Essential Service | COVID-19 Stories | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

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Essential Service


  • Will Nixon

I don't think I'm so original as I once was. Or maybe I never really was, only tried to be. Now it just seems to matter less. Maybe because I've been reading Grace Paley. She writes lines like, In memory of him and out of respect for mankind, I decided to live for love.

I decided to buy a hammock, one of those parachute eyesores that sag between trees. I knew I had to after seeing a guy strap up in one behind my damp square of bedsheet. He was gone in no time at all, disappeared into cocoon-oblivion between the oaks. It struck me as the self-quarantine holy grail, a most essential service. So I ordered one soon as I got home, itching at ant bites around my ankles. A couple days later, I'm swinging in suspended bliss.

There are some birds that hang out near the railway tracks. They talk to each other, call and response. Birds are known to sing. But these two are old pals, kibitzing like Brooklynites in a Grace Paley kitchen scene.

By 4pm the April sun's about eyeline. The red bandana I wore as a mask to the post office, like some accomplice in a hipster stick-up, slips easily over head—a protective impulse that feels suddenly old fashioned. I flay my book out across my chest and lie there legs askew, skin full of heat. It smells like baking. The birds talk shop. I think: I have no business being this content. And I think again how that story ends: goodbye and good luck.

Jennifer Gutman is a doctoral candidate in English at Vanderbilt University and a former assistant editor at Chronogram.

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