MINNEAPOLIS—There isn’t much you can do when you’re stuck inside during a quarantine except sit. Sometimes, you catch yourself thinking about what daily life was like before the quarantine, but you try not to think too long about this because you’re stuck indoors and this really stinks.
So you watch the news to stay informed, but this only stresses you out, because each few minutes the reports get worse. And worse.
You turn 84 today. What a crummy birthday. It’s a shame because your life is a good one. You live alone because you are in perfect health, except for your hip. Your family all gets along. You have an obedient cat named Harry. In fact, you have all you need.
But a quarantine is a quarantine. No matter how you look at it, it’s the pits.
To be perfectly honest, you’re not sure which is worse, the isolation, or the actual virus. Either way, it’s miserable being in this stuffy house all day where you’re about to die from boredom—not literally, of course.
This morning, you had the ceremonial video calls from your grandkids who wished you happy birthday. That was nice. There were a few people who sent birthday emails. Big whoop. Emails are great, but they only go so far.
Of course you’re not complaining. After all, you’re no stranger to hardship. You have seen tough times. It’s not that. It’s that you miss your family.
So you sit on your easy chair. It’s suppertime. You’re eating your microwaved frozen dinner. Thank God for the grocery delivery service or else you and Harry would have starved.
You turn on the TV. This is your life now. Television. You flip past the news channels because you don’t want to watch more frightening headlines.
You flip past the home-improvement channels where the hosts get deathly excited about things like shiplap. You scroll past the home shopping networks that feature people who practically wet their pants over items like centrifugal vegetable juicers.
Flip, flip, flip.
You stop flipping channels. A Burt Reynolds movie. It’s an old one. Burt looks pretty good. Always did.
You remember the time when your girlfriends threw you that birthday party. You were 36, Marcie brought you a “Cosmopolitan” magazine where Burt was posing shirtless for a pictorial spread. It was a gag gift.
All your friends just died laughing because you have always been so prim and proper. That’s what made the gag so funny. You were the kind of lady who didn’t even allow rum cake into you home.
That was a fun birthday. You ate too much Mexican food. You went to see a movie. This memory makes you cry a little. Not a bucketful of tears, but a few. Because it seems like the world has changed so much in the past couple weeks.
More than anything, you wish Mark was here with you. You met him in high school. You were the only woman he had ever loved. He was your everything. You were both seventeen when you married.
Your grown kids are sick of hearing the story about how you didn’t have money to go on a honeymoon because he spent his savings buying his little sister leg braces to correct her crooked legs. Mark was the most decent man you ever knew.
You wonder what he would have said about all this coronavirus stuff. He would have been a good person to have around. He was always making light hearted jokes, always so level headed. You weren’t afraid around Mark.
You glance at the photo of Mark above the piano.
It makes you feel more lonely. Here you are flipping channels in a dark living room with Harry beside you. You’re depressed, you’re tired, you’re all by yourself. You don’t have the energy God gave a cup of mud. Maybe you’ll just go to bed. What else is there to do?
That’s when you hear something.
What is that noise?
It sounds like…
No. It can’t be.
You stand onto creaky knees. You hobble to the window and peek through the curtain.
What in the world?
A boy is standing in your yard, playing tuba. Then you notice, standing about twenty feet away from him, a little girl is playing snare drum. Thirty feet away from her is a boy playing trumpet. That’s your grandson.
There are more middle-school musicians, all playing band instruments. Standing far apart from one another. A redheaded girl plays the clarinet across the street. A trombone. A coronet. They’re social distancing, but they’re playing the same song.
That’s when you see your son and daughter-in-law. They are on your porch. Behind the glass. So are the rest of your grandkids. They’re all singing “Happy Birthday” along with your grandson’s band.
When they get to the part where everyone sings, “Happy birthday, dear Grandma…” you are overwhelmed. You have to cover your mouth.
You clap for them. You clap very hard. Your family is all blowing kisses. Your heart is full, you are so overcome that you shout to them through your closed door, “I love you! I love you so much! I miss you!”
They all shout, “Happy birthday!”
When it’s over, you shuffle back into your den. You plop into your easy chair. All this stimulation has worn you out. But you are smiling so hard that your cheeks hurt. So you figure, “What the heck?” and you watch the Burt Reynolds movie.
Because it’s your birthday, Miss Doris. And everyone in the whole world loves you. Including me.