“Dispatch from a Pandemic: Little Rock, Arkansas” by Allie Mariano

mariano art
Wren’s Nest, Carolyn Mariano

There are only two things I can think about right now. One, a Carolina wren is nesting in our patio light fixture. The nest tumbles out, beautifully crafted of twigs and leaves and moss. We have no access to the light switch; it’s automated by the apartment complex, and I’m scared she will die or the lightbulb will cook her eggs. A friend who works with birds tells me this is “a valid concern” and suggests unscrewing the lightbulb. But I can’t get to the lightbulb, her nest is so expertly crafted in the fixture of cheap metal and fogged glass, a half cage affixed to the wall. I cannot stick my hand in there. Though it might physically fit, I have a fear of harming her and a fear of her harming me.

corona samTwo, my cousin is about to give birth to her first child, the first baby born in our generation on that side of my family. She lives two-and-a-half hours away, and she is being induced a month early. No one can be there except for her boyfriend because this is life during coronavirus.

I am thirty-two; I grew up with these cousins, all girls and one boy, five of us total (and later, two more). When the five of us were kids, we played house, we played Little Women. We wore our grandparents’ clothes and made messes. We snuck out of the house and ran down the street to the nearby woods for scavenger hunts. We dug up roly-polies in the garden and made them into kings of small kingdoms.

My cousin is fun, and I do not use that word lightly or condescendingly or for lack of a better word. She is the perpetual wild child, but it is no surprise that she is having a kid now. She is thirty, after all, and she has a good job. She is true fun too. She is tequila-shots-in-our-20s fun, she is the-child-with-chocolate-smeared-on-her-face fun, she is choreographing-and-filming-dances-for-her-students fun. She is so fit to be a mother.

There, that twin trap of parenting and adulthood. There is the terror of caring for something more important than yourself. To the disgust of actual parents, I do feel almost this strongly for my dog. I have kept him alive and healthy for over eleven years, and the one time he went missing was a sickness unbearable. How could someone bear to ever let a human child from their sight?

Sitting on my patio, looking out at the privacy bushes and the road, I observe a cardinal who lands on our balcony ledge so briefly. I hardly move, and it flies away. Soon after, another bird, I think another wren, hops from branch to branch in the bushes. He, I’m assuming here, is paired with our wren, and he has a very fat grub or worm in his beak. He gets close, then flies away, hops to the rail, then away, the patio floor, and away. Certain that he is trying to feed the mama wren, I realize that I could be keeping him from being a good father, so I go inside and watch from the sliding glass door and recount the bird activities to my partner.

“Birds probably can’t see well, right?” I ask.

He stares at me. “Birds have very good eyes,” he says.

I do not want kids because it physically terrifies me. By it, I mean the physical nature of carrying a child in my womb. There are the bodily effects and changes, though I am finally growing accustomed to the idea that my body is changing, will change, regardless of any choices I make. But the physicality of the being inside of you, the worry, consideration, regard, concern, I hate it. Do not misunderstand me. I am not scared of or repulsed by or disgusted by pregnant people. I am happy for my pregnant friends, for my friends with children. I am exuberantly happy for my family members’ children. Happier, in fact, than I ever even thought I could be. I do not want it for myself.

At times, I think of the particular delights and joys of childhood. I think of weekend mornings with my family. I think of the trips that my parents shared with us, of dance lessons and soccer and cooking together and the one million and one small moments that shaped me, and in those moments I yearn. I almost want a child of my own to share those experiences with. I think of running through the woods with my sister and cousins and our roly poly kingdoms and the joys of being a child that I will never again have, and I want that for someone who is closer to me than anyone. I want that for someone who may never tell me of those delights, but who will have them, and I will have had them again through him or her.

At thirty-two, I do not want kids for the laundry list of practical reasons. Above all, I cannot afford one. My partner and I fell in love over many things – books and cycling and a shared comedic sense – and one other thing: not wanting children.

As I fawn over photos of my cousin’s new baby, shoving my phone in his face, he asks me directly: “Have you changed your mind about not wanting kids?” I hear the slight, incredulous, trepidation in his voice.

“No,” I tell him, and it is true. Any agony I have is the fear of missing out – how apt for a millennial – on some crucial life experience. But, I also want to travel frequently. I want to spend my Saturdays riding my bike for hours. Perhaps this is selfish. It is also selfish to have a child, just for the experience.

The bird is still in her nest, and the nest remains beautiful. I have not seen her babies, but I think I’ve heard their chirps. I took a photo of her at one point and could not see eggs or babies. I do not know for certain that they are there, and if they are there how they are doing. If they live, what will their future be? How long will they be in our light? How will she let them leave? I feel her pain at their departure. Motherhood, I think, how much pain it must be.

–April 22, 2020


Allie Mariano is a writer and English instructor. Her writing has appeared in CutBank, Day One, New Orleans’ The Times-Picayune, and other places. Her short story collection, Dead Women and Other Stories, was a finalist for the Black Lawrence Press 2019 Hudson Prize. She lives in Little Rock, where she is working on a novel. When she’s not writing or watching birds, she can be found biking in the Ouachita Forest.
Carolyn Mariano is a painter and textile artist based in Portland, Oregon. You can find her work on Instagram @czoozy.