Thursday, April 30, 2020

April in New Milford

Yesterday, before the rain washed the chalk from the sidewalks.

My hometown has always had its charms.
Before sunset, April 28.

Granted that New Milford, NJ, would not necessarily be described as mysterious, evocative or romantic. It's not like Paris, which I've always wanted to visit. Or New York, which will always be my favorite city.

But this past month, all hometowns -- no matter where we live -- have shared a life-and-death connection to the larger world. The pandemic's common denominator is part of an equation that has changed perspectives everywhere.

Ordinary life is now filled with ghosts. Even the NJ Transit buses that still travel up and down River Road are all empty.

In New Milford, I usually start the day with a run. Here's what 7:30 a.m. looked like on April 14:

And this is what the streets look like before 8 p.m.:

Everything is closed. Well, except for Joe's Beer Wine & Spirits:

The churches are all locked:

But, outside, there are symbols and signs of Heaven all around:

Including in all the color of the blossoming trees:

This year the Easter Bunny, surrounded by police officers, waited for cars to circle past in the parking lot of the empty Shop-Rite:

This is right next door to CareOne at New Milford, a senior center where -- as state officials reported on April 20 -- COVID cases numbered 64 and COVID deaths totaled 17.

Meanwhile, wild animals are reclaiming the land. During a walk on April 20, I saw deer roaming the suburban streets. There are no woods nearby.

On the morning of April 21, I thought, from afar (below left), that abandoned pink latex gloves had been blown against the branches of a tree. I went to clean them off before my run... and discovered they were flowers.

During a walk on April 28, I took this photo of a house a distance from my own. I was struck by the message ("Persevere") in the bay window:

I didn't realize, until I posted the image on Instagram, that the house belongs to someone I know. It's a great family, and many years ago the husband had come to my house to tune an old piano.

I have a digital piano now, and lately I have more time to play... mostly sad songs, like "Mad World" and "Philadelphia." (I also wrote a sad, COVID-inspired short story, during hours when I would normally be commuting to New York.)

On a cold, damp night last Friday, my wife lit a fire, and I plugged in my headphones so the piano wouldn't disturb her.

I'm not sad, though. Deep down, I'm hopeful. I look forward to a different life ahead.

I plan to change a few things.

Someday, I know now in my heart, I really will visit Paris.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

5 Sonnets, 7 Photos

Poems/images by Bob Varettoni, posted while staying at home on Shakespeare Day, 2020

Sonnet 1

There's something in the air, or so they say.
It's certainly not magic or the heat.
It's just the moon, white-full and young -- the way,
like water, people splash and spill beneath.

And you and I remind me of the tides.
We hate and love; we rise and fall. It scares
me that I don't know why or that I find
no fault in us, just something in the air.

So still above us rests the moon, content
and seemingly unmoved. It doesn't hate
or love; it doesn't care -- without relent,
without a passing judgment of our fate.

The moonlight falls like smoke between the mist.
What fools we are compared to such as this.


Sonnet 2

Adam was a madman; and Paradise,
a fraud. In only this do I believe:
the rhythm of your constancy. Oh Christ,
your eyes alone can prove infinity.

It is your love that has unraveled all.
You haunt my sleep. One moment, I balance
with stars beneath my feet. The next, I fall
from you, toward earth -- my dream, a graceless dance.

Before I land, my senses gain control.
Awake, alone, I fear the rustling sound
of insubstantial leaves, like wind-swept souls.
My heart (alive or dead?) seems strangely bound.

This is the slow, uneven beat of Hell:
I have loved you always, but never well.


Sonnet 3
(11 Roses for N)

Alas, alack, I have to disagree
with Shakespeare: my love is rare -- her hair red,
like an Irish setter's, and her eyes green,
the envy of the cat beneath my bed.

I see, in her reflective gaze, nine lives --
defying death (despite devout clichés),
perchance to live forever in this rhyme.
Her form belies my unpoetic ways.

If God's Own eye is something like the sun,
then true love is a flower, I propose.
And my love is a dozen, minus one.
Imperfectly inscrutable: one rose,

one rose, one rose, one rose, one rose, one rose,
one rose, one rose, one rose, one rose, one rose.


Sonnet 4

A never-ending whisper in my dreams
belies my vane attempts at normalcy --
fluttering wings or muffled, distant screams.
Intimate shades of tone, the source unseen.

