Doug Sparks: ‘Isolation Scenes IV’

Isolation Scenes IV

By Doug Sparks

One: While driving the backroads of Groton, I waited for a turkey vulture to clear the road. He had been eating the guts of a turtle, whose shell was shimmering in the sun’s radiance. The vulture flew to the top of a nearby tree and was so close I saw through his nostrils.

At a distance, I see turkey vultures frequently while hiking as they fly overhead. Looking like hawks in silhouette, they give away their identify by flight pattern. A hawk’s is smooth. A jet. A turkey vulture’s is wavering. It moves at the wind’s mercy. It is the sort of bird that is considered ugly by just about everyone except those who study and pay attention to them.

Two: In my garage at night I have discovered a new friend, although I may have to kill him.

By lamplight, a skittish mouse emerges. I speak words of kindness to him. I try to remember where I stored the traps. Should I give him another night? Another week? Let him be?

Three: Moths don’t always die in flames. There’s one now, resting on a stack of books.

Four: I get daily text updates from the assisted living facility where my mom resides. I would say where she “lives,” but the idea that someone can live in a living facility sounds odd. It’s bad style. Redundant. How can you live in a living facility?

There, the death count is up to seven, and the recovery count is at 14. I like the vaguely impersonal nature of the data I receive daily by text. It makes the situation feel manageably abstract. One text noted that the outbreak has only just started in the dementia unit, which is where my mom stays, sleeps, eats.

Five: The mouse in the garage is growing used to me. I’m out here almost every night. The weather has been unusually cold, which means the mosquitoes are less active. When I first saw him pop up along the rail of the garage door, he would try to hide and his tail would shake. Now, his tail doesn’t shake. He hides briefly, then takes a long look at me before disappearing back into the wall.

Minutes later, I hear sounds under the workbench. The mouse is crunching something, possibly seeds. Where does a mouse find seeds in a garage? Or does he steal them from somewhere in the yard and store them here?

Six: I read the news tonight that the killers of Ahmaud Arbery have been arrested. I spent much, too much, of the day thinking about Arbery, and imagining the horror of being hunted down and killed. Did it feel like a dream? What went through his head in those final moments? Did he know it was over? Did he sense he was about to cross a threshold? Did he feel hatred or resignation or did he think of his family? What were the final thoughts of Ahmaud Arbery?

Seven: Today, I daydreamed about tricycles, and thought that I wanted to live in a place where I could ride one to buy groceries, and where my children could ride them without having to worry about distracted drivers. Over and over, as the sun’s light crossed the yard from back to front, I thought of tricycles, and slow rides under blue skies.

Eight: We have a warm day finally, then another.

Nine: My daughter develops a fever. The next night, she can’t sleep. The next day, we call the doctor, who suggests the family self-quarantine. The next night, her nose is running. The next afternoon, the fever has disappeared and she shows no symptoms. None of us do.

Ten: 10 p.m., and I’m in the garage, writing this.

Eleven: I still haven’t decided when or how to dispense of the mouse. Or if.

Twelve: My mother continues to show mild symptoms of COVID-19, but appears to have recovered. The disease continues to spread through her assisted living facility.

Thirteen: As I walk down my street, pushing a double stroller, I have a fantasy about inviting all my neighbors over for barbecue. This is a fantasy I would never have had pre-pandemic. As I picture it in my head, printing invitations, gathering ingredients, I realize I would never be able to feed the 70 or so families on my street, and it’s unlikely that a group of that size will be able to get together soon. The fantasy evaporates, but a residual feeling remains — a sense that I want to talk and eat with the often invisible people who live around me. I want a graduation party. The thought continues to swirl in my head: how do we celebrate when this is all over?

One Response to Doug Sparks: ‘Isolation Scenes IV’

  1. John McDonough says:

    I enjoy this breezy column. And I say, let the mouse live for now. One of his mouse cousins once stole insulation from our former house and made a nest under the hood of my pickup truck in the driveway. I discovered the nest when I turned on the heater fan and got a face full of insulation. He probably moved into the truck to get away from all the traps I’d set in the house.

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