Strangers in the Age of COVID

I went for a walk this evening because it’s beautiful. Why else?

I met a deer near the chickens, maybe 30 feet away. It kept its distance but we walked the same direction. Me farther down the path I was on. The deer into the grass to graze.

We studied each other for a while.

I kept on.

The neighbor’s kids were over by the fire pit, excited about one thing or another. I lingered by the lavender to watch the bees.

I glimpsed what was hanging in the barn. The doors were all open and a fan was on, pulling the air through. Bunches of garlic were crowded together, upside down with their scapes curling in all directions. Along with the golden sunlight, I couldn’t think of any better place to be, so I settled down in one of the chairs outside and kicked my feet up on the table.

Some neighbors came by, curious about the barn and the garlic. I waved.

I haven’t met any new people in a while, other than new clients through video calls. When he asked how I was, it didn’t quite register.

I’m not really a charming sort of person. I just looked up and said, “Huh?”

He sat on the low stone wall near by and said he had started mountain biking. The trails are hard.

I laughed. Yeah, the trails are hard but fun when you get into them. Terrifying too. I don’t have a bike, so I’ve been running.

He brought up the barn, the wild things hanging from the rafter. Radishes, he said.

I laughed again. It’s garlic.

To be sure, I stood up and strolled along the little stone path, through the big barn doors, and got up on my tiptoes to sniff at the bulbs. Yeah, that’s garlic.

My neighbor came in after me and smelled one too. Wow, did it smell like garlic. He went outside to tell his wife of this little discovery.

I can’t remember the last time I had this sort of interaction with a stranger. That’s certainly the closest I’ve stood to a stranger in months. I walked back to the chair, put my feet back up, and tried to ignore those thoughts: was that six feet? Neither of us coughed or sneezed. But did that matter? What if he’s asymptomatic? What if I am? What if, what if, what if.

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