And yet, this is no disembodied sound.
I recognize some element of pain.
I sense an urgency the darkness shrouds --
an outstretched arm, perhaps… It's you again.

I almost feel your breath upon my face.
I almost see your form beside my bed.
At dawn I find this ghost has been erased,
and wonder fills my silent hours instead.

What alchemy has turned our love to fear?
What god is this that only I can hear?


Sonnet 5

I have encased my soul in tempered glass,
displayed it on the mantel in our home.
The frame collects the dust beside a vase
of silk flowers embed in Styrofoam.

Beneath this centerpiece, a hungry fire,
timer-controlled, heats wood that doesn't burn.
The warmth is real, and I am safe. Desire
consumed, I wait alone for love's return.

Then in you walk... Alarms trip. Cats take flight
and lose several lives. A fake church bell sounds.
You flip the light. Night is day; day is night.
Hamlet, without doubt; Ophelia, undrowned.

My kingdom would be bound in a nutshell,
if not for you: our lives, suburban hell.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Short Story: 'The Orange Cat'

This is a re-imagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat,” written in the age of COVID-19. It is entirely fiction, in homage to a great writer and borrowing heavily from the original (as well as Lady Madeline and clues from "The Fall of the House of Usher"... and "Annabel Lee"). I’ve always loved Poe. I’ve read that his wife Virginia slept with a cat on her chest to keep her warm, and that he often wrote with a cat seated on his shoulder. The story ends with his dying words.


The Orange Cat

By Bob Varettoni

"The loss pressed down on her chest and came up into her throat. It was a fine cry -- loud and long -- but it had no bottom and no top, just circles and circles of sorrow." -- Toni Morrrison, "Sula"

This is my ninth life.
I expect to be dead within 24 hours. I am relieved by the hope of being delivered from my pain.
Bed-ridden, I make wild and homely wishes upon the gilt specks in the hospital's ceiling tiles that I pretend are stars.
Pressure grows on my chest. I hear a melody of disembodied sound over the monotonous, dactylic droning of a ventilator.
Perhaps it's the voice of my nurse, a strong woman with an undefinable accent. She's whispering. Or maybe my mother is on her knees beside my bed, many years ago, saying a rosary. Or someone is summoning a cat.
Having no more solace from dreams, I seek now to unburden my soul before anesthesia compels me to sleep.


During my first lives, when I was boy, I particularly, perhaps peculiarly, loved a black cat that followed me everywhere.
My every movement seemed the most important thing in the world to him. I named him Pluto, after a favorite childhood story... and the planet, since I've always loved astronomy.
With Pluto in my daily orbit, I believed I had the tender heart of St. Francis of Assisi, the bedside ceramic statuette that guarded me. I believed I communicated with my cat telepathically.
So it shocked me when Pluto died.
Or, rather, when he was poisoned.
At the time, Mother and I lived alone in the New Jersey suburbs. A disagreeable neighbor -- a fat woman with two bullies for sons -- had doused her property with rat poison. We were given no warning. Pluto simply returned home from play one day, foaming at the mouth.
My mother expressed no anger at the neighbor, nor sympathy for me. She thought it was all for the best and tidily solved the problem of having a black cat around our small house. To her, all black cats were witches in disguise.
I waited seven years, when I was 17, to adopt another cat. Mother had died just 24 hours earlier. I didn't get another cat while we lived together because I didn't want to upset her, and I couldn't hide one from her. She could "always smell a cat." I wanted a pet I could protect.
I named my kitten Jupiter. For several years, we lived with my grandmother by a lake. She tolerated Jupiter, out of pity, and he grew to be as large as Pluto.
The two cats' coloring differed as much as the two planets. Instead of the black mane Pluto and I shared, Jupiter was an orange tabby with jealous-colored eyes and an "M" on his forehead. According to legend, this is the mark of Mother Mary, who initialed the forehead of an ancestral tabby who had been kind to Baby Jesus.
In nature and character, my second cat resembled Pluto in every respect. Whenever I touched Jupiter, he immediately arose, purred loudly, rubbed against my hand and appeared delighted with my notice.
Seven years ago, when I was 24, I met Virginia, and we married three years later.
She always understood how devoted I was to Jupiter. She loved animals too.
"Jupie" grew old in our home – an apartment in The Bronx, near Fordham, where I teach... or taught... basic writing and freshman composition. He led a comfortable indoor life. Recalling Pluto's fate, I feared letting Jupie roam outside in a neighborhood filled with rat poison.
He would have been 14 years old -- and I would have spent half my life's memories with him -- had our ending been as happy as our beginning.
The story of our downfall is, from afar, nothing more than a series of mere household events.


