After the Storm

by Elena Schwolsky, Workshop Leader

“It has been exactly a year,” Sarah thought as she glanced at the calendar from Valdez Insurance Inc. held to the fridge by a magnet. The magnet was one she had bought on one of her vacation trips—it had tickled her at the time. “The only normal people are the ones you haven’t met yet” it proclaimed—black letters on a white background that had yellowed during its time on the fridge.
___“More true now than it was when all this started,” she thought, gesturing around her tiny kitchen as if “all this” was somehow contained in the hodgepodge of mismatched appliances, Formica counters, and clutter of tchotchkes that crowded the kitchen where she had made her morning coffee for over 30 years.
___Nothing in the kitchen had changed in this year. The toaster still worked only when it wanted to. The refrigerator sounded like an outboard motor when it cycled on and the stove required a long wooden match to light the burners. Oh, but she and Nate had whipped up some tasty meals in this kitchen. Well, there was something that had changed–– Nate was no longer here. Sarah wondered if their love and deep friendship would have survived quarantine together––or the isolation of being in their own separate spaces. But Nate had left, just before all this.
___There was a before, though it seemed long, long ago––but so far, no real after that Sarah could hold onto. Yes, she had managed to get her two shots and had celebrated briefly––pouring herself a rum and coke and imagining herself on a tropical island—even asking Alexa to play some cumbia music and dancing around the living room with an imaginary partner.
___So much in her life was imagined now—what a hug from her dear friend Deenie would feel like after all this time, how it would feel to walk on the Avenue without a mask covering her smile. She wondered if she even knew how to be with people in real life anymore, make small talk, laugh at a joke. Was it like riding a bike—just get on and pedal—or would she have to learn all over again?
Sarah sat with her coffee in her chair by the window. The garbage had finally been picked up, but patches of dirty snow still dotted the curb and trash was strewn up and down the block.
___The storm was over, and they had survived–– worn, battered, ragged at the edges. How much they had learned was still unclear. And what would happen next––a complete mystery.


The grey blue of a sliver of sky visible between dusty brick walls
The yellow of a tulip curling into itself
The magenta of the tiny buds on the tree outside the window
The filtered gold of the sunlight behind the shades
The distant song of unseen birds
The milky beige of her morning coffee
The clank of the spoon on the saucer
The smell of garlic from her neighbor’s kitchen
This narrow slice of the world was all she had
Shrinking from one day to the next in a relentless test
Of her ability to subtract.
What would be left when she finally opened her door?