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September 2, 2020 Fiction

Is Anyone There?

Hollynn Huitt

Is Anyone There? photo

I noticed, while chopping carrots into matchsticks, that in clipping my fingernails yesterday, I missed my pinky nail, that defiant perfect pearly crescent. I thought of when I stopped playing the violin and grew out my nails for the first time in my life. The subsequent manicure in a real nail salon. “Do you want them cut?” No, I do not. How they were shaped by the sharp rasp of the nail file and smoothed by the cat’s tongue flat of a buffer and painted with white and pink polish to look like more perfect versions of themselves. I’d spent the rest of the day watching my hands—as they opened doors, typed on keyboards, washed dishes. That night I stood beneath the fluorescent vanity bulbs that lined my mirrored medicine cabinet and held my hands to my face, cupping my cheeks. I wanted to see what it looked like together, the whole package. 

It has been two and a half months since I’ve seen anyone other than Evan, my new baby, and my husband, not counting the rotating cast of delivery drivers who balance the occasional jumbo box of diapers on the top of the fence post by the gate. I feel, at times, that I am receding, that I want only to be alone, in the dark, with the white noise machine and a soft blanket. But then, just as quickly, expansive: it is another beautiful summer day, Evan is naked and running through the sprinkler, my husband is tickling the baby’s soft, pleasantly tacky feet with his beard and I am as happy as I have ever been. Maybe happier.

It is violent, this swinging between the two, but it cannot be stopped. It is no longer possible to be busy enough to feel nothing, which is what I realize our former life was. Every day filled with activities and playdates and furtive moments of working or bathing—one had to choose between the two. Now we are all feeling things, all of the time, and it is as if the feelings hover above us like Mylar balloons, attached by fishing line. Evan’s, brightly colored and flashing neon, mine a translucent bubble. As we sit around the table, eating yet another meal in an endless line of meals, they drift above us, tangling. 

It is a blessing, it’s true, to live so far out in times like these. We are rarely afraid, only nervous for a few days after my husband visits the grocery store, once every three weeks. There are fields to roam and trails to follow and various pets who will gladly sit upon your feet or breathe hot into your neck. I’m no longer sure that Evan knows there are other people in the world besides the deliveryman, who he tells me is named Josh. He has stopped talking about his friends, stopped wanting to call his grandparents. There is only Mom, Dad, the baby, and Josh. 

I am sure that the baby does not know there are other people. He has only ever known our three human faces, the high contrast faces of the dogs and the fleeting, curved tails of the cats as they rub against my ankles. He is five months old and is the happiest baby I have ever met, and I spend a little bit of each day wondering if these facts are causal. 

All around us, people have stopped caring and have resumed versions of their old lives. But we keep on in our isolation. We will waver, just for a moment, in the coming weeks. We will strap the baby into his unused car seat and drive thirty minutes to town in hopes of buying small, sweet strawberries at the farmer’s market. But the baby will see one, two, three, unknown people in the first sixty seconds and will be so frightened by their existence that he will cry, truly cry, for the first time in his life. And we will rush back to the car where he will gradually settle down. And we will turn around and go home, without the strawberries.


image: Dorothy Chan