Virginia and I always wanted a baby.
We were devastated by a miscarriage in our first years of marriage. Several months ago, Virginia again became pregnant.
That was our happiest time. Miraculous, life-affirming joy filled our lives. I regret I did not fully appreciate those moments.
During Virginia's mid-pregnancy ultrasound, we learned that our baby would be a girl. We didn't throw a gender-reveal party. Instead, we celebrated privately. As soon as we knew we were having a baby girl, we knew her name: Madeline, after my grandmother.
Although I'm not handy and wasn't a great helper, Virginia and I prepared for Madeline's arrival by sprucing up and rearranging our living space. We called our place "our little cottage." In its original state it had two bedrooms: an oversized master suite and a second bedroom I used for writing and grading essays.
Virginia and I converted the smaller bedroom, across a hallway from our own, into Madeline's nursery. We constructed a temporary wall in our bedroom to carve out a private workspace for my desk and books.
Throughout this process, Jupie was not himself.
It started with the shedding.
Some fur always collected on our furniture, and Virginia laughed at the various gadgets I had bought over the years to clean up after my pet. I hated to use a vacuum cleaner, which frightened him, and with only one cat I managed the task easily enough.
Soon after Virginia became pregnant, we noticed more cat hair around the apartment. At first, I attributed this to Jupiter's advancing age, and searched for answers online. Virginia thought I was needlessly worried.
"It's just his winter coat," she said. I think she didn't complain because I had previously expressed nothing but affection for the cat. She didn't want to hurt my feelings.
Pockmarks with clumps of fur appeared on the cushions of our overstuffed living-room couch, where Virginia and I cuddled while watching TV. It was as if Jupie had napped in one spot, shed the entirety of his fur, then moved to a second, third and fourth spot.
Cat hair also accumulated in hollowed-out spots on our bed sheets, then on our tables, on my desk and inside our closets. We needed to brush our clothes before stepping outside.
Virginia’s blithe explanation was that our apartment had been inhabited by "ghost cats."
"I've seen them dart about," she said. "A big black cat crossed my path in the nursery the other day. It had to be a ghost."
"A black cat?" I repeated. I had never told anyone, even Virginia, about Pluto.
"I'm not afraid," she said. "But I'm beginning to see black hairs mixed with all the orange." She touched my thinning head, widened her eyes and melodramatically squeezed my forearm. "Maybe we've been cursed!"
"Stop teasing me!" I protested. But her laugh was infectious, so I laughed too.
It was gallows humor.
Everything worsened by slow degrees, even as Jupiter's orange coat remained as fulsome as ever. He became increasingly needy.
He followed Virginia everywhere. Whenever she sat, he would approach with loathsome caresses, then climb to her lap and fasten his sharp claws to her stomach.
Worse, when Virginia stretched out, the cat would clamber upon her chest, remain motionless and emit an ungodly loud purr. He would not budge.
Jupiter would open just one eye -- his left -- and fix his gaze upon the wall or a baseboard. I called an exterminator when I first saw him do this, but we never found the source.
If I tried to free Virginia, the cat would recoil, pounce to the floor before I could grab him, and snake around my feet to try to trip me.
Jupiter was certainly aware of the unborn child. Whether he was protective or jealous of Madeline, I could not say.
Soon, even Virginia grew weary and distressed. Although we kept our kitchen spotless, we began to find cat hair in our food. That was when Virginia developed a persistent, dry cough.
The more intrusive Jupiter became, the more I developed an aversion to him. I resented the way he made me feel. Why should his "affection" engender in me such a perverse impulse?
