Days of splendid solitude, I think. The pandemic has spread; the virus has already closed down New York City, and Virginia is next. During this time when the world is shut down, I look forward to having time to do as I please. Instead, I spend hours looking out the window.
There is a sliding glass door in my study that frames the backyard garden. My paints are laid out on a table in front of this window, where I can see Dedo, a 22-inch-high gargoyle that sits between two azalea bushes. I plan to paint Dedo, my guardian. In the legend of Little Dedo, he was placed on the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral to watch over Paris.
In the front room, where I sit to read, there are three large plate-glass windows with a view of the street. When the lock-down was first announced, the street was deserted. Only the occasional dog walker hurried by.
In the early days of the quarantine, I move from the sliding glass door in my study to the front windows, back and forth, watching.
In the backyard garden Dedo is perpetually vigilant. This whitish cement statue sits on a bed of pebbles surrounded by a ring of large gray beach stones. Today a sparrow perches on Dedo’s head, between his pointy ears, his expression pensive, neither smiling nor scowling.
On my way to the kitchen for coffee, I stop in the front room and look out. Morning walkers hurry down the sidewalk, solitary, scarves wrapped around their faces for warmth or protection.
I carry coffee back to my study and sit before the window. Dedo crouches, arms crossed over his knees. The periwinkle is blooming, spreading tiny lavender flowers over everything, climbing over the beach stones, covering the dead leaves left un-raked from last fall.
During this sheltering-in-place, we are advised to keep to a schedule. I take a book to the front room and settle before the large windows. More neighbors are out. I see that Bill from across the street is raking. He’s already filled four bags with dead leaves, although we have been cautioned only two bags will be collected during the shut-down. There is something strange about how he is dressed. I open the shade wide to get a better look. He’s wearing a sweatshirt over pants that I realize are PJ bottoms, red plaid.
I must keep to my schedule, I think, so I hurry back to my painting. I study my Dedo, knowing he is an imposter. The real Little Dedo was carved by Sister Marie Therese in 1160 and has crossed toes. My Dedo’s toes are not crossed, the feet grab the ground with toes splayed, ready to pounce.
The days pass. I go back and forth from window to window. First, I check out the street scene. A 4-foot tall superhero races down the sidewalk, yellow cape flying, eyes hidden behind yellow goggles, as a woman follows slowly behind.
Then I go back to look out at the garden. Dedo sits hunched over. He is a gift from my brother Charlie. Charlie and I both retired from our careers about the same time, Charlie from social work. He decided he was through with people and all their problems, so he went to work for a friend in the monument business where he drove a truck carrying tomb stones to cemeteries. I was floundering in my new retired status, and Charlie thought a garden gnome would help, something kitschy. Since the stone cutter at his company had messed up Dedo’s toes, Charlie got a deal.
These solitary days begin to feel endless so I plan breaks, elevenses the morning and tea at four in the afternoon. I enjoy these rituals, sitting by the front window. One morning I see my neighbor Bill as he rounds the corner, walking five dogs. He twirls around, holding the leashes high, trying not to get tangled in them. All his kids have come home to shelter-in-place and have brought their dogs with them. The dogs lunge, balk, bark, yap and yank. A big black one and a little white one, a rescue greyhound, a curly labradoodle and an energetic terrier, make up this diorama.
By week five of this isolation, I need to escape the news that spews from every electrical outlet, and from the growing terror of the situation. I ditch the schedule. I go from door to door. First, I open the sliding glass door and breathe in fresh air. The wall of yellow daffodils that forms a semi-circle behind Dedo is fading, and is replaced by a blaze of crimson Azaleas. Next I go to the front and stand in the open door. Out front, pink chalk hearts and rainbows appear on the sidewalk with the messages: Be Happy, Smile. The artists, three sisters, sneak into my backyard to crown Dedo with a pink sparkly crown. Neighbors set up aluminum webbed chairs in their driveways, six feet apart.
I sit alone in the back yard and read “Rip Van Winkle” After 20 years, Rip reemerged to a changed world. Though disheveled and bearded, he adjusted. Dedo is 10 years old. Only his ankles, now stained a brownish-green, show the signs of time passing. I have noticed that Bill, the dog walker, has grown a beard. Peapod and Amazon Prime are the only vehicles on the road, but have to slow down for the many walkers who have taken over the street to keep their distance.
I finally step out of my seclusion and join the street life. Everyone is wearing face masks. I greet old friends and meet neighbors for the first time. We chat in the street, forming 6-foot circles, squares and hexagons. We trade rolls of toilet paper for packets of yeast. Kids zoom around on bikes. Social distancing, sheltering-in-place, alone; watching, guarding, together.
Sheila Janega is a retired librarian who can’t imagine a world without books. She has always kept a journal, written book reviews, belonged to book clubs and attended writing workshops. She is currently a member of a Flash Fiction Writer’Group and is now completing the circle by writing her own stories.