.”
“Fine,” Anna said. “I’ll think about it. But you’re going to have to explain to Mom why she can’t see her grandbabies.”
Mommy rolled her eyes and hung up the phone. She sat at the kitchen table and pressed her hand to her forehead. Her head shot up when I retched.
“Tina, are you okay?”
I heaved again, and this time, I upchucked my hastily eaten snacks. Mommy stepped around the corner and sighed.
“On the couch? Really?”
To Be continued...
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© 2020 by Kelly A Nix