Then I resented his very presence. I couldn't help but smell the stench of his litter box, despite my constant efforts to clean up after him.
I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable. I started to drink scotch in the evenings to calm my nerves.
Virginia, needing rest, began to head for bed earlier and earlier.
In the makeshift office area in our bedroom, an ambitious writing project consumed my attention.
I was documenting everything about our lives leading to Madeline's birth. I had resolved to write every day in this baby diary, throughout our daughter's childhood.
As I typed on my laptop, Jupiter sometimes perched silently on the ledge above my desk, staring, one-eyed, at phantoms over my shoulder.
"How cute!" Virginia said, when she first observed this scene.
"How cute," I mimicked, in an ill-tempered tone. "I think he's sucking the Muses from the air."
"Doing everyone a favor then?" she replied, with a halfhearted smile. "You two behave," she added, heading for bed without kissing me goodnight.
This exchange bored the cat. He half-shut his filmy inner eyelid and drew an untroubled breath, which I felt was only to point out the contrast to Virginia's.
Nothing had really changed, I tried to convince myself. At my desk, I downed a whiskey sour in a tall glass and tried to regain perspective. Virginia and I were still filled with optimism and anticipation about our future with Madeline. That was the main thing. We were blessed, I reminded myself, and very lucky.
I had, after all, documented many happy moments in the baby diary. We had led a blissful life in our little cottage, and in my writing I imagined what life would be like for the three of us many years from now.
Recently, with effort, I wrote deep into the night while the cat nestled against Virginia. When I joined them in bed, exhausted, I dreamt I heard sounds in Madeline's nursery.
In my dream, I crossed the hallway into her room. Girlish laughter reverberated from inside the closet. I paused, then turned the knob.
Brilliant light surrounded me as I opened the door. I beheld, unexpectedly, a much larger room... bathed in sunlight with vaulted windows... and of improbable dimension. It was the size of a city park. In the distance was a brightly colored roundabout... one of those merry-go-round circles that spin when children run alongside and push on the handles.
A girl was at play. She had flowing blonde hair and wore a flaming red dress with decorative white floral print. She was bare-legged, in white bobby socks and white sneakers.
I heard a vague but familiar playground rhyme, but this receded to the background as soon as I realized: It was Madeline! My Madeline!
I ran to her, my heart filled with joy.
Suddenly, something tripped me. I lost balance and began to fall face forward. I woke with a startled cry.
Something fell at the foot of my bed. Claws scurried on the hardwood floor, followed by a galloping sound.
The pain on my ankle was sharp and real. The cat, I grasped, had bitten me as I slept.
This commotion half-woke Virginia. She asked if I was feverish. Our sheets were damp, and I had kicked the covers from my feet.
When I explained what happened, she was groggy and quizzically said, "the cat?" before turning from me when I assured her everything was fine.
"I was dreaming about Madeline," I said a minute later. "She reminded me of a photo of Mother when she was a little girl... I wonder if Madeline will look like her. Did I ever show you her yearbook photo? I loved the caption: 'Blonde and peppy, fresh as paint. Not a sinner, not a saint.'"
I recited this reverie to no one, because Virginia was already fast asleep.
Before dawn, I blinked my restless eyes to find my wife next to me in bed on her back, with the cat lying on top of her chest. It had been watching me sleep with one open eye, luminous and green.
It snarled, hissed at me, then jumped from the bed. Virginia didn't stir.
That's when I knew everything had irrevocably changed.
Horror filled the next three days.


