The first day of isolation I spent watching the news with Mother. She’s seventy years and in fragile health after fighting cancer last year. When news of the virus first started to spread, I’d worried about bringing it home to her. I work with little children all day and as much as I love the little buggers, they’re like walking germs. Even in less scary times, I’d worried about carrying the flu home to Mother.
When we got word from the governor that schools were closing for at least two weeks, I went numb. I don’t have a lot in my life. My sweet first graders, my wonderful mother, my potted flowers and my books are it. I knew isolation was for the best, but still, I took the news hard. When I came home and told her I was not to report to work for at least two weeks, I pretended to be fine, when really, I wanted to cry. Mother worries about me, as if I were ten instead of thirty-seven. The last thing I want is for her to spend any of her precious energy on me.
I made her a cup of tea and left her in the living room with her easel and her watercolors. On the way home I’d stopped for some red tulips so that she might have a beautiful still life to paint.
My apartment has only two bedrooms, a living room that bleeds into a kitchen, separated only by a counter. What the place lacks in space, it makes up for in charm, with arched doorways and pretty wood floors. A bank of windows and the sliding glass door to the balcony brings light, even during dark months. We need that here in Seattle with all the gray days. My windows look directly out to the apartment building across the street, which isn’t ideal. I can only imagine what they think of the homely schoolteacher fussing with her flowerpots all summer. Or, maybe they don’t notice me at all.
When Mother moved in, I made a corner of the living room into a small art space for her where she can paint. Keeping busy is important for her health. Doing what she loves is the best medicine.
Mother’s last chemo treatment was three months ago. The doctors assured us she’s in remission. Her hair is an inch long now, soft and white like a chick. I’m down on my knees every night thanking God for her recovery.
The weather is cold here. Planting my pots is still at least a month away. But I went out to my patio and had a good cry. I’m afraid and anxious. I’ll miss my kids. I don’t know how to prepare lessons for them in this new world. Regardless, I’m going to have to figure out how.
After my cry, I headed inside and made a simple stir fry for dinner. Mother ate well, which pleased me. Then, I left her to watch Jeopardy while I did the dishes.
That’s when I saw it. A sign in the window of the apartment directly across the alley from mine.
BRONTE, MY NAME IS ELLIS. WE RIDE THE SAME BUS. MAY I HAVE YOUR EMAIL?
At first, I simply stared at it, thinking I was seeing things. Then, my mind started turning. Ellis. Same bus. Could it be him?
It had to be. There were only five of us who consistently stood at the same stop. One was a young woman with a backpack, who I assumed was a student. Another was an older woman who worked at a supermarket not far from where I taught. I knew this only because she’d mentioned it once. The other two were men. One of whom I knew. He was about sixty and lived in an apartment in my building. Mr. Sparkman who always smelled of whiskey. I had no idea where he went every day. But that’s not the point here. We’re talking about Ellis.
The last of the regulars was a man I guessed to be about forty. A gorgeous silver streaked his light brown hair. He wears these attractive glasses that make him look terribly smart but also hip and stylish. He never said a word to anyone. My only hint about his life was a keycard he sometimes wears around his neck, which tells me he works at one of our high-tech companies. I’ve never gotten close enough to see his name or just the company logo. I’d guessed him as a computer programmer. Probably some kind of genius or something that makes gobs of money. He carried an expensive leather laptop bag and dressed impeccably, which also hinted of a good job.
Ellis has to be him.
His apartment building makes my mine look like a movie star’s dumpy younger sister. That’s neither here nor there, but I thought it was worth mention because it’s such a perfect symbol of how different we are.
I’d figured he’d never noticed me, a drab middle-aged schoolteacher in my shabby coat. He must have noticed my name on my book bag. How else would he know my name? All roads led to one answer. This was the gorgeous man at my bus stop I’d admired from afar for at least a year. Honestly, I’d have given my pinky toe for the courage to introduce myself. But people like me don’t do stuff like that.
Okay, I told myself. Stay calm and think what to do. He wants my email. This was a strange turn of events in my rather monotonous life. What would be the harm? If he was a creep, I could simply block him.
Oh, hell yes, he could have my email. He could have my phone number too if it came down to that. Stay centered, I ordered myself, and don’t go too Emily Dickinson with fantasies about some man I hardly know.
“Mother,” I said. “I need a sign for the window.”
Fifteen minutes later, I propped it up against my flowerpots.
MY EMAIL IS BRONTETEACHES@GMAIL.COM
And now I wait for the reply.