Still recovering from Long COVID, Anne pushes her walker down the hall. Once ill, she became unsteady on her feet. She has on a floral print dress in a style she has always liked. Aiden, her son, has brought Starbucks and waits in the lobby. The rehab has started allowing visits, provided both resident and visitor wear masks.
She maneuvers herself into a chair. He hasn’t come all week, and now stands by the desk. His hair is neat, but the jeans have holes and hang down a little low. This is the style. His mask is a bold yellow, blue and red print. Must be new. Will he be able to get a job dressed this way, and during COVID, no less?
He looks so much like his father, who was deported to Guatemala seven years ago for an old marijuana offense. He hadn’t touched the stuff in years, but still.
She takes the bag Aiden hands her. “Looks good,” she says, pulling out a brownie in clear wrapping. It has chunks of chocolate on top.
“I used your debit card for python,” he says.
“What do you mean, you used my debit card for a python?” She pictures an outsized snake slithering down a kitchen chair, its skin the pattern of a tote bag she used to have.
“I had to. I don’t know how else I’m going to find work.”
“You planning on being a snake charmer?”
He laughs, “Never thought of doing that.”
She leans over the walker so that her face is closer to his. “You think pandemic unemployment is some kind of bonanza? And you used my money to buy an exotic pet that’s dangerous!” She leans over the walker so that her face is closer to his, “How much did you take?”
“Six hundred.” At least, he looks sheepish.
“You used my debit card, just like that?”
“It was on the table.”
She thought it was in her purse, and here with her, but she must have left it home. When she first got COVID, she was sleeping and gasping. Nothing else mattered.
She sighs, “Where is this python now? At home on the couch? ”
“It’s a language.”
“Oh? And how do you speak python?”
He laughs, head tilted back; “You don’t. You code in it.”
“It’s a course in software development.”
“So who’s your teacher?”
“The teacher is just some guy in the video.”
She takes the latte out of the bag, and pulls her mask off. After only a couple of sips, she frowns, “What did they put in here?”
“It’s what you always get.”
“No, it’s not!”
“I got everything you said!”
She pulls her mask back over her nose, “I can’t taste the way I used to.”
Anne flicks her long hair behind her shoulder. There is nothing she can do about the gray roots she knows she has; “Software developers work in investment banks,” she says. “You scored high on the SAT. You could have named your college. What did you do? Worked in a hardware store.”
“It’s honest work, Mom.”
“Is that what you want to do?”
“I can build applications. Payments. Investments. Start my own software company.”
She peers at him, “You sure you want to support runaway capitalism?”
He laughs, “Always the aging hippie.” He sits down beside her, “I’m tired of you paying the rent late. It’s your fault we get threatening letters.”
“The rent!” She fumbles with her mask. “I hope you’re paying it!” This is why she left her debit card with him. Her checkbook as well.
“I’ve been paying on time. The electricity, too, so they don’t switch off the lights.”
“Aiden, I appreciate that you brought me this. I really do.” She reaches into the bag for the brownie, unwraps it and gives him half.
“I’m glad you weren’t on a ventilator,” he says pressing his lips together. They’d had to drain her lungs at the hospital. Her chest still burns. Her hair has begun to fall out. If she didn’t start taking the medication, the blood clots would have killed her. Otherwise, she never takes medicine.
Home has been on her mind, the wine-colored couch and the dream catcher on the wall. When she gets back, she’ll cook a thick stew, full of parsnips and winter squash. They’ll eat together at the table as they always have. The longing just doesn’t quiet down. Although she hasn’t tested positive in a while, she still can’t breathe right. She won’t be leaving soon.
Smiling under the mask, she stuffs the bag into the trash. His mask hangs from one ear as he eats his half of the brownie. Money hadn’t mattered much to her and her partner. They earned little: she as a fabric designer and he as a bike messenger. She was doing work she loved. The winding floral designs came easily. They went camping, marched in protest, enjoyed life. Wealth was too corrupt as an aspiration.
Aiden doesn’t think so. His interest in technology is not the worst.
“I’m glad you’re here,” she says.
They gaze at each other. Her mask is rumpled paper, while his is a stylish cloth one, sprouting the newest pattern.
Elizabeth Morse is a writer who lives in New York’s East Village. Her work has been published in literary magazines such as Blue Mesa Review and The Raven’s Perch as well as anthologies such as Crimes of the Beats and The Unbearables Big Book of Sex. She has her MFA from Brooklyn College and supports her writing with a job in information technology.