On the first day:
I woke in a foul mood. I trudged to the bathroom to wash my hands and clean up.
While shaving, I saw the cat's reflection in the mirror. The fiend was lounging in the only ray of sunrise in the apartment, and the sliver of light cut right across its neck. The image made me perversely happy.
Dreaming about Madeline had inspired me to write, and I made prolific additions to the baby diary that morning. At my desk in our bedroom, my fingers tapped wildly on the keyboard.
Virginia woke late. She touched my shoulder in passing and said, "Morning, darling," as I kept working. My fake diary had evolved into an account of future days with Virginia and Madeline in our little cottage and, years later, living in a grand house by a lake.
I wrote about a day we went boating, and another day Virginia and I taught young Madeline how to fish. It was always just the three of us; we were always happy.
Hours passed while I was in this maniacal state, until I heard my bride fumbling in the closet of the nursery. I cleared my head to investigate.
I discovered Virginia on her knees, cleaning up cat feces.
"What the hell are you doing?" I cried.
Uncharacteristically rough and intemperate, I pushed her aside. "God damn it! I've got this! Go! Wash your hands!
Virginia, startled, retreated to the bedroom instead.
The cat came from nowhere and darted between us as I followed her. He jumped to my desk, knocking over a large cocktail glass. The contents spilled on my laptop. He jumped again to the shelf above, as my drink seeped into crevices of the keyboard.
"My diary!"
My soul took flight from my body. I feared my work would be lost.
In frustration and anger, I slammed my hand against the edge of the desk. Virginia came toward us to intervene. The cat flew past my face from the bookcase. I grabbed the nearest thing at hand and hurled it at the diving beast.
I missed. The front of the laptop cracked on the floor, and I heard a sickening thud as the back edge hit my wife squarely on the ankle.
Virginia screamed, then hobbled to our bed.
She gritted her teeth and pressed her palm against her wound.
In desperation, I tried to comfort her. She wasn't bleeding, but I was mortified. Virginia stared at me as if I were a stranger.
"Don't worry about me," she said, pushing away my awkward attempt at a hug.
She turned from me on our bed and, in a fetal position, began to cry. "Have another whiskey sour," she spat.
I lay down by the side of my darling Virginia. I dared not speak or touch her. I stared at the ceiling, where a dome light imitated the full moon.
After a short time, Virginia stopped crying. After a long time, she rolled to her back and, side by side, we contemplated our fate under the fake moon.
"I know you're sorry," she said at last. "I know you didn't mean it."
"Are you OK?"
"I'll live," she deadpanned.
I turned my head to see my laptop in two pieces on the floor. I stretched my arm to where the keyboard had landed and was able to grab hold. It looked beyond repair and stank of scotch. I also noticed a cut from where I had slammed my hand against the desk.
In the bathroom, I washed my hands and bandaged my finger.
"Did you have a backup?" Virginia asked when I returned to the bedroom.
"Only on the hard drive. It might be lost."
"The baby diary?"
I settled back next to her, and she again touched my shoulder. We began to talk about ordinary things.
The cat, we agreed, had become a problem. Was it the pregnancy? Virginia thought it might have more to do with the change in our routines, and the way we were nesting and rearranging the apartment. We had, for example, moved the litter box. Perhaps that explained the cat's "accident" in the nursery closet.
Perhaps, I said, but you have to be more careful. I've read horrible things about toxoplasmosis. She agreed. She hadn't noticed a smell. She said she wasn't thinking clearly lately.
"I'm not crazy," I said. It's not like I was suggesting the cat would detect milk on Madeline's breath and smother her to death in her crib. "I just don't trust the thing."
I told Virginia, plainly, that we couldn't keep a cat around if it refused to use a litter box. Not if it tripped me, or peevishly hissed. How would it treat the baby now that it had started to bite?
She asked to see my foot, and I rolled my pant leg to show her where the cat had bitten me the night before. I positioned my leg next to hers.
We stared in stunned silence. We did not acknowledge what was obvious: The distinct outlines on our ankles mirrored each other. Both bruises were perforated; shaped like a noose.
I bent to kiss the mark on Virginia. "There... Better?"
She didn't answer. So I kissed her stomach. "I'm sorry, Madeline," I whispered.
In bed that night, I kissed Virginia on the cheek. "I'm going to get rid of the cat," I said.
In reply, she mumbled something I didn't understand.
I had a fitful night's sleep. At 3 a.m., I left our bed and wandered to the kitchen. The cat was nowhere to be found. I grabbed what was left of the scotch and poured another drink.


