“Dispatch from a Pandemic: Queens” by Jess deCourcy Hinds

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Enrique Flores-Galbis

Every day, my seven year-old daughter and I read about penguins.

corona samEvery day: sirens. Four miles away: Elmhurst Hospital, “the epicenter of the epicenter,” according to the New York Times last month. I’ve lived through something like this before, working a few blocks from the World Trade Center. I was ten minutes late to my internship at Ms. magazine that day. I was close; I was far.

Every day: fried eggs. I am the mother, so I give all my yolks to the baby.

Every day, I wonder if my friend hospitalized with COVID-19 ever got my sunflowers.

Every day, seven days a week, when the baby naps, I write. What I lack in physical space I create in mental space. My older daughter builds forts with blankets, tin cans and sacks of rice. I build them with words.

Every day, my mother texts a photo of the Chrysler Building from her midtown Manhattan roof deck. “Just so you know I’m still here!”

Every day: penguin love. My daughter loves the Macaroni, with punk yellow hair. Mine is the fairy penguin, delicate as a hummingbird.

Every day, I scrape eggs out of the rug, vacuum as if my life depended on it.

Every day, I whisper to my husband, “Is the camera off?” before changing clothes in the bedroom while he’s in a Zoom meeting. My life partner is a mysterious black box on the screen. Strange to be putting on a bra while engineers’ voices bounce around our messy bedroom.

Every day, I check my daughter’s face mask, and encase the baby’s stroller in a plastic rain hood even on the sunniest days.

Every day, my heart pounds when runners come too close. A sneeze is a shotgun. Sneezes can travel at 100 miles per hour, my daughter’s teacher informs us.

Every day, I fear grocery stores. Weekly, a farmer delivers produce, the eggs we devour, and milk rattling in reusable glass bottles. The farmer comes late at night, children asleep, my husband and I waving in our pajamas. The milk separates with yogurt-like chunks. During this horrible time, I’ve come to understand the phrase, “cream rises to the top.”

Every day: a penguin story. We learn that penguins live everywhere, not just where it is cold. In a village near Rio de Janiero, an elderly fisherman rescued a penguin from an oil spill, and nursed him back to health. The penguin swam 5,000 miles to breed off the coasts of Chile and Argentina. But he returns to Brazil, for five years and counting, to visit the man who rescued him. The sweetest of reunions.

Every day, I wait for reunions.

–May 15, 2020

Postscript, June 6, 2020: I wrote this dispatch before the murder of George Floyd, and the courageous protests happening around the world. I send all my love and strength to communities of color who have been severely impacted by COVID-19, and who are now fighting for justice. The time for change is now. #BlackLivesMatter

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Jess deCourcy Hinds was the 2014-15 Pen Parentis writing fellow.  Her stories have appeared in journals such as Quarterly West, Monkeybicycle and Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers. Other writing has appeared in the New York Times, Ms. magazine, LitHub, The Rumpus, Newsweek, Seventeen and School Library Journal. Her work placed second in the 2017 Stella Kupferberg Short Story Contest. Hinds works as a librarian at Bard High School Early College Queens, where she runs a popular author series that highlights underrepresented voices.

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Enrique Flores-Galbis is a painter and a novelist who lives and works in NYC. His portraits and landscape paintings, frequently exhibited in one-man shows, are found in corporate, university, and private collections. He is the author of Raining Sardines  (Americas Honors Award, 2007), a young adult novel based on the encounter of Hatuey, the Arawak cacique, with the Conquistadores. His second book, 90 Miles to Havana (Pura Belpre Honors, 2010) is an historical fiction based on events that led to Operation Pedro Pan, the exodus of 14,000 children, including Flores-Galbis and his brothers, from Cuba to the USA.