On the second day:
I woke with stale liquor on my breath, so I brushed my teeth and popped a Life-Saver in my mouth. Ironic, I thought.
Enticing the cat by pretending to prepare its breakfast, I cornered it, snatched it in cool blood and trapped it in a case.
The Animal Care Center was a 13-minute walk from the apartment. My prisoner howled all the way, incriminating me on East Kingsbridge Road as we hurried past a cadaverous exchange student wearing a protective mask.
I arrived before the center opened. The lone worker inside saw my plight through the expansive storefront window, unlocked the front door and ushered me to the counter as if she had been expecting me.
"Don't worry," she said, instead of "good morning."
I placed the case next to her lipstick-stained Starbucks cup. A nameplate on a cluttered desk in the background suggested that her name was Rosalie. She had the aura of a protective younger sister.
"I'm not worried," I said calmly. I explained why I was there without looking her in the eye. Something seemed out of place.
"Why aren't there any animals here?" I asked, thinking I would see cages filled with dogs and cats.
"Oh," she started to explain...
"No, wait," I interrupted. "I forgot. People are adopting pets like crazy these days, right?"
"Oh, no, no," said Rosalie, unflustered. "We're not a shelter. We're a pet receiving center. We take the animals in and then transport them to our shelter in East Harlem."
She handed me a standard form, and I filled it out using a dull pencil.
Compassionate Rosalie said she understood about cats and babies, and remarked... without lecturing... that there were a few misconceptions about that.
She added that grown cats of a certain age rarely were adopted, but my cat seemed... well, "I'm sure we'll find a good home for..." (she paused to peer over my pencil and read my upside-down scrawl) "... Jupiter." (The sudden thought that the creature in the box might actually survive filled me with a moment of dread.) "He has beautiful coloring, and such beautiful green eyes," she continued, trying to ease a concern that I did not have in my heart. "I bet children will love him."
That was my cue. "That's the thing," I began. "I mean, I guess I should mention..."
"Yes?" Rosalie tried to look into my eyes, but I again diverted my gaze; this time in false shame.
"You see, it's not only that my wife is pregnant. The real reason I can't keep the cat anymore is because of its temperament. It's turned so... vicious. Just the other night it bit me on the ankle."
"He bit you?" she asked, peeking at the bandage I had forgotten about on my hand.
"Yes," I said, clumsily hiding my finger as if trying not to implicate the cat in yet a second attack. "I don't think I provoked it," I added. "I mean, it bit me while I was sleeping."
I glanced into the box and looked the animal right in its one open eye, causing it to hiss in venomous anger and seal what was left of its fate.
"I see," said Rosalie. "Well, that does complicate..." Her voice trailed into a sigh, and she reached under the counter for a bright yellow card, marked "BITE CASE" in black letters, and taped it to the box.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said. "Do you want the carrier back?"
"No, don't worry," I said, instead of "goodbye."
When I arrived back at the apartment, my clothes were disheveled. They reeked, as I had noticed in the elevator, from the cat having spilled its bowels and guts in fright during our recent journey.
I brushed past Virigina rudely and began to wash my hands in the bathroom sink. I think she said I looked like the devil.
"I got rid of the cat," I called out. Soap and water couldn't erase the smell. Or the blood.
Virginia stayed in bed for the remainder of the day. I let her sleep. She didn't want to eat. I wanted to be close by, so I read at my desk and spent several hours at peace. I tried to recover the files on my laptop, but all was ruined.
That night, without the cat in the apartment, I finally got a good night's sleep.
I again dreamt I heard a sound from the closet in Madeline's nursery.
This time it wasn't laughter but a cry, at first muffled and broken. The sobbing of a child? It quickly swelled into one long, loud and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman -- a howl -- a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph. A ghost cat?
In my dream, I flung open the nursery's closet door, expecting to find a vision of Hell.
Instead, I saw young Madeline standing in her red dress. The howling had stopped, and the expansive, sun-dappled playground lay magnificently before us.
Madeline reached out to me, took my hand in hers and we started to run toward the roundabout. The nursery rhyme was clear to me now. We sang it together:
"Ring-a-round the rosie,
A pocket full of posies,
Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall... down."
We playfully pretended to drop to the ground. Before landing, I again woke with a start, covered in sweat.
I was holding Virginia's hand.


On the third day:
Overwhelmed by fever, a dry cough and chest pains, my wife was admitted to Montefiore Hospital.


Was that a lifetime ago?
No. The utter destruction of my home occurred just days ago, in early spring, seemingly overnight.
Bed-ridden, I now strain for breath, with a vast weight upon my heart. When I open my eyes, with great effort I crane my head to glimpse an incarnate nightmare I am powerless to entomb.
The nurse smooths and refolds my bed sheets to placate me. She does not notice the hollow impression of a cat. She thinks the strands of hair in the bed are my own.
She can't explain my agitation at the purr of the ventilator, and she is unfazed by the stench of excrement (what would Mother think?) even though I have been thoroughly cleaned.
I feel her pity as I drift in and out of consciousness. I find no meaning in the wretched stars on the ceiling tiles. An oxygen mask obscures my vision.
In the end, it doesn't matter: this hideous beast is invisible.
Just days ago, the nurse told me Virginia had died of the ghostly virus. Baby Madeline too.
Lord help my poor soul.


Related post: Another short story, with another Virginia and another nod